Seanad Éireann - Volume 141 - 01 September, 1994

Death of Member. - Report of Tribunal of Inquiry into Beef Processing Industry: Motion.

Ms O'Sullivan: I move:

That Seanad Éireann:

—notes the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry;

—thanks the Chairman for his work in conducting the inquiry and producing the report, and

—supports the Government in its commitment to act without delay to take account of the report's findings and to implement its recommendations.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. J. Walsh): Consequent on a resolution passed by Dáil Éireann on 24 May 1991 and by Seanad Éireann on 29 May 1991, an order appointing a Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Sector was made on 31 May 1991 by the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

In accordance with the resolution of both Houses, the terms of reference of the tribunal were:

(1) to inquire into and report to the Minister for Agriculture and Food [11] on the following definite matters of urgent public importance:

(i) allegations regarding illegal activities, fraud and malpractice in and in connection with the beef processing industry made or referred to

(a) in Dáil Éireann and

(b) on a television programme transmitted by ITV on 13 May 1991;

(ii) any matters connected with or relevant to the matters aforesaid which the tribunal considers is necessary to investigate in connection with its inquiries into the matters mentioned at (i) above;

and

(2) to make such recommendations (if any) as the Tribunal, having regard to its findings, thinks proper.

The order nominated, with his prior agreement, the President of the High Court, the Honourable Mr. Justice Liam Hamilton, as the sole member of the tribunal.

The task which the Houses of the Oireachtas placed before the tribunal was a formidable one, involving a fundamental inquiry into every aspect of the beef processing industry which was of public importance. Under Mr. Justice Hamilton's chairmanship, the tribunal had its first preliminary meeting on 21 June 1991 and commenced hearing evidence on 7 November 1991. It sat for 231 days, heard evidence from 475 witnesses and had its final sitting on 15 July 1993. The tribunal's report was presented to me my Mr. Justice Hamilton on 29 July 1994.

Among other things, the motion before the House thanks the chairman for his work. I am sure every Member will agree that the chairman deserves the deep gratitude of the House for the enormous task he undertook and completed over three years of very hard work. As the tribunal was established by [12] order of the Minister for Agriculture and Food it is appropriate that I should personally record my own thanks to Mr. Justice Hamilton for his work.

The tribunal of inquiry, the report of which is the subject of this debate, was established in response to a series of allegations made in the Dáil and elsewhere regarding the conduct of the Irish beef industry, and the Ministers and the public servants responsible for regulating it. These allegations were of the most serious kind, suggesting fraud by the industry and acquiescence in, and even facilitation of, that fraud by Ministers and public servants. The alleged reasons for such acquiescence and facilitation ranged from incompetence to corruption. The allegations were therefore of the most serious and damaging kind.

The integrity, independence and objectivity of public servants, and the institutions of State for which they worked, were called into question by these allegations. Likewise, the honesty and moral authority of our elected representatives, the politicians, were also called into question. If upheld, those allegations would have amounted to a most damning condemnation of Irish public life and of how we, as a nation, conduct our business.

The tribunal found no basis or evidence whatsoever to support the allegations made against the integrity of Ministers or public servants. Regarding the main thrust of the allegations — that there was a cosy arrangement between business, politicians and public servants and that it was possible to get away with murder, or that a blind eye would be turned, depending on having the right connections, the report of the tribunal, page 231, states:

There is no evidence to suggest that either the Taoiseach at the time or the Minister for Industry & Commerce at the time was personally close to Mr. Goodman or that Mr. Goodman had any political associations with either of them or the Party that they represented.

[13] Because of the position of Mr. Goodman in the agricultural life of the country and because of the obvious concerns of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Industry & Commerce to develop the agri-food sector of the economy and exports of value added products, leading to job creation, there is no doubt but that Mr. Goodman had reasonably ready access to members of the Government, including the Taoiseach and the Minister for Industry & Commerce for the purpose of discussing his plans for the development of his companies and his exports. It is clear that he had similar access to the previous Taoiseach, Mr. FitzGerald and members of his Government.

Regarding the serious and sleazy allegations made by the ITV programme “World in Action”, the report of the tribunal, on page 568, states:

There has not been established any basis for the allegation made in the ITV programme that Mr. Larry Goodman and his companies 'had the right connections at the right places that could basically control any investigation that would be put in place'. There is no evidence to suggest that any investigation carried out by any of the relevant authorities, including the Department of Agriculture, the Revenue Commissioners, the Customs and Excise authorities and the Garda Síochána were at any time or in anyway controlled or sought to be controlled by any “connections”, political or otherwise. Indeed, all the evidence is to the contrary.

Again, the report of the tribunal, on page 231, states:

There is no evidence to suggest that either the Taoiseach at the time or the Minister for Industry & Commerce at the time was personally close to Mr. Goodman or that Mr. Goodman had any political associations either with them or the Party that they represented.

[14] On page 422, the report of the tribunal states:

The allegation made in the ITV programme implied that there was collusion between “the Irish authorities” and the Goodman organisation to thwart a major European investigation by the appropriate authority of the European Commission into the Goodman organisation and was part of the general approach of the said programme that the Goodman organisation was protected and favoured by the Irish Government, because of political connection therewith.

Because of the seriousness of this allegation the Tribunal sought at the earliest possible opportunity the assistance of the European Commission in determining its truth or otherwise.

On pages 422 and 423 the report of the tribunal states:

On the 16th day of July 1991, the Tribunal wrote to Monsieur Michel Jacquot, who was the Director of FEOGA which is the French acronym for European Agriculture Guarantee and Guidance Fund (EAGGF).

In this letter Monsieur Jacquot was informed of the terms of reference of the Tribunal, the nature of the specific allegations made and his assistance invoked.

In reply, Monsieur Jacquot informed the Tribunal that:

“The allegations as conveyed in your letter of 16th July and equally in the Statement of Allegations is without foundation (in respect of the services of EAGGF).”

Though this reply satisfactorily established the falsity of the allegation, the tribunal was obliged to hear evidence in regard thereto and as a result of such evidence it was clearly established to be baseless and false. Such was the cogency of the evidence in this regard that the allegation was withdrawn by Ms Susan [15] O'Keeffe, the journalist who had researched and played a large part in the preparation of the programme.

On page 403, the report of the tribunal states:

The Tribunal is satisfied that there is no basis for the allegation that the Department of Agriculture did not diligently assist the Garda Fraud Squad in relation to the Waterford and Ballymun investigations.

The Tribunal is further satisfied that there is nothing sinister in the delay of the Customs & Excise authorities making the file available to the Garda Fraud Squad.

Page 362 of the report states:

Commissioner MacSharry, in the course of his evidence before this Tribunal, denied that he had made any such request to Minister Braks to intervene on behalf of Goodman International with any Dutch bank and has stated that he was not aware of the Dutch bank alleged to have been a creditor of the Goodman Group.

The Tribunal accepted his evidence in this regard and that would have been the end of the matter as far as the Tribunal was concerned were it not for the evidence with regard to the manner in which the producers of the television programme distorted and edited the video which showed Commissioner MacSharry's statement to the European Parliament on the 11th day of October 1990.

The actual video of what Commissioner MacSharry stated to the European Parliament was shown to the Tribunal and, when compared with the purported extract therefrom shown on the ITV programme, it was manifest that the excerpt which was shown on the ITV programme was carefully and, in the opinion of the Tribunal, unethically edited to present a distorted picture of what he had actually said.

[16] I am not impressed with people in sections of the media who, on the one hand, moralise and lecture publicly elected representatives, such as TDs, Senators and Ministers, and public servants on their standards when they conduct their business but who, on the other hand, would unethically edit a programme to damage in the most serious way the integrity of publicly elected representatives and public servants who cannot defend themselves, and to distort the actual picture.

It is extremely important that the tribunal which sat for the length of time it did, heard as many witnesses as it did, spent a year evaluating and assessing that evidence — produced such clear findings. It has thus rendered a major public service to the Irish people by clearing the good name of the persons they have elected to conduct their public business for them and of the people employed in their public institutions. The Irish people can renew the confidence they always had in their public representatives and in their public institutions to conduct business on their behalf at home in an objective and even handed way and to represent them abroad with honour and dignity.

The tribunal certainly found shortcomings in the controls exercised by my Department in relation to the operation of the European Union market support arrangements. These shortcomings were found to be due largely to shortage of staff. These deficiencies have since been addressed and this has been acknowledged by the tribunal. I propose to deal in detail with my Department's controls later.

With regard to the beef industry itself, the allegations which were made gave the impression that fraud was widespread and systematic and that the quality of the meat being sold by our processors was of a low order. Certainly, there have been specific incidents of fraud which were detected by my Department or by the Customs and duly dealt with and, certainly, further evidence of malpractice emerged in the course of the tribunal. However, the [17] general impression which the allegations conveyed of widespread and systematic fraud and of a practice of selling low quality meat to unsuspecting foreign buyers was shown clearly by the tribunal findings to be totally false. The allegations did no service to one of our most important industries and certainly did not make the task of holding and winning markets — at best a most difficult task — any easier.

The report states:

Having regard to the nature of the allegations made against the Goodman group of companies, and the widespread publicity given to such allegations and to the evidence given at this tribunal, it is significant that there were no complaints from consumers or purchasers of commercial, intervention or Third Country beef sold and exported by the Goodman group of companies.

We export and market beef to 60 countries worldwide and not one solitary complaint against Irish beef was made to the tribunal of inquiry into the industry.

The tribunal has made many findings in the course of its lengthy report, most of which have attracted much comment and analysis. To me, as Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, one of the most important findings is the first finding, in Chapter Five. That finding is about the beef industry itself. The tribunal refers to the more than four fold increase in sales by Irish vacuum packed beef over the years 1984 to 1992 and goes on to conclude:

This more than four-fold increase has been achieved against a background of falling EC consumption, increased pressure from competing meals, alternative protein sources and the growth in the convenience food sector. Such a striking commercial performance could not have taken place if the quality of the product were in doubt and concerns which have been expressed about the quality of Irish meat exports are, in the [18] view of the Tribunal unfounded: it is a product of the highest quality, justifiably commanding a premium price on international markets both within the EC and worldwide, and remains the country's most successful foreign export commodity.

I wish that the people who carelessly and maliciously threw around allegations about the Ministers, public servants and the industry itself had borne that in mind when they so easily made those very serious allegations.

This endorsement of the quality of Irish beef is most welcome to me and should please everyone who has the economic interests of the country at heart. I am confident that the Irish beef industry, with assistance from the appropriate State agencies, will maintain the development of recent years and will make an even bigger contribution to the national economy in the future.

Because of the importance of the beef sector to the Irish economy and the marketing difficulties to which I have just referred, it has been the policy of successive Governments — supported by the EU — to encourage and promote beef sales, including sales from intervention. This has been done through diverse measures such as the provision of State funding for CBF and the provision of export credit insurance on a national interest basis as opposed to a commercial basis. The Government on 17 June 1983 decided that the Minister for Industry and Commerce of the day would base his judgment on the national interest rather than commercial interest.

Based on the Government decision of 17 June 1983, there is a clear record of many decisions taken by Ministers in the 1982-87 Coalition Government to provide credit insurance for exports of beef to higher risk destinations. The basis for those decisions was the national interest. The perception of the national interest was based on the considerations relating to the beef industry to which I have referred. I do not contest that perception — I agree with it — [19] but I wonder why others choose to make a distinction between those decisions made from 1982 to 1987 and other decisions, similarly based on the Government decision of 1983, made during the lifetime of the succeeding Government.

It is a matter of record that following the execution of the contracts to supply beef to Iraq for which the then Minister for Industry and Commerce provided export credit insurance, in October 1986 the average factory price for R3 steers in Ireland was 99.3p per lb; and that by the end of 1988 that price had risen to 118.5p per lb. Some 100,000 farmers in Ireland benefited from the marketing, selling and disposal of Irish beef to destinations outside the EU, whether commercial beef or from intervention stores. That is reflected in those prices.

In a recent interview on RTE, the chairman of the IFA beef and livestock commodity group stated that it was good that this beef had been sold. I quote directly from the transcript of this interview on the “Today at Five” radio programme on 3 August 1994:

Interviewer: So even though it was risky — export credit insurance was dropped by the previous Government and reinstated by Albert Reynolds — you think it was justified in terms of the crisis of the time?

Mr. Richard Booth: I think Mr. Justice Hamilton acknowledges that it was necessary in the context of the importance of the industry to the country, in that he states quite clearly in the report that the Irish beef industry is very important to the whole economic well being of the State and that there was an onus on politicians to do everything possible to make sure the industry worked well and returned the maximum benefit to the country.

A member of this House put the allegations which led to the setting up of the tribunal in context. Senator Ross said “an unnecessary political trial has been [20] held and, I would add, a costly one at that.”

Ideally all sales of beef should be commercial but where sales to intervention are necessary to support the market it is clearly a matter of some importance to dispose of intervention beef stocks. Storage space is limited, large volumes of stored beef overhang the market and depress prices and there is a cost to the Exchequer since EU recoupment does not meet all the costs involved. It cost the Exchequer approximately £35 million to store beef in intervention for the years 1987 and 1988.

A number of the allegations investigated by the tribunal related to public servants and these were the crudest and cruellest allegations made. They were made against the Garda, Revenue officials and officials of my Department. The allegations included indifference to malpractices; not investigating reports of malpractice; obstructing such investigations; not pursuing actual charges with vigour; and even agreeing a plan with the Goodman group to limit the damage involved in the discovery of malpractice at the AIBP plant at Waterford. Most of these allegations were made in the Dáil; none of them has been found by the tribunal to have any basis whatever.

It is a matter of deep regret to me that conscientious and diligent public servants have had their collective good name and reputation impugned without foundation. Since I reached the age of reason in west Cork I was always told by my teachers and parents that we had one great asset in this country and that was the integrity of our Civil Service and public service. The people who impugned that reputation should be ashamed of themselves. The last thing our public servants deserve is that the privilege of the Houses of the Oireachtas be used to defame them when they do not have the opportunity to defend themselves.

The allegations concerning public servants were a clear case of groundless allegation feeding upon groundless allegation. I trust and hope that the lessons [21] have been learned and that we will never again hear baseless allegations about public servants being thrown carelessly and maliciously around the Houses of the Oireachtas. In the course of the tribunal of inquiry which took so long and examined matters so diligently, not alone was there no evidence found of any shortcomings in our public service but on several occasions the sole member, Mr. Justice Hamilton, referred to the total diligence and integrity he found on the part of our public service. I know that to be the case and I know very well that the public representatives here and the people of this country know it. For that reason it was doubly cruel of the people who made those baseless and false allegations under the privilege of the Houses of the Oireachtas. It was total and absolute cowardice.

I would like, at this point, to deal with a further issue relating to the role of public servants. An impression could easily be obtained that the references to specific malpractices in breach of the relevant EU regulations in the allegations investigated by the tribunal and in the evidence heard by the tribunal were new revelations and had not been previously known to or detected by the regulatory authorities, either Customs or my own Department. The fact is that the vast majority of these specific allegations which were subsequently found by the tribunal to be correct had previously been detected and appropriately acted upon by the regulatory authorities. Likewise, the vast bulk of the evidence presented to the tribunal related to incidents already detected and dealt with by the regulatory authorities.

It is also important to point out, in fairness to the public officials and to the politicians and Ministers concerned, that the tribunal has had no criticism whatsoever to make on the follow-up action taken by the regulatory authorities in relation to the irregularities detected over the years. This again demonstrates not only that the public servants concerned were diligent in their [22] duties but also that their political masters did not interfere with them in the exercise of their duties.

As Minister of State in the Department at the time, I am particularly gratified by the tribunal's findings in this regard. I am also pleased that my senior colleague at the time and a Member of this House, Senator O'Kennedy, who found himself one of the main targets of vilification as a result of these disgraceful allegations of interference with the due process, had his integrity totally upheld.

As Minister for Food I was involved in the processing of the Goodman five year plan. I am, therefore, personally very pleased that the many allegations made about the role of Ministers in relation to the plan have been found by the tribunal to be groundless, with only one exception. The exception relates to the decision of the Government on 8 March 1988 to direct the IDA to remove the employment performance clause from the grant agreement.

The tribunal's findings in relation to the Government decision of 8 March 1988 have to be considered in the broader context of the findings in relation to the processing of the Goodman plan as a whole. Those findings provide as clear an exoneration of improper political conduct as could be stated. It follows logically and directly from that exoneration that the bona fides of the decision of 8 March 1988 on the removal of the annual performance clause is not in question. Indeed, apart from pointing out that the decision was ultra vires the tribunal makes no further adverse comment on that decision which was clearly made by the Government in good faith.

The Government was motivated, first and foremost, by the need to create employment and was therefore concerned to ensure that the Goodman plan should proceed. It believed that the removal of the performance clause would clear away the last remaining obstacle to the implementation of the plan. In the event, as is now well known. the plan did not proceed and no grant [23] whatsoever, not a penny of State or FEOGA money, was paid under this plan.

However, if the plan has proceeded without meeting the projected job target, then clawback of grant commensurate with the shortfall in jobs would have taken place after the fifth and eighth years because it was only the annual performance clause, and not the overall one, which had been removed. Thus, even with the removal of the annual performance clause, any taxpayers' money that would have been paid to the Goodman group in grants would have been adequately protected. There was a “belt and braces” precautionary conditionality in relation to that plan.

The tribunal, of necessity, dealt with malpractices and irregularities. The extent of such activity should be put in perspective. In the first place, the EU regulations which the regulatory authorities had to supervise were numerous, complex and, in many cases, lacked clarity. The Commission official responsible for the control, Mr. M. Jacquot, told the tribunal that “the Commission hardly spends a day without its services being questioned on the interpretations on one or another provision.”

In addition, the practical difficulties of implementing these regulations in a typical boning hall where an average of 100 boners operate on the production line are patently obvious. The seasonality of Irish beef production, where about 40 per cent of the annual kill occurs in a three month period, intensifies these practical difficulties. More particularly, in the years 1990 to 1992 special factors to which I have already referred gave rise to a dramatic increase in sales to intervention and this additional work had to be handled within the budgetary constraints of my Department's resources.

I believe my Department has coped extremely well with its regulatory obligations, particularly when account is taken of all the difficulties which I have outlined. The total financial responsibility of the Department in relation to [24] EC beef support schemes amounted to £8.5 billion over the period 1973 to 1992. During the same period beef production at premises under the Department's control amounted to 7.3 million tonnes, equivalent to 20.5 million head of cattle.

In respect of these activities the Department presented annual accounts to the EU Commission which were subject to audit and review by the FEOGA auditors, the European Court of Auditors and Commission Special Investigations. In addition, there was the Department's own internal audit and the audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. As a result of the various audits and examinations, disallowances by the EU over that 20 year period amounted to £3.1 million, or only 0.04 per cent of the total expenditure involved. To any reasonable person, those figures speak for themselves.

References have been made in the media to penalties being imposed by the EU arising out of the tribunal report. As I said, all the specific incidents which were the subject of allegations had already been detected and dealt with by the regulatory authorities and, where appropriate, by the Garda and the courts. The report is being examined in detail in my Department with a view to identifying what further action may need to be taken. In the meantime the report has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The report has also been transmitted to the EU Commission in Brussels for its consideration and for appropriate action. When the Commission's examination and that of my Department are completed, both organisations will then consult on the action to be taken. In advance of the completion of these examinations any estimate of financial penalties would be highly speculative.

No regulatory or policing system is ever perfect. The tribunal has made some general criticisms of my Department's role as regulatory authority in relation to the operation of the EU market support arrangements. It has found that “the number of irregularities disclosed [25] and the failure to prevent or discover same” was “due mainly to inadequacy in the number of staff employed” by the Department. The tribunal also concluded that the inadequacy of the staff numbers “undoubtedly led to a laxity in the supervision and control of the system”.

However, the tribunal points out that this situation “must be viewed in the context of the huge volume of meat passing through the boning plants” and “the seasonality of much of the activity in this regard”. The tribunal also concludes that “the steps that have been taken and the control systems introduced by the Department of Agriculture as outlined in Mr. Dowling's [the Secretary's] statement to the Tribunal go very far towards dealing with the weaknesses in the system disclosed during the course of the Tribunal and have rendered unnecessary many of the recommendations which might otherwise have been made by the Tribunal”.

In October 1990, for example, the control functions which resided with the separate commodity divisions of the Department were changed and centralised in a specialised intervention unit. Apart from two relatively small recommendations, the sole member, Mr. Justice Hamilton, is satisfied that the regulations and controls in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry are adequate.

In putting in place these improved control arrangements the Department was guided by two considerations in particular, first, that the primary responsibility for the proper operation of and conformity with the provisions of the various regulations rests with operators themselves and the new contract should underpin this principle and, second, that the command and control structures within which Irish controls operate needed to be more streamlined, more resources needed to be committed, specialisation in the control of intervention activities needed to be developed and the emphasis shifted from the permanent presence as the principal control instrument. [26] I would like to quote from the tribunal report which states that:

...having considered the steps taken by the Department of Agriculture as outlined in Mr. Dowling's statement to streamline and improve the control systems against the background of the evidence adduced before the Tribunal, the Tribunal is satisfied that the Department has addressed the problems disclosed therein and has set up a system and established controls which, if fully implemented and sufficient trained staff employed, would greatly lessen the possibility of irregularities and malpractices occurring in the future and recommends that these systems and controls be rigorously enforced.

The report goes on to make the two recommendations I mentioned earlier, which are marginal.

It is my intention that all the control requirements will be strictly enforced and that every transgression will be appropriately dealt with up to and including criminal prosecution where the necessary evidence is available. To this end the recommendations of the tribunal relating to the controls will, as I said, be fully and speedily implemented.

I thank the House for the opportunity to put the record straight, to quote directly from the tribunal and to uphold the integrity of Ministers, politicians, public servants and the good name of Irish food. In that regard, the report has done an extremely valuable job. If there are specific questions or if clarification is required during the course of the debate, I would be pleased to return to elucidate and to give Members as full an answer and clarification as I can.

Mr. D'Arcy: I move amendment No. 1:

To add the following to the motion:

“and

(1) calls on the Government to set out a timetable for the implementation of the recommendations [27] contained in the report;

(2) notes the many failures of public policy in the period 1987 to 1989 identified in the report;

(3) deplores the findings of the report regarding systematic tax evasion by the Goodman Group; and

(4) furthermore is of the opinion that the present Taoiseach was wrong in his claim to have been totally vindicated by the report and is in agreement with the view, as stated by the Labour Party, that the decisions in which he was centrally involved as Minister at that time and which were covered in the report amounted to a policy disaster for which he is accountable.

I welcome this debate on the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry. I listened with interest to the Minister and followed every word he said. He was selective in his speech and in his quotes from the report and I intend to highlight a considerable number of shortfalls. I am glad he offered to answer questions. Unfortunately I have commitments tomorrow and I fear I may not be able to attend. Questions should be answered but this was refused in the Dáil. I understood Deputies would be given the chance to ask questions——

Mr. Roche: We will not be here tomorrow. The Seanad adjourns this evening.

Mr. McGowan: Senator D'Arcy has his wires crossed.

Mr. D'Arcy: Unfortunately I have a commitment at 5 p.m. today.

