Dáil Éireann - Volume 537 - 31 May, 2001
Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).
Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
Acting Chairman Acting Chairman
Acting Chairman: Deputy Roche was in possession and has two minutes remaining.
Mr. Roche Mr. Roche
Mr. Roche: Unfortunately, two minutes will not allow me to say all I wish to say.
This very worthwhile Bill puts a further block into the fortress against corruption in this State. I have some comments on Sections 4 and 5. In Section 4, a figure of £10,000 is mentioned as a threshold. That seems an extraordinarily high figure. Every person has a price, but I suggest that many people can be bought for significantly less than £10,000. I question the wisdom of such a high threshold.
The second paragraph of section 4 refers to a complaint being “not of sufficient gravity” and this issue is taken up again in section 5. Although the legislation is very good, there is a danger that it could be used for spurious accusations, for example, against politicians who are going into an election campaign. On the old Johnsonian adage of letting the individual deny the accusation, damage would be done. There is a weakness in the Bill in this regard. There should be very strong grounds for a complaint and the bona fides of the complainant should be established at a very early stage. There should be no threshold. It should be easy for people to make a complaint, but they should have a solid basis for complaint. There is also a significant lacuna in the Bill. If people make vexatious complaints, particularly for political purposes as part of a political assassination, that should be a criminal offence and such people should face very heavy punishment.
In section 7, it seems odd that the codes will be established in two different ways. All the codes  should be drafted by an independent commission and should be enacted individually. For example, the code for the Dáil should be externally drafted and then adopted by the Dáil.
On balance, this is a good Bill and when it is in place, we will be more scrutinised than any other parliamentarians. It would be welcome if those who scrutinise us, particularly from the media, would acknowledge that. Perhaps those scrutineers should also be subject to appropriate scrutiny mechanisms.
Mr. Bradford Mr. Bradford
Mr. Bradford: I agree with the sentiments Deputy Roche has just expressed. The further legislation which we are about to enact will ensure that we will become the most scrutinised parliamentarians in western Europe, if not in the entire world of parliamentary democracy. Perhaps, after the events of recent months and years, it might be difficult to disagree with the provisions we are set to enact over the coming weeks.
This Bill has to be considered in conjunction with the Ethics in Public Offices Act, the electoral Acts and whatever further measures the Government proposes to introduce within its remaining life time. It indicates clearly that Parliament is responding to the public call that politics and politicians operate with the highest standards. It would be politically incorrect of me to disagree with those sentiments. However, we should reflect regretfully on the fact that this is necessary. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle has served in this House for many years with distinction. Looking at politics today and the broader context, one must ask if public service has disappeared, or at least is beginning to disappear. If there was a strong view of what public service meant, and if every Deputy and Senator sought and gained election on the ideal of public service rather than self-service, there would be little need for this legislation. Unfortunately, standards have dropped, admittedly in a minority of cases, but it paints a bleak, pitiful picture of our democracy and Government. We must respond with legislation.
It is a necessary evil and I regret that we, on all sides of the House, feel obliged to agree that this type of monitoring legislation is necessary. As Deputy Roche stated, we will be the most scrutinised parliamentarians in the world. I hope there will be little to scrutinise and that all Members will remain within the confines of what is right and proper. The publicity that some of our colleagues received, and continue to receive, in the tribunals dominates the headlines but they are a tiny minority. What the vast majority of those elected to Dáil Éireann since 1922 have done for their constituencies, constituents and the country is a record to be proud of. It is regrettable that a few drag us down and that this type of legislation is necessary, which it is today.
I referred to public service and why people seek election and are willing to go through the strange type of life which politics brings. I hope  that the majority do so from the highest ideals. In addition to reforming legislation and putting in the necessary checks and balances, we should consider the broader picture of our system of elections and Government. While we have the multi-seat PR system, we will continue to have social work passing off as politics. People will discuss in this House issues far removed from what they should discuss. Most Oireachtas Members, myself included, will spend most time doing work which is valuable, valid and necessary but ought to be done by properly paid local authority members. This is removed from the debate, but if we seek to paint a stronger, better picture of politics we must examine the existing system. The current one puts too much of a premium on the public representative being little more than a messenger boy. He is often racing against his own constituency colleague. On that point, I am glad to see my colleague, Deputy Stanton, here beside me because that means he is not in the Cork East constituency. We jest about it, but that is the sort of competitive, silly game that the present electoral system engenders. If we want to raise standards we must allow parliamentarians in the national parliament to be serious politicians rather than local messengers.
Whether the present Government lasts for three months or 12, it cannot be expected to examine in detail the electoral system, but I hope that the next Government will look at it. If we are brave about electoral reform, and take hard decisions on how we elect our parliamentarians and what we want them to be and do, that will be the best step to ensure that they operate at a higher level and standard. Then, perhaps, some of the difficulties we faced in recent years may disappear.
This legislation gives wide investigative powers into complaints about acts and omissions of persons in public life. If we demanded that ten or 20 years ago, people would have laughed. It is necessary now. It is a strong power that we give. As a number of colleagues said, particularly Deputy Jim Mitchell, it is important to ensure that the inquiry system will place an onus on the complainant to have a valid reason for the complaint. Whether in Government or Opposition – the roles could be reversed soon – we must not abuse these provisions. Deputy Jim Mitchell suffered recently from frivolous complaints. Those who complain must have a serious, genuine complaint. There ought to be a restriction to ensure that someone cannot lob a vague, open ended complaint about a colleague, from one's own constituency or elsewhere, especially in the run up to an election. This would put the accused at a grave, unfair electoral disadvantage. While these powers may be necessary, let us ensure that they are not abused.
The Bill provides for furnishing tax clearance certificates to the commission by persons upon election to either House. If I complained about that I would be politically incorrect. In this brave new world of ethically cleansed politics, we are  supposed to be able to flash the tax certificate as soon as we walk inside the confines of Leinster House. So be it. I have no difficulty with that. I wonder how many other jobs with similar responsibility and, in most cases, larger salary than a politicians' require a tax clearance certificate. Last night, Deputy Ring, spoke of the constant, “Big Brother”, examination of the private financial affairs and private property affairs, of politicians.
The clock has ticked so far in that direction that we cannot stop it. It is unfair that the financial affairs and financial worth of the spouses of politicians can be published and examined. That has very little to do with the broader political issues which should be under consideration. The type of legislation we are now passing will again paint a very unattractive vista for people who might wish to take up a career in public life.
We frequently bemoan the fact that all the political parties find it difficult to get candidates to stand for elected public office. It is only two years since we had the local council elections. If we are honest about it, all the parties in the majority of council wards and council electoral areas found it difficult to get candidates. There was at least one, if not a second area in which there was not an election because the number of candidates nominated did not exceed the number of vacancies available. That is a sign of a weak democracy and we must seriously ask if the image of politics and the role of the politician has been tarnished so much that people are now unwilling to serve in public life. If that is so, the issue needs to be investigated thoroughly because it is a warning light for democracy if we cannot encourage a sufficient number of people to allow their names to be put forward at election time.
