Dáil Éireann - Volume 598 - 22 February, 2005

Leaders’ Questions.

  Mr. Kenny:Many thousands of elderly people and their families are anxiously waiting for the Government’s response to last week’s Supreme Court decision which rejected its attempt to retrospectively deny people their legal rights. The net effect of the judgment, as the Tánaiste will be aware, is that tens of thousands of people were illegally charged over a prolonged period. Yesterday, the Minister for Finance promised this matter would be dealt with quickly and in a non-legalistic way.

Will the Tánaiste confirm that rather than deal with this issue quickly, the Cabinet, by setting up a sub-committee, has effectively kicked to touch on it? Will she confirm that there will be a statutorily based scheme to repay those who were illegally charged? When will it be established? Will the estates of deceased persons be refunded? Arising from the setting up of the Cabinet sub-committee today and in view of the fact thousands of people are very anxious to know about this matter, how are people expected to proceed with the lodging of claims or will they be contacted by the structure arising from the sub-committee? What level of proof and documentation will be required? When is it likely to emerge? Where will the contact point be for persons who were victims or the next-of-kin of those who were involved in the issuing of probate for estate? When can they expect this matter to be dealt with in a non-legalistic way?

  The Tánaiste:The Government is anxious to ensure the individuals affected and their families or their estates are repaid as quickly, efficiently and as fairly as possible. As the Deputy acknowledged in the number of questions he asked, this is a complex and mammoth task because we are talking about approximately 275,000 people. Clearly, the Statute of Limitations cannot apply to anybody who was not of sound mind, which would include many citizens in mental institutions, or perhaps intellectually disabled individuals. It is the intention to pay into the estates of individuals. However, considerable issues arise, including the administrative issue and the cost issue in that we are talking about a minimum of €500 million, although it may be substantially more than that.

[253] For all these reasons and given that we have never gone down this road before in terms of the scale of what is involved, the Government felt, after a long discussion on this matter today, that the relevant Ministers together with the Attorney General should meet quickly — we will meet tomorrow — to look at the issues, including the possibility of a statutory scheme being put in place. Above all else, we want to avoid individuals having to take legal action to receive compensation if we can.

  Mr. Kenny:I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. Arising from it, is she confirming that the Statute of Limitations will not apply to persons of sound mind going back beyond six years or to cases where persons were of sound mind but are now deceased, that is, to the estates of those persons? Can the Tánaiste confirm when she expects to bring the new Bill before the House in respect of the element of the judgment which was deemed to be constitutional, in other words the charges for the future? Most importantly in respect of a question Deputy Rabbitte asked last Thursday and which the Tánaiste answered, can she confirm that no diminution of existing health services will take place arising from the scale and scope of the charge against the State? If this is to be of the order of €2 billion, as has been rumoured, when will the Government bring a Supplementary Estimate before the House? Despite what the Minister for Finance has said, can the Tánaiste confirm that people involved in the health services and other services will not be short-changed this year arising from the Government’s decision? When does the Tánaiste expect to have sight of the Travers report? Does she expect it to be published before the upcoming by-elections in view of the clarity of the Supreme Court’s statement about that element of the judgment?

  The Tánaiste:It will be necessary to introduce a Supplementary Estimate this year. Clearly we will need to see the nature of what will be involved this year before we decide when to do that. Regarding the remarks of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, clearly the money that will need to be repaid is money that could be used for other matters. There will be no cutbacks in the Estimate for the health service this year or in other departmental Estimates as I confirmed in the House last Thursday.

Mr. Travers interviewed me last Friday and indicated his report is imminent. I expect to have it by or before 1 March. I intend to publish it immediately after bringing it to Government.

  Mr. Rabbitte:Would the Tánaiste agree that in current circumstances it is desirable for the Government to speak with one voice? Can she explain the differences, which have emerged between Ministers and between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and the Taoiseach? Does she understand why the [254] Taoiseach keeps saying that exclusion of the republican movement brought us 30 years of murder and mayhem when in fact precisely the opposite has happened? It is the 30 years of mayhem that brought us exclusion. Exclusion did not produce the violence. Against the background of the most extraordinary events in recent days, apparent international money laundering, the murder of Robert McCartney, the attempted purchase of a bank in Bulgaria and so many other matters, is it not important for this House to seek, in as far as we can, to best protect our democracy?