The tribunal of inquiry has not merely been an investigation into irregularities in the meat industry and dubious actions by a range of politicians, it is exposé of factors which threaten the entire future [28] of this country's most important industry. Those who have threatened the industry by their actions have not acted in the national interest and many deserve to have those actions referred to the DPP. The report is a litany of malpractices from tax evasion to stealing. The appalling fact is that it did not begin or end with the Goodman organisation.

When one examines the details of the report it is obvious that substantial and deliberate malpractices were the order of the day throughout practically the entire industry. People understand that the only place there were problems was in the Goodman organisation; that is incorrect. That point, which is borne out in the report, should be made. I was amazed to see the extent of the fines levied on a number of meat operators which were greater than those incurred by the Goodman group. What this says to me as a citizen and a farmer is that a substantial part of the meat industry has been prepared to act in a manner which indicates that it deserves neither respect nor trust.

The live export of cattle has been criticised as being against the national interest. Indeed, it would be preferable if there was no need for it. However, if one was a farmer and read and listened to what was revealed in the tribunal, one would not expect fair and honest dealings from suppliers of beef. The fact that the meat industry has been allowed to act in a cavalier manner comes down squarely to the inadequacies of the monitoring system administered by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

The beef industry is one of our most valuable exporters and has great potential for growth and employment if properly operated. Our beef has a great reputation not alone in Europe, as the Minister said, but across the world. The value of our beef exports is approximately £1.5 billion; this indicates its real value to the economy. The processing end of the beef industry employs approximately 12,000 people directly and at least another 12,000 indirectly. [29] This indicates its employment potential. Further expansion and development can only come about if there is trust in those who operate the industry. The £1.5 billion direct income from the export of beef would equate with £3 billion of other exports of our heavy industries in view of the fact that there is little importation of raw material by the beef industry. In other areas importation requirements amount to approximately 30 per cent and this adds extensively to the costs to heavy industry. This is in view of the low level of import requirements, another example of the real value of the beef industry.

I want to refer to the live export of cattle. This has been criticised by many, including the trade and trade unions, and various attempts have been made to stop this. Producers in this country have read this report which creates nothing but suspicion, mistrust and lack of confidence in the processing side. I have no doubt that if there were no live exports factories would abuse producers to such an extent that they would erode any reasonable profitability for producers. I never encouraged the export of live cattle. However, I am dubious, now more than ever, having seen the practices of factories during the last five months. Time and time again they have attempted to reduce the price of cattle and they have succeeded in reducing it to the present low level of £1 per lb. The Minister is aware of that price as there is an update on this situation in his Department. This is not compatible with the return our producers can get on foreign markets.

This report would not inspire producers with confidence in the processing sector. I call on processors to bear in mind the value of this industry to the economy and to deal more fairly with producers. Proper contracts should be drawn up for the purchase of our beef. I speak as a farmer and beef producer. A large number of farmers will not trust the processors to give a fair return for the purchase of this raw material. Trust must be built up between farmers and processors. The processors are using [30] their organisation to depress the price, particularly in the months after June.

On several occasions we have pointed out to the Minister that proper contracts should be drawn up. As a beef producer I am prepared to draw up a contract with any factory. Most of the big beef producers are prepared to do so. However, the factories do not want that. They want to depress the price when there is an over-supply in the market during the months from June to November. Were it not for the existence of the live export market they would succeed. During the last week they have reduced the price of beef by 2p per lb. to the present price of £1 per lb. It is getting very near the stage where the economics of beef production mean very small profits for the farmer. I have consistently made this point. I have even asked the people I supply to draw up a yearly contract to gauge approximate prices but they always make the excuse that they cannot foresee the prices on the European market. If one looks at European prices over a five year period — and the factories have the facilities to do so — very little change occurs in the price of beef on an annual basis.

Mr. Justice Hamilton was extremely lenient in his treatment of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. It totally failed to curb the range of irregularities discovered by the tribunal and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry must take responsibility for that. Cleverly, the Department got its response in first and told the tribunal that in future — and the Minister has said this today — it would do its duty. It is to be hoped that, when the publicity focus has shifted from this issue, the Department will not revert to the disgraceful and inept response of the period from 1987 to 1989 which was so well demonstrated in the evidence. As a supporter of the Department, I hope that the practices of that period, when so many irregularities took place, will never be repeated. There is no use trying to fool ourselves otherwise. I hope the activities of An Bord Bia, which will [31] be responsible for our food industry, will not be constricted by the Department. I also hope the Minister gives the board liberty, properly supervised.

With regard to supervision the Minister made excuses about the lack of staff. He said: “The tribunal certainly found shortcomings in the controls exercised by my Department in relation to the operation of the EU market support arrangements”. I understand that every factory has a resident veterinary surgeon. The Minister should tell me if that has changed. There is, and always has been, a veterinary surgeon in the factory with which I deal. There is no use saying he was not there during the period in question. That creates suspicion and then people ask how that can happen.

The Department is extremely vigilant in enforcing regulations in respect of ordinary beef producers. I can quote a number of cases. How many files are there in his Department where simple mistakes were made regarding a tag, a number or a heifer mistakenly identified as a bullock? The computers show up those mistakes immediately. Why can the Minister not use that system? I would remind him of the unfortunate farmer who, last year, had 54 or 55 suckling cows — he was not in my constituency — and I had to approach the Minister privately. About £8,000 in grant aid was involved. The Department described his application as “fraudulent” — the farmer made a mistake by putting down a heifer as a cow. As a result he was being disallowed from availing of two years' grant aid. Stringent regulations apply to producers. It is incredible. That farmer was going to lose approximately £15,000 over two years and it took much toing and froing between the Minister and his senior officials to convince them that this would be a grave injustice to the farmer. Why does the Minister not apply the same standards to the meat factories? The Department has dozens of files where decisions are awaited. where small technical points are preventing grants being paid. [32] I do not approve of, and would never tolerate, abuse where applications are concerned. I was a Minister of State at that Department for nine months and when we uncovered abuse we dealt with it. We did not get publicity but the abuse was dealt with immediately; the Minister for Agriculture at the time was Deputy Dukes. I would not tolerate abuse by either farmers or factory owners. However, during 1987-89 the processors appear to have had a free run where abuse is concerned.

One of the most widely voiced criticisms of the beef tribunal is the length of time and the huge costs involved. It is, of course, important that the affairs of Government, and especially anything involving finance, should be subject to scrutiny and investigation. One of Mr. Justice Hamilton's most damning observations was that had Ministers given proper and full responses to Dáil queries the tribunal would not have been necessary. However, he did not specify the Ministers. That is an indictment of the Government. Fair and honest answers should be given.

It is impossible to go through the entire report and digest its content. I read it and asked other people to read it. I also used the newspapers which were very useful. The Minister criticised the newspapers. The Irish Independent, The Irish Times and the Irish Press were fair in their comments about the beef tribunal. The press analysed and assessed the report rather well. As Mr. Justice Hamilton said, had questions been answered in the Dáil there would have been no need for the report.

The report shows, first, that the Government was less than honest and forthcoming about the issues the tribunal examined and it should be criticised for this. Open and honest government is demanded by today's electorate and this Government is singularly failing to provide such government. Its attitude and actions are derailing politics in the eyes of an increasing number of people. The Government must be condemned for this. We ask why young people are cynical. They read the tribunal [33] report in the newspapers and they become cynical when they see what it contains.

Second, if the Government had given complete and open answers in the Dáil the need for the tribunal would have been eliminated. I understand that this tribunal will cost about £30 million, a huge sum of money which could have been available for socially desirable purposes. From daily contact with various voluntary endeavours I know how much could be achieved improving the lives of many individuals and groups by a grant of £0.5 million. By its actions the Government has prevented development in these areas. People should be alerted to these consequences of the Government's obstinacy or lack of honesty. In general, people were turned off very early by the proceedings of the tribunal and disillusioned by the legal costs. Now, because of a lack of honesty by several key political players, one of the key objectives of the whole process — public respect for the integrity of Government — has been lost.

Having looked at the report we find that there are three or four main players: the present Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, the present Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Joe Walsh, the present Tánaiste, Deputy Dick Spring, and, of course, the famous Larry Goodman who had a very important role to play. It is my intention to deal with them individually. The report is the most serious indictment of a Minister's conduct since 1970. It raises fundamental points about the way in which the present Taoiseach behaved as a Minister during that period. His claim to have been vindicated by the report is patently untrue. The report justifies the description, by Deputy Desmond O'Malley, of the present Taoiseach as being “reckless, irresponsible, and unwise” in regard to export credit insurance. Those are not my words, they are the words of Deputy O'Malley.

The Taoiseach's style of management and decision making is not conducive to [34] accountability, transparency and corruption-free Government. He ignores the advice of officials, but he should at least have read the report first and stated the reasons for rejecting it. That should be clearly on the record. It is not and the report bears that out.

The Taoiseach's memory lapses in giving evidence to the tribunal were alarming. He could not recall the circumstances in which he was told about the largest single beef contract in the history of the State. He could not recall when he made that decision. His manner of making decisions at unrecorded meetings has contributed to a situation where a major action for damages is now being taken against the Irish taxpayer. We were asked by the Cathaoirleach to keep clear of any matter awaiting litigation so that is the only statement I will make on that.

When the passports-for-sale scandal broke at the end of May 1994, the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, said he had had no involvement in C & D Foods for 14 years. According to the tribunal evidence, the Taoiseach said he came into Government in 1987 having spent four years developing his own business, which is allied to the business we are discussing. That is in the report. There is a contradiction here.

I am sorry the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Joe Walsh, is no longer here because I am going to criticise him. The Taoiseach, as Minister responsible for the IDA during that period, should have told Deputy Joe Walsh that there was to be no publicity for the Goodman/IDA plan until the agreement was signed. In fact, no agreement was signed for a full year afterwards. Misunderstandings that arose from the premature announcement may have contributed to the fact that the plan never worked. There was a breakdown shortly after that. The Government, including Deputy Reynolds, pre-empted the discretion of the IDA to take a decision to reject the Goodman package as unsatisfactory by means of systematic political involvement in the negotiations. This included [35] discussions of the negotiations at Cabinet, about which the IDA was not told, and meetings by Ministers with the promoter independent of the IDA. Those are serious matters which are mentioned in the report. The calling of a press conference to announce the project before the Authority had even considered it further pre-empted the Authority in this matter. Those are the facts as stated in the report.

The question of export credit insurance is a serious one. The then Minister, Deputy Reynolds, deliberately rushed memoranda involving millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to Government in a way that would avoid scrutiny, especially by the Department of Finance, even though there was obviously no need for any rush in respect of most of these decisions. This undermines the normal safeguards of Cabinet Government. The then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, rejected all advice and, in doing so, took risks that the Department of Finance described as a gamble with the Exchequer's resources. His view of the national interest in the distribution of export credit insurance was found by the tribunal to be objectively incorrect. Non-Irish beef was being exported under Irish insurance cover and no national interest was served by that. Some £98.65 million was put at risk with absolutely no benefit to the economy. Even a cursory analysis should have shown the then Minister that there was no real benefit to the economy.

It seems to me that he did not bother to seek the advice of the Departments of Agriculture or Finance about the origin of the beef being exported to Iraq. If he had, both Departments, which were in full possession of the facts, could have told him that it was beef already in intervention whose sale would do nothing to improve Irish beef prices in the short and medium term. In his speech earlier, the Minister made the point about Irish beef prices but he did not tell us what the price of beef was a year later. There was an exaggerated [36] price at the end of that year which had nothing to do with intervention. The price slumped within a 12 month period.

The effect of his decision excluded other companies from the Iraqi market. This was a foreseeable result and the fact that he had not intended it is irrelevant. The decision of the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, in regard to the allocation of export credit insurance underwritten by the taxpayer was arbitrary, inconsistent and entirely inappropriate in regard to its use of public resources. He said the ECI should only be confined to those traders who had been paid up to date for previous supplies, and then broke that condition in allocating ECI to Hibernia. He claimed that ECI should only be given to those with a track record in the Iraqi market. He broke that condition in allocating ECI to Master Meats while denying it to others. Initially he was willing to extend ECI to Goodman, Hibernia and Master Meats without proof of written contracts but refused ECI to Halal on the grounds that they did not have a written contract. That is stated in the report.

Incidentally, the contracts might well have shown that non-Irish beef was being used. One could speculate as to why the then Minister did not demand a contract from Goodman, Hibernia or Master Meats. He allocated export credit insurance to different suppliers on different bases as to the extent and duration of cover without any apparent reason. That is what I gather from the report. Surely, the then Minister was told by the Ministers for Agriculture or Finance about the sort of beef, intervention and non-Irish, being exported. Either they were negligent or he ignored them. The Cabinet confidentiality ruling does not allow the facts to be established.

The report shows documentary evidence that the Minister for Finance was personally aware of the use of intervention beef by Goodman from the early days of 1987 to 1989. It is unfortunate that the tribunal was unable to establish the facts in view of the ruling [37] on Cabinet confidentiality. There is, therefore, a vacuum which somebody needs to investigate.

The Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil have tried to justify his actions in extending export credit insurance for Iraq in 1987 to 1989 on the grounds that he was following the same procedures as his predecessors in Government. This is not true. The Minister alluded to that today but what he did not say, and what I am going to say, is that Fine Gael in Government, sensing the risks of the Iraqi market, suspended export credit insurance to Iraq in May 1986 on official advice. I was a Minister of State in that Government and I want to make it quite clear that on official advice we were told not to do it. We took that advice which came from our own Department. Even though the risk had not diminished in the meantime, the then Minister, Deputy Reynolds, reintroduced this cover in April 1987 and it is my understanding — although there is nothing to prove it and it did not come out in this report — that he was advised strongly by the officials of his Department not to reintroduce cover at that time.

I also wish to raise the question of his dealings with the Civil Service, which is part of the report. The Secretary of a Department is the Accounting Officer. If the Committee of Public Accounts recommends against him he can be held personally liable. If the Secretary does not know or is not told what his Minister is doing — because the Minister is making decisions or holding meetings involving commitments of public funds in the absence of civil servants — how can he function properly as an Accounting Officer? How can he account to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts? The report makes it clear that the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, the present Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, held meetings and made decisions without civil servants.

The then Minister's style exposed his civil servants who were asked to attend some meetings. How could they know what was going on? This led to a direct [38] conflict of evidence between two civil servants and the Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, at the tribunal in regard to an instruction he was alleged to have given. That is a serious allegation in the report. It is easy to pick out the bits that suit you. However, I think the negative side should be highlighted as well.

Two other Ministers were also involved in the report, the then Minister for Energy, Deputy Burke, and the then Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce, Deputy Brennan. The report clearly indicated that both Ministers had civil servants at all meetings, irrespective of where the meetings were held, and there is documentary evidence of decisions taken at those meetings.

The next question in the report — the Minister barely alluded to it in his speech — deals with the IDA. The Government acted wrongly and in excess of its powers in changing the performance clause in regard to the IDA-Goodman deal. The then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, as a member of the Government and Minister for Industry and Commerce, had primary responsibility for the IDA. Thus he had a responsibility which he did not discharge to protect the statutory independence of the IDA.

Fíanna Fáil, Deputy Reynolds and the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, saw the IDA — I am drawing conclusions here — as an arm of Government and not as an independent statutory body. The tribunal found this approach wrong in law. That is clearly stated in the report. At that time there was a high level of unemployment and a great deal of hype about it. There was a need to announce some big development quickly; I am drawing my own conclusions here. An important announcement was made and it is obvious from the evidence in the report that short cuts were taken and that there were irregularities of all types; three or four people were involved, not just one person. A Minister was involved, and I am [39] drawing that conclusion from the report. That is very serious.

The then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, had agreed with Mr. Joe McCabe, the Chairman of the IDA, that there would be no press conference about the IDA projects until the agreement was signed. Within weeks this agreement was broken. As Minister with prime responsibility for the IDA, Deputy Reynolds had responsibility for ensuring that this agreement entered into by him was adhered to by all Ministers. That did not happen.

The section in the report which deals with the IDA is a very serious one and the allegations are clearly stated there. The people who carried out those actions should be rapped on the knuckles in a debate like this. I make no apologies to anybody for saying this. The people involved should be rapped on the knuckles because to do otherwise would encourage other people to do the same thing.

I am sorry the Minister is not here because there is some criticism of his performance in this report. The Minister, Deputy Joe Walsh, gave evidence under oath that the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, had no involvement in the Goodman beef development plan. The Minister, Deputy Joe Walsh, when asked in evidence whether there was a degree of informal communication and that the plan would have been discussed between the Taoiseach and him, said: “not to my knowledge”; I am quoting from the report. In reply to a subsequent question, the Minister, Deputy Joe Walsh, said of the Taoiseach: “He had nothing to do with it.” It is clear that the evidence is factually incorrect.

According to page 256 of the report, on 9 April 1987 the Minister, Deputy Walsh, attended a meeting with the Taoiseach, Mr. Larry Goodman and others to discuss the plan. In order to keep my sheet clean when I am making an accusation against anybody it is only right to quote what is in the report. On the second last paragraph of page 256, [40] Deputy Walsh informed the Taoiseach of the nature of the plan and, as a result, the Taoiseach arranged to have a round table meeting between the Ministers concerned and representatives of the Goodman group.

On 9 April 1987 the Taoiseach accompanied by the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the then Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Joe Walsh, met with Mr. Larry Goodman and Mr. Brian Britton. The purpose of this meeting was, in the words of Mr. Haughey, to explore, assess and find out all about this project and take a decision on it. The nature of the scheme was outlined to the group of Ministers by Mr. Goodman and Mr Britton and at the conclusion of the meeting it was considered that the project was worthwhile and was exactly in line with the thinking of the Ministers and their approach. Mr. Britton was appointed by the Goodman group to liaise with the Ministers concerned. These things should be said and I have no qualms about saying them. As far as I am concerned, that report has bad things to say as well as good things.

Nobody can assess the effect of that announcement and the damage it did. I always had a very strong interest in the food industry and tried to encourage it with the bigger players in the field. That announcement discouraged anybody who was proposing to develop the food industry, such as the bigger co-operatives, because they felt at the time that Larry Goodman was the only person in the food industry who had influence with the Government. That did untold damage. I remember going to a meeting with the board and management of one of the bigger co-operatives to discuss developing the food industry. I was told I was wasting my time. I was asked if I read the papers. I said I did and I was asked if I had seen what the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey and the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, had said that Mr. Goodman was to get. I do not have time to go into the costs involved but they [41] said £500 million would be spent on the food industry in the west, and everything that could walk or fly, bird and beast, would be processed. I got no good of that particular co-operative; subsequently I did get something going with another group but they had the same story.

During that three or four year period, that announcement stifled any attempt by prospective investors in the food industry. That is where the real damage was done and we have seen the results in this report. It is disturbing, to say the least of it.

Mr. Roche: The Senator will accept that the “leg into the Government” allegation was specifically rejected by the tribunal.

Mr. D'Arcy: I have just read out for the benefit of this House of a meeting which took place between the Taoiseach, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Food and two representatives of the Goodman group. I am not adding anything to the report. I just read it out.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator D'Arcy without interruption. Senator Roche will have his opportunity later.

Mr. D'Arcy: Would the Senator not describe that “as a foot into the Government” if not a leg? They had that meeting with the Taoiseach.

Mr. Roche: The tribunal also has something to say about when the Senator was there.

Mr. D'Arcy: Fair enough, if Senator Roche has something to say, let him say it.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator D'Arcy without interruption please.

Mr. D'Arcy: The Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, produced no evidence or witnesses to the tribunal; he made only [42] allegations but he did not divulge his sources. In the absence of his sources, what basis did his counsel have for cross examination of witnesses at the tribunal and consequently, what was the point of having these counsel sitting at the tribunal? My understanding is that he made ten allegations in his Dáil speech of 5 May 1991 but none was supported by the tribunal report. I am a good friend of the Tánaiste but, as far as I am concerned, his lawyers collected £1 million for sitting there because ten allegations were made in the other House, some extremely serious and they are all recorded in the report. I will have a quick look at some of them about which I feel very strongly if time will permit.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to give the reference in the report please.

Mr. D'Arcy: The reference in the report is allegation 11 (a) on page 810.

The Department gave advance notice of inspection at meat plants and in particular at Foynes on the 15th and 16th April, 1989.

Deputy Spring made that allegation in the Dáil on 26 April 1989. That is very serious because if that type of information was available there is no knowing where it came from. That allegation should have been backed up. While the Supreme Court found in his favour in relation to confidentiality and not disclosing the sources of his information, I believe these allegations should not have been made unless they were backed up, because some of them are extremely serious. Allegation 12 of the same page reads:

The regulatory authorities turned a blind eye on (Goodman's) dubious business practices — the false labelling and accounting, the commercial arrangements involved in the disposal of offal and so on.

That allegation was made on 28 August 1990 by Deputy Spring. They are extremely serious allegations. If I had [43] that kind of information, I would divulge my sources, regardless of who I might insult, because there is always the danger that this practice could set a precedent.

Regarding the Waterford and Ballymun investigations, many allegations were made by the then Deputy Spring, Deputy Rabbitte and others. Regarding an allegation by Deputy Spring on 15 May 1991, the report of the tribunal, on page 812, states:

7. The Department of Agriculture and Food did not diligently assist the Garda Fraud Squad in relation to the Waterford and Ballymun investigations. Notwithstanding a formal request from the Department to the Fraud Squad in June 1987 asking for an investigation, the Department failed to release their file to the Fraud Squad despite innumerable requests until December, 1988 which was no more than two to three weeks before the Department wrote to AIBP informing them of the penalties that had been decided upon for Waterford.

This allegation has implications for the Garda Síochána and the Garda Fraud Squad and Deputy Spring made it against the Department. However, it was never substantiated because he did not disclose his sources of information.

If people had this kind of information, criminal action should be taken. If they have this information, how much more could they have told? Given that I am a keen supporter of the beef industry, the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, does not deserve any kudos, because when such allegations are made, they should be substantiated.

Deputy Spring made other allegations, among them one made on 15 May 1991 and detailed in the report of the tribunal on page 813, which states:

12. (a) That, despite the Fraud Squad making innumerable requests for the file — which included every detail of the Department of Agriculture [44] and Food's investigation — these requests were ignored until December 1988.

(b) That, in fact, no Fraud Squad investigation was carried out in relation to the Waterford plant, although a file was submitted to the Office of the DPP in respect of the Ballymun allegations.

This indicates that an investigation was carried out in Ballymun but not in Waterford. These are serious allegations because they involve the Garda Fraud Squad. Deputy Spring refused to give any indication of the sources of these allegations. This is very worrying.

The claims by Mr. Larry Goodman have been vindicated because the tribunal found no evidence that he had personal knowledge of tax evasion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to be careful because there are certain people named in the report who are not present in the House to defend themselves.

Mr. D'Arcy: It is my understanding that all those named in the report may be discussed.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to be careful about mentioning people who are not in a position to defend themselves in this House.

Mr. D'Arcy: In view of your request, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, I will not proceed along these lines.

The leaking of the report of the tribunal by the Taoiseach was scandalous. Selective pieces of the report were leaked to the press to condition the public for the vindication of the Taoiseach regarding all aspects of the report. Mr. Seán Duignan attempted to justify this but those attempts were undermined in an article by Geraldine Kennedy of The Irish Times dated 30 July 1994 when she wrote of “Taoiseach's claim of vindication undermined”, and, “Exporting beef from abroad brought 'illusory benefits”'.