This Bill is necessary and cannot be opposed. I hope following its enactment, we ensure it offers fair play to the politicians to the same degree that it will offer fair play to the people making allegations and complaints about political acts or omissions. That is the minimum guarantee we, as politicians, must seek, otherwise the trend over the past five to ten years of our job description being dragged further into the mire will continue.
The Taoiseach has given some indications that he might be willing to address the question of the funding of political parties. This is not the occasion to talk about donations and corporate donations, but I hope we will see progress on that issue between now and the next general election. No job is more difficult and demeaning in politics than fund raising, whether at a church gate, at a business lunch or dinner or at a golf outing. It is pathetic that politicians have to prostitute themselves to seek £50 or £100 to run the political process. For some reason in my constituency, we have been able to avoid any of these fund raising dinners or golf outings, and I am glad we have been able to do so. I hope my colleague, Deputy Stanton, agrees.
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
Mr. Stanton: I do.
Mr. Bradford Mr. Bradford
 Mr. Bradford: We may be at a financial loss as a result of not holding some of these events but I would find it distinctly uncomfortable to ask any of my friends or colleagues for a donation, even if it is only £50 or £100. I wonder how some of our colleagues can be so successful in getting teams for golf events at £1,000 per team or whatever. Once one receives anything more than few pounds at a church gate collection or maybe £50 from a £50 draw – say, £100 or £200 – there is an uneasy and unholy alliance. We have to put in place an alternative to that. Some 99.9% of fund raising done for political parties, whether it is the £1 at the church gate or the £1,000 golf classic, is done for very genuine reasons. The money is spent for the purposes for which it is sought and the politician in question does not get one brown penny of that money. However, it is still inappropriate that the 166 people elected to run the country and to set high standards have to be demeaned and reduced to seeking funding from their constituents to run the parliamentary process which should be centrally and properly funded.
I hope the recent indications given by the Taoiseach that he will genuinely tackle this problem will be acted on and that the political parties in the House as well as the registered political parties outside it will receive the resources they require. When we compare the way we are supposed to do our business in this House in terms of research and staffing levels with our colleagues in parliaments throughout Europe, it is no wonder that it is such an unattractive career for people who should be willing to consider public service. That equation has to be tackled and resolved if we want to remove some of the difficulties faced in political life today. If we make politics a proper career with proper assistance, including research assistance, some of the difficulties we have had in the past ten or 20 years may be no more. Those comments may not be directly related to the Bill in question, but it is necessary that they are addressed.
I welcome the Bill in so far as it is necessary as further insurance against people in this House operating improperly. There are bigger problems starting with the way we are elected, the way we have to run and fund our election campaigns and run our business in this House if we are elected. The big picture needs to be addressed. We are perhaps weeks, or at most months, from the next general election.
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Mr. Cullen: A year.
Mr. Bradford Mr. Bradford
Mr. Bradford: Twelve months. If the Government used some of the remaining time to address some of those serious issues, we would all welcome that. We want to be proud of the career into which we have entered and want the word “politician” to stand for something decent. This and other legislation as well as structural change will be necessary if that is to happen.
Mr. Stanton Mr. Stanton
 Mr. Stanton: I am glad to be able to speak on this Bill. When I first read it and the Minister's speech, I was struck by the raft of legislation appertaining to elected Members. Whenever this famous general election comes, whether in weeks, a few months or 12 months, and a candidate decides to stand for election for a party or independently and decides to take advice from a Minister or a Member, this candidate will be told he or she must comply with the Public Service Management Act, 1997, and take account of the Freedom of Information Act, the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas Act, 1997, the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, the Electoral Acts, 1997 and 1998, possibly the Local Elections (Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure) Act, 1999, and the Prevention of Corruption Bill, 2000. A whistleblower's protection Bill will also more than likely be introduced.
There is also the Local Government Bill. The Lobbyists Registration Bill will be coming up, a number of codes of conduct will be introduced and on top of that one will have to submit a tax clearance certificate. That bank of legislation presents a fantastic encouragement to anyone who wants to become a Member of this House or enter politics at any level. Most of that legislation is recent. It is a pity things have come to this, but this is where we find ourselves.
I welcome that the Minister spoke of the need to streamline this legislation, which previous speakers called for. This legislation should be consolidated and streamlined at some stage in the near future and put in such a way that the ordinary person in the street can understand it. Any eligible citizen of this State has the right to stand for election to this House and no obstacles, perceived or otherwise, should be put in his or her way. We should put all this information in as simple a manner as possible to enable a candidate who presents himself or herself for election to be presented with a book of guidelines outlining in simple terms what is required under the law and what might be required under it as it develops. That is crucial.
I welcome the proposal that Members will only have to make one declaration of interest a year rather than two. Many of us may worry about what would happen if we were to miss the deadline. One would be castigated if one did and possibly incur a penalty.
With regard to this and the other legislation I mentioned, in the event of a Member being investigated or complained about, there is a need to provide him or her with legal advice and possibly some form of administrative assistance. If one has been a Member of the House for ten years, 15 years or 20 years, one would have accumulated many documents. There is a skill in collating that information, filing it and having it to hand if one needs to use it as part of a defence or in evidence. Many colleagues spoke of the need to provide additional resources for Deputies and Senators and I hope the Minister of State has noted that.
 I had the happy duty last year of dealing with the Copyright Bill, which was one of largest and most complex Bills to come through this House. Little or no research back-up was available to Opposition Members. As the Minister of State will be aware, we get lobbied from people outside this House who put their cases, and that happened in this case. I am not an expert on copyright law, there are very few of them in this State, and I and others relied on their expertise. A number of us had to tease through the Bill line by line and it was cross-referenced, but the committee has no research back-up and the committee members do not have any administrative back-up. There were major issues at stake in regard to that Bill.
We are the largest exporter of software in the world. I must compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, who dealt with that Bill. The committee met on 32 occasions and we dealt with the Bill over a number of months. When we completed our consideration of it, the Bill was totally changed from the one that was initially presented by the Department. That was done in spite of our having no research back-up. If that had been available, our task would have been easier and the Bill may have been dealt with sooner and further improved.
Previous speakers raised a number of issues regarding this Bill, one being that of vexatious and malicious complaints and innuendo. As public representatives we are probably more vulnerable than anyone else to innuendo and rumour. If a Member says something or does not say anything and a remark about it is partially reported in the newspapers, that can do terrible damage, as it can grow wings and develop a life of its own.