In the matter of public money being made available for the practice of politics and execution of parliamentary duties, does the Tánaiste agree that we should consider changing the criteria necessary for a qualifying party, applied equally across the board to all of us in terms of public funds being made available and that the most basic prerequisite that we should require of all democratic parties, which want to access public money, ought to be fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State? If a party were not prepared to insert in its constitution a requirement that it subscribes to the institutions of the State that party would exclude itself as a qualifying party eligible for public money to carry on its political affairs.

  The Tánaiste:The matters that came to light last week are grave and very serious. They fundamentally alter many matters. In the first instance, I congratulate the Garda Síochána in defence of democracy. The Government speaks with one voice on these matters and it is important that it should. The reason for the breakdown in the talks process before Christmas was, as I said in the House, that some were not prepared to commit themselves to an end to criminality in all its forms. They were not prepared to sign on for a phrase that stated they would guarantee the personal freedom and liberty and all citizens. At many levels one would think that should be a simple matter to which to agree. However, for some it was far too much.

It is not in the interests of or compatible with democracy that some have access to huge amounts of money — the proceeds of crime — to fund a political campaign. That is neither desirable nor fair. While this is the first time I have heard Deputy Rabbitte suggest a basis on which the taxpayer should fund political parties, I would assume the vast bulk of the people would only want their money to go to parties that subscribed to the basic fundamentals of democracy and all it entails.

  Mr. Kenny:Hear, hear.

  Mr. Rabbitte:I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. I do not seek to entrap her into committing to any specific undertaking in this exchange. However, it seems that a very minimalist Bill could be brought before the House. My party has [255] drafted such a Bill and the Tánaiste might be interested in making time available for its discussion. It would require the very basic preconditions for public funding and would exert them equally across the board in the House. In the light of recent events the taxpayers would be horrified to find their money being intermingled with money from such nefarious causes as we have seen for the purposes of funding any political party in the State or in this House. In those circumstances, I ask the Tánaiste if she would be prepared to examine basic legislation along the lines I have suggested that would not seek to exert punishment or penalty on anyone. Rather it would be a charter to which all of us in this House must subscribe if we want to avail of public resources for our parliamentary duties or political activity.

  The Tánaiste:I assume that anyone elected to this House will abide by the Constitution, and will support and recognise the Garda Síochána and the Army. Other issues on funding exist. For example I would not like it to remain possible for some people to launder money overseas and take it back into this jurisdiction, perhaps as part of their fundraising activities. We need to examine many issues surrounding the funding of political parties, I hope, in an all-party context.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:Will the Tánaiste acknowledge that I say here without equivocation that Sinn Féin is a party that rejects criminality of any kind and that no republican worthy of the name can be involved in criminality? Will she note that I go further and state that if there are within this party people who are involved in criminal acts, then they should leave our ranks immediately? Will she note that I say that there is no room in Sinn Féin for other than a clear and unambiguous commitment to democratic politics and the pursuit of our goals by legal and peaceful means? Will the Tánaiste acknowledge that the members, elected representatives and supporters of this party are entitled to the same respect due to all citizens, to the presumption of innocence and not to be damned and demonised? Does the Tánaiste recognise that in a climate such as this, efforts are being made to spread guilt by innuendo, guilt by association and guilt because of the political views of people and not because of anything they have done? Will the Tánaiste note that while it would be easy at this time to devote all our energies to the war of words, remain on the defensive and be distracted from our purpose and pursuits, I have chosen instead to spell out clearly our responsibility to address any and every matter that requires our address? Will the Tánaiste and the House note that if republicans have issues to address, we will address them? If republicans are involved in any activity that besmirches the name of Irish republicanism in any way, they should cease such activity immediately. Any and all activity that falls outside the [256] norms of legitimate political action should cease forthwith.

Will the Tánaiste and the House accept that Sinn Féin is as determined as ever to take whatever hard decisions must be taken to move the peace process forward? Will the Tánaiste note our determination to continue to play the role we have played in helping to create this process, helping to bring about the cessations and helping to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and all that has flowed from it? We intend to pursue actively and achieve the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, with all that entails.