[45] These issues are very serious. The Taoiseach did not fool anybody for long. He fooled the press for one day but these competent, intelligent people were not fooled for two days. In the same paper on the same day, Fintan O'Toole wrote: “The manner of the beef tribunal report's release has, by now, achieved its undoubted goals and created a highly misleading impression of what it actually says”. In the same paper there are reports of conflict over the report of the tribunal.

While the leaking of so important a report should not be described as criminal, why did the Taoiseach not allow people make up their own minds whether he was vindicated? Why did he not let the press make up its own mind? Why did he feed it selected pieces from the report rather than have it read the report and come to its own conclusion as to whether he was vindicated? The Taoiseach is not vindicated by the report of the tribunal.

Taxpayers were exposed to a potential liability of more than £100 million in respect of the insurance cover extended by Deputy Reynolds, then Minister for Industry and Commerce, to the Goodman group. The decision to increase export credit insurance cover in respect of Iraq was taken against the best professional advise and the risks involved outweighed completely the possible benefits.

The report of the tribunal has stated that there was no evidence of political favouritism towards the Goodman companies regarding the allocation of export credit insurance to Iraq. However, one can draw one's own conclusions from a reading of the report. I am not satisfied with that assessment and I do not agree with it.

Organised tax evasion by Goodman companies with the knowledge of senior management is a serious matter. The Goodman group applied to avail of a tax amnesty introduced last year by the Government. The view of the ordinary man on the street on this is very jaundiced. If these individuals owe the Revenue Commissioners £7,000 to £8,000 in [46] tax, the Revenue Commissioners will impose a levy of 1.5 per cent per month and remove produce from their farms or shops if they do not pay.

There is no doubt that substantial abuse of the EU beef intervention took place in some Goodman factories. There is also no doubt that the Department failed to exercise proper supervision and control procedures in some meat factories. Hopefully this will never happen again.

There is no doubt that the Government exceeded its power in interfering with consideration by the IDA of the Goodman beef development plan which excluded other companies. This is the most serious aspect of the report of the tribunal because, apart from interfering with the authority of the IDA, the Government damaged the industry for three to four years.

Mr. Howard: I second the amendment. I understand that I have 30 minutes to give my views on the beef tribunal, the circumstances which gave rise to it and the knock-on effects from it. Bearing in mind that the report of the tribunal took three years to produce and that it contains approximately 1,000 pages, I am unable, in 30 minutes, to do justice to the report or the circumstances surrounding it. I will, therefore, confine myself to responding to the Minister's address this morning and to refer to aspects of the report which are of continuing concern not alone to myself but to people throughout the State.

In his address this morning, the Minister spoke with considerable emotion. In spite of this, however, his address was disappointing because it was patchy and selective. It was also clearly intended as a whitewash of the accusations and findings regarding certain individuals.

A Minister in a senior position, such as that of Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, has an obligation to present to the House on an issue such as this a much more balanced contribution than we received today. He should have acknowledged and responded to other [47] aspects of this episode which he either avoided or glossed over. I will refer to about a half of dozen of these which spring to mind.

There was no reference, as far as I recall, to the fact that the Goodman organisation will benefit substantially from the tax amnesty. This is a serious issue, yet it did not deserve a single sentence in the Minister's contribution. He avoided the extraordinary twists and turns that occurred in the restoration of the insurance cover for the Iraqi market. The evidence as presented to the tribunal and the tribunal report itself raise many aspects which are of concern to all of us.

If the report has been unable to come to conclusions in respect of certain aspects, it has to be asserted that its failure to do so has been due to the Government running for the shelter of Cabinet confidentiality, thereby denying crucial and vital information to the tribunal which would have enabled it to come to firm conclusions.

Senator D'Arcy referred to the IDA grants. The Minister skipped over this matter of serious concern. The conflict in relation to the amount of beef taken from intervention and used in the Iraqi market, those who had knowledge of this and the extent of that knowledge, should have been dealt with in depth by the Minister. There is silence from the Minister on the refusal of a present Cabinet colleague to disclose the basis of his allegations which led to the establishment of the tribunal.

There is, as Senator D'Arcy pointed out, silence on the part of the Minister on the leaking to the press of selected sections of the report. I believe the Government hopes that the unanswered and unresolved issues which gave rise to the tribunal of inquiry into the beef industry will remain unanswered and unresolved because, while the Houses of the Oireachtas are discussing this matter, a great national event has taken place. I refer, of course, to the ceasefire which we all welcome and support. There is a forlorn hope on the part of [48] the Government that somehow the unanswered and unresolved aspects of this matter will get lost in the slipstream of the euphoria the ceasefire has generated.

Last night on television a former Member of this House, Mr. Seamus Mallon, said that as soon as the euphoria dies, as dies, it will, the necessity will arise for the two traditions and communities in the North to find a common accommodation. Also, as soon as the euphoria dies and the smoke screen which the Government hopes will cover its handling of this matter is removed, these issues will resurrect themselves in many forms and many opportunities will be presented in which they will have to be faced and answered. It is foolish of the Government to think that, by availing of the unique political climate of today and the days to come, the embarrassments about which they are obviously concerned will be disposed of for all time.

These fears relate to the circumstances which gave rise to the report, its content and the unanswered and unresolved issues which still remain. Many of these issues will resurface because of the Government's determination in obstructing the remit of the tribunal by invoking the cover of Cabinet confidentiality. The determination to shelter behind this confidentiality resulted in it going all the way to the Supreme Court. The net effect of this was to deny vital information to the tribunal. How does one equate the moral cowardice reflected by that approach and the desperate running for cover behind the cloak of Cabinet confidentiality with the circumstances and consequences now faced by a courageous journalist, Ms Susan O'Keeffe? Her case is guaranteed to bring back into full focus the embarrassing issues the Government hoped to avoid.

It was stated during the tribunal hearings by its chairman and other relevant sources that, in all probability, if full and complete answers had been given to parliamentary questions the tribunal might not have been necessary. The cost [49] of failing to give full and honest answers is at least £35 million, which taxpayers now have to pay. The Minister spoke disparagingly of certain people in the media who misrepresent the actions of politicians, and I endorse what he said. I cannot dissociate the events about which he was so concerned from certain information which emanated from the hearings of the tribunal where it would appear that certain compliments were exchanged between Ministers and, regrettably, some senior public servants on their capacity to produce smart-ass answers to Dáil Questions which deceived, confused and avoided giving full and complete information to direct and sincere questions. That situation is one to which I take great exception because it reflects a level of contempt for the democratic institutions of the State which is totally unnecessary and unacceptable. In fact, it represents the abandonment of the solemn constitutional obligations of both Ministers and public servants to the people and Parliament. I regret that in the Minister's speech there was no acknowledgement, recognition or, worse still, apology for that lamentable failure.

The question arises therefore that if it was Government policy then to conceal vital information in reply to parliamentary questions, what is the situation today? The Minister is rightly concerned that the integrity and good standing of politicians and public servants be protected and upheld. Yet, unfortunately, in the evidence before the tribunal there is everything to indicate that in the 1987-89 period there was a conspiracy to frustrate and deny information to TDs through the only mechanism which is available to them to obtain such information. I am concerned that, to some extent, there are indications that a similar mentality may prevail today.

I wish to refer to a public statement by the Tánaiste over the past number of days where he described the restitution and the manner in which the export insurance cover was restored to the Iraqi beef market in the period with [50] which the report deals as a policy disaster. Today, exactly the same sentiments are put before the House in an amendment and the same Tánaiste ensures that his vote and that of his followers will be used to reject a view which he publicly proclaimed a matter of days ago.

As I have said, discussion of this issue will continue. We will have the ethics Bill in the coming session. I expect the junior partners in Government will explain then the somersaults in relation to ethics which they seem so adept at performing at the moment in relation to this particular matter. The Susan O'Keeffe matter will also run. There will also be the Goodman court case for compensation.

Although I have not used my 30 minutes, I have said as much as I want to say at this stage. I have laid down the markers which I feel will remain and I have outlined the failure to respond to unanswered and unresolved related issues. I do not think I could usefully use the remaining few minutes of my time to deal in depth with a report of 1,000 pages. However, I am confident that the opportunity to do so will present itself in due course on many upcoming issues. I propose to avail of those opportunities as they arise.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Fitzgerald): I understand that Senator Roche is sharing his time with Senator Rory Kiely. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Roche: I agree with Senator Howard that it would be a brave person who would suggest first, that they had read the report in its entirety and second, that it would be possible to cover the entirety of the report in a short contribution in the Seanad. Therefore, I do not intend to précis the report. I will, however, be making specific reference to a number of points in the tribunal's report because it represents a watershed document in political and administrative life. It opens up a whole avenue of discussion on ethics in business [51] and how we, as parliamentarians, should conduct our business.

I endorse the point Senator D'Arcy made. It is fundamentally important in a parliamentary democracy that when charges are hurled across this or the other Chamber, those charges should be substantiated. As in this case, when the taxpayer is faced with a bill of £35 million to fund a tribunal — a disgraceful amount with which I will deal later — it is fundamentally important that all people who aspire to office or public life have an absolutely unavoidable responsibility to co-operate in the highest degree with that tribunal. Although I was one of the major critics in the other House when the tribunal was first mooted, I believe it has done good work and Mr. Justice Hamilton is to be congratulated.

For a longer period of my life than I have spent in politics, I was a public servant. Public servants are mute in the face of the allegations which are hurled backwards and forwards against them and do not have the right to reply. The copious allegations which were heaped on the heads of the Revenue Commissioners, the Fraud Squad and, in particular, the officials of the Department of Agriculture and Food have been systematically examined and rejected in this tribunal report. Although this was a very costly report and there are far better ways we could have spent the money, at least the tribunal did that well. People who recklessly made political allegations about public servants, particularly in the privileged conditions of Dáil Éireann, have a sacred responsibility to stand up and apologise. Thus far, there have been no apologies.

The reality is that this report will go on the shelves, like all other reports of its kind, and gather dust. The reality is that very few people in this or the other House or members of the public will ever read this report. This, of course, will not stop Members of both Houses from having views on the report — some earnest and well informed, some silly and downright mischievous. [52] Senator D'Arcy, for example — a man for whom I have a great deal of personal respect and high regard — made the point that he did not agree with some things which were in the report and that, therefore, one could read what one wanted into these particular areas. With respect to Senator D'Arcy, I suggest that we cannot read anything we want. The report is there and is final and we must accept it.

The report has become, in a sense because of its sheer scale, an incomprehensible jumble. I do not think that the debate taking place here or the more charged debate in the other Chamber will do anything to “unjumble” what has become so tortuously tangled for the public. The final reality which we must bear in mind as we enter any discussion on the report is that our individual prejudices — and I am prejudiced like anybody else — and perceptions will obviously colour our views of the report and, ultimately, we will believe what we wish to in the report.

The Irish Times recently commissioned a survey where they asked 1,000 people what they thought of the main findings of the report. According to that survey, only 26 per cent agreed with the most fundamental political finding. I wonder how many of those 1,000 well informed members of the public had actually read the report or were their views entirely drawn from the scribblings of the muse of D'Olier Street who has spent such a time on this particular report and who even in yesterday's Irish Times indicated that Mr. Justice Hamilton did not come up to the high standard which Mr. “Chief Justice” O'Toole apparently wants to apply to the issues in the report? He said there are questions to be answered, as of course there are, questions about the way political debate is carried on in this country.

The major allegation which led to the establishment of this tribunal was a most important and serious one — that there was unbridled political favouritism in Ireland. Political life in this country is destroyed by suspicion about such [53] favouritism. It is a fact that tomes have been written by worthy academic colleagues of mine on political patronage and there is a view that nothing can be done without a fix. In reality, public administration operates without the help, assistance, guidance or interference of politicians in 99.999 per cent of all cases. In what purports to be a developed democracy it is about time we recognised that this is the case.

The basis of this tribunal was political suspicion, particularly about the Goodman operation. Also, allegations were made, were not substantiated and fed into this rich stew of public superstition and suspicion about political favouritism. In that process political reputations were destroyed and public confidence in the operation of the political machine was undermined. More importantly, the public's view of the public service was seriously undermined.

Senator Kiely has informed me he has been called away unexpectedly, so I shall manfully hold the fort for 40 minutes.

Acting Chairman: It is 45 minutes.

Mr. Roche: We shall all suffer.

The allegations of favouritism, impropriety and golden circles were hurled backwards and forwards with the abandon associated in former times with the hurling of snuff at wakes. What evidence was produced to support and substantiate these claims? It is clear from the report that the vast majority of the allegations were unfounded and unsupported. Yet even now there are debates in both Houses of the Oireachtas, notwithstanding that we have a £35 million tome in front of us — and Senator Howard is right to say that is probably an under-estimation of the cost.

Notwithstanding that we have spent that much to produce 1,000 pages of densely written documentation, we are still suspicious of each other. One Senator said this morning that while he has neither reason to believe nor proof of a specific event he suspects happened in the Department of Industry and [54] Commerce, he will believe it nonetheless. What kind of people are we? Surely in political life, in public life and in life in general there must be some basis for making allegations.

Senator D'Arcy said he had been advised that the Department of Industry and Commerce had given advice to the then Minister — the current Taoiseach — and he said: “While I have no evidence to support this, I believe this is the case”. Surely we must base our political observations on something other than our suspicions about people, or our wish that we could tar them.

We should remember that tarring the Taoiseach of the day may involve tarring all politicians. All 60 Members of this House, the 166 Members of the other House and the 1,000 or so councillors who serve the people without payment, are all regarded as politicians and it is wrong that a politician should level a charge for which he admits he has no evidence.

The charge comes from a politician for whom I have the greatest respect, because Senator D'Arcy is not one of those who tries to make political capital by hurling abuse. It is not his style and, in fairness to him, I do not think he meant what he said in the sinister way I have read it — he is not in the Chamber now. However, if people of his standing can make allegations on such a tenuous basis, what are we to suspect is in the minds of politicians who frequently do not have the general good in mind when they make allegations?

It is true there were suggestions of impropriety, political funding and golden circles. There were also specific allegations of widespread corruption in the public service. I spent the majority of my working life in the public service. It is not peopled by saints but it is most definitely not peopled by sinners. I have lectured in public administration for 15 years and I was in public administration for the bulk of my working life before that and I have never come across a single case of major corruption in any public body in this country. One good aspect of this report is that it has examined [55] all the specific allegations of corruption in public administration and has rejected them. I celebrate the report for that.

In any debate on the report, we owe it to ourselves to put on record what it says about the allegations. As Senator Howard said, many allegations were made. The chief accuser was Deputy Rabbitte, who made several hundred individual allegations over a period of months, which were specifically examined by the tribunal. He has continued to make the allegations since the publication of the report and has dismissed the tribunal. That public representative made allegations under privilege which the tribunal has systematically rejected. If I find any fault with the Minister's fine speech today it is that in his usual characteristically generous fashion, he reined in criticisms which he could otherwise have levelled.

Deputy Rabbitte is an interesting example of the major decline in public life in Ireland. He has a questionable political background to say the least. It is not so many years since his party was outside the political pale. If allegations were proof, there are allegations of law breaking, forgery and bank robbery against that political movement during the time when Deputy Rabbitte was associated with it. I have never heard a call in either House for a tribunal of inquiry to be set up but if we are interested in standards in public life or in standards in hypocrisy, we might invest some hundreds of thousands of pounds in a tribunal to investigate the illegal activities of what now purports to be an almost middle class political movement.

Let us move from the general to the specific. I have sought quotations from the tribunal report dealing with Deputy Rabbitte. On 24 May 1991 he made specific allegations about the way rivals and other exporters were treated — as if he cared about rivals in any sector of industry. His only contribution to Irish industry has been to close factories and lose hundreds of jobs. Anyone who lived in Wicklow throughout the Veha [56] dispute knows precisely what that gentleman's positive contribution to industrial life in Ireland has been.

He alleged conscious decisions were taken to give one conglomerate — the Goodman organisation — more than 80 per cent of the available cover in that export market, disadvantaging rivals and exporters in other products. The tribunal accepts the decisions were made and finds there is no evidence to suggest these decisions were in any way based on improper motives, political or personal. Has Deputy Rabbitte said he is sorry he made that allegation and that he genuinely believed it to be true but was wrong? Like hell he has and let nobody in this House or elsewhere hold their breath while waiting for him to do so. Nobody should wait for this particular conscience of the Opposition to stand up and exonerate either the Ministers about whom he made this accusation or the civil servants who implicitly would have had to be in compliance were this accusation true.

Later in the report, at page 234 where it looks at the Goodman company, it states that they “had an unanswerable case to be considered for allocation of Export Credit Insurance cover...” I do not want to read the full quotation because I do not have time to do so. However, the reality is that on both pages 232 and 234 of the report this specific allegation of Deputy Rabbitte's is rejected.

On 15 May the Deputy made another allegation that to be in receipt of export credit insurance one had to be “a member of the club.” That is reproduced on page 29 of the report. The Taoiseach dealt with these particular allegations and the Taoiseach's own contribution, which is unchallenged even by Deputy Rabbitte, is outlined on pages 111 to 113 of the report. However, what is more important than the Taoiseach's view on this is that of the tribunal. On page 231 Mr. Justice Hamilton, dealing with this specific allegation, says:

There is no evidence to suggest that either the Taoiseach at the time or [57] the Minister for Industry & Commerce at the time was personally close to Mr. Goodman or that Mr. Goodman had any political associations with either of them or the Party they represented.

The Minister has already quoted that particular reference which is at page 231 of the report.

Elsewhere the report goes on to point out that, as one would expect in a democracy, a person who has major investment potential or proposals did have access to people in high office. However, there is nothing sinister or wrong about that. There is nothing to suggest that there is any impropriety or anything uniquely Irish about that. Yet we had a tribunal because what is entirely normal and to be expected in any working democracy was the subject of false allegations by Deputy Rabbitte.

At page 233 of the report, Mr. Justice Hamilton is again very specific as to his views on Deputy Rabbitte's allegations.

He says:

There is no evidence to substantiate in any way the allegation made that the Taoiseach Charles J Haughey TD caused the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Albert Reynolds TD to cancel the allocation of Export Credit Insurance to Halal. This allocation was withdrawn by Mr. Reynolds TD for the reasons given by him in evidence and there is no evidence of any intervention by the then Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey TD in this matter.

Has Deputy Rabbitte stood up to say to Deputy Reynolds that he is sorry and that he made an honest mistake? Has he said to Mr. Haughey, who is now enjoying retirement, that he is sorry and that he made a mistake? No, he has not. He has not had the political generosity, decency, honour or integrity to do that.

Deputy Rabbitte features throughout the pages of the tribunal report. I am putting aside some of the longer quotations because I have a sense of mercy for the Members of the House, but I will [58] persist with one or two others. We have just passed the fourth anniversary of another piece of mendacity, in fact a downright lie — I know I am not supposed to use that word — on the part of Deputy Rabbitte. On 28 August 1990 he referred to the extraordinary recall of the Dáil and Seanad in August 1990 as having “had as much to do with the integral link between Fianna Fáil and the Goodman organisation as it has with protecting a key industry.”

I remind the House that, at least in my view, there are much more direct connections between Deputy Rabbitte and his party, albeit in its changed clothes, and bank robberies, assaults of the most serious nature on the person, criminal activities in the North of Ireland and subversion of this State than there are between any political party — Fianna Fáil, Labour, Fine Gael or any of the major political parties — and Mr. Goodman. Of course, we are not investigating that. The tribunal's finding at page 231 on this of course is absolutely categorical. It rejects Deputy Rabbitte's views and it makes clear on page 231 that there is no evidence to support the view that there was any link between Fianna Fáil, the party I represent, and Mr. Goodman.

There are tens of thousands of people who vote and work for Fianna Fáil. Has Deputy Rabbitte apologised to them? Has he said that he might have been wrong and maligned their character? Has he said that he might have done something to undermine the democratic forces of this State? No, he has not because that, in reality, is what Deputy Rabbitte and the rag tag mob he represents is all about. They are all about undermining this State, its institutions and political parties, whether it is Fianna Fáil today, Fine Gael tomorrow or the Labour Party the next day.

Mr. Farrelly: The Senator's party might need them to go into Government the next time.

Mr. Roche: They are all about creating suspicion, playing on and [59] developing prejudice. That is an indication and I will go on. The one thing that comes out of this report is that this particular gentleman and the political forces he represents are an evil and a cancer in our political system which hopefully, given his recent upheaval in Dublin, the people have begun to recognise.

It is interesting that on page 231 there is a specific reference about similar access Mr. Goodman had to the previous Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald. Nobody, and certainly not I, would suggest that there was any improper linkage between Dr. FitzGerald and Mr. Goodman. The reality is that because of the way our democracy works senior politicians, if they care about this country, regularly have a responsibility to speak to business people, explore their plans and exhort and encourage them to create jobs.

The reality of Deputy Rabbitte's political world or that of Deputy De Rossa — the only Member of the other House who has ever had the privilege of being a guest of the State in one of its institutions — is that this is not the kind of politics they want to see practised in this country. They are not interested in progress or job creation. They are interested only in fermentation of mistrust. They are interested in the long term lie and not in the long term truth. They are not interested in progress: they are interested in the exact antithesis. They are as they always have been — in other words they very model of a Marxist party.

Deputy Rabbitte features again in the report. I apologise but Deputy Rabbitte comes up all over this report. He made an allegation about a committee——

Mr. Farrelly: There are other names mentioned in the report to which the Senator should refer.

Mr. Roche: I could but I said specifically that I was going to mention him because I took it that the Senator was going to mention others.

[60] Mr. Farrelly: Just to refresh the Senator's memory.

Mr. Roche: I could, for example, mention how Deputy Bruton's allegations were treated——

Mr. McGowan: But the Senator is being charitable.

Mr. Roche: ——but I will not because, in fairness to Deputy Bruton, when he says things he means them sincerely. I do not believe that this particular gentleman means anything other than public mischief. The public mischief that this gentleman sets out to create is more pernicious and more cancerous. At the end of the day, because Deputy Rabbitte has almost untrammelled access to RTE, he would do much more damage than Deputy Bruton. I agree with Deputy Bruton's own view that he does not seem to get a fair airing, but that is another day's work.

Mr. Farrelly: His time will come.

Mr. Roche: I am not arguing that he should get more access but he should get equal time. If his time equalled Deputy Rabbitte's there would be nobody else on the air.

On 15 May 1990 Deputy Rabbitte alleged that the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 1990 represented only Goodman's third choice proposal arising from meetings which he held with the then Taoiseach, the first, he suggested, being a £300 million rescue package. He made a serious argument about Mr. MacSharry and an attempt to persuade him to bring forward an EC plan. The tribunal is again very specific on pages 231 and 362 about both these allegations.

I have already mentioned twice the fact that the tribunal specifically and unequivocally rejected the suggestion that there was any special arrangement between the then Taoiseach or then Minister for Industry and Commerce and Mr. Goodman. It is interesting that the report went further and rejected the [61] allegation made about the then Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry. We will come back to that when we are discussing the ITV programme. I was more than amused to hear a Member of the House elevating the journalist responsible for that programme to the status of martyr.