Previous speakers suggested a procedure should be put in place for dealing with complaints that may be made against a Member of this House or the other House under this legislation when enacted. The Minister said we cannot stifle public debate and I agree with him, but a procedure must be in place for dealing with such complaints and under the rules of natural justice an appeals mechanism must also be put in place to enable the subject of the complaint the right to appeal against the complaint made. That is important.
Complaints have been made against a number of Members on all sides of the House in the recent past and they have appeared unsubstantiated in the public press and been left hanging. That can do terrible damage. If we put in place a mechanism for investigating complaints made against Members, that should be the mechanism – it should not be anywhere else. Political charges back and forth about policy and other issues are a different matter, but a mechanism should be put in place for investigating personal charges that, for instance, appear in the press. We should be able to establish where such charges originated, as they can do irreparable damage.
The reporting standards in the courts were mentioned. The same reporting standards should  apply to cases in which the Standards in Public Office Commission will be involved.
It is important that confidentiality is respected in such a complaints procedure. If a complaint was made against a Member to the commission, confidentiality should surround that until the commission would have issued findings as rumour and innuendo can destroy or do terrible damage to somebody in this profession.
Previous speakers raised the issue of the number of Members present in the House for various debates. There are only three Members in the Chamber on this Thursday afternoon and only two Members were present earlier. That adds to public cynicism about the Dáil and what we do here. I do not know what the answer is, but proposals are before Government to reform how we do our business and they need to be acted on.
I did not read of any provision in the Bill for checking declarations of interest. If a Member or a judge makes a declaration of interest, is that checked? If a Member said he was a director of a number of companies, is that checked or audited? I do not think it is. It might be useful to investigate the possibility of randomly checking them to ensure everyone is telling the truth and not hiding anything. I am not sure who should be responsible for that, but it should be done.
The requirement to make declarations of interests stems from the interaction between politics and business, which we need to separate. Picking up on what my colleague, Deputy Bradford, said, it goes back to the notion of how politics is funded. There is no doubt if someone donates more than £50 or £100 to a Member of this House, that Member will probably be more sympathetic to the donor than to the person who did not give money and, the larger the sum of money, the more sympathy. That is human nature.
When our party leader took over, the first thing he said was that he would get rid of corporate donations. It would solve many problems if there were no corporate donations to political parties. I call on the Government parties to take on board that aspect which might eliminate the need for much of this legislation. At the end of the day, we are all answerable to the law of the land. If people want to take money under the table, so to speak, they will take it no matter what happens. There will always be corruption.
There is a perception that business and politics are too closely allied. The only way to put an end to that perception is to take the bull by the horns and eliminate large corporate donations. The size of donations should be limited. My colleagues spoke about church gate collections, with which I have a problem. This is not how political parties should collect money in this day and age because it gives a very bad image. They should be funded from the Exchequer. There is plenty money available for this. It would free up Members' energies to get down to what we should do, that is, legislate in this House.
 Resources to committees should be increased. Due to lack of resources, the Oireachtas Committee on Public Enterprise and Transport finds it very difficult to hold meetings with regard to huge issues in the area of public enterprise. It is tied up with the investigation of the sub-committee. The other committees are also stymied in their work as the resources are not available. Just because two committees are carrying out investigative work outside their normal work, everything else must stop. This leads one to ask if the other work of the committees is necessary. Can it be dispensed with just like that? I call on the Government to ensure that committees are properly resourced, which is very important.
Anonymous complaints were mentioned during the course of the debate, and this issue which must be borne in mind. I welcome the mechanism whereby an inquiry officer will do the initial groundwork up to a certain point, but we should not dismiss anonymous complaints. Confidentiality is very important, particularly with regard to anonymous complaints and they should be investigated initially because people might be genuinely afraid to put their names to something.
When up and running properly, the commission should eliminate the need for further tribunals and such investigations, including investigations with which committees of this House might deal, which would be a good thing. I am not decrying the work of the tribunals, which are important, necessary and doing a good job. However, the commission, by virtue of its very existence, would deter people from getting involved in the alleged activities which are being investigated currently by the tribunals. It would probably be able to do a great deal of the investigative work at a lower level than the tribunals, even though it will have the same power as the tribunals.
Section 14 needs to be looked at again. It reads, “. . . a person who gives evidence before a Committee or the Commission . . . . shall not be entitled to refuse to answer any question . . . on the ground that his or her answer or the document might incriminate him or her.” When replying, I would like the Minister of State to clarify what this section means. It works both ways. If a person can or cannot answer questions before the committee, how would that influence something that might or might not happen in the future?
Hardly a week goes by that we do not set up an authority. The much maligned National Roads Authority has been mentioned here from time to time. If I ask a question in this House on the issue, I receive a reply from the Ceann Comhairle's office stating that the Minister is not responsible to the Dáil in regard to that issue, therefore I cannot get a reply. We set up more and more of these authorities, including the railway procurement authority which will be set up shortly. The list goes on and on. We should enact legislation making these authorities answerable through parliamentary question in the Dáil. If a  Member puts down a question to a Minister seeking information pertaining to these State authorities, that information should be provided. We should differentiate between, on the one hand, the Minister being responsible for these authorities and interfering in their work and, on the other, the Minister giving information on the floor of this House about what the authorities are doing. That is important because it means this Chamber is handing over a great deal of power to these authorities, and they must be accountable. I am aware they are accountable to committees of the House but it would be better if they were accountable to this Chamber.
Members were elected to govern the people and we live in a liberal democracy. We have a limited government, so to speak. The Government's job is to protect the citizens from the rulers, which is what our democracy is about. While capitalism is an integral part of the liberal democratic mix, we must separate it and make sure that the checks and balances exist. For that reason I welcome the Bill. I would like a consolidated framework of legislation in this area and a simplified booklet for any prospective candidates so that they will know what is required of them if they stand for election. Anyone in the State should be able to obtain such a booklet prior to an election. I believe we are moving from government to governance. Legislation is being passed in Europe and we are setting up local government structures, some of which are not elected, therefore we need to be careful. This debate will probably help the development of politics in the future.
Mr. U. Burke Mr. U. Burke
Mr. U. Burke: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. As a new Member of this House, I find it demoralising and humiliating that we have spent so much of the time of this House hassling between ourselves as Members, and between Government and Opposition just to prove against one another the doings of various Members elected to do a job. The issue being raised by the public now is how certain Members of these Houses have behaved in public office over the years.
On one of my first days here I saw former Minister, Mr. Ray Burke, literally on the verge of tears. Not knowing the background I felt that somebody should come to his assistance because of the way in which he delivered what I believed, mistakenly I admit now, was the real truth about some of the activities he was involved in down the years. Other revelations were made since about other Members and Ministers. It makes no difference whether the revelations are about Government or Opposition as they reflect on all of us.