  The Tánaiste:I would like to acknowledge all of that, but I will certainly not engage in a convenient fiction for the purpose of responding to Deputy Ó Caoláin. The reality is that many members of Sinn Féin, perhaps all the Deputies from that party, do not believe it is a crime to murder a mother and did not believe it was a crime to murder Detective Garda Jerry McCabe or to attempt to murder Detective Garda Ben O’Sullivan. That is a fact. For a party that does not recognise the Garda Síochána, it seems very keen to use Garda uniforms when it gets a chance to do so. Nobody is more eager than me to see Sinn Féin come fully into the democratic political system, but its members cannot have it every way. They have got away with it for too long and patience is running out. Quite honestly, some of us are getting sick of the antics of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s party.

  Mr. Morgan:The Tánaiste was always sick——

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:The Tánaiste has demonstrated again that she does not have the necessary skills. She did not listen to what another Deputy carefully said in the House. It is regrettable that the Taoiseach is not here. Although she has never attended a meeting that was key and critical to the development of the peace process, the Tánaiste is acting again as judge and jury on Sinn Féin and she would love to be the executioner.

  Mr. Quinn:You are the executioners.

  Mr. Morgan:What is Conor Cruise saying?

  Mr. Quinn:You are the executioners.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:I ask——

  Mr. Morgan:The Deputy belongs with Conor Cruise O’Brien, who is now a Unionist.

  Mr. Quinn:What about Tom Oliver?

  Mr. Morgan:Conor Cruise.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:I ask my colleague to allow me to speak. I ask the Tánaiste to listen to me carefully. While it may be difficult for her to acknowledge, will she at least note Sinn Féin’s [257] determination to see all guns taken out of Irish politics?

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh:Including those of the Workers Party.

(Interruptions).

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:I will not note the sniggers from other benches, because the hands of the mortals who are sneering are not as clean as they would wish them to be. Sinn Féin is determined to play a part in the collective effort to create the conditions in which the IRA will cease to exist. Will the Tánaiste accept that republicans have taken many difficult decisions during the peace process? Does she accept that the Sinn Féin leadership has moulded a political strategy that has brought the vast majority of republicans away from physical force? That process has not ended — Sinn Féin is determined that it will be brought to a successful conclusion by both Governments and all parties which are interested in that purpose and intent.

I ask the Tánaiste to note that my colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, has stated categorically that he has no knowledge of, and was in no way connected with, any of the activity for which four people were convicted yesterday. I ask her to note again that I have made it clear on the floor of the House that my fellow Sinn Féin Deputies and I reject the brutal murder of Robert McCartney. We have called on anyone who can assist the McCartney family to do so. I wish to make it very clear, not only for the ears of the Tánaiste but also for the ears of all whom this statement addresses, that Sinn Féin is absolutely opposed to intimidation of any form.

  The Tánaiste:Sinn Féin is the only party in this House that can take away the guns because nobody else has guns.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:That is not the case.

  The Tánaiste:It is in the hands of Sinn Féin.

  Mr. Ferris:That is not the truth.

  The Tánaiste:If its members want to get the guns out of Irish politics, it is their decision.

  Mr. Ferris:Other parties have guns.

  Mr. C. Lenihan:No other party in Leinster House has guns.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:The Tánaiste should tell the truth.

  An Ceann Comhairle:The Tánaiste, without interruption.

  The Tánaiste:I would like to acknowledge that huge efforts have been made by many people during the peace process. Nobody has made a [258] greater effort than the Taoiseach and many of the parties in this House, including Deputy Ó Caoláin’s party. We need to go much further if we want to achieve success, which could have been achieved last December if Sinn Féin and its associates had been prepared to sign up to an end to criminality——

  Mr. Ferris:And be humiliated.

  The Tánaiste:——in all its forms, in line with the Good Friday Agreement.

  Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:An end to violence——

  An Ceann Comhairle:I ask the Deputy to allow the Tánaiste to continue.

  The Tánaiste:When Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s election agent was convicted, he attacked the Special Criminal Court.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh:I was my own election agent.

  The Tánaiste:I do not think that is compatible with membership of this House.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh:The Tánaiste is telling an untruth.