Deputy Rabbitte was back on his feet on 25 October — one could ask was he ever off his feet — to allege that Goodman successfully intervened with the Taoiseach to cause the Government to reverse the decision made to increase the budget to be given to CBF, the Meat Marketing Board. I wonder at the mental processes of a public representative who harbours these suspicions. I wonder at the mental facility to see so much conspiracy in so many places and to see so much power with one person. It strikes me that this person must have very low standards or must assume very low standards in everybody else and, if he does so, what are the standards he applies? We know from something of the history of his party that those standards are not high, but he should not suggest that we are all in the same crooked mould.

The allegations on page 350 of the report about the intervention in the CBF budget is specifically rejected by the tribunal where it says:

These allegations are of the most serious nature, involving as they do allegations of fraud, corruption ... Each of them necessitated careful and thorough examination and investigation by the Tribunal because they were properly regarded by both Houses of the Oireachtas as of urgent public importance.

It continues on page 358 to say:

The Tribunal is satisfied that the allegations that Mr. Goodman intervened with the Taoiseach to have the grant to CBF reduced ... is baseless.

It is calling Deputy Rabbitte a liar. Let us not put a tooth in it, that is the reality. If one makes allegations time [62] and again which have no base and which one knows to have no base, the intention is to mislead and to misrepresent. If one's intention is so, one is guilty of lying. It is outrageous for a public representative to do that.

What is even more outrageous is that since this report has been published I have not read in any Irish journal any serious analysis of Deputy Rabbitte's activities, contribution or motivation. I was away for the first week after the report came out but I had the benefit of listening to the news via the Astra satellite and I was amazed. If I were Deputy Rabbitte I would have looked for a deep hole in the ground and I would have pulled a big rock over me because I would have been ashamed to show my face. Any normal person would have been ashamed to show their face.

No matter what time one switched on RTE——

Mr. Farrelly: The Senator might want a vote from him in the next Government.

Mr. Roche:——what beamed back was the dulcet tones of Deputy Rabbitte and his views on the shortcomings of the tribunal. He was never asked about these allegations. He was never asked about the cost to the State or to political life of the mendacious slurs he had used with impunity in the Dáil Chamber and had developed on the airwaves of the nation. Not only are serious questions raised about Deputy Rabbitte — there are no further questions that can be asked about that gentleman — but we have to ask questions about the integrity of certain people in the journalistic community who have not chosen to pursue these matters. They should, with the same vigour that they pursue other politicians, have pursued that gentleman. They owe it to us all.

If this man is proven to have made allegations which were baseless, which he says were based apparently on a drunken conversation between him and another individual outside Doheny and Nesbitt's pub, which he admits [63] amounted to one and a half minutes — they must have spoken at speed — and if this is all the evidence, based on the “Dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean lei” principle, that a senior figure in political life can bring to bear when he makes allegations of a most serious nature, not just against his political counterparts but against public servants, we have reached a very low pitch in Irish life. There is a responsibility that this gentleman and his activities should be examined and scrutinised more carefully.

Deputy Rabbitte also made an allegation on 15 May 1991, which is referred to on page 30 of the report, that Goodman had been subjected to a lesser degree of customs inspection than other commercial operations. I spent some time working in the Customs and Excise and the highest standards are applied in those services. They are services which by their nature are subject to a great deal of temptation and there is no evidence whatsoever that our Customs service meets anything other than the highest standards. Yet this person who purported to speak on behalf of the workers and who at one time represented The Worker's Party — now the demographically lost — made this serious allegation.

The only time during the course of his evidence to the tribunal he came close to admitting that his allegations were baseless was in this regard. His counsel, Mr. White, who appeared for Deputy Rabbitte — no doubt at the taxpayers' expense — stated it “was never his [client's] intention, nor did he feel that he was, at any stage, making an allegation that any action of the regulatory authorities was deliberate.” What in the name of goodness was he saying in all his allegations if he was not suggesting that there was not a specific, deliberate and calculated collusion over a long period between a business person, whose standards I will refer to, and public officials?

Yet he has never apologised to those public officials. I do not expect generosity between Deputy Rabbitte and politicians [64] of other political hues, but he owes the public servants in the Revenue Commissioners, the Customs service and in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry an open ended apology. I could go on and on about this topic but I will not.

I want to refer to my concern about the tribunal process. When this tribunal was set up it was predictable that at the end of the day we would have a report which would feed a rather transitory political debate and at the end of that interest in the report would die down. I was a critic of the idea of having a tribunal and my criticisms have been borne out by what has happened.

At the time the tribunal was being established I estimated in the Dáil that the cost would exceed £12 million and I suggested that the costs could be as high as £20 million. I was accused by one of the accusers in the affair of being alarmist. As it turns out the tribunal process has cost at least three times the lower figure I had given. The indirect costs are incalculable. We should make a firm resolution never to take this line of action again. We have had a series of tribunals and investigations in the last five years which have cost the taxpayers millions of pounds and they have not produced and will not produce a commensurate return to the taxpayers.

We have a Garda fraud squad which is grotesquely underfunded. Recently I brought to members of the Garda Fraud Squad a case of fraud involving a constituent of mine who had been defrauded of in excess of £250,000. I have to say that they are fine people, but they have not got one tenth of the resources they require. The allegations of fraud on which this tribunal was based should have been investigated in the first instance by the Fraud Squad, but it could not possibly have gone into this matter because it was of such a magnitude that it would not have had the necessary resources. We spent £35 million of taxpayers' money on this tribunal. Would it have been far better to put £5 million or £6 million over a couple of years into the Fraud Squad?

[65] We have Oireachtas committees which could have done much of the work which the tribunal has done but they are grossly underfunded.

Mr. Farrelly: We could have had some answers in the Dáil.

Mr. D'Arcy: Ministers should give proper replies in the Dáil.

Mr. Roche: I will come to that; it is speculation. I am talking about reality.

Mr. Farrelly: It is not speculation; it is fact.

Mr. D'Arcy: The report says it.

Acting Chairman: Senator Roche without interruption.

Mr. McGowan: They do not want to hear.

Mr. Roche: Two years ago the total allocation to the Oireachtas committees, which could and should be doing the overseeing in the State — I am not exonerating them——

Mr. Farrelly: We should be part of them.

Mr. Roche: I am not exonerating anybody. I believe Senator Farrelly agrees with me so he should let me finish the sentence. Oireachtas committees do an incredible amount of work but they are grossly underfunded and disregarded by the media which paid so much attention to this.

I had the privilege of being chairman of one of those committees for a number of years. The positive work the committee did never featured and I did not look for publicity. Perhaps it is not news when we say good things. Members of this and the other House who service those committees must get some response from the media so their constituents know they are doing positive work.

[66] We do not provide the committees of this and the other House or joint Oireachtas committees with funds and staff. In fact, we make sure they are not effective because they do not have the right to subpoena witnesses and the problem of privilege, which has been an issue since 1970, has never been resolved. Yet we spent £35 million on this tribunal. This is indictment, not of this or the other House at this time, but of the way we go about our business.

Mr. O'Toole: Senator Roche should bring this up at a parliamentary party meeting. It is in his hands to change it. He has been speaking about this for six years.

Mr. Roche: Senator O'Toole may be certain that I have not been silent on the issue. Even Senator O'Toole must accept I have made a contribution in this regard over the years.

Mr. O'Toole: Senator Roche's party has changed nothing. Although he has been saying this for six years, his party, which has been in Government, has done nothing about it.

Mr. Roche: The next issue I want to mention is fees and the way they have been apportioned. It is wrong and indefensible that people could be made millionaires from this tribunal, and I said this on day one. I was accused of being anti the legal profession when I said that two years ago but I have been proved right. Nobody could defend what has happened and the amount of money which has been spent. We have had no permanent response from these people, although I know they will be in the tax net and a certain amount of money will be clawed back; hopefully they will all be up to date before the end of the year.

The issue which concerns me about fees is that some of the accusers, who did not provide a scintilla of evidence to support their accusations when they appeared before the tribunal, are having their fees paid. I am not talking about [67] anybody in particular; although at least one Member of the other House had two sets of fees for people who, incidentally and suspiciously, would have the same political leaning as him. I am talking about Deputy O'Malley in this case.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Roche: It is wrong that somebody like Deputy Rabbitte who refused to produce any evidence to the tribunal should not have to dig deep into his pocket to pay. Politicians who made false allegations or who refused to support allegations should not have their fees paid.

One of the biggest problems in political life has been glib allegations which have been thrown around. I am not only thinking about this tribunal, but about glib allegations which have been hurled around and which have deflected political life. I will give the House an example not related to this specific case. A few years ago when the Oireachtas Joint Committee on State-sponsored Bodies was examining the affairs of the Irish Sugar Company allegations were made by a Member of the other House about a member of the committee. The committee's work examining the company was suspended for six months while we followed a false trail. At the end of the six months the allegations against the character of the Member proved to be baseless. My information was that the allegations originated at senior management level in the company — I said that at the time — and they had succeeded in deflecting an investigation by an Oireachtas committee because of the way we — and I include myself — behave in political debates.

There is a problem of standards in political debate. We should be in a situation where Members of this or the other House who, under the privilege of both Houses, make allegations should be able to substantiate them. When dealing with the issue of fees, those who refused to substantiate allegations should meet their own costs.

[68] The report raises the issue of ethics and many concentrated on the ethics of political life. I believe there are ethical standards which must be examined and adjusted in political life. The report also says a great deal about ethics in business. Nobody reading this report and the wrongdoings outlined can take comfort in business ethics in this country. There has been a distressing amount of evidence of a catch-as-catch-can type of attitude among senior businessmen in Ireland.

We spoke some time ago about tax reform and I drew the attention of the House to an inscription over the buildings of the IRS in Washington which states that taxes are the price one pays for a just society. There is an almost endemic attitude in this State that taxes are something one avoids paying at all costs. The issue of business ethics requires a more comprehensive analysis than it has had to date. I am not only talking about this case but about other distressing cases which come to mind over the past few years.

The question of the ethics in journalism is also raised. Senator Howard made a point about Ms O'Keeffe, the reporter. I am inclined to be of the view that it is ironic that so far only one person has received any indication about criminal proceedings; I share that view. However, my sympathy for her in that regard should not cloud my views about what the report says as regards ethical standards in journalism. The report finds that there was unethical editing in the programme. There was an abuse of an interview given the former EU Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry, and abuse and selective editing of what he said in the European Parliament. Journalistic standards do not come out smelling of roses in that regard.

The irony is that this point has received little attention. The suggestion that there is in existence a warrant for Ms O'Keeffe's arrest has distracted attention. I hope that issue will be resolved because making a false martyr out of one person will not solve anything. If we are truly interested in standards, [69] this report will raise the question of standards and the degree of scrutiny and analysis.

The reality is that in the final analysis this has been an extremely costly exercise. I would be less than honest if I said taxpayers would get £35 million worth of value from the report. I hope I am wrong and that it does not become the fodder for political debate. There is a requirement that we should try to elevate our standards, and that is illustrated by this. There is something wrong with the way we conduct political life because so much money has been wasted as a result of false allegations in this and in other cases.

The only lesson we should take from this is that there are other devises for investigating wrongdoing, including the Garda Síochána, the Fraud Squad, the investigations branch in the Revenue Commissioners, the investigations branch in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, other State agencies and, above all, Oireachtas committees. I believe that if we had the choice that is where we should put the funds.

Mr. O'Toole: I thought the last speaker only had 30 minutes, that is why I had to sit here for the past 15 minutes. Unfortunately I listened to him on the monitor before I came into the House and I had to suffer through his speech. I am amazed that the Senator is inclined to believe that it is somewhat ironic that the one person to have criminal proceedings instituted against her should be the person who initiated the process. I am glad he has such powers of observation and logical deduction. Three million citizens of the State shared that belief from the date it was issued. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the case or the amount of money spent on the tribunal, it is extraordinary, intolerable and utterly unacceptable that the person who brought to light the information which led to the uncovering of systematic fraud, etc., should be subject to criminal proceedings.

[70] I listened carefully to what the previous speaker said on this occasion, and has been saying for the last six years about the operation of Dáil and Oireachtas committees. In my defence, my electoral addresses of 1982, 1987, 1989 and subsequently referred to that precise fact. This Parliament, as other Parliaments in democratic countries, can institute and deal with investigations. Only legislation is required to initiate that practice. The taxpayer could have been saved a lot of money which was spent not only on this tribunal but also on previous tribunals. It is a question for Government. Senator Roche has been a Member of the party in Government for the last seven years during which time he has been calling for the powers of committees to be extended. He should save us having to listen to him again and convince his party to move in that direction. I will be the first to compliment the Senator when it is introduced at his bidding.

While the work of committees is not widely reported it is interesting that when a diligent, responsible journalist does precisely that about this tribunal he becomes the butt of much criticism, from Members of the Government parties in particular. Whatever people believe about the rights and wrongs of the tribunal, Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times has certainly raised the issue time and time again. He has done what we have always sought for committees and Parliament — that their work should be reported, analysed, discussed and in the public domain. Whether people agree or disagree with him, he has been prepared to go on the record — without benefit of privilege — to offer his views, publish them and defend them. That is important.

It is also somewhat unrealistic to attack the right of privilege of Members of the Oireachtas. It is ludicrous to suggest that Members of the Houses should only make allegations when they have the evidence required to sustain them. The reality is that it took a tribunal almost 1,000 pages to deal with the allegations. The idea that a Member of [71] either House could have access to the type of support, evidence, witnesses, etc., to deal with the allegations in his or her own right is ridiculous.

Members of the Oireachtas have a duty to bring forward allegations that are brought to their attention. However, as with any right, if people abuse that right they should be accountable. There is a Committee on Procedure and Privileges in both Houses which regularly deals with Members who step out of line in their comments to the Houses about people or events. If Members are seen to have abused the right of privilege it is brought firmly to their attention. There is no reason that system should not be tightened up if required. It would be against the best interests of democracy if elected public representatives could not bring to the attention of the elected assemblies information regarding allegations of malpractice, law breaking, illegal activities and so forth.

I have not read the report from cover to cover but I have dipped into each chapter and tried to come to certain conclusions. Usually a report of this length lists the conclusions in a separate appendix at the back. I note with some irony and cynicism that unless somebody is prepared to go through almost 1,000 pages it is difficult to extract all the findings of the tribunal. That is an unusual way of doing business and I would like to have been able to see all the findings in one place. The tribunal decided to do the report this way and I cannot object. However, I draw attention to the fact that in order to facilitate people who wish to read it, a report would usually list separate recommendations — which has been done — and findings — which has not been done. A form of executive summary to offer an overview would also be included. That was not done in this report.

There is clear evidence throughout the report of wrongdoing. It is clear from the report that the Government broke the law. It is clear that there was substantial, structured and systematic tax evasion. It is clear that the Department's [72] regulations were flouted many times and that Europe and the Irish taxpayer lost money. It is cynical and unacceptable that the person who brought to our attention the information which led to the evidence of tax evasion, Susan O'Keeffe, is the only person to have criminal litigation initiated against her. That is disgraceful. I have faith, however, in Irish jurors. The fact that Susan O'Keeffe is returning as a matter of principle to stand trial means that it will take a jury of 12 citizens to determine whether she is guilty of contempt.

I presume that the element of contempt — although it is not clear from the report — is her decision not to provide information to the tribunal. Could the Minister explain what would have happened if the tribunal had decided at the time that the journalist was in contempt of the court and that she be committed to prison until she purged her contempt? The tribunal had the authority and power of a court, she refused to disclose her sources having been directed to do so by the tribunal and is being charged with contempt. Contempt will have to be proven to jurors. I wonder what would have happened if the tribunal had decided that she was in contempt and had to purge her contempt without access to a court.

I do not believe that any 12 citizens in this State will put that woman into prison. She has done this country a good turn. It is unfair, wrong and inaccurate to say that she cost the State £35 million. She raised the issues. The Houses of the Oireachtas in May 1991 decided that they should be investigated by a tribunal. She did not decide, request or suggest it. It could just as easily have been done by a committee of inquiry of both Houses or by a special committee of both Houses. The same questions would have been asked. The committee could have had power of access to the same information, could have required the same witnesses to present themselves and dealt with the same evidence. We could have saved the State well in excess of £30 million. This would not [73] have been done at the rate of £2,000 a day, like those involved in the tribunal, because Senators and TDs work for a year for what those lawyers earned in fees from ten to 15 days. This puts in context the value that elected public representatives can give to the State.

The most difficult and illogical area in the whole report concerns tax evasion. The tribunal states that there was large scale tax evasion, under-the-counter payments, huge tax-free executive payments and a deliberate policy of tax evasion. The tribunal report also stated that there was a deliberate policy to mislead the Revenue Commissioners, a policy which worked. It was stated that this policy was known to top management, authorised by them and was professionally put together as a system of tax evasion. Who is going to move against those people? I want to see those people squirm. Starting at the bottom, they should be asked who authorised the issuing of cheques for which no tax was paid. Who decided to set up the consulation process with the professional team who put together the system for the non-payment of taxation. Those questions should be brought right up the line and dealt with in the same way as with any other citizen of the State. It is critically important for the credibility of Government and elected public representatives that the tribunal is seen by people as being relevant and that we will close loopholes and deal with the issues.

I want to raise the issue of the judgment of the then Minister, Deputy Reynolds, who is now Taoiseach. People in various parties can play political games with this, but it is clear enough to me from the report that there is no question of the current Taoiseach having acted illegally, dishonestly or for personal gain. It is a good thing for the country that that should be the case. It is also clear, however, that Deputy Reynolds did show poor judgment on more than one occasion. That is the reality. I am not saying that any of us can stand up with our hands on our hearts and say that we never made a [74] mistake, but it would now appear that serious errors of judgment were made at that time. It has been said that the Minister took those decisions in the national interest and I would accept that. The Minister at that time, who is now Taoiseach, showed poor judgment and got it wrong on a number of occasions; but he also got it right on a number of occasions and did not in any sense act for personal gain. It is a good thing for this democracy that that has come through. At least it allows us to address the issues rather than the political leaders of the country.

The allegations made by various politicians of various hues against the Government and Cabinet Ministers of the day are important and must be sorted out by those people themselves. Nonetheless they made statements they believed to be true and put forward allegations which they said needed to be investigated. They are answering for their allegations in the Lower House today, defending themselves and putting their point of view. Whether it was Deputies Dick Spring, Albert Reynolds, Pat Rabbitte, or whoever made the allegations, at least our system of democracy requires them to justify and explain themselves, and interpret what they did.

Where is Larry Goodman, the man who demanded apologies from RTE and sent writs left, right and centre to deal with issues. He is the man who heads up the top management responsible for a systematic defrauding of the taxpayer of this country. Where is his explanation? Where is his apology to the State? What does he owe the rest of us?

Let us get our focus right as elected public representatives and let us not get carried away with attacks on each other across the House. It is fair enough for members of different political parties to say that allegations by people in other parties are baseless, if they are found to be so. It is also fair for Opposition Members to say to the Taoiseach that he showed poor judgment and assessment. They are entitled to say that. Similarly, each person who made an [75] allegation can interpret the tribunal's findings as he or she thinks fit. Doing all those things is the business of democracy, but doing all those things is not going to solve the issues raised in the tribunal. But the implementation of the recommendations will and I am glad to see that the Government is giving a commitment to go down that road.

Let us look at the issues outside the political arena. That is where we should be concentrating. The people in the pubs tonight watching or reading the reports of this debate on television, radio or in the newspapers are not interested whether the people who made the allegations were in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour. They could not care less. They are, however, interested in the justice of what went on. Why was £35 million spent? Was it necessary? Why is the one person being charged with criminal proceedings, the person who has no guilt whatsoever in the proceedings? Why is it that this kind of systematic tax fraud could continue without us being aware of it? More importantly, what is going to be done about it? Try and explain to the PAYE worker paying 34p or 48p in the pound in taxation, or the full rate of PRSI. that nobody will move against the systematic tax fraud that was going on in the Goodman group. Try and explain it to anybody, whether it is officials in the Department of Agriculture or those of us in this Chamber today. It just does not gel. I would appeal to people to concentrate on what bothers the citizens of this State, which is that our system stands up to investigation, is honest, honourable, will close off breaches in the law and will move against those who have defrauded the Irish taxpayer. That is the issue that I want to be dealt with at the end of this debate. If parties are going to play games with each other they will not be doing politics a favour nor will they be doing the citizens of this country any favours.

I want to raise questions of democracy, the operation of democracy, public servants and semi-State bodies. I was [76] delighted to see in the Minister's presentation earlier that the tribunal had found no basis or evidence whatsoever to support the allegation made against the integrity of public servants. I am not surprised. I hold those people in the highest regard. I am glad that they have been clearly vindicated without a shadow of a doubt. They are people who do their work well. However, I want to differentiate between their work and the work of the political head of any Department. It is the role of the public servant to assess the information available to him or her and to advise his or her Minister. It is the role of Ministers to assess that advice, to put it into the context of his or her political and national experience and knowledge and then to make a decision as to whether or not to accept that advice. It undermines the whole basis of democracy to question a politician's right as head of a Government Department to disregard the advice of the public servants in that Department.

I could go back through the history of this State. Time and again the Ministers who have been outstanding in the course of the history of this State are the people who have been able to assert themselves against the advice of their civil servants. I can start off in the area of education. If Donogh O'Malley was to take the advice of the civil servants I do not know when free post primary education would ever have come into being. If the Minister of the day had taken the advice of the civil servants, the Shannon scheme would never have been started.

Let there be no doubt about it. We elect politicians to take decisions and to bear responsibility for them. What went wrong on this occasion? I do not find this in the tribunal's recommendations, but what went wrong on this occasion is that we did not know that that was happening. That is all that is wrong. I do not have a difficulty with the Minister deciding not to take the advice of the committees or the advisory committees of civil servants, public servants or whatever, but I do have a difficulty [77] about that happening privately or confidentially. Serious decisions of that nature should be cleared through some process. Let us state that point. Politicians are elected to rule and to lead. The advice they get from their Departments or from their civil or public servants or political advisers is only part of the advice that they must take into account before making decisions on what to do. That is the way it operates; that is the way it is supposed to operate. If it did not operate that way nobody in this House or the other House would ever need to make political representations to any head of Department on any matter whatsoever. The decisions would be taken by civil servants. Political heads of Departments would not be necessary at all. The problem is not the decision making but the fact that there is no transparency in that system of decision making.

In dealing with the various areas of the operation of the Department of Agriculture and the whole beef industry, the world knows about the carousel arrangement of meat moving from this State into the other jurisdiction in the northern part of the island and back again and money being claimed at various times. Of course it was going on. The fact that the particular allegation referred to in the Tribunal remains unproven does not change the fact that it was happening. There is no doubt that the Irish taxpayer has lost out again through the export benefits that were being considered. People out there know that and it does not do us as politicians any good to say that the carousel arrangement remains unproven. It happened, the dogs in the streets know it. We know people have been involved in trying to expose this on a number of occasions.