I have been out in support of by-election candidates and I have found, whether in Dublin, Tipperary or Limerick, the attitude that politicians are all the same. That is a tragedy for all of us because we have failed miserably to show the  public and the media that we are not all the same. The actions of those few over the years, because of greed, power or some other motivation, have brought these Houses into disrepute in the minds of our people and have made us the laughing stock of people outside who will avail of the opportunity to castigate us for our ways.
We hear on the radio and in the media that our young people have no confidence in us and that the electorate is apathetic. We are facing into that situation next week with the referendum. The response of the public will be used by certain sections of the media who want to put a spin on it. They will say that now we have our answer and a poor turn out will be seen as a rebuff because they think we, as legislators, look after our own selfish interests. That is a wrong assessment and it is wrong for media elements to portray that as the reality.
As a former teacher I have visited many schools in my own constituency over the years. Children from 12 to 18 years, some of whom have visited the House, have indicated to me that they have confidence in the system and they respect the work, effort and endeavours of most of the Members. I believe that. When we see opinion polls in the media I am very sceptical and I take them with a pinch of salt. Opinion poll results are the results required initially and evolve from the questions asked. If anybody asks a particular question in an opinion poll the answer required is generally the one they get because that is the way polls are arranged. It is deplorably wrong that people in the media should conduct opinion polls with such deliberate intentions. Headlines and sound bytes are what count to them and they are what sell papers and get television coverage.
We ourselves are to blame for much of what has happened because we, and Government in particular, have spin doctors on whom we rely. They are doing things they should not be doing. They focus on individuals here and their legitimate and upright actions and put a spin on it to capture media headlines. I find that particularly difficult to accept in our present climate. I welcome this legislation if it streamlines all the legislation on the Statute Book and attempts to put the onus on the Members of the Houses and on the commission that will be established. I welcome particularly the personnel proposed to be involved in this, the Clerk of the Dáil, the Clerk of the Seanad, the Ombudsman and the Comptroller and Auditor General. I would have the utmost confidence in them to do the job they will be given under this legislation and I hope that their work will eliminate the necessity to have so many inquiries and tribunals at a cost to the State.
I would be grateful if the Minister could provide me with information on the cost of inquiries from the beef tribunal right down to the present. How much have these inquiries cost the taxpayer? We are still not at the end of them and do not know when they will end. If any legislation we now put in place eliminates the necessity for  such tribunals and inquiries to be such an ongoing feature of public life it will be very welcome.
When talking about streamlining this legislation we touch on areas of the local government Bill. I welcome that because as a member of a local authority I have difficulty with the ethics in certain situations that members find themselves in. Members of these authorities give of their time and are elected by their local electorate. The vast majority seek to be part of public life in order to give genuine service to their electorate. I have difficulty with local authority members whose everyday professional interests may conflict with their membership of the authority. We know about some cases of this.
Planning matters seem to be the centre of most criticism. Planners and architects draw up plans for companies or individuals and submit them to local authorities for adjudication. I question professionals making requests to authorities for decisions on something in which they are directly interested. It is impossible to ban auctioneers, architects or planners from becoming members of a local authority, but such people have questions to answer. I know that corrupt people are in a minority and long may it remain so, but the fact that there may be one person whose private professional work benefits from their membership of a local authority or this House means this legislation is timely. I hope it means such people can be readily and easily identified and will have to face the consequences of their actions.
Many Members have mentioned the funding of political parties and the relevance of the matter is foremost in our minds. We have not been allowed to forget the topic for a single day during the lifetime of the Government as it has been directly or indirectly brought to our attention. It is important that we face up to the fact that if we want people to enter public life we cannot make it impossible for them to comply with the raft of legislation. New measures that have been introduced encroach on the personal and private lives of public representatives. Somebody has to draw the line as it will be a sad day if this legislation means those with spouses or families become targets due to their membership of an elected body.
All too often, the media focuses on aspects of the personal lives of representatives and consequently severe pressure is brought to bear on their families. We have to stop this unnecessary and unjustified intrusion. Parties have to be funded, but it must be done openly and transparently if we are to retain the trust of the public. It is a difficult challenge, given the costs of the rat race of modern electioneering, where everyone wants to be the best and come first. Advertisements in local media and posters have to be paid for, which puts the onus on individuals or on party structures.
There will be three referenda next Thursday, but as one drives around the country one notices the lack of posters and wonders about the quality of the campaign. If posters appear calling on us to vote in favour of or against the amendments,  the reaction of the public will be to ask how the posters were funded. This Government has failed to alert the electorate of the necessity of voting. I do not know how the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, attracts voters, but generally the Government is responsible for educating the public. It is necessary that people vote how they want, but the Government's efforts and endeavours to convince the public of the importance of these referenda have failed. There is only a week to go and I am sure it will spent in South Tipperary.
The public knows that the Government has failed, as it has waited for guidance. To say that booklets have been sent to every household is not an adequate response, as it is not what the Government should be doing if it is serious about the Nice treaty. The Government should campaign and explain as it does in every other election, but it has failed to do so on the ground.
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Mr. Cullen: How can we campaign on the ground when we are kept in this House by the Opposition?
Mr. U. Burke Mr. U. Burke
Mr. U. Burke: The Government's documents that are delivered through letterboxes are mixed up with junk mail such as flyers from shops advertising bargains.
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan: Deputy Kenneally is on the ground and will campaign hard.
Mr. U. Burke Mr. U. Burke
Mr. U. Burke: The information leaflets are thrown in bins by voters and the Nice treaty may go with it, which is unfortunate. The apathy that exists is more serious than the Minister of State, Deputy Cullen, thinks it is. The Government has failed to respond to the genuine needs of voters by explaining the treaty and the importance of voting.
Returning to conflicts of interest, I note that a commission will be set up and that matters deemed sufficiently serious by an investigator will be passed on to a commissioner. There should be a sole commission to decide whether or not to take action, as deemed necessary. This Bill allows for serious steps to be taken following the assessment of amounts up to £10,000, but I do not know what will happen below that figure. It will be difficult to assess the £10,000 limit, so provision should have been made to allow the commission to decide whether an elected representative has violated the trust and confidence of the people that elected him. The only way to deal with such people is to remove them from public life and ban them from re-entering it. Four former members of Fianna Fáil have become independents during this Dáil. They act and behave without limitation as Members of this House, which is sad. The public is aware of this regrettable matter.
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan: I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this legislation. Having dealt with this subject in various shapes and forms over the past ten years, it is interesting that we are again dis cussing it. The time has come to set out clearly in black and white the parameters within which those seeking election to public office or being appointed to public office must keep in order to eliminate ambiguity and the possibility of unwitting transgressions. This could happen where a person believes he or she is in order and it transpires to be otherwise because, perhaps, shares which he or she owned were worthless at the beginning of the year and not worthy of a declaration but increased in value and thus became worthy of a declaration. In those circumstances a person could end up in an embarrassing situation. That is an extreme example, but it illustrates the need for regulations.