  An Ceann Comhairle:Deputy, as it is Leaders’ Questions, only Deputy Ó Caoláin is allowed to ask a supplementary question.

  Mr. Morgan:The Tánaiste is misleading the House.

  Aengus Ó Snodaigh:She is misleading the House.

  Mr. O’Donoghue:It is better than misleading herself.

  An Ceann Comhairle:I ask the Deputies to extend to the Tánaiste——

  Mr. Morgan:The Tánaiste is misleading the House.

  An Ceann Comhairle:——the same courtesy that she extended to them.

  The Tánaiste:I have concluded.

  An Ceann Comhairle:Before coming to the Order of Business, I must deal with a postponed division relating to the suspension of a Member. Last Thursday, 17 February 2005, on the question, “That Deputy Penrose be suspended from the service of the Dáil”, a division was claimed and, in accordance with Standing Order 61, that division must be taken now.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 65; Níl, 50.

    Ahern, Michael.

    Ahern, Noel.

    Andrews, Barry.

    Brady, Martin.

    Brennan, Seamus.

    Browne, John.

    Callanan, Joe.

    Carey, Pat.

    Carty, John.

    Coughlan, Mary.

    Cowen, Brian.

    Cregan, John.

    Cullen, Martin.

    Curran, John.

    Davern, Noel.

    de Valera, Síle.

    Dempsey, Tony.

    Dennehy, John.

    Devins, Jimmy.

    Ellis, John.

    Fahey, Frank.

    Finneran, Michael.

    Fitzpatrick, Dermot.

    Fleming, Seán.

    Gallagher, Pat The Cope.

    Glennon, Jim.

    Harney, Mary.

    Haughey, Seán.

    Hoctor, Máire.

    Jacob, Joe.

    Keaveney, Cecilia.

    Kelleher, Billy.

    Kelly, Peter.

    Killeen, Tony.

    Kirk, Seamus.

    Kitt, Tom.

    Lenihan, Brian.

    Lenihan, Conor.

    McDaid, James.

    McDowell, Michael.

    McEllistrim, Thomas.

    McGuinness, John.

    Martin, Micheál.

    Moloney, John.

    Moynihan, Donal.

    Moynihan, Michael.

    Mulcahy, Michael.

    Nolan, M. J.

    Ó Cuív, Éamon.

    Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.

    O’Connor, Charlie.

    O’Donoghue, John.

    O’Donovan, Denis.

    O’Flynn, Noel.

    O’Malley, Fiona.

    O’Malley, Tim.

    Parlon, Tom.

    Roche, Dick.

    Sexton, Mae.

    Smith, Brendan.

    Smith, Michael.

    Wallace, Dan.

    Wilkinson, Ollie.

    Woods, Michael.

    Wright, G. V.

[259] Níl

    Allen, Bernard.

    Boyle, Dan.

    Breen, James.

    Breen, Pat.

    Burton, Joan.

    Connaughton, Paul.

    Costello, Joe.

    Crawford, Seymour.

    Crowe, Seán.

    Deenihan, Jimmy.

    Enright, Olwyn.

    Ferris, Martin.

    Gilmore, Eamon.

    Gormley, John.

    Gregory, Tony.

    Healy, Seamus.

    Higgins, Joe.

    Higgins, Michael D.

    Hogan, Phil.

    Kehoe, Paul.

    Kenny, Enda.

    Lynch, Kathleen.

    McCormack, Padraic.

    McGrath, Finian.

    McGrath, Paul.

    McHugh, Paddy.

    McManus, Liz.

    Mitchell, Olivia.

    Morgan, Arthur.

    Murphy, Gerard.

    Naughten, Denis.

    Neville, Dan.

    Noonan, Michael.

    Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.

    Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.

    O’Dowd, Fergus.

    O’Keeffe, Jim.

    O’Shea, Brian.

    O’Sullivan, Jan.

    Perry, John.

    Quinn, Ruairí.

    Rabbitte, Pat.

    Ryan, Eamon.

    Ryan, Seán.

    Sargent, Trevor.

    Sherlock, Joe.

    Stanton, David.

    Timmins, Billy.

    Twomey, Liam.

    Upton, Mary.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kitt and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Lynch and Kehoe.

Question declared carried.