Let us take one decision of the Minister of the day, the basis of the Government's decision to guarantee the Goodman exports. The Government guaranteed and cleared the decision on a certain set of conditions. That was the Government decision. The Minister of the day, Deputy Reynolds, gave the [78] clearance on export insurance on a different set of conditions. That was wrong. Similarly, the Government of the day decided wrongfully and illegally to ignore the performance clause in the IDA legislation. Governments might initiate the law, they might operate the chambers of legislation, but like everybody else in the State they are also subject to the law. The Government on that occasion broke the law.

How important that is in terms of money or whatever is not the issue here. It is an issue of fact that in this whole set of arrangements many people made many mistakes. I would like to put that in a context as well. If somebody followed me around for a week or a month and checked every decision I made they would probably find that I bend many rules and cut corners on many regulations, so I am not in a position to assess to what extent the Government shortcircuted the law when it decided to ignore the performance clause, but I am certain that they acted wrongfully on that occasion. That has come through very clearly in the report.

In terms of trying to assess where we are with the report and in trying to respond to the various elements of the tribunal's report it is not impossible to go through it if sufficient time was available. Neither is it very profitable to do that. The fact that the Government has decided to implement the recommendations as soon as possible is important. I also ask that the Minister in his response to this debate would indicate very clearly that the Government will use the full vigour, energy and power of the law to pursue those people who defrauded the Irish taxpayer through the systematic non-payment of tax and that they will use the courts and the law of the land to get to the bottom of that. Citizens out there will want to hear that.

Mr. Goodman has some cheek in the way that he has demanded apologies and that his good name be vindicated time and again and that he has found it totally unnecessary to explain himself or to offer a scintilla of evidence to us following all of this. Mr. Goodman has a [79] clear moral responsibility to apologise to the rest of us for the way he treated us during that period of time. That is a reality.

The implementation of the recommendations of the beef tribunal will allow the beef industry to develop to its full potential. The introduction of a more transparent approach to the regulations as outlined in Mr. Justice Hamilton's findings will certainly help us to sell our operation more easily abroad. We should also use it to kill the old Irish cult of regarding the tax evader and the tax defrauder as some sort of a public hero who has managed to beat the system. Every penny, every pound of tax not paid finds its repercussions in the lives of people, whether it is in longer hospital queues, larger classes, more tax being paid by the rest of us, higher PRSI or fewer social services. Whichever it is, we have a clear responsibility to ensure that tax is paid and we have a clear responsibility to seek from Government here today a commitment that they will chase up the people responsible for this fraudulent activity.

Regarding the position of Susan O'Keeffe, Mr. Justice Hamilton in his report refers to “the alleged right of journalists to protect their sources”. The use of the word “alleged” in this instance reflects the approach by Mr. Justice Hamilton.

It would be an interference with the operation of democracy were it not possible for journalists to protect their sources in situations such as this. It should not be necessary to introduce legislation to this effect. The common good would dictate that nothing other should be the case. As a public representative I feel grossly and seriously uncomfortable that I can demand a certain sense of privilege in terms of sources, whereas a working journalist trying to undertake the same job of bringing to light injustice cannot claim the protection of the courts and of legislation.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Susan O'Keeffe for raising these issues. We [80] may feel that if would have been better if this issue had never arisen or had gone away. However, if all of this had not happened, all of the irregularities would still continue costing the taxpayers £10 million or £20 million per year. The beef tribunal will pay for itself in time. There were serious mistakes and errors of judgement made regarding the costs of legal representations which we can learn from to ensure that they do not happen again. Like anything else, these jobs can be contracted out.

We should not lose sight of the trees from the woods. The tribunal has uncovered problems and the report should not be dealt with by politicians tearing each other apart on the basis of party affiliation. I do not care to which party those who made allegations were affiliated. This job had to be undertaken and somebody had to do it. It has been established that there was systematic fraud, that the Government acted wrongfully and illegally, that the Minister of the day acted differently to the way approved of by the Government, that the largest company in the State was involved in defrauding the State, that large amounts of under-the-counter payments and huge amounts of money were paid tax free or tax unpaid to executives. On the basis of all of this it is decided to shoot the messenger by initiating legal action and criminal proceedings against Susan O'Keeffe, the woman whose professional responsibility, judgement and work brought to light all this wrongdoing. There is something unbalanced in our reaction to this.

Mr. Townsend: I wish to share my time with Senator Calnan, whereby Senator Calnan and myself will have 15 minutes each..

Acting Chairman (Mr. Farrell): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Townsend: I thank the Minister for Finance, who has just arrived in the House, for the recent rise in pay granted. There is a saying in the country that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. [81] The Minister should take this into account when considering the pay of Senators in the future. The low rate of pay for Senators might be the reason for some of the monkeys in the House.

In my wildest dreams I did not believe that I would attend this House to debate the report on the tribunal and I therefore welcome the opportunity to speak on this important debate, one of the most important to take place in recent time in the House. I compliment the Government in recalling the House in order to ensure a debate on the findings of the report.

There were two main reasons for the establishment of the beef tribunal. Over a number of years many Members of Dáil Éireann and a number of journalists brought to public attention the widespread malpractices in the beef industry. Through its leader, Deputy Spring, and former Deputy, Mr. Desmond, the Labour Party was instrumental in bringing about this process. At the time both of these Deputies brought a considerable number of allegations regarding the practises of some beef processing companies to the attention of the public, and the majority of the allegations made by the Labour Party in the course of the beef tribunal were upheld.

The Labour Party sought the establishment of the beef tribunal because it felt that one of Ireland's premier industries was being placed at risk by the actions of a handful of men who were driven by motives of naked power and greed. In this respect the findings of the tribunal prove that the Labour Party was correct to call for the establishment of the tribunal.

The comprehensive and far reaching report compiled by Mr. Justice Hamilton deserves the careful and considered attention of all Members of the House and the public. It is a telling and revealing document. There is much talk among journalists and the public at present regarding the cost of the tribunal. I understand that the costs and rates of pay were negotiated before the tribunal sat. Any complaints must therefore [82] be directed at those who negotiated the costs. If the costs were too high, it was nevertheless necessary to establish the tribunal.

Some of the principle findings of the tribunal deal with tax evasion. According to the report. Payments were made by the Goodman group of companies to certain employees without deduction of PAYE and PRSI payments. The report makes clear that the system of making payments to employees without deductions of income tax or PRSI contributions was widespread throughout the Goodman group and that these practices continued in the years 1987, 1988 and 1990 until the appointment of the examiner. The report also makes clear that top management in the group were aware of these practices.

It will be recalled that in the period 1987 to 1990 the Goodman group was interested not only in beef but also in the milk sector and other agricultural sectors. To my knowledge, workers in a large co-op were told that in order to compete with the Goodman group at that time they would have to put into operation tax evasion schemes along the lines I have outlined. These schemes were set up, but were disbanded by the Department of Social Welfare when the tribunal was established. If the malpractices which took place in the Goodman meat companies regarding tax evasion had taken place across the agricultural sector, which is the way matters were proceeding, the country would have been in serious trouble as one company would have followed the example of the next in order to compete. In this respect the tribunal has saved the country countless millions of pounds.

There is another aspect of the tribunal which no one here has mentioned. Before it was set up, the meat companies were putting the majority of their meat into intervention. I often read in the papers that other countries were putting a much smaller percentage of their meat into intervention. It is not a coincidence that when the malpractices which were found to have occurred in [83] the beef industry were stopped and it was not as profitable to put meat into intervention, the companies sold their meat without doing so. I was informed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry today that in 1994 to date no meat was put into intervention. The tribunal in an indirect way has made the meat companies go out and sell meat as it is now not profitable for them to engage in malpractices.

I read with a little amusement and pride the part of the report which dealt with donations to political parties. It was revealed at the tribunal that Fianna Fáil received a large donation from the Goodman group. Fine Gael received a lesser amount, it was an each way bet perhaps. The Progressive Democrats received a donation. There was to be a meeting between Deputy O'Malley and some Goodman personnel. This was perhaps to discuss how the party was going to spend the money or it may have wanted to ask for more. The Workers Party received no money. It may not have wanted any. I read in the papers some time ago that it had a machine to print money. The Labour Party was left out of the pecking list. Why was this? Some would say that this was unfair. As a member of the party. I am proud it received no money. This is not how the party operates and big business realises there is no point giving it money in return for favours. I hope the parties which received this money will do the decent thing and give it to the Department of Social Welfare.

There is a good deal of talk about failure to disclose sources of information. The leader of the Labour Party and other TDs served democracy well when they refused to disclose their sources of information. If public servants or other employees know that the State is being defrauded and cannot have the confidence to go to public representatives to inform them of this because of the fear that those representatives will disclose their names in a subsequent court case, those employees will not take that action. Deputy Spring and others who [84] refused to reveal their sources did a good day's work for democracy. Public servants can be sure that there are some public representatives to whom they can go in confidence if they see that something is wrong and that action will be taken. As a member of the Labour Party I am proud of Deputy Spring's action in this regard.

I very much regret the way Ms Susan O'Keeffe has been treated. She played a large role in highlighting what was happening and I hope she will not be treated too harshly. I am delighted that the Government has sent the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions and there is no doubt he will deal with it as he sees fit. He is independent of the Government. I am also delighted the Government will implement the tribunal's recommendations.

Mr. Calnan: I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in the debate on the beef tribunal. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry represents my constituency of Cork South-West. I agree with some of the points he made on the beef industry. The tribunal was completely necessary at the time because it was common knowledge that abuses existed in the industry. As beef is such an important part of our export trade, it is essential that it is handled properly and seen to be so. It is appropriate two years after the Members of Dáil Éireann called for the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry into the beef industry that this House is to debate the tribunal's full findings. I compliment those who gave us the opportunity to discuss it. It is over two years since Members of the Dáil and a number of journalists brought to light the widespread malpractices which existed. The Labour Party at the time, through its leader, Deputy Spring and Mr. Barry Desmond, was instrumental in bringing about the process. Both Deputies brought a considerable number of allegations about the practices of some beef processing companies to the attention of Dáil Éireann. The majority of allegations made by the Labour Party [85] during the course of the tribunal have been upheld.

I repeat what has been said by my colleague, Senator Townsend, on the aspect of confidentiality. If people approach me as a public representative, I must treat what they tell me with the highest level of confidentiality, whether it is with regard to personal problems and difficulties they have or whether it is a servant of the State, such as a civil servant or an official of a local council, highlighting malpractices to me. It is my duty to rectify such malpractices but I do not want to put such people in jeopardy or, worse still, bring about a situation that in future a person holding a responsible office would be afraid to come to me in case I would disclose his or her name. Confidentiality in public life is of the utmost importance and is an integral part of democracy. We do not want to find out from people outside the country what is wrong when we have people who know this and will come forward and tell us.

The Labour Party brought these allegations to the attention of the Dáil because we felt that Ireland's premium industry, beef processing, was being placed in jeopardy by the actions of a handful of men driven by motives of profit and greed. The tribunal's findings prove that the Labour Party was correct to call for a tribunal. The number of employees in many jobs has been restricted by Governments through embargoes and otherwise. It is the Government's duty to see to it that the necessary number of people are employed in Departments, whether it is in the tax or checking services, to ensure that things are run properly. There are many well trained and educated people unemployed at present who could do these jobs well.

The comprehensive and far reaching report compiled by Mr. Justice Hamilton is most telling and revealing and deserves the careful and considered attention of all Members of this House and the public. I am extremely concerned about the actions of some members of the previous Government [86] as portrayed in the findings of the tribunal and I also believe the public is concerned. The public is being ill-served and sold short by anyone who claims it is being bored by any analysis of the beef tribunal. We have to hear the facts.

The report has significant implications for many aspects of Irish life in both the public and private domains. In the private arena the findings of the beef tribunal were highly critical of the manner in which a number of beef processing companies ran their commercial operations. In particular the tribunal discovered that a number of leading beef processing companies wilfully defrauded the Exchequer of a massive sum of tax. That will have to be dealt with fully and properly because fraud — sometimes referred to as fiddling or tax evasion — is a serious act. Every pound which goes astray is an extra cost to the PAYE taxpayer, those who pay VAT or car tax and all taxpayers. It is also a loss of a pound to pensioners, widows and families who deserve money from the State.

We recently had a tax amnesty. I had questions about that amnesty but I eventually supported it. People who are blatantly abusing the taxation laws should be severely dealt with. When some leading lights in Great Britain were jailed for tax evasion somebody said to me that if that happened here they would probably be canonised. Tax evasion of the kind which was unearthed by the tribunal is wrong.

In addition, the tribunal found that all of the allegations made in relation to under the counter payments have been fully sustained. There was a deliberate policy to evade income tax by way of such payments. Such payments, hidden in the records by recording fictitious payments to hauliers or farmers, came out in the tribunal.

The report also shed light in an unprecedented fashion on the manner in which Government business has been conducted in the past by previous administrations. This House and the public were ill served by the manner in which a number of Ministers decided to [87] answer genuine and bona fide questions posed by Members of the Oireachtas. Those who answered Dáil questions in an oblique fashion must take responsibility for the need to set up the tribunal. The taxpayer now stands to pay the price because certain Ministers simply dodged questions put to them in the Dáil.

We have at present a process of Oireachtas reform and an ethics in public office Bill. The introduction of a new committee system under the proposed privilege and compellability Bill will be very important for openness, transparency and ethics in public life. However, ethics are also required in private companies. People should not be able to run riot because they have a big business. They have a very big responsibility to make their rightful contribution to the State. We need openness and transparency in private organisations as much as in public office.

The Programme for Government states that the Government will accept and implement the recommendations of the tribunal. That is completely necessary. I see on pages 272-3 of the report that intervention beef and beef from outside the State were covered by export credit insurance. I do not think that that was of any great benefit to the State. As the tribunal recommended, information on the nature and source of the product, the size of the contracts and the numbers of jobs — all part of the national interest — should be carefully scrutinised before any export credit insurance is granted in the future.

Many people have, rightly or wrongly, levelled criticism at the costly duration of the beef tribunal. When a tribunal is set up it has to be followed through to the end. There are no half measures. A tribunal such as this set up to inquire into malpractices has to be seen to carry out its work fully. This the tribunal has done. The element of cost was unknown in the beginning. Who would have realised that it would go on for so many days or the number of people who had to be employed or called as witnesses? [88] All of these things were totally unknown in the beginning.

Perhaps it might be a lesson for the future that we should make more use of Oireachtas committees in dealing with inquires of this nature. However, even if an inquiry is undertaken by a committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas, people will still be entitled to legal representation at such an inquiry, which will cost money. There is no saving in these things and if an inquiry is to be carried out it must be done properly.

If it has been costly, have there not also been savings? I understand that when the findings of the tribunal are implemented there will be an annual saving of £2 million. It might also mean that others who might have hoped to get away with some of the fraudulent measures which were engaged in before the tribunal will refrain from so doing. While we are talking about a cost of £35 million, perhaps the State will save many hundreds of millions of pounds in the future.

I would like to see the recommendations of this report being fully implemented so that justice will be seen to be done in an industry on which we greatly depend. We do not want Irish beef to have a bad name throughout the world. Let us hope that this tribunal has cleared its name, that future dealings with beef will be handled in a proper manner and that the work of the tribunal will bear fruit for us in the future.

Mr. Farrelly: I welcome the opportunity to make a number of points in connection with the beef tribunal report. I will begin with the allegations which led to the original setting up of the report. I have not heard anybody mention in this House today where the initial allegations came from, apart from referring to the reporter Susan O'Keeffe and the “World in Action” television programme. I believe, on the basis of what subsequently happened when allegations were made by the Tánaiste, Deputy Spring, and by Deputy Rabbitte and a few others, that the allegations made in the television programme [89] by Susan O'Keeffe were made on the basis of information which she received from employees of the Goodman organisation and also Mr. McGuinness, who was also an employee of the Goodman organisation and who gave very substantial details of what he was asked to do as an employee. I honestly believe that the allegations subsequently made in Dáil Éireann by the Tánaiste and Deputy Rabbitte, if all the allegations they made are taken into consideration, were made on the basis of information supplied by individuals employed by Goodman International.

These journalists and politicians sought immunity for their sources, but it appears they had no sources other than the television programme. If allegations are made in these Houses and as a result an inquiry is carried out which costs the State substantial amounts of money, the journalists and politicians who made the allegations should disclose their sources, as was done by the Fine Gael leader. Deputy Bruton. The previous speaker said people come to us politicians to discuss their problems confidentially. However, the vast majority of those issues will not cost the State millions of pounds. I do not accept the argument made here in favour of withholding information on the allegations, since action was taken by the Legislature as a result of them.

I have no intention of questioning the integrity of either the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste or the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. However, when one sees the result of actions taken by the current Taoiseach when he was a Minister and by the current Minister when a Minister of State, one should make reference to them. This is a substantial report and, as Senator O'Toole said, it was quite annoying to discover that all the findings were not listed at the end. The report failed us somewhat in that regard.

I query the decisions made by the Taoiseach as Minister for Industry and Commerce. The report says they justify the description given by the then leader of the Progressive Democrats. Deputy [90] O'Malley, who said they were reckless, irresponsible and unwise. Since the report was published the Tánaiste has stated it was a policy disaster. We have to take look at policies followed by experienced politicians who were in power at the time — some of whom remain in power — and ask why one organisation was given preferential treatment as against others in this sector. I know a good deal about this industry having been a producer and a farmer for 12 years before entering politics. Perhaps some of those who made allegations might not have done so if they had had similar experience.

A number of meetings were held by the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, with the Goodman organisation, Master Meats and other companies. No record was ever kept of those meetings. As a result of commitments given then, there is a strong possibility the Irish taxpayer may still be liable for a substantial amount of funds, because Mr. Goodman is taking a court case against the State.

It was interesting to note that the Taoiseach's memory lapsed when giving evidence at the tribunal. He could not recall the circumstances in which he was told about the largest single beef contract in the history of world trade. This company was given a concession which no other company received, namely, export credit insurance. The report lists many instances of meetings taking place and decisions being made without taking the advice of officials as to whether the State should be exposed to this serious risk in export credit. I accept no one would deny the right of a Minister to make a decision — I would expect that right if I were a Minister — but if I was continually given advice that the State would be exposed to a considerable extent, I would have to take cognisance of the overall position.

It is also hard to believe that it was left to another beef exporter to inform officials of the Department of Industry and Commerce that the amount of credit being granted to one company was 50 per cent more than that being [91] granted to anyone else exporting into any market. Following this information being supplied by the managing director of Halal Meats, it was found that 38 per cent of the export credit being granted and approved by the then Minister was for beef sourced outside the State.

I ask the Minister why the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, his Department and the Department of Finance were not aware of the amount of Irish beef in intervention, the amount available for release and the amount which should have been receiving export credit insurance. Why, within one year of a Fine Gael Minister cancelling export credit insurance because of the risk to the State and the taxpayer, was the amount of credit increased to £237 million? Is it not a fact that to date £100 million worth of beef, from Irish and other intervention sources, has been given free to the Iraqis, paid for by the Irish and European taxpayers?

My constituency colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Dempsey, was on the radio the morning after the publication of the report. He had obviously been working with the spin doctors because he said the beef industry was in tatters in 1986 following the period when Fine Gael was in Government. The Minister was in another profession at that time and did not realise how bad the weather had been for two years. The extra insurance cover then given did nothing to increase the money received by farmers in the market, because in December 1986 beef became extremely scarce and there was no need for the cover and the exposure faced by the Irish taxpayer. I remember that because I had some animals at the time.

Following a meeting with the Taoiseach, Hibernia Meats and Mr. Phelan, who never applied for export credit, were granted £10 million which was never used. I cannot understand why in such an important aspect of accountability and decision making by Ministers, one Department, as we are led to believe, did not know what the other was doing. The Taoiseach said in a [92] statement today that a failure in policy co-ordination was the reason for this.

I have no doubt that if questions had been asked at the time, they would have produced the required information. This would have avoided the possibility of a court case in the near future which may hold the State liable for commitments made at meetings where no record was taken. It is grossly unfair to the taxpayers of the country. The actions of the particular Minister at the time in connection with export credit leaves much to be desired.

I wish to quote from some evidence the current Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry gave under oath to this extensive tribunal when asked about the then Taoiseach having no involvement in the Goodman beef development plan. When asked whether there was a degree of informal communication and whether the plan would have been discussed between the Taoiseach and himself or Mr. Goodman, he answered: not to his knowledge. In reply to a subsequent question the Minister stated that the Taoiseach did not have anything to do with the matter.

It is clear that this evidence was factually incorrect because, according to page 256 of the report, on 9 April 1987 the Minister attended a meeting with the then Taoiseach, Mr. Goodman and others to discuss the plan. On 18 May 1987 the then Taoiseach intervened to restart negotiations between Mr. Goodman and the IDA which had broken down. In evidence the then Taoiseach said that he had reported back to the Minister on what had transpired at the meeting with Mr. Goodman.

There is some interesting information in the report. The Minister stated that he was not aware that the Taoiseach knew anything about it on the day. I question why the facts were not given when the questions were asked. It is obvious from the media hype surrounding the launch of the plan that Mr. Haughey was deeply involved in the matter. Under normal circumstances, before the IDA would allow a launch to take place, the details of the signing of [93] the agreement and funds would have to be made available. However, it was a year before the details were available or anything was signed. Is it any wonder that this development never got off the ground? The removal of the clause also seemed to favour one individual over everybody else.

Questions still remain which have not been answered fully. It appears that the evidence provided was not 100 per cent correct. In real terms the main players dealing with export credit, the launch and the Department of Agriculture were aware of most things that were happening. If they were not, I wonder why. It seems very strange to me.

I want to mention a few points about the Tánaiste. It was interesting to hear his colleagues here referring to the allegations he made. I will deal with those presently. Repeated allegations were made on the programme by individuals who worked in the company. None of the ten allegations made by the Tánaiste in his Dáil speech on 15 May 1991 was supported by the tribunal. This is detailed in appendix one of the report. Is it any wonder that he did not want to disclose his source or sources? He probably had none. I pose the question as I can come to no other conclusion.

I listened with interest to Senator Roche, who may need the support of Deputy Rabbitte some day. He mentioned all the allegations made by Deputy Rabbitte but never mentioned any of those made by his partner in Government. I found this astonishing and amazing. It is as if all the allegations made by his partner in Government were proven by the beef tribunal.

Why was it necessary, with so many allegations not proven, for the Labour Party and the Tánaiste to have representatives at the tribunal on a daily basis at a cost to the State of about £1 million? I find it extremely hard to accept the bland replies that have been given by the partners in Government following the report, including the rush of the Taoiseach to announce his vindication. I do not believe he was vindicated at all. It proves his own stance on [94] many issues. He says that he only reads the first page. In this instance he only read one paragraph or one major chapter in this report and forgot the implications of the others.

The Tánaiste seems quite prepared in this instance, having made all the play and running, to continue to provide his support and that of the Labour Party, even though he described the present Taoiseach's decision while Minister for Industry and Commerce as disastrous. It is important that these points be put on the record of this House. We know we will get very little coverage today because the discussion of this issue by the main players in the Lower House was suspended yesterday for good reason.

All we want from such reports is that people would be accountable for the actions they take on behalf of the State. I have no hang ups about whether or not decisions should be made by individual Ministers. It would be unacceptable if Ministers would not make decisions outside of the advice given to them. Such Ministers should not be in office. At the end of the day they are accountable to the people at election time.