Let us go back to the fundamentals. Murder, for example, is banned by law and there are strict regulations relating to it.
Mr. McGahon Mr. McGahon
Mr. McGahon: What are they?
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan: I will not give my colleague any encouragement in regard to that. There are strict rules regarding the taking of life, the most stringent of all, including life imprisonment and previously death, but some people still ignore the rules and murders still take place. In the United States where the ultimate penalty still exists in many states, murder is still regularly committed. My point is that no amount of regulation will stop people who wish to disobey the rules and operate outside the parameters laid down. That has always been so, and there is no point deluding ourselves that we can solve that problem with a massive clean-up or that future generations will be beholden to us for this legislation.
During the debate within the various political parties on the original ethics in public office legislation, I distinctly remember being told the extent to which the regulations would apply and that it would be relatively easy to comply with them, that there would be no unfair reflection on an individual's performance in the event that he or she did not technically comply, and that it would not adversely affect the numbers of people entering public life. Unfortunately that is not how things turned out. Slowly and inexorably a point is being reached where it is virtually impossible to qualify to stand for public office. That is very peculiar because not everybody who decides to stand for public office does so in order to pursue a career in crime. I am sure everybody believes they comply with every conceivable regulation, but when they are held up to the scrutiny of others it is a horse of a different colour.
That brings me to the question of the commission. I do not know whether, if I were a member of such commission, I would be competent to judge others, notwithstanding the regulations. If somebody commits murder, for example, he or she should pay the price. If somebody knowingly breaches regulations, they should pay the price. However, there are serious glitches. I intend no disrespect to the Clerk of the Dáil, to the  Ombudsman or to anybody else, but who will judge those who judge? They may have a particular vision of what the job is about. I may or may not be correct in the view that ultimately anybody who is guilty of misconduct, who has disregarded the regulations and has brought the House into disrepute – and that is a separate issue – deserves to be dealt with by the courts. Unless we put that in legislation we are wasting our time.
The proposed restrictions are deemed to be the answer at this point, but the danger of setting up a body to police another body is that it makes it appear to be less than in conformity with the regulations. That, unfortunately, is how the Houses of Parliament are perceived, and I reject that perception. I believe that 99% of people who enter public life do so for the best of reasons and in the hope of making a contribution. There is no doubt that some fall by the wayside, and one should never attempt to make excuses for them. However, regulations and guidelines should be set down in black and white beforehand.
The possibility of speculation about whether somebody who has transgressed should resign should be eliminated because that is what damages the House in the eyes of the public. We should come down on one side or the other. If there is a serious breach of regulations, action should follow. That would eliminate the need for speculation or for people to write articles in the papers that set out to judge us when we have not had the opportunity of judging them.
This House has over the years had mixed fortunes in terms of the public perception of what goes on. Civil war politics prevailed for the first 30 or 40 years after the foundation of the State. It was alleged to be a factor in stunting the development of the State. During the next phase, outrageous public spending was an issue that engaged the public mind. That outrageous public spending resulted in a budgetary situation that made the country ungovernable. Everybody looked for somebody to blame, and they blamed politicians. Nobody thought about asking the general public at that stage about its role. It was the public who voted for the policies that had that result. I do not want to make a political point, but I always use the 1977 election campaign in defence of Fianna Fáil. It is not fair to blame Fianna Fáil, although it is true they held out a dozen carrots to the public involving issues they said were good for us, good for them and good for the country. I am sure the Chair remembers those carrots as well as I do. Things like the abolition of rates outstripped the policies of the Government of the day by a long shot – the Government of the day had decided to offer assistance towards rates. The incoming Administration decided not only to abolish rates altogether but to abolish tax on cars. It was amazing. There were a number of other promises. The general public went to the ballot box and voted in favour of those proposals. What happened afterwards was a disgrace. It took the guts of 20 years to shake off its effects.
 It is fine for those outside the House to claim they have no responsibility in these matters but they have. They have the ultimate power – their vote. The electorate decides, in the final analysis, not only the calibre of the people they want to represent them but the name and nature of each of their representatives in the House of Parliament. When all that is taken into consideration, it is clear that Members of the House have a vested interest in giving the best possible account of themselves. We also have a right to resent criticism when it is unfair.
We are now in the PC or politically correct era. Other speakers have referred to this. It has affected the churches, the teaching profession, An Garda Síochána and various people in State and semi-State bodies. The politically correct era is a new and interesting one. Its judgments can be harsh but its preliminary judgments can be even harsher. There is, therefore, a necessity to ensure that in all such cases justice is done. Justice must be done and the law must be complied with but it is equally true that natural justice must prevail. Due process must be followed. If it is not followed, there will inevitably be situations in the future where the guilty may go free and the innocent may find themselves facing various strictures.
Conflicts of interest are becoming increasingly difficult to police. This is particularly so in the case of those appointed to public office and ministerial posts. It must be difficult to police because if the person was previously involved in a business and divested themselves of the responsibilities of that business, how can one be certain that the person does not have an ongoing interest? Let us ask ourselves an honest question. If one has spent one's life as a director of a company or in some other capacity and then become a Minister, is it not natural that one will inquire about the company afterwards? However, if it should happen that the company falls to be considered for a contract or a particular devolved responsibility, I presume the individual concerned is expected in all cases to recognise that a conflict could arise.
The problem is that it is not for the individual to judge whether a conflict arises; it will be judged by somebody else, with the benefit of hindsight. Hindsight is an extremely exact science but, as we all know, there is no such thing. All decisions are made without the benefit of hindsight. A person's judgment, therefore, must be correct and stand the test of hindsight. I am always amazed when people say “With the benefit of hindsight, I believe” such and such. That sounds fine but it is rubbish. There is no such thing as having the benefit of hindsight when one is making a decision.
I hope that in the course of the next few years, following implementation of this legislation, we will see on the part of those participating in public life a recognition of the fact that certain procedures must be complied with, that they must act within the guidelines and that there are no exceptions. We must also accept that in the event  of a breach occurring, there is little use talking about it. The procedures must fall into place and whatever should happen, must happen. It is sad but that is the way it is. There can be no getting around it.
By the same token, the fact that a number of people in public life are deemed not to have been compliant with the regulations does not mean everybody is guilty. If a member of a profession is found to be in breach of ethics, rules or guidelines, that does not mean that every member of that profession is guilty. That is important. There are people outside this House, fuelled by the speculation that is part of the era in which we live, who have come to the conclusion that everybody in this House is a crook or a potential crook. We must be extremely careful because we could do irreparable damage if we allow ourselves to be corralled under that category. We could also do irreparable damage to the institutions of State.
It might well be fun when public representatives are involved but it will be another group tomorrow and another group the next day and other groups will follow. That is not an attempt to take away from the fact that we must have the highest possible standards. It is simply a recognition of reality. Some time ago I gave a talk to a group of sixth years in a school in my constituency. There was an interesting line of questions. There was a clear impression among the sixth years that if all politicians were not crooks, they were either on the road to it or had it in their sights. That is sad. They were shocked when I turned the question round to them and asked if they believed all students were crooks or that all sixth years were potentially negligent in complying with school regulations or that all teachers had the same problem.
It is only when that happens that members of the general public begin to recognise that life is full of knots and bends in the road, that it is not as smooth as they might think. I remember having a discussion with a guy in a pub about the merits and demerits of people in public office and public life. He suggested that guidelines, like the guidelines in this Bill, should be laid down so the public would know these people were compliant with them when they sought public office. How would anybody know that the person had been compliant in the first place? How would the person make a confession beforehand and inform the public that they had been compliant with the guidelines? I asked the guy if he would comply. “Absolutely”, he said.
Mr. McGahon Mr. McGahon
Mr. McGahon: Is he not doing nixers?
Mr. Durkan Mr. Durkan
Mr. Durkan: He said: “I have no doubt that I would comply”. I shook hands with him and congratulated him. “You must be nearly perfect”, I said. “I am”, he replied. He spoke honestly and truthfully. He honestly and sincerely said what he thought. I told him I was delighted to meet him but I reminded him: “That is your judgment of  you. You should try to find out what other people's judgment of you might be”.
Mr. McGahon Mr. McGahon
Mr. McGahon: My colleague and friend, Deputy Durkan, is getting more philosophical about human nature and the problems connected with it as he grows older. Like most Members of this House, I feel a sense of sadness about the revelations which have appeared in recent years. If I had been asked my opinion on it 15 years ago, I would have felt it was impossible but sadly the realities of what has happened are staring us in the face. The body politic has been seriously weakened as a result of the loss of trust in politicians felt by the people of Ireland who generalise in that regard.
As Deputy Durkan said, in every walk of life some people fall by the wayside. That is inevitable but unfortunately the public generalise as they did in the case of the Catholic Church where, I understand, there are 27 priests currently serving a jail sentence in the Curragh for sexual crimes. That, along with the revelations about Bishop Éamon Casey, has done more damage to the Catholic Church than Oliver Cromwell did.
Unfortunately the recent revelations about political impropriety have done the same to the world of politics. We need to do something positive to lift the profile of politics in Irish life because the young people are getting more cynical by the week. Some time ago I spoke to a group of 16 year old students in a college in Dundalk and I was shocked at their political ignorance. These were girls who in two years would perhaps be going to universities in different parts of Ireland. Politically they were as ignorant as they could be. Only four out of 16 knew who were the four Deputies for County Louth, two knew who was the county manager, and very few could differentiate between the urban council and the county council.
Although I am on my way out of politics, I feel strongly—
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
Mr. Howlin: I thought the Deputy was going to declare again.
Mr. McGahon Mr. McGahon
Mr. McGahon: I did not get an approach from his party of ideology yet but I am open to offers.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
Mr. Howlin: The day is young.
Mr. McGahon Mr. McGahon
Mr. McGahon: I just feel sad at the ignorance in this country about why politics are necessary. So many people are not tuned in and do not have a clue why politics are necessary. Many see politics as being there to penalise them. They do not understand it, and that is the reality. How can people who, in their tens of thousands, watch fantasy soaps such as “Glenroe”, “Coronation Street” and “Fair City” relate to political manifestos. They just cannot do so. They are living in a fog. That is part of the problem – they fail to  appreciate why politics are necessary and what politics have done for this country.
We in the political system, even those of us on the backbenches, can take pride in what we have created in this country. We are only 80 years masters of our own destiny and today we have a country which is on a par with America. We have given the citizens of Ireland an economic living which nobody could have envisaged 20, 30 or 40 years ago. That did not happen overnight. It had to be created by progressive and forward thinking by all parties which constitute the political system.
One of the main bugbears which we in the political world must face is the cynical attitude of the gents who are not in the Press Gallery today. I do not know whether some of them would be in the bar. I am referring to the media. These cynics – I must confess that for a short period of my life I was in their midst – are under-valuing politics on a continuous basis and denigrating the efforts of the political system. No matter who is in power, they want to pull the system down. They want to pander to the ignorant beliefs of the lesser educated people in our midst. They want to suggest that there is malpractice everywhere. I feel a deep regret that the media, who constitute educated people with a responsible stake in the country, should be so cynical about casting aspersions on the political world. They should be encouraging the people of Ireland to appreciate what has been created in this country and they should encourage people to have more respect for the political system, but they are not going to change because that is what sells newspapers. I am glad to see my friend, John Drennan, emerging, perhaps from the cupboard not the bar.
The media are not above reproach and I have no difficulty standing over what I have said. Notwithstanding that, there is a deep concern out there about what has been revealed in Irish life and I support this commission which will look at various aspects of people's suitability. As Deputy Durkan alluded to, I do not know how they will evaluate it, but I do feel that if there is a serious question over any political figure, it is not a matter for a commission or, indeed, tribunals but for the Garda fraud squad. While the recent tribunals, the proceedings of which seem to go on forever, have been worthwhile because they have opened a window in Irish life and, indeed, a cesspool, the existence of which, as I said earlier, 15 years ago I would have refused to accept, I must ask what will come ultimately from all of these tribunals? Will anybody be held responsible? Will anybody be charged? I doubt it because this is an Irish solution to an Irish problem.
Every would be candidate should be screened by his party and if there is any suggestion of impropriety in his or her background, the person should not be nominated, whether he or she is a football star, a hurling or camogie star or an ordinary person. Political parties should be conscious of the image they are trying to portray to the Irish public, and the first step should be taken by the  political parties and, after that, there should be an independent body to assess them. Every suggestion of impropriety should be examined and if there is a case to be answered, it should be answered in a court of law.
The other point I want to make about standards in public life is that we must accept and acknowledge that Members amongst us have transgressed. The most deplorable thing I can imagine is that a senior politician or any politician would take a bribe. To accept a bribe on the scale of what we are being told is surely anathema to the people of this country. It turns me off and disillusions me about politics notwithstanding that I believe the Irish political system has provided the Irish nation with a tremendous standard of living which no one thought possible 40 years ago. The sins revealed are crying out to be redressed. Political parties should not be ambivalent to those members of their party who have fallen by the wayside. The political system is better off without them.