Having said that I cannot understand why a situation developed where one company in this State was given all of the export credit when other companies were out there working in the same area and had proven records. The Taoiseach himself said there would be no export credit insurance for any company unless they had deals arranged. We find from the report that this was not the case. Many of the companies involved had track records and they were not allowed to develop them. One company which was having difficulty keeping an enterprise in the west going was refused export credit. Perhaps if that company had been shown the same leniency as was shown to the Goodman group it would be exporting products from this country rather than from the UK and Scotland as is the case today.

If questions put down in the Dáil had been answered perhaps the tribunal [95] would not have had to have been established. I was in the Dáil for a number of years and I got bland answers to questions which I put and it later turned out that the answers given were not always right. If the Oireachtas committees had the teeth to investigate such problems they could have done so in this case with substantially less cost to the State.

On reading the report I found it interesting that when the extra export credit cover was given to the Goodman group there was a standard premium for such cover of 4 per cent. On this occasion that premium for the extra amount of over £100 million was reduced to 1 per cent. This premium concession constituted a gift of £2.74 million from the taxpayer to the Goodman organisation when nobody else was given the same lenient concessions.

It was a Government policy that the premium was 4 per cent; it was not an individual policy or one dreamed up on the day. A decision was made to reduce the premium. It is most disturbing that one outfit, regardless of whom they might be friendly with, should be so treated. If the rules are the same for everybody it will not lead to any major difficulty for any Minister or any public representative dealing with an arm of the State.

With regard to the way in which the IDA was dealt with and the way in which the performance clause was removed — a clause which exists for all companies which want to invest or expand — I find that the Fianna Fáil members of the Government decided that they would tell the IDA what to do, although the IDA is an independent body set up to carry out its business under rules agreed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. On this occasion it was decided to wipe out a particular condition of the way companies were to perform and the way grants would be paid.

At the time everybody was hoping that a large number of extra jobs would be created in the industry, but that never came to pass. It was used at the [96] time as a PR exercise to promote Ireland as forward looking. The report shows that many of the rules and regulations were not adhered to on this occasion. As a Minister of State at the time the Minister present was involved in ensuring that preferential treatment was given to this company in conjunction with the then Minister for Industry and Commerce. The report showed that there was one rule for one favoured group and another for everyone else.

I hope the recommendations will be implemented and that the Houses of the Oireachtas and their committees are given powers so that when such an investigation is necessary not only will Members be asked to give evidence under oath but that Ministers and their officials will have to do so also. The report exonerates the officials and I welcome that. I have the highest regard for the many officials with whom I have dealt on a regular basis.

There are many lessons to be learned, but there is no question that from 1987 to 1989 favouritism was shown to one company while many other companies were trying to keep people in employment.

Mr. McGowan: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important tribunal report. I welcome the Minister to the House. The Minister made and excellent contribution which I have studied in which he has dealt with the issues fairly and comprehensively. He has covered them in such a way that we have had a flat debate after his contribution. I intend to circularise his speech to all of the papers who may not get the details but who are interested in the findings of the beef tribunal. I intend to give it to all the local papers and radio stations in the north west. The Minister has made a fair assessment and given a fair account.

I speak as somebody who was not embroiled in the political strife or hassle of the day. There are questions that the plain people of Ireland will ask, among them where the £35 million cost will come from. Who will pay for it? Where [97] will we get the £175 million to prop up Aer Lingus or the £50 million for Irish Steel or the £50 million to keep TEAM in business? Who will pay these millions? At the end of the day it is the taxpayer who pays. The £35 million cost of the tribunal is debatable. Those who believe it was worthwhile expenditure to use the tribunal to embarrass the Government, to condemn the Taoiseach when he was Minister, the Minister for Agriculture, the Department of Agriculture and a list of officials, set out in the hope of destroying the structures of State. They did not think about the price but about a much bigger target — achieving political advantage at whatever cost. That is the assessment of the ordinary people who are capable of making up their minds at the end of the day.

What does the beef industry mean to this country? I come from a county which depends on the beef industry and, unlike counties in the south, such as Cork or Kerry, does not have milk quotas. We, in the north-west, especially in County Donegal, depend to a great extent on the beef industry and on selling produce from our farms.

Not only are we concerned about the outcome of the tribunal, but about the future of the industry. Who will survive to market this area? When we speak about export credit guarantees, we must realise that every developed country supports export credit guarantees — Norwegian ship builders, the Germans or the French.

What have we achieved today? Two things have been referred to apart from the money which has been spent. I will not comment on everything Senator Farrelly said, but he did say the beef tribunal did not clear the Taoiseach despite the fact he made a statement saying that it did.

Ms Susan O'Keeffe has been tried and acquitted. I do not believe she could be tried or be answerable to a court after the references which were made here today by people who should know better. [98] This debate and the Minister's response to the charges and challenges are important. The future of the industry is also important as is the control of meat factories, the quality of meat and the management structure in the meat industry, a competitive industry. Recently in this House I had the opportunity to discuss problems which arose as a result of allegations made about the beef industry. My county suffered badly. A meat factory in Carrigans, County Donegal, was rescued by Mr. Goodman. The Goodman Group spent a substantial amount modernising that factory. When it was ready to go into production, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy O'Malley, would not give them a licence to operate the plant because it was alleged that it had an interest in another meat factory in Omagh, County Tyrone. On the grounds that it would eliminate competition, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce prevented the Goodman Group from getting a licence to operate a factory in my county.

I know first hand about the vendetta, the arrogance and the score settling which went on. We, in County Donegal, paid a higher price than anyone else. We lost an efficient and modern factory and its value to cattle producers who do not have large milk quotas. We paid dearly for that anti-Goodman-O'Malley score settling crusade. We know at first hand the destruction and the damage caused to the industry.

Whatever one thinks about the Goodman company, it was a major player. I do not support some of the findings in the tribunal. I do not support under-the counter payments, the different cuts of meat and the area relating to performance and management structures but there is a vast area which reasonable and honest people could approve of.

As I said, Mr. Larry Goodman was a major player in the beef industry. He went abroad and found markets and in so doing earned his share of jealously and opposition. In hindsight he was not wise to have gone to Iraq. It was bad judgment on the part of the Minister for [99] Finance of the day to support the granting of the licence. However, Mr. Larry Goodman, Goodman International or whatever company he was trading under, was a market explorer. That aggressive sales campaign by Mr. Goodman was necessary to sell beef on the world market.

When Mr. Goodman went to Iraq to sell beef not too many people told him there would be a war there and that when the time came to be paid there would be no money because the Iraqis would be defeated and their credibility destroyed. Nobody could have advised him in that regard, not even his own financial advisers. In hindsight it is easy to criticise and to say it was bad judgment on the part of those who granted the export credit guarantee. Each day one makes forward decisions if one is in that league. The day we do not have major players in the beef industry will be the day the industry is no longer of benefit to our beef producers. I hope sincerely that Larry Goodman and Goodman International will recover to the point they were at previously.

I was disappointed when, during a discussion on Goodman International, a Member on the other side of the House referred to Larry Goodman as “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a big fall and Humpty Dumpty will never be back together again”. That was the smallest and pettiest political comment a Member of this House could make. That is the type of vendetta that contributed to this tribunal.

Since many people in politics were prepared to use the tribunal as a vehicle to score small political points, that was a pity, I appreciate the clarity of the Minister's statement. He answered the fair minded, reasonable people who are interested in knowing what happened, how we justified spending £35 million and where our industry goes from here. The Minister was right to vindicate the way the Department's officials, Customs [100] personnel and gardaí dealt with the issue. It was important that he do so.

With regard to export credit guarantees, I wonder how many countries which offer these guarantees have not made mistakes. Norway produces ships. Holland and Britain produce plant which is sold in the Middle East and other countries produce armaments. We are a small player in the beef industry on the world market. There is an openness here regardless of appearances. There is no cover-up of allegations about the manufacture of guns which were sold to Iraq labelled as machinery. There has been none of that in this country.

However, one thing is very noticeable. When this matter was uncovered in the “World in Action” programme on which Susan O'Keeffe worked, it received top billing in England. England had a vested interest in knocking the beef industry in Ireland. This country's industry has been very successful, more successful than Britain's. However, we are competitors and Susan O'Keeffe was being paid in a country whose best interest was knocking the industry here. That can be plainly understood by anybody. What she said, what she did and her contribution to the programme were important. However, on the larger scene the damage to the industry here was done with intent and malice.

Nobody will support under the counter payments. I have difficulty believing that they were exclusive to the management structures in Goodman International or any other beef factories. Under-the-counter payments to senior staff today is not exclusive to Goodman International. Unfortunately, many people demand such payments, bonuses and perks as of right. Anybody who would be prepared to be judge and jury and to assert that this happened in Goodman International only would be codding themselves. This is happening at senior administrative level in successful companies whether by way of bonuses, holidays or cash payments. I do not condone it.

[101] One of the useful aspects of the report is that it will tidy up an area that had to be tidied up. That is important. Those who operate a system of under-the-counter or additional cash payments to senior personnel should be warned that it is neither necessary nor acceptable and that it will not be accepted in the future. The Goodman management structure was aware that it was happening but it happened without the consent, support or knowledge of the Ministers for Finance and Agriculture and the Taoiseach of the day. I believe it happens in other industries as well as in the beef industry.

I do not support a number of the serious allegations and particularly the allegation that favouritism was shown to Goodman International on the grounds that he was a major contributor to the Fianna Fáil Party. I have long been a member of the Fianna Fáil Party. I have been involved in the party at every level from elections to árd-fheiseanna. I am familiar with the financial problems of the party at every level and I have never heard Larry Goodman's name being mentioned as a rescuer of Fianna Fáil; I have never seen him act as a contributor or a financier. If he was, it is news to me.

It is amusing to listen to some of my colleagues saying that Larry Goodman contributed to Fianna Fáil and to Fine Gael and that because he did not contribute to the Labour Party that party must be clean. In that context it is fair that I outline what occurred in a small bakery in Donegal. It was run by two clever brothers. One of the brothers always sent £1,000 to Fianna Fáil and the other brother always sent £1,000 to Fine Gael. Everybody was aware of what they were doing. The innocent people would say “John is Fianna Fáil and Jim is Fine Gael”. However, it was child's play and nobody took it seriously. They had the same standing in both parties, as if neither had contributed anything.

Larry Goodman got no favours from the previous Taoiseach or the present Taoiseach or the Minister for Agriculture. [102] Any player in the export business, especially such a vital industry to the farming community, must get all the support the Government and the Minister of the day can give. I do not see how a Minister for Finance or Agriculture could deny Larry Goodman the maximum credit insurance support to export to a new market such as Iraq. When the Minister decided to give that export credit insurance Larry Goodman was almost the only player who was able to sell in Iraq. There was nobody else. All the other jealous players came on the scene later. The day Larry Goodman would have got his export credit guarantee the rest of them were not even on the field. The debate has been useful in clearing much of the ground and I am satisfied that it will not have done the industry any harm. The message from the tribunal to the country's beef producers is that they must tidy up their act.

I hope Ministers for Agriculture and Finance will be no less supportive of those who are trying to sell our products, particularly those produced on small farms. People who are still exporting livestock and meat deserve the maximum support and I hope the unproven allegations that have been made will not influence anybody in authority. I hope the Minister, within the limits of money available, will continue to support without fear or favour an industry that deserves it. The people who need to be supported are the small producers.

If anybody has knowledge of malpractice they should report it to the Garda, the Department or other appropriate authorities. People are not entitled to use that as a political weapon to destroy the industry. It is evident that certain players involved wanted to destroy the beef industry. It is clear from the Minister's contribution that he has taken a careful look at the beef tribunal report and has given a fair and honest assessment to the House. The producers will be satisfied with his contribution.

[103] Mr. Dardis: With the permission of the House I propose to share my time with Senator Sherlock.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Belton): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Dardis: How much time do I have?

Acting Chairman: You have 30 minutes.

Mr. Dardis: I thank the Minister for his attendance here. I suspect he might like to be in the Lower House, or maybe in neither House, but in his Department. However, he is to be thanked for attending this important debate.

I disagree fundamentally with some of the things he said in the House, which is unusual because I normally find myself agreeing with him. In particular, I disagree with his statement that the tribunal found no evidence whatsoever to support the allegation made against the integrity of public servants or Ministers. I agree with him that it has rendered a public service to the Irish people but I do not agree that it has cleared the good name of persons elected to conduct their public business for them and of the people employed in their public institutions. In fact, I fundamentally disagree with that statement.

Senator McGowan made the point that there are people who might wish to destroy the beef industry. I can assure him that I know of no one in this country who would wish to do that. However, I know of many in these Houses and in this country who are determined to ensure that the industry's reputation should be maintained at the highest standards.

It is significant when the tribunal was established one of the leading wholesalers on the British market said on Morning Ireland that he regarded the establishment of the tribunal as a guarantee of the quality of beef delivered to British supermarkets. Having said that, we should emphasise that the type of beef going to British supermarkets [104] is completely different from that which was shipped to Iraq, Russia and elsewhere.

Mr. Justice Hamilton has done a valuable service. The tribunal of inquiry was long and at times tedious, and I am sure the learned judge found it so. He has produced a voluminous report and I suppose that one-page people would have preferred a neat conclusion at the end rather than trawling through it to find conclusions and recommendations. I am sure the recommendations will be implemented. The tribunal of inquiry was established by the Houses of the Oireachtas to report to it and it is for these Houses to apportion responsibility for whatever blame may accrue to the leading actors in the report. Whether we go along with something is irrelevant. What we are asked to do is to form a judgment on the basis of what the judge has found, and apportion blame if necessary. It is for the Houses of the Oireachtas to apportion responsibility for what were, by any standards, the reckless, foolish and unwise decisions which led to the establishment of the tribunal. Had those decisions not been made and had answers been given in the Houses of the Oireachtas, as Mr. Justice Hamilton said they should have been, the necessity for this tribunal would not then have arisen.

The report before us is significant for the beef industry itself, the revenue of the State and for the public service. It is highly significant for the way in which public affairs are conducted, both inside and outside the Houses of the Oireachtas. Perhaps its most enduring effect will be that it has made us look fundamentally at the type of society we are, the way in which we conduct our public affairs and the degree to which that conduct of public affairs needs to be improved. In that it has performed a valuable task.

Many people alluded to the high cost of the tribunal, and it is true that it has cost a great deal of money. It is also true that some people in the legal profession have benefited greatly from the tribunal but that does not take away from the [105] need to have established the tribunal in the first place.

The one thing I find distasteful about the tribunal report is that the journalist who was primarily responsible for bringing these matters to light — and perhaps even for the establishment of the tribunal itself — is the first victim of the report. I do not dispute the fact that there is a law governing privilege. As a practising journalist I am aware of the potential consequences of that law and have to work within it. However, it is quite extraordinary — given the catalogue of malpractice highlighted in the report and the definite statements that things were done which were, on the face of it, illegal — that the first casualty is the person who brought the news to us. It is a question of shooting the messenger and is really incomprehensible.

I hope that in future journalists who bring these matters to our attention will be afforded some degree of privilege or protection in the way that we, thankfully, are afforded privilege, so that such matters can be brought to public attention. This should not be to give journalists a licence to act on rumour and hearsay because any journalist worth their salt would not do so. They would first attempt to establish the facts and only publish on the basis of proven fact. That is a matter which needs to be attended to. I know that there are some moves in that direction.

The other matter which is related is Cabinet secrecy. It is incontrovertible that the amount of information which the learned judge would have had at his disposal and with which he could have formed more definite views — because there are cases where he does not really form a judgment — would have been increased had it not been for the fact that people needed to bolt to the Supreme Court to establish their invulnerability to cross-examination by being able to resort to Cabinet secrecy as a device for not answering questions. It flies in the face of everything we heard about open government, about the need for transparency and all these other lofty ideals which were mentioned when [106] this Government came into office. It is fundamentally contradictory to, on the one hand, say that there should be open government and, on the other, that there has to be Cabinet secrecy, even where that Cabinet secrecy is established by law. The law should not be used as a mask to hide behind by Government or by the private individual.

On 29 May 1989 when this House resolved unanimously to establish the tribunal I asked what other procedures there were which would compel people to appear, to give evidence and to produce documents. I do not know of any other procedure. We have to look at the committee system which we operate within these Houses and the degree to which people are accountable or could be accountable to those committees, but at the time there was no other alternative but a public inquiry.

I asked that the scope would not be so wide that the inquiry would drag on interminably. I did not think at that stage that it would drag on to the degree that it did, but the money, albeit a very large amount of money, has been well spent establishing the credibility of our most important industry and ensuring that those who deal with that industry can do so in the certainty that it is providing them with goods which are of the quality they are entitled to expect.

It is worth emphasising that many of the question marks which have been raised, or which were raised about the industry at the time have been resolved satisfactorily. It is something one no longer hears anything about. The report is critical of the procedures which were applied by the Department of Agriculture in terms of its control of the industry and makes the point that if adequate resources had been given to the officials in the Department some of the abuses would not have taken place. It also makes the point that those resources were asked for but were not provided.

Thankfully, I accept that the portion of the report which quotes Mr. Dowling extensively has improved the situation [107] to the point where we can have some confidence in the regulatory procedures applied by the Minister and his Department. Mr. Justice Hamilton himself alludes to the fact that Mr. Dowling's submission to the tribunal was of such significance that he should publish it in full.

I am prepared to accept that the deficiencies which operated there have been rectified and it is arguable that, even where regulatory procedures are much more stringent, there are still people in the industry who would find ways of circumventing the regulations. What is at issue is not the relationship between individuals within industry and Ministers; it is quite appropriate for industry to have a working relationship with Government. This is particularly so for the largest industries in our country. The two must act hand in hand in the interests of the country. What is at issue is the nature of that relationship, the degree of closeness which operated and the degree to which other people in the same industry were excluded from benefits such as export credit insurance. It is evident from the report that some people suffered because others got preferential treatment.

In the course of his address this morning, the Taoiseach said of people who made allegations that it demeans the respect in which democratic politicians are held and places unwarranted question marks on the whole profession of politics. I submit that it is not the allegations that cause the demeaning of the respect in which politicians are held, it is the way politics are conducted; it is the degree to which answers are not given in the sovereign Parliament of the country; it is the degree to which, as I have frequently said in this House, the democratic process and institutions appear to be ignored over and over again.

Have we become pure ciphers? Is it the case that the Government now acts by decree and we enter the sovereign Houses of an elected democratic Parliament simply to assent? If that is the case [108] then certainly politics are demeaned and the very name of public representative — we are in the place of the public — becomes devalued. These are some of the issues at stake here.

The question then arises, how much more is the respect of the public destroyed by Government's indifference to the public and to legitimate public concerns expressed by public representatives and the consequences of misleading Parliament? It is evident from the report that Parliament was misled. This is one of the most serious things that can happen in a democratic country. Parliament was misled. There are many examples of Ministers in other jurisdictions who resigned from office because Parliament was misled. It is not a question of might or maybe or a question of opinion, it is obvious that Parliament was misled. It is also obvious that people were congratulated for the fact that the Minister had been successful in evading a question or in deliberately misleading Parliament. That is a very serious issue at the core of this report.

The Taoiseach in his address to the other House this morning very vigorously attacked my colleague, Deputy O'Malley, and made several points about the allegations that Deputy O'Malley made and one in particular to which he took serious objection. That is a very curious thing to have done, given that if we look at the report itself we find that the Tánaiste of today said that “...the Government's support for Mr. Goodman included changes in the tax laws to enable a substantial amount of Mr. Goodman's income from beef processing to be taxed at the 10 per cent manufacturing rate.” He also said, more significantly: “...he had been given access to such large amounts of unsecured cash borrowings by the banks because of the explicit support given to him by Fíanna Fáil in Government”. Deputy Spring said this on 28 August 1990. If the allegation made by Deputy O'Malley is so wrong, how is it that the allegation by Deputy Spring does not merit attention at all and how are the two allegations so completely unrelated [109] one from the other, given that the substance is basically the same? I cannot understand that type of thinking.

The Taoiseach claims that he was vindicated from wrongdoing. None of the allegations asserted that the Taoiseach was guilty of wrongdoing, and I have read these allegations in some detail on a couple of occasions. The Taoiseach is therefore vindicated for something that is not even part of the report.

The Taioseach claimed that he acted in the national interest. The report of the tribunal found that the Taoiseach acted in accordance with his personal mistaken view of the national interest. The findings of the tribunal clearly indicate that the Taoiseach's decisions were wrong, that they were taken against the evidence and expert advise available to him and that they created the potential for a major financial exposure for the State. There was by any standards a major failure of public policy and a policy disaster, as the Tánaiste has said. When the tribunal was established, eight Senators spoke on the debate leading to its establishment, there was no vote and there were no contributions to the debate from members of the Labour Party who were active in terms of the establishment of the tribunal.

The tribunal reveals a sorry tale of incompetence in public life or public office which may yet cost the State an enormous amount of money. It is a tale of secrecy and deception, including deception of the Dáil; a tale of tax evasion, professionally organised on a gigantic scale; a tale of pure theft, of misuse of EU schemes, which are of great importance to the country; a tale of an inability to recover taxes, of which the Exchequer was cheated by reason of an amnesty sponsored by the parties in Government; and a tale of criminal conspiracy by privileged and well placed persons. The conspirators, professional fraudsters and the large scale thieves, go untouched. There is no censure, no mandate and the Labour Party assents.

Regarding export credit insurance, it is fortunate that those policies were voided by Deputy O'Malley when he [110] was Minister for Industry and Commerce because they should never have been granted in the first place. I could continue for the two hours allocated to certain speakers in the debate in the Dáil, but the Minister would find it tedious at that stage, if he is not finding it so already, therefore I will spare him that prospect.

The tribunal found that the benefits from exports “were illusory rather than real” — I quote from page 216 of the report — and that the Minister's decisions “...were made by him against the professional advice available to him, which advice is set forth in detail in the course of this Report.” The tribunal also found that decisions were taken on the basis of arguments presented by Mr. Goodman and that the Minister for Industry and Commerce “...accepted the arguments put before him by Mr. Goodman and without any independent appraisal but based on his experience...” and that the national interest required the Minister to carry out certain investigations which he did not carry out and which, if carried out, would have revealed that the benefits of his proposed course were illusory rather than real.

Regarding the issue of accountability and whether or not anybody takes responsibility in our democratic system for decisions made on the basis of information which was inadequate and which should have been found out, it is not good enough for a Minister to say that he did not know. It is not good enough in our parliamentary democracy for the Minister to say that he did know where the beef was sourced, when the Minster's Department, CBF, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, including The Farmers Journal, knew that the beef was sourced from intervention and from outside the State and when, furthermore, evidence to that effect from CBF was tampered with.

The report of the tribunal makes clear that the benefits accruing or likely to accrue to the Irish economy from this situation would be minimal compared to the benefit which would accrue if the [111] exports consisted of commercial beef and would not justify the risk involved in granting export credit insurance in the amounts granted. Fairly explicit. In this respect the Department of Industry and Commerce appear to be the only Government Department which was not aware of the facts.

The other question is this. Why did the Department of Agriculture take so long to produce details or confirmation to the tribunal that intervention beef was being exported at the time? The Department waited for more than one year after the commencement of the tribunal to acquaint it of the fact. On 24 June 1992, counsel for the State told the Chairman that it would be difficult if not impossible to give the details he had requested. It was no such thing. The figures were known and, as I said, they were known in The Farmers Journal also.