While we can be proud of what we have created over the past 80 years, the people have, sadly, relegated us to the level of conmen. The political system is viewed as a confidence trick. We must redress that view. We can only do so by introducing transparency. Perhaps along with that transparency, we might have a little more responsibility from the press.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
Mr. Howlin: I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on what I regard as one of the more important Bills currently before this House. It is part of a family of legislation which addresses one of the most difficult things for Members of this House to address, the restoration of public confidence in the way we do public business. That confidence has been sorely damaged by the ongoing out-pouring of revelations in recent years.
The genesis of this Bill is the report of the tribunal of inquiry into the Dunnes Stores payments, better known as the McCracken report. We were all shocked by that report. Some would say this report goes back to the doings of a distinguished businessman in a hotel in Florida. That deed, over a particular holiday break, set in train a process the extent of which few could have envisaged. The Dunnes Stores payments process, the first serious tribunal of inquiry into potential corruption to discover where senior politicians in this land were kept people, has had an ongoing effect. It has been the back-drop in front of which all of us have carried on public business for years.
On behalf of my party, I handled the passing of the terms of reference of the Moriarty Tribunal through this House. I remember, during the course of that debate, seeking to extend the terms of reference to include Ansbacher payments which had come to light at that time. That proposal, made on 11 September 1997, was voted down by the current Administration. It gave no coherent reason Ansbacher payments should not be encompassed within the terms of reference of  the new tribunal then being established. We were told, behind the scenes, by Deputy McCreevy who took the debate on behalf of the Government, that there was a fear of a flight of capital out of the country if the Ansbacher accounts were included in the terms of reference of the Moriarty tribunal. No person from the Government or Central Bank was willing to back-up this exaggerated and totally over-blown claim. Like so many other things, it is probably an issue which the Government would prefer to pretend did not exist.
We need to get things right. The previous Administration, in which I had the honour to serve as Cabinet Minister, began that process. My party fought the 1992 election on two fundamental bases: ethics in Government and justice in the economy. We were lambasted and pilloried on foot of the first commitment we made regarding ethics – many people thought we were setting ourselves up as great paragons of virtue, which we have not done or have no intention of doing because there is no monopoly of wisdom or virtue in this regard on any side of the House. We need to set standards which we can all try to live up to.
We put through both Houses, with huge difficulties, three Bills; the Ethics in Public Office Act, taken through by my colleague Deputy Eithne Fitzgerald who received enormous personal vilification when doing so. There was huge resistance to it; the Freedom of Information Act, one of the most important, open, democratising Bills enacted in modern times in this State which is impacting on all public administration and bringing the light of public scrutiny into crevices which are not used to having that light shone on them and we are often not comfortable with it. I hope – I say this as an aside – that the media will make more fruitful use of that legislation. It is not the major coup of the Freedom of Information Act to find out the travel expenses of any Member of this House. There are more relevant things about which investigative journalists should ensure accountability through that system. I had the privilege of bringing through this House the third Bill enacted by the previous Administration, the Electoral Act which set disclosure limits for contributions to individual Members of this House or to political parties and for the first time set caps on electoral spending. That was an extremely complex Bill to draft; it took me some time. It was fought tooth and nail by the parties then in Opposition. My clearest memory is of the then spokesperson of the Progressive Democrats, now the Attorney General – I hope his legal advice has improved – telling me the Electoral Act was unconstitutional, so bad it could not be amended and so he satisfied himself fighting it line by line. Not only has that legislation stood the test of time but I was interested to read recently on the Fianna Fáil website – I occasionally log into it to find out what they have to say – that the current Administration is claiming it as legislation enacted by it. Legislation which was so bad and incapable of being amended is now  claimed as its creation. That is a neat trick if one could get away with it. It is part of the bedrock of the changing face of public administration at local and national level. We have a long way to go.
The Labour Party has published a number of new Bills in recent years. We introduced legislation to ban corporate funding for politics. One of the most important, critical issues with which we in this House and this country must finally come to terms is how politics and public affairs are to be funded. We need to resolve that issue. There is enormous public antipathy to the interface of business and politics which is destroying confidence in our political systems and eroding our democracy.
The introduction of that legislation, deemed to have been passed some time ago, will not ever be allowed pass through Committee Stage. I recently attended a committee with other Labour colleagues in support of our spokesperson on the environment, Deputy Gilmore, to see if the Government would allow our legislation to ban corporate donations to advance but that was not allowed to happen. We were promised that the Government would produce its own amendments to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill in order to deal with the matter. As the leader of the Labour Party said this morning, it is now dawning on all of us that the Taoiseach's commitments in this regard are hollow and meaningless. More than 70 amendments to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill currently before the Seanad were published yesterday by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, yet there was no mention in any of them of the limits to be set for corporate contributions to politics. We do not know the Government's thinking despite promise after promise, month after month, and can only come to the conclusion that it is determined to fight the next general election on the basis of existing law and that it finds it impossible to break the connection between politics and business and let go of its corporate funders. I remain to be convinced but perhaps the Minister of State will be able to give us a fixed date on behalf of the Administration by which this important promise will be fulfilled.
We introduced whistleblower legislation to allow those working in public affairs at some level to blow the whistle and call in the legal authorities to investigate a scam or an abuse without fear of damage or harm to themselves. The Government did not have the guts to vote it down and sought instead to kill it in committee where it has languished for months on end. The Taoiseach repeatedly promised that such legislation would be part of the Government's comprehensive regime of legislation. We still await its proposals.
The Register of Lobbyists Bill was another brought forward by our Seanad colleagues and, again, was not allowed passage by the Administration. As spokesperson on justice, I produced an anti-corruption Bill. The Government pro duced its own Bill a year ago which was finally allowed to proceed to Committee Stage yesterday. I hope it will proceed to enactment because it deals with very important issues. One of the most difficult matters for the public to understand is that seemingly corruption is not recognised, even when there is a clear discernment of a wad of money being given to somebody in authority and that person doing something advantageous for the donor. Under the old 1906 Corruption Act there was a change in the law from the older Victorian statute of the 1890s whereby in cases where a contract was involved, money was donated to the giver of the contract and the donor subsequently won the contract, there was a presumption of corruption. It is now hoped the presumption of corruption will be extended to other areas such as the giving of licences and other valuable commodities by public administrators, including grants of zoning of land, where a substantial contribution is paid to the person who does the favour or the person who decides on a licence.
We are moving slowly to put in place a comprehensive framework of legislative measures in which the Bill is an important milestone. What it seeks to do is update and consolidate the Ethics in Public Office Act of 1995. It strengthens and changes the role of the commission which is to be welcomed.
I wish to deal with another issue which is extremely important in the whole process of building confidence in public administration and public life. The House is often allowed to be a cipher, a rubber stamp for the Executive. Nominally we have a parliamentary democracy whereby the will of the people is reflected in the membership of the House which makes laws, determines the tax base and all the other matters that govern the life of the nation. Often the people who make the least impact are the Members of the House. Lobby groups, the social partners, IBEC, the Congress of Trades Unions, the farmers' organisations all have a greater impact in shaping our social norms, the tax base, the standards of our health and education services than non-Executive Members of the House. It is time for us to reclaim a parliamentary role. I say this very strongly in the context of the whole debate on the Nice Treaty.
When I served in office I had the privilege of being a member of the Council of Ministers but was not scrutinised on the positions I took as a representative of Ireland at the Council. That level of parliamentary scrutiny was not provided for. In Denmark, for instance, Ministers as a matter of routine receive instructions from Parliament as to what the position of the country should be on important issues. When people talk about the democratic deficit at the heart of Europe the democratic deficit is not in Brussels but here in these Houses because we have not asserted ourselves. The process of reasserting the primacy of parliament and the role of parliamentarians must begin by fulfilling the advice given  in the final report on the DIRT inquiry that a parliamentary commission be established.
We need independence from the Department of Finance in our affairs. I say this with some pleasure in the presence of officials from and the Minister of State at that Department. It is wrong that committees of the House which want to engage in public work and public scrutiny are vetted by civil servants who determine the extent of the scope of the inquiry. They decide whether resources are made available to employ researchers and on the level of backup members may have. Members have pitiful backup resources compared to modern European parliaments. Those of us who try to be Front Bench spokespersons in opposition have an impossible job. We must scrutinise and respond to complicated legislation and table meaningful amendments. This is an enormous job of work which is becoming farcical.
I mentioned yesterday on Committee Stage of the corruption Bill that the Minister's amendments were only published in the morning. During the course of the debate the Minister gleefully informed us that they were complicated and had taken months to negotiate with the Attorney General but we were supposed not only to digest them but also to seek to amend them in a matter of hours with no backup available. This is because there is a mindset in the Executive, particularly in some Departments, that we are really here to rubber-stamp its decisions, not to engage in meaningful scrutiny of public administration. We have allowed this to happen, that perception to become a reality, because we have not demanded our rights.
A parliamentary commission is required. We also need to have an independent Vote for the Houses of the Oireachtas, negotiated by the Leader of the House, on the same basis as, for example, any individual Minister negotiates with the Department of Finance in terms of the Vote for their Department. It is ludicrous that there is no advocate for the Houses of the Oireachtas, in terms of the Oireachtas Vote, to explain our demands, what an effective parliament must do and that we will not settle for less. That affects all Members because membership of the Executive is a temporary position. There is a cross-flow at every election across the House. The primacy of the decision-making of the House is something in which we all have a vested interest, not just those who. for whatever reason, are temporarily or permanently on this side. It is a point of principle for every Member.
The ability of committees of the House to carry on investigations is new. We are testing the waters in that regard.
An Ceann Comhairle Séamus Pattison
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy has 50 seconds remaining.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
Mr. Howlin: I have not even got on to the Bill.
Mr.Cullen: I had noticed.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
 Mr. Howlin: I am coming to it. Another thing we have agreed to is truncated debates. Twenty minutes on a Bill such as this is not enough.
Mr. Cullen Mr. Cullen
Mr. Cullen: When we came in 1997 we could talk for hours.
Mr. Howlin Mr. Howlin
Mr. Howlin: That was much better when one could speak for at least a half an hour. More time should be allowed on some Bills. It is important to restate the primacy of the House, and that meaningful support, backup and resources are provided so that the House can be a real investigator and watchdog on behalf of the public. That whole process paralleled with the array of legislation to which I have referred together with the Bill before the House will give back confidence to the Irish people in our ability to conduct their affairs fairly and without favour or bias and certainly without any hint or suggestion of corruption.
I look forward to the Committee Stage debate.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: This is an important Bill and one which I and my party support. Regrettably legislation of this nature is necessary. In the past this type of legislation would not have been necessary. Many years ago I recall speaking to the late Michael McInerney, political correspondent of The Irish Times, and the late Ned Murphy, political editor of the Sunday Independent who wrote also for the Irish Independent. We discussed the relationship of members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, civil servants and the discharge of duties. One of the points discussed was instructions given by a Minister to a civil servant. The civil servant felt duty bound to carry out the instruction of his Minister. In the event of him being of the opinion that there was something wrong with the instruction, after he had carried it out, he would report to the Taoiseach of the day that he was unhappy with the instruction he had been obliged to carry out. That was at a time when there was trust and confidence in the Taoiseach of the day. I speak of the late 1960s. Sadly, the whole scenario changed in that the Fianna Fáil Party allowed somebody who was unfit to become Taoiseach and those who associated with him were unfit to be members of a Government or of the House. It changed the face and character of politics and it has caused damage that will last for many a long day.
In regard to the heave against Charles Haughey, the then leader of the Opposition, an instruction was given by a Mr. Moore of the PMPA to Deputy David Andrews to do the right thing. At the time Deputy Andrews had the courage to stand by his convictions. As it transpired he lost business because he did not do as he was told. Deputy Andrews was a Member and also a barrister and had the financial capacity to withstand that type of instruction. How many others in Ireland were told to do the right thing and support the then Leader of Fianna Fáil? It worries me because I am certain that a considerable num ber of people were intimidated into supporting the then leadership of Fianna Fáil. Regrettably, the other members of the party did not have the courage to stand up to him. In fact, I saw the late Deputy Jim Gibbons being struck in the courtyard of the House. It was a sad and appalling incident. As far as I can recollect he did not return to the House afterwards. A political party allowed that to happen.
The standards in public office at that time were so low and so dangerous that as a country we were lucky to survive. This is what has given rise to this necessary legislation. We have found ourselves in a situation where legislation had to be enacted requiring public representatives, TDs and Senators and some senior civil servants to make disclosures of personal possessions, property and so on. This is not conducive to entering public life, rather it can be a barrier and prevent some people from entering public life. That is regrettable. This was caused by a political party which did not have the courage to ensure it had a Taoiseach who would uphold the standards and dignity entrusted in him by the House.
Political parties have lost a considerable amount of the voluntary effort and support enjoyed in the past. All political parties have difficulty in retaining and getting young people into the ranks. That is a serious matter and one that will not change in the foreseeable future. Young people are not joining political parties. Some who have had a long involvement in political parties have faded away from the political scene. That is a pity. Because of events in the past, people have become disillusioned. That is sad because in political life there is a need for people to be involved and actively supporting the various political organisations to which they have a loyalty.
There is a major problem facing political parties. At present they are required to respond instantaneously to questions put to them by the press. While the press has considerable research facilities and resources at its disposal political parties are restricted as they do not have half those resources available to them.
Dáil Éireann 537 Standards in Public Office Bill, 2000: Second Stage (Resumed).