According to the tribunal, the composition of the beef was a substantial abuse of the export credit scheme. Regarding the proposal to increase the cover, the Department of Finance advised that, in essence, the proposals of the Minister for Industry and Commerce were too much of a gamble with the Exchequer's resources. Over and over again the best advice of officials of the day was being ignored.

Regarding the issue of how Mr. Goodman and his organisation were treated, it is significant that the officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs at the time communicated with the embassy in Baghdad, explicitly advising that it would be wrong to discriminate as between companies. Their advice was ignored.

We could continue in this vein. However, we are only regurgitating arguments which have been made in the other House and in this House. In deference to Senator Sherlock, with whom I agreed to share my time, I therefore conclude.

Mr. Sherlock: I thank Senator Dardis for agreeing to share his time with me. [112] It is regrettable that at the beginning of August 1994 the Government's spin doctor attempted to reduce Mr. Justice Hamilton's report to a couple of anodyne sound-bytes whose main purpose was to declare that the Taoiseach was totally vindicated. The report of the tribunal deserved a far better fate at the hands of the Government and specifically the Fianna Fáil Party.

In nearly 1,000 pages the report of the tribunal presents the public with a disturbing body of evidence. At its worst is constitutes a damning indictment of our body politic and of the manner in which decisions of the greatest national import are made. At best it paints a picture of startling negligence, incompetence and ignorance.

Two members of the Fianna Fáil Party, the Taoiseach and Senator O'Kennedy, have starring roles in this saga. The then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, played a role distinguished mainly by a singular lack of curiosity. The one-page man made no effort to discover the origins of the beef in question, yet Mr. Justice Hamilton's report, the same report which we were advised had totally vindicated the Taoiseach, states:

Such an investigation, if made, might and in all probability would have disclosed that a large proportion of the beef to be exported was intended to be sourced outside the jurisdiction and an even larger proportion had been or was intended to be purchased from intervention stock and that the benefits to the Irish economy, arising from such exports, were illusory rather than real.

In view of this, the Taioseach owes the House an explanation.

The report also makes clear that the Department of Agriculture under the then Minister, Senator O'Kennedy, was, to say the least, lax in the controls to which it subjected the meat industry. It is clear that the Department was aware of the use of bogus stamps and in particular that non-halal beef was going to Islamic countries. One of the few surprises [113] to emerge from the report and from Mr. Justice Hamilton's recommendations is that the Department of Agriculture was left with many of its regulatory powers intact.

The report is an extraordinarily revealing document which paints a most disturbing picture of the way in which big business in this country operated and the casual, almost haphazard, way in which ministerial decisions involving potentially vast sums of public money were made. Thanks to the evidence presented by my colleague. Deputy Pat Rabbitte, we are now familiar with what may well be the most serious case of systematic tax evasion ever to come to the notice of the authorities. If this had not been exposed it might well have continued unhindered.

The main question arising from the tribunal is why was it necessary. The absolute refusal of the Government of the time to give Dáil Deputies accurate information on matters inquired into by the tribunal has, in my view, been compounded by the failure of the present government to accede to a request for a question and answer format for the current debate. The tribunal revealed many disturbing facts about the conduct of business and Government. Yet nothing was as disturbing as the blatant lack of democracy and accountability which gave rise to the tribunal in the first place.

Ms Kelly: Many of the arguments at this stage have been well and truly thrashed out so my contribution will be brief. It is time for us to move forward. A great deal of time can be spent arguing about who was responsible and when and where certain meetings did or did not take place. This is in the past and we owe it to this and future generations to move forward, learn from the mistakes that were made and make sure they will never happen again. There are valuable lessons not only for our policy makers but for those who implement the regulations behind the policies.

There was enormous fraud. Nobody can deny this or be proud of it. Many [114] people knew that this fraud was occurring and connived in it. I am talking about the withholding of PRSI and PAYE. This was done with the knowledge of employees, supervisors, management and auditors. All four groups must share some of the responsibility. They were defrauding the general public. It was widows and children who were being deprived of the millions of pounds which were being withheld. As Senator McGowan said, the beef industry was not the only industry at which one could point the finger. Such fraud was beginning to become systematic throughout the whole body corporate in Ireland. Employees were being asked to devise their own methods of defrauding the taxman and conniving in ways and means of not paying their full share of PAYE and PRSI. The ones who suffer from this are those who depend on PAYE and PRSI, such as the recipients of social welfare and our public servants.

Cutbacks in the public service, such as not having as many agriculture officers, might seem a great idea on paper but we have seen what happens when this is done. Regulations cannot be implemented because there are not enough staff on the ground to implement them. Page 468 of the report states that:

Extra assistance had been sought from the Department of Agriculture and Food from time to time but was not made available. The failure to make adequate staff available is not the fault of the employees on the ground in the factory but rests on the Department of Agriculture and Food.

The blame does not only rest with the Department but with the Department of Finance and those who at that time decided that cutbacks in the public service were right. We have seen that this is not always the case. I was pleased to read that 25 extra agriculture officers have been appointed since then. Regulations have been simplified and computerisation introduced to make sure that checks and balances are now much [115] more accurate than they were at the time.

We must look to the future by seeing if the methods we use in running the country are the best ones. I was pleased to hear in the debate in the other House the proposal by the Tánaiste, to which he hopes the other parties in the Dáil will agree, that a body consisting of five people nominated by the other party leaders be set up to look at the way the Dáil and Seanad are run and to see if there are ways and means by which they can be streamlined and made more efficient and effective. This can only be in the best interests of all of us democrats. We are answerable to the public and must be seen to be an effective body. If the public lose faith, which they are beginning to do, in the way we operate politics and when leading journalists question whether we need TDs — they have already written us off as a luxury the country cannot afford — it is a sad day for democracy. It means that public representation is no longer seen as important. We must make ourselves relevant.

This tribunal in many ways highlighted deficiencies in the way we operate Parliament at present. All of this could possibly have been avoided if adequate and thorough answers had been given to questions at the time. Notice should have been taken of the meaning behind those questions and alarm bells should have sounded that there was something wrong and that change was needed in the way Departments were run. In the interests of democracy we must learn lessons from this tribunal and realise that at the end of the day it is the public which will judge us. We in the Labour Party are pleased to note that in the next session of the Oireachtas substantial legislation will be introduced, such as the Ethics Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill, which will allow for greater transparency in all our transactions and dealings. This can only be in the best interests of democracy. People should not count the pennies, even though they [116] amount to more than £30 million. In the long run we are saving millions of pounds by the action of this tribunal.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: We are sitting this evening in an emergency meeting of the Seanad to discuss the very important report of the beef tribunal which was established over two and a half years ago by a motion passed in the Oireachtas. In the tribunal's report Mr. Justice Hamilton criticises the terms of reference of that motion because it did not specify the periods within which the allegations were to be examined and it left him with a difficulty as to what precisely he was meant to do. Therefore, the first criticism which can be made in relation to the establishment of the tribunal was that the motion presented by the Fianna Fáil and PD Government of that time was found by Mr. Justice Hamilton to be wanting.

The report is very voluminous and, as we all know, it has cost the taxpayer over £35 million — and that figure may yet rise to £50 million. It is a huge cost and we have a grave responsibility to deal with the issues which arise in this report. While I agree with most of what Senator Kelly said, we have to look at who was responsible for what and who failed in their responsibilities.

We, as Members of the Oireachtas, have a responsibility to respond to this report because it was the Oireachtas which established the tribunal. This tribunal is reporting to us and it is up to us to take any necessary action. That means that the people who acted irresponsibly or against the spirit of what was involved at the time should be subject to some action by the Oireachtas, bring them before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or some other measure. However, some corrective action must be taken.

The report is very voluminous but more time might have been spent on its final formulation, how it was compiled and the index. There are a number of instances where Mr. Justice Hamilton addresses particular issues and says he will follow up on them later. However, [117] reading through the report, some issues are not dealt with later, which I find unhelpful.

Equally, there are a number of recommendations in the report. However, we must recognise when the tribunal was set up, the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, needless to say was aware of the significance of Cabinet confidentiality and evidently recognised that Mr. Justice Hamilton would be inhibited, restricted and limited in how far he could proceed because of Cabinet confidentiality. We must recognise that this report could never get behind the issue of Cabinet confidentiality or the mens rea of specific Ministers at a particular time. That is the reality. This issue must be addressed in the future.

It is evident from this report that the current Taoiseach, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, acted recklessly, irresponsibly and not in the national interest, as is claimed in one specific part of the report. It is clearly evident from the report that Deputy Reynolds, in his capacity as Minister for Industry and Commerce, repeatedly and consistently acted against the advice of senior civil servants in his Department, the ICC and the Department of Finance. This advice was given verbally and in writing on many occasions and he proceeded to act without giving any indication in writing or otherwise to his civil servants why he acted contrary to their advice.

I believe the Taoiseach has a responsibility to explain to the Oireachtas why he acted against the advice of these professionals. If he believed that he was acting in the national interest, then we can only deduce that he believed these senior civil servants were advising against the national interest. If he believed that, what action did he take? My belief is that they were advising in the national interest but Deputy Reynolds took a reckless position and acted against the national interest and jeopardised and endangered between £90 million and £113 million of taxpayers' money. That is the bottom line; that is the reality. He [118] has a responsibility to answer to this House and to the Dáil why he took that particular decision.

It is unfortunate that the Government parties in the other House have chosen not to have a question and answer session at the end of the debate because very pertinent questions need to be answered. The tribunal could not get these answers and, as the tribunal has reported to us, we have a responsibility to get the information it could not. We have the capacity to do this within the Oireachtas if we so desire.

As regards parliamentary questions, the accountability of Ministers to Parliament and the manner in which questions are answered this issue must be addressed. It has been stated repeatedly in this report that if questions had been fully answered by Ministers at the time it would not have been necessary to spend £35 million — and perhaps £50 million — of taxpayers' money to get answers — and we still have not found many of those answers.

The other question relates to ethics in Government. This Government's ethics Bill has come in for a great deal of criticism because it glosses over the superficial issues of Members registering what they own, their investments and so on. However, the bottom line is, how do we monitor what Ministers, the people with the real power, do within their Departments? Up to now we depended on their professional responsibility, the calibre of the person, their honour and moral standing, but evidently that is not good enough, as is proved in this report, as far as the then Minister, Deputy Reynolds, was concerned.

It is unfortunate that there are so many instances in this report which show that he acted in a politically reckless manner as far as the Department was concerned. He showed a very clear and definite preference for a number of companies — the Goodman group. Master Meat Packers and Hibernia. Interestingly, Paschal Phelan, the main owner of Master Meat Packers, is a close friend of the Taoiseach.

[119] At the same time, other companies were also applying for export credit insurance and were being almost dismissed or left dangling on a string by the then Minister for Industry and Commerce. When Agra Meat Packers applied for export credit insurance the Taoiseach thought it was extremely important that he see a written contract before he could consider them for export credit insurance. At the same time he could offer export credit insurance worth £10 million to Master Meat Packers, owned by his good friend Paschal Phelan. However at that time that particular company had not even applied to the Department for export credit insurance or entered into negotiations to do any deal in Iraq.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Calnan): I am sorry to interrupt the Senator but as it is 5 p.m., in accordance with the Order of Business agreed this morning, we will take a sos and at 5.30 p.m. we will take statements on the IRA cessation of violence in Northern Ireland. The debate on this motion will be resumed at 8 p.m.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I move the adjournment.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 5 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I welcome the Minister back to the House. However, I had hoped that the Taoiseach would remain in the House for the conclusion of the debate on the report of the beef tribunal.

Before the House adjourned I raised a number of questions on the activity of the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, regarding his preferential treatment for the Goodman group, Master Meat Packers group and Hibernia Meats as against other meat companies who were finding it extremely difficult at that time to secure export credit insurance from him as [120] Minister. It was most unfortunate — and this is stated in the report of the tribunal — that the then Minister refused export credit insurance to Agra Meat Packers Limited and Taher Meats (Roscrea) Limited while at the same time he offered and provided export credit insurance to Master Meat Packers group, owned by his friend, Mr. Paschal Phelan. This was a company which was not doing business with Iraq and not engaged in negotiations with Iraq to form any beef contract, yet Deputy Reynolds offered the company this security.

The unfortunate situation following on this was that this company did not use this export credit insurance facility, but hived it off — and it is not known for what consideration, whether it was for financial return or whatever, to Hibernia Meats. This was an extremely serious situation, given that at the time other companies were in a difficult position trying to secure the same type of treatment as these three companies received from the Department of Industry and Commerce.

Mr. Goodman was given special and preferential treatment. From reading the report of the tribunal it would appear that before he ever went to Iraq for the biggest contract ever signed in the history of the State for £134 million, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, gave him an assurance that he would be provided with export credit insurance on that contract, while at the same time he actively deceived his civil servants and the Government and the Cabinet itself.

It is clearly evidenced in the report that, in addition to this, firm decisions were taken in Cabinet regarding the conditions under which export credit insurance would be provided to any applicant company, but within a matter of hours and days, Deputy Reynolds, as Minister for Industry and Commerce, broke those very conditions. In view of this there is an onus on the Taoiseach to answer to the House why he acted in that way at that time. If he does not provide specific answers to these issues [121] arising from the report, this exercise is a farce and a total waste of taxpayer's money.

There are many issues arising from the report of the tribunal which Members of the Oireachtas have a specific responsibility to act upon. There is one set of recommendations which deal specifically with the area of agriculture. These recommendations are even more specific, in so far as they are a major statement from the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture dealing in detail with the management of the beef industry in this country. Many of the issues raised in that statement refer to EU directives and regulations.

However, other issues arise from the report, and while there are no recommendations on them, there is an onus on the House to act. In this respect I refer specifically to the issue of ministerial accountability and the role of the civil servant and the interrelationship between civil servants and their Ministers. The report clearly illustrates that civil servants can be placed in an extremely difficult position by irresponsible and reckless Ministers. This is clearly evident from the fact that the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, held a number of meetings with companies and interested parties without any civil servants present.

Mr. Daly: Some irresponsible civil servants can appear from time to time, as the Senator would be aware if she was responsible for a Government Department.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Would the Senator care to elaborate on this?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Fitzgerald): Senator Taylor-Quinn without interruption.

Mr. Daly: I spoke of some civil servants.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: Is Senator Daly speaking from experience, because, if [122] so, he should advise the House accordingly.

Acting Chairman: Senator Taylor-Quinn, please speak to the subject of the debate, and I ask Senator Daly not to interrupt.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I am addressing the issues arising from the report of the beef tribunal regarding the way in which civil servants fared.

Mr. Daly: The Senator has only got to page three of the report.

Acting Chairman: Senator Taylor-Quinn to continue without interruption. Ignore Senator Daly. Pretend he is not there.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I am continuing, Sir, but I am being interrupted by my colleague from County Clare, who appears to believe that there are irresponsible civil servants. I invite the Senator, when he gets the opportunity to speak, to elaborate on the allegation he is making.

The report of the tribunal illustrates that civil servants were put in a difficult position by the actions of the Minister at the time, Deputy Reynolds. In view of this, there is a need for the Houses of the Oireachtas to consider the relationship which exists between civil servants and their respective Ministers and the difficulties which can arise for them. In the final analysis it is the Secretaries of the respective Departments and especially the Secretary of the Department of Finance, who have to account for expenditure to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to the Committee of Public Accounts.

It is not good enough that public money should be dispersed in a manner that the permanent civil servants of the State are not in a position to account for and explain how decisions arose at a specific time and how they were arrived at. Equally, a Minister who takes a position which is contrary to the professional and official advice given by his [123] senior civil servants has a responsibility to those civil servants and to the public to provide the reasons why he or she acted contrary to such specific advice.

The report of the tribunal details umpteen examples of where the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Reynolds, acted in a manner which was contrary to official advice, both from his own Department, the Department of Finance and the Insurance Corporation of Ireland. Not only this, but he was the responsible Minister for defending and protecting the statutory position of the IDA. However, along with the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, he undermined the statutory position of the IDA by meeting clients themselves and striking a deal without any member of the IDA being present or advising it.

This kind of behaviour was irresponsible and reckless. The interesting aspect is that of all the Ministers concerned in the report of the tribunal, these two Ministers were the only two people who acted in that manner. In view of this they have a responsibility to account for their actions and this House, indeed both Houses of the Oireachtas, have a responsibility to ensure proper accountability. We have a responsibility to upgrade the Committee on Procedure and Privileges so that all office holders in the Oireachtas are specifically accountable either directly to this House or to the committee. The committee should look at this matter at an early date.

The role of civil servants and their loyalty to the Government versus their loyalty to their positions within the Civil Service must be examined. Something must be done to protect the interests of civil servants when they find them themselves in such an invidious position as some civil servants found themselves on this occasion. The Oireachtas should examine this situation and ensure it does not happen again. It is clear from the report that if full and factual answers were given to many questions which arose in the Dáil at various times [124] before the tribunal was set up, its establishment would not have been necessary.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Where does it say that in the report?

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: If the Senator reads through it he will see——

Mr. O'Kennedy: I read it in detail.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I understand why Senator O'Kennedy might be particularly sensitive.

Mr. O'Kennedy: On a point of order, the Senator said it is very clear from the report. I asked if she could point out where it is even referred to in the report. This is a specific matter. If the Senator wants to draw her own conclusions, not from the report but from something else, that is a different matter.

Acting Chairman: If it is not in the report Senator Taylor-Quinn should withdraw the remark.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I will not withdraw the remark. If one reads the report one will see that if the information it contains was given in answers to questions which were raised in the Dáil this situation would never have arisen.

Mr. O'Kennedy: That is not good enough.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: I can understand why Senator O'Kennedy is rather sensitive about the issue——

Mr. O'Kennedy: I am not sensitive. I am going to deal with it.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: ——being the Minister responsible at the time. In fairness to him, it also becomes very clear that it was his Minister of State, who is now the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, who seemed to play hand in hand with the then Taoiseach, Mr. [125] Charles Haughey, in relation to the organisation of the publicity and presentation of the Goodman deal. It appears that the junior Minister was doing this and Mr. O'Kennedy was not advised as well as he should have been by the Taoiseach of the time as to what was going on.

Mr. O'Kennedy: The Senator is now shifting ground and it is outrageous that she is doing this.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: There are many issues here. The issue of parliamentary questions should be examined by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. There is the question of parliamentary privilege. Major allegations were made by some Members of the Dáil about a variety of issues and a tribunal was set up. Those politicians went to that tribunal and refused to give the sources of their information and to answer specific questions. This is not good enough. No one should make allegations in the Oireachtas and refuse to give their sources to a tribunal. If they are the cause of the setting up of a tribunal they have a responsibility to give a full account of their stewardship in that tribunal. Many of the allegations made were not substantiated subsequently at the tribunal. The tribunal will cost the taxpayer a great deal of money. A journalist who made allegations on a television programme but refused to give the sources of her information to the tribunal is going to prosecuted and possibly imprisoned for this. If the Oireachtas is to be respected by the public, we will have to review our entire procedure in relation to this issue. One cannot justify the protection given to the Tánaiste while Ms Susan O'Keeffe can be put behind bars for doing the same thing in a different forum. This is not acceptable and needs to be looked at closely.

There is an opportunity for the Government to introduce major amendments to its fine Ethics Bill, the whiter than white legislation which Fianna Fáil felt obliged to accept as part of the Programme [126] for a Partnership Government. There is an onus on the Government to introduce major amendments on Committee Stage to deal with the fine detail and serious issues which are not addressed in the Bill. Real abuse can only happen where there is real power and information of a very confidential nature.

There is a great deal in this report other than the specific recommendations on agriculture. Matters arise from the report to which we as Members of the House have a duty to respond. It is not good enough to say the report is published, that we have discussed it and that that is the end of it. There are issues which need to be acted on and we must take the responsibility and do so. I do not want to disturb Senator O'Kennedy any further. I know he is in a hurry to go elsewhere and is anxious to make his contribution and defend his position as Minister for Agriculture at the time. I look forward to hearing him on the specific issues which arise as a result of the report.

The Labour Party and, in particular Deputy Spring, were the main architects of the tribunal. Deputy Spring should act on what he has espoused many times in the past about accountability and transparency in Government. His actions to date on this matter have not shown much respect for accountability and less respect for any degree of transparency. His position on and response to the report leave a great deal to be desired, given the position he adopted some years ago. His position in Government is very different to his previous position. It is unfortunate that he has not at least insisted that the debate in this House and in the Dáil be accompanied by at least two hours of questions and answers so that the Taoiseach, in particular, would be in a position to respond to specific questions.

Mr. Kelleher: The Senator has all the answers.

Mrs. Taylor-Quinn: If Senator Kelleher reads the report he will see that it [127] does not reflect well on the Taoiseach. The Senator may as well accept this. The Taoiseach has done some good things — he has done so in the past few days — but the reality is that, as Minister for Industry and Commerce at the time, he acted recklessly and totally irresponsibly in a manner which should not be condoned by the House or anyone else. It would be more fitting for Members to accept what is in the report and say that what happened should never occur again. We should make sure there is total accountability and that civil servants are advised of exactly what is going on. Taxpayers' money should not be put in jeopardy by actions taken contrary to the advice of civil servants. I am sure this matter will be discussed in many other fora in the years ahead. I hope action will be taken, not just on what is specifically recommended but on other issues which arise and for which we as Members of the Oireachtas have a responsibility to act.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I thank the Minister for Agriculture for enabling the Seanad to debate this issue and for his generous recognition and assertion that, despite the fact that I was one of the main targets of these disgraceful allegations of interference with due process, I had my integrity totally upheld. The tribunal findings bear this out in every single detail. My comments for that reason will not dwell unduly on my own personal vindication which is, of course, a matter of very considerable gratification to me, having regard to the unjustifiable vilification to which I was subjected in the Dáil by people for motives which were other than in the national interest or the interest of the beef industry or the truth.

At first sight, some might think it is inappropriate and inopportune in the immediate aftermath of the historic statement made by the Taoiseach in Dáil Éireann yesterday, and repeated here in Seanad Éireann this evening, that we should be engaged in either House today on a potentially divisive debate on the report of the beef tribunal. [128] At a time when the future is one of harmony, reconciliation and Christian understanding, it is too bad that we have to look at a report which was based in many ways on greatly different priorities to Christian understanding, harmony, reconciliation or the national interest. I will return to deal with that in detail to the extent that is appropriate for me to so do.

On the other hand, it is appropriate as part of the normal democratic process that both Houses of the Oireachtas should reconvene as they have done to consider the Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry which was issued on 29 July 1994. The tribunal was established by resolution of Dáil Éireann on 24 May 1991. It was called for by the assembled representatives of Dáil and Seanad Éireann and it is appropriate that we should return to the same Chambers to consider the outcome of the demands we made and the report which followed. In response to specific demands by Deputy Spring on behalf of the Labour Party in Opposition at the time, the tribunal was given power in particular — this was demanded by the Labour Party at the time — to summon witnesses and procure documents under the Tribunal of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 and 1979 and it was also empowered “to inquire into any matters connected with, or relevant to, the matters aforesaid which the tribunal considers it necessary to investigate and to make such recommendations, if any, as the tribunal, having regard to its findings, thinks proper”.

Something which I think is of some significance at this remove from the establishment of the tribunal is that, having announced the Government's readiness to establish the sworn judicial inquiry, on the same date I acknowledged on behalf of the Government, in response to Deputy Spring's comments at the time, that the Government was indeed reluctant to establish the sworn judicial inquiry on the grounds that previous experience had shown that tribunals result in something very different [129] from the expectation, that they last a considerable length of time, that the cost was an issue and, finally, that no prosecutions could be taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions even on matters which had already been referred to the Garda Síochána at that time, the Customs authorities, the Department of Agriculture or anybody else, while the tribunal was in session. That is a matter of law and of practice. That is contained in columns 269-70 of the Official Report of Dáil Éireann, 15 May 1991.

The point that no prosecutions can be taken is, perhaps, the most important point. Some might say that there is no price too high for the truth and I would tend to share that view, although the public are greatly concerned. However, the point in relation to the prosecutions is of considerable importance and it explains why no prosecutions, if warranted, could be taken before now. Remember, matters were already referred to the Garda Síochána for investigation. This fact has attracted negative comment from some of those who, when in Opposition, called most vociferously for a tribunal. I pointed out then that this was an inevitable consequence of a tribunal being established.

It gives me no great pleasure to have to say this but the Tánaiste indicated today that he now proposed to request the Attorney General to refer the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Is he not aware that the consequence of the tribunal which he demanded is that reference by the Garda to the Director of Public Prosecutions or any action by the DPP automatically has been frustrated since May 1991? I welcome the fact that even now, belatedly, that is being recognised. He must have known, either as Tánaiste or as a practising counsel at the bar — as I am myself again — that this was an immediate consequence of the sworn public inquiry which he so vigorously requested.

It is not consistent for people to complain about no action being taken — and I am not criticising Senator Taylor-Quinn [130] for this — when, by their own actions in having a tribunal established, they ipso facto prevented prosecutions being taken over the last three years. I am not saying that was necessarily wrong but that it was an inevitable consequence of the actions they called for.

It took over three years, at considerable cost, to conclude the inquiry. While there has been much public and media comment since then which would seem to justify the reservation I then expressed on behalf of the Government about our reluctance to establish the tribunal, it is also arguable that the cost to the taxpayer was justified to establish the truth and to deal with allegations affecting the most important single industry in the Irish economy.

I wish to acknowledge now, as I did then in Dáil Éireann, that Deputy John Bruton was then, and in my view has been since, absolutely consistent in calling on all who made allegations to substantiate them before the public judicial tribunal without seeking the cover of parliamentary privilege. In endorsing his remarks at the time — columns 1262-3 of the Official Report of Dáil Éireann of 15 May 1991 — I said it was very important that no allegations were made which were not capable of being substantiated outside the House and that anything said should not seek the cloak of privilege at the tribunal.

The tribunal was entitled to expect the full co-operation of those Members so that it would be fully equipped with all the information, data and sources which would enable it to make a final determination on the allegations made in the House.

This is of no consequence in comparison, but there was considerable personal distress for people who have always attempted to fulfil their responsibilities in Government according to the highest standards of public office. However, my own personal distress is of nothing by comparison with the damage which was done to the industry during that time.

I expressed the hope at that time that those Deputies, in discharge of their [131] constitutional responsibilities, would furnish all information they had to the sworn public inquiry to enable it to have a full, complete and final examination of the matters referred to it by the Members of Dáil and Seanad Éireann. Deputy Spring specifically and uniquely requested that the tribunal have power to summon witnesses and procure documents. He was the only one who did. Is it not somewhat inconsistent that having insisted on that, when it came to giving information and producing documents himself, he relied on the cloak of privilege which clearly frustrated the tribunal in making inquiries?

While that is a matter of considerable regret, it is of even greater regret that Deputies should raise for the first time today in Dáil Éireann matters which were never referred to by them in the course of the tribunal, to my best knowledge, and while we are meeting in the Seanad, raise allegations in the Dáil which one could not be aware of if one was paying attention to the debate here. This is why I was uneasy about the procedure of having the two debates at the same time.

Mr. Manning: We were uneasy also.

Mr. O'Kennedy: Allegations are being made in the other House which affect some of us whose responsibility is to answer in this House. All day I have been receiving reports about who said what in the Dáil. I appreciate the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition, which has always been reasonable. It is regrettable this procedure has been followed, because we cannot calmly consider what is required.

I have spent a long time searching the text of what Deputy O'Malley said in the Dáil. It has caused me a good deal of tension. In the short time available I have only been able to get the record of one allegation he made against me, which is as follows:

Deputy O'Kennedy and his Department did not answer my query [132] as to whether intervention beef was being used in these contracts when I asked an official of the Department of Industry and Commerce to make the inquiry in November 1989.

From the moment Deputy O'Malley was appointed Minister for Industry and Commerce I deliberately — and with good reason as this shows — went to him in the Dáil that evening to formally tell him I had formally instructed the senior civil servants of the then Department of Agriculture and Food to make available to him whatever information he or his Department requested that would be relevant to the discharge of his responsibility as Minister for Industry and Commerce. I conveyed that I wanted exactly the same flow of information as had been the practice with his predecessor, Deputy Burke.

I specifically deny the implication in Deputy O'Malley's Dáil contribution today, which is that he asked me and I did not answer his query as to whether intervention beef was being used in these contracts. From that day, despite my formal and deliberate approach to Deputy O'Malley, not once did he come to me and say he needed this information from my Department and that it was not furnishing him with information which he believed it had.

I find it despicable that something which was not referred to until today in the other House should be presented by Deputy O'Malley for his own extraordinary motives. I will leave it at that — one tries to think about the obligation we all have to Christian understanding and forbearance at this point. I find this totally and utterly unacceptable, both as practice and conduct.

Uniquely, I went before the tribunal on two occasions. On the first occasion I went to deal with the export credit issue. Deputy O'Malley was represented there by his counsel and at no stage during the course of my lengthy, full and complete examination before the tribunal did Deputy O'Malley or anyone on his behalf make any such criticism, complaint or allegation.

[133] In fairness to normal decency and standards we should maintain towards each other as human beings, it is rather beyond the limits of reasonable Christian, human relationships that he raises this allegation in the Dáil today for the first time. I find that more despicable than anything else that has emerged in relation to this matter. I wonder what motivates that. These allegations are of such importance that I imagine the current Minister will deal with them, if he has the opportunity and he feels it appropriate; they are on the record of the Dáil.

On behalf of the officials of the Department, I reject any implication that they deliberately concealed anything in that area. It was not their role. I was not aware, nor was I made aware, of this matter but I am not suggesting the officials concealed things deliberately from me — far from it. The role of the Department on intervention has been fully explained to the tribunal and will be more fully vindicated in the Minister's reply. The implications of this in relation to the export credit scheme was not part of the Department's function. I will deal further with this shortly but I want also to deal with the unfounded and spurious implications made by Deputy O'Malley.

I acknowledged the consistency of Deputy Bruton's position. It is a matter of considerable regret to me that some of the Deputies who made the most serious allegations under parliamentary privilege in the Dáil claimed the protection of the same privilege before the tribunal. This also resulted in protracted and costly hearings in the High Court and the Supreme Court. I cannot accept the argument advanced by the Tánaiste today to justify his claim of privilege and failure to disclose his sources to the tribunal.

However, I express my appreciation and respect for those Deputies who cooperated fully and freely with the tribunal in the discharge of its detailed and comprehensive examination without claiming privilege. Their actions were honourable and consistent with parliamentary [134] status and responsibility. If one calls for a tribunal one should hardly claim privilege when giving the evidence the tribunal requires.

The tribunal properly points out it could only rely on properly admitted evidence subjected to cross-examination by counsel or solicitor. While it says it was obliged to sift through submissions or statements based on rumour and hearsay, it could not, and did not, rely on any such statements, only on evidence properly admitted for its own findings. Who is to stop anyone making all types of allegations, forcing the tribunal to sift through it all, at considerable cost to the taxpayer who might have other views as to how that money might be spent?

While respecting and acknowledging the independent function of the DPP and accepting any decision the director feels obliged to make on matters referred to him in pursuance of his statutory responsibility, Members of the Oireachtas must, at the same time, particularly note and regret the anomaly which leaves a journalist amenable to prosecution for refusing to disclose sources of information to the tribunal while Deputies are not amenable to any such sanction particularly when it could be — note I say “could be” — that they were both relying on the same source and maybe even on material exchanged with each other. One is amenable to prosecution while the other is free. How can we square that with our consistency as public representatives? We call for something and then leave others amenable to prosecution for the very thing we refused to do ourselves.

I must express my regret that in all the years I was in the Department of Agriculture only one Deputy came to me voluntarily with what might appear to be important information on alleged irregularities. In this case it happened to relate to alleged irregularities in APS schemes — in this instance, in plants other than AIBP plants. That Member was Deputy Spring. Significantly, as I told him subsequently, the new control [135] inquiry teams which I had put in place in the Department at that time were vigorously inspecting the APS schemes and were already dealing effectively with the matter he referred to me. I conveyed that information to him directly and possibly on the same day.

Equally significant is the fact that Deputy Spring concealed from me what subsequently emerged in tribunal documentation which he submitted, that he believed his anonymous phone informant about those other companies to be none other than Larry Goodman. I let others judge whether that is the standard of good faith and trust which they would expect in matters of serious importance between Members of the Oireachtas and members of Government. That is reality. I make no further comment and I let others judge.

When we, as Members of the Oireachtas, call for sworn judicial inquiries, the public are entitled to expect that we are prepared to be consistent and to back up our complaints or allegations with evidence to ensure that the very inquiry we call for will not be frustrated. As Members of the Oireachtas we have to be particularly careful to ensure that in cases such as this, we are not pursuing perceived political advantage — one might say exclusive political advantage — as distinct from the public interest without due consideration for the considerable cost to the taxpayer at a time of great need throughout the community and scarce financial resources.

There has been a tendency on the part of media commentators, particularly in The Irish Times since the publication of the report to go beyond or behind the report and ignore its conclusions. There has been a tendency to read between the lines, a practice incidentally adopted by the Tánaiste today; he was, as he said himself, reading between the lines in reaching some conclusions. What kind of an attitude is that to have? That is old women's talk. A person asks a judicial inquiry to come to a conclusion and then reads between the [136] lines. Surely the President of the High Court is capable of saying what he wants to say. It is not acceptable to read between the lines to reach conclusions that are not warranted or were not found by the tribunal.

The tribunal was set up to provide a full and final report and after almost three and a half years issued very detailed findings and recommendations on the allegations in respect of which evidence was offered to it. I want to note for the record that so many allegations of wrongful political interference, collusion and guaranteeing immunity from prosecution — remember I was accused of reducing penalties imposed on Goodman and others——

Mr. Sherlock: Was the beef sourced from outside the Senator's jurisdiction?

Mr. O'Kennedy: ——which the tribunal regarded as very serious allegations, were all established to be totally unfounded. I do not intend to repeat the details of any of these false allegations beyond saying that in every case the tribunal dismissed them, and in some cases used terms like “baseless” and “false”, the strongest language one is ever going to get from the a tribunal in respect of allegations made in the Dáil.

The conclusion of the tribunal on standards in Ireland generally was confirmed in another way — I am not saying this only applied in our time but also in that of my predecessor in the Department — and that confirmation came from a representative of the Court of Auditors recently when he said:

I have read all of the special reports and I have read all of the confidential documents we get from Ireland and from the other countries and have been deeply involved in court meetings and so on, because we all act as a collegiate body. I can say that my general impression is that we in Ireland behave and act and manage Community resources in an ongoing honest and open and transparent way [137] and that we do manage the Community resources effectively.

That same member of the Court of Auditors said in the same radio interview at the end of July that where there were substantial transfers under the support system of FEOGA, a certain amount of irregularity was inevitable. That is the term he used. He did not imply, nor do I now imply, that the existence of such “inevitable irregularities” reflected collusion or turning a blind eye on the part of the control authorities of the European Union. If so, the Commission of the European Union and the members of the Court of Auditors themselves, whose job it is to regulate and supervise all these things, could, by spurious or malicious association, be charged with involvement in such irregularities as occurred. Nonetheless when the member of the Court of Auditors in question was serving here as Deputy Barry Desmond, he made precisely that spurious connection between the industry here and the control authorities. He alleged that if there were irregularities in the industry here it could only happen with the collusion of the control authorities and only if the political heads had directly interfered.

Now that he has assumed a new responsibility as a comptroller, I hope he will not be subject to any unfair or unfounded allegations of association or collusion with “inevitable irregularities” simply by virtue of his position as a regulator and comptroller of European disbursement. He will find that the current Minister will do as I did; I always insisted on the fullest and most vigorous co-operation between the Department and the European control authorities. He will find that Ireland's record, which he was never prepared to accept, is high in the second half of the league as he now points out.

I want to specifically reject the implications and statements contained in one of Garret FitzGerald's columns in The Irish Times in so far as they refer to me. I do not propose to go into further detail in this forum under the privilege [138] of Oireachtas Éireann. I regard them as very serious and of the gravest significance but this is not the forum in which to vindicate my name in respect of those allegations.

I want to make one point on the issue of questions. It is clear that the observation made by the president in relation to questions was made while discussing matters other than the Minister and Department of Agriculture. At no stage during my two appearances before the tribunal did anybody from the tribunal ever ask me if I had concealed or deliberately misrepresented answers or interfered with the due process of the public service or if things had changed. I want to make that very clear. I reject any spurious attempts now, after the event, by those who were represented at the tribunal——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The time is up, Senator.

Mr. Manning: Senator O'Kennedy has an important case to make. We do things in this House by agreement and, if the Government side is agreeable, I propose that Senator O'Kennedy be given some extra time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Please be as brief as possible, Senator O'Kennedy. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I appreciate that.

Mr. Norris: I am the next speaker and I have no objection to Senator O'Kennedy having some of my time.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: It has been agreed by the House.

Mr. O'Kennedy: There have been some comments in the media in relation to an observation made in the course of the tribunal which, as I said, is not referred to anywhere in the report, that if questions had been answered more completely there would not have been any need for a tribunal. It is clear that the observation arose in the context of [139] issues before the tribunal in which I was not involved. This is borne out by the fact that I attended before the tribunal on two occasions and on the second, subsequent to the comment in question, the president of the tribunal, counsel for the tribunal or counsel for any other party represented did not put any question or make any criticism or implication to me in the matter. I reject, therefore, the spurious attempts to draw negative or hostile conclusions by any commentator in the media which is not based on the fair procedures set out in great detail in the tribunal report itself. The tribunal president sets out those procedures at the beginning, in particular, on pages 4 and 5 of the introduction.

Nonetheless, having said that, I want to make it clear that the practice I followed in replying to parliamentary questions was as advised by the public service at all times and was precisely the same as that adopted by my predecessors in the Department, particularly on the principle of maintaining confidentiality and non-discrimination between competing commercial interests. I want to assert in particular that at no stage did I ever direct or attempt to direct any public servant in the Department of Agriculture and Food to be economic with the truth, or at no stage did I bring any pressure of any kind to bear on any public servant in that connection.

The records of the Department are there and the officials are represented here this evening. They know and the record shows that there was not a taint of any such malpractice during my four to five years as Minister for Agriculture and Food. On the contrary, I adhered to the most stringent standards in terms of my responsibility as Minister and I know that the records and the personnel of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry can testify to that fundamental fact.

The controls and regulations that were introduced by the Department of Agriculture and Food during my period of office and before the establishment of [140] the tribunal, such as the control inquiry team, the special action groups and the special intervention unit, have been acknowledged by the president of the tribunal. The report states that they “go very far towards dealing with the weaknesses in the system disclosed during the course of the Tribunal and have rendered unnecessary many of the recommendations which might otherwise have been made by the Tribunal”. The Minister has referred to them today, two technical details in relation to boning and checking in boning halls, which is the sum total of the recommendations.

The Minister has been pursuing, developing and improving the same controls. That should be noted. It is a finding of the tribunal. I know that the control is a matter of ongoing review and efficiency; it must always be. There will always be the risk of irregularity, to quote former Deputy Desmond, so there has to be ongoing controls. I am pleased that the tribunal is satisfied that the Department has addressed the problems of streamlining and improving the control systems on an ongoing basis, and I have no doubt that the limited but specific recommendations in relation to the boning hall weighing, deboning and cutting procedures can be speedily and effectively implemented by the Department. I have no doubt they will be.

While I have dealt at length with my responsibility as Minister for Agriculture and Food——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I would remind the Senator that he has gone well over his time.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I appreciate that, but these are important matters. I want to address some comments before concluding on my responsibility as a member of Government in this regard. As a member of Government I accept collective Cabinet responsibility and I also accept the findings of the tribunal that on 8 March 1988 the Government, wrongfully and in excess of its powers under the provisions of section 35 of the [141] Industrial Development Act, 1986, directed the Authority to remove the performance clause. I accept that and I accept collective Cabinet responsibility in that connection, although I was not present at that Government meeting and had no advance notice or knowledge of the intention to remove the performance clause. Nonetheless, as a member of Government in collective responsibility, I accept that I am responsible with the rest for that decision and I accept the findings made by the president of the tribunal and the strictures involved.

However, while I am prepared to accept liability in collective responsibility for decisions taken even when I was not present, I cannot accept any responsibility or liability in respect of matters in which I had no role or responsibility as Minister. During the course of my attendance before the tribunal in relation to the issue of export credit, the presiding judge constantly insisted and acknowledged that I had no role or responsibility in relation to the issue of export credit. This, of course, was entirely in accordance with the facts and the evidence adduced before the tribunal. I had no role and was given no role nor did anyone suggest at that time that I should have a role. That was confirmed by officials from what was then my Department and from the Department of Industry and Commerce. I confirmed that I had no such role and, indeed, that the only contact I had with the then Minister for Industry and Commerce before November 1989 — and this may perhaps be significant — was to make unsuccessful representations to him to extend the benefit of the export credit scheme to Taher Meats in my constituency.

The first time I was requested to have any role in this matter was in November 1989 shortly after the then Minister, Deputy R. Burke, took over as Minister for Industry and Commerce. That was the first time I was approached. He personally and specifically approached me to arrange that the Department of Agriculture and Food would provide all [142] necessary information in relation to the exports to Arab countries and particularly to Iraq. I immediately arranged for senior officials of my Department to consult with senior officials of the Department of Industry and Commerce as a consequence of which a consultation procedure and mechanism was set up between the two Departments in relation to the operation of the export credit scheme, particularly as it affected beef exports to Iraq.

All I can say is that had I been requested at any time before that to arrange for any such consultation or coordination, I would of course have been immediately ready to do so and to ensure that such relevant information as would have been available in the Department, whatever it was, which I might not even have been aware of, would be made available to the Department of Industry and Commerce. This information exchange was being put in place as a consequence of the request to me by the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy R. Burke, through the agreed procedures when he took Iraq off cover in early 1989. Accordingly, as far as I understand, there was no further need for any consultation or liaison, subject to what I had said to the Minister, Deputy O'Malley, that if he thought there was any need for co-operation or information, I would immediately ensure that it was made available.

I want to reiterate that had I been approached or requested to arrange any co-operation or information which might be available in the Department, as would have been my practice in Government over the years in consultation with any colleague discharging his duties I would of course have been ready and anxious to ensure that it would have been done. I cannot accept any implications or suggestions that any decisions taken in respect of intervention beef to Iraq under export credit or beef sourced from other countries other than Ireland was due to any lack of co-operation or readiness on my part to give the necessary information had I [143] been so requested. I would have immediately and vigorously ensured that such information would be made available, as was my normal practice in Government over the years when requested by colleagues to provide help in a matter of that colleague's immediate responsibility.

I express my appreciation to the President of the High Court for taking on this onerous and important responsibility which was so time consuming and costly in terms of human and financial resources. It took time for the various Departments, including the Department of Agriculture — although I had left it and I was no longer Minister — to try to get information on a matter like intervention beef which was not immediately available because the need for such information had not arisen. Apparently it took months to collate that information. The Minister can deal with that matter in his reply if he chooses.

I trust the outcome of the report will be that all of us as Members of the Oireachtas will discharge our responsibilities independently, courageously and impartially at all times with due regard to the special onus on us when we make allegations, particularly under privilege. I hope this important industry will be able to develop and flourish in the interests of all concerned and that irregularities such as those which emerged in the course of the tribunal will be corrected and that whatever necessary steps required by way of follow up will be adopted.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I ask Senator O'Kennedy to conclude. I appreciate he has a special interest in the subject.

Mr. O'Kennedy: I issued the warrant to the President of the High Court for the tribunal. I appreciate the suggestion made by Senator Manning.

There is no longer any restriction on any court procedure as the tribunal has concluded its business. I have no doubt [144] that the appropriate action to be taken on foot of the recommendations will be speedily implemented and that the Department of Agriculture will continue to refer matters to the Garda Síochána where appropriate, as it always has done. I endorse and support the motion in the name of the Leader of the House without qualification.

Mr. Norris: May I share my time with Senator Honan?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Norris: I did not anticipate speaking this evening. As I explained earlier, I have been ill and I am not supposed to be here, but I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb — an appropriate metaphor in the circumstances. If my employers in Trinity College discover I have been on my feet speaking in the Seanad while unable to fulfil my obligations to them, they might as well find that out twice in one day. Although I have not prepared anything, it has never stopped me speaking in the Seanad before.

The function of the Seanad in such matters is slightly different to that of the Dáil. I sat in and listened to the debate in the other House and I must disagree with Senator O'Kennedy in that I believe the contributions of many of those who took part, particularly Deputy O'Malley, were extraordinarily good. I am sure that if Senator O'Kennedy had been present he would have appreciated——

Mr. O'Kennedy: I only referred to specific references to me, which I refuted. The rest of the contribution could have been good. I do not know.

Mr. Norris: The forensic skills and the clarity and lucidity with which Deputy O'Malley displayed a network of what I can only describe as fraud and corruption in the beef industry were remarkable, impressive and of the highest standards. The Dáil has dealt in technical [145] detail with this matter and that is appropriate. Because this is a reviewing, a revising and an amending Chamber, I do not believe I must go into an area in which I am not competent in such detail. However, I am in a situation where I can reflect some common perceptions which were brought to the surface in the minds of the public by the beef tribunal and I intend to approach this debate in that framework. I see the two House as complementary and I do not believe I must display the same kind or quality of skills as Deputy O'Malley, Deputy Rabbitte and others, although I am glad they brought their minds to bear on this subject.

I regret it was necessary to establish such an expensive tribunal. Perhaps if the Houses of the Oireachtas were differently constituted and there was a more efficient and biting committee system, this might not have been necessary. I would like to say under the privilege of the House — I would be happy to say it outside of the privilege of the House — that the expenses were scandalous. Some of the legal personnel involved drew down fees of £1,800 per day, including in at least one case Christmas Day. One must believe they were working on Christmas Day. I pity the poor creatures, particularly their bad business judgment if they worked on Christmas Day for a mere £1,800. Surely they should be aware that they should entitled to at least triple time on Christmas Day of all days. I question their professional judgment if they worked for the same measly rate they worked for on other more dreary days of the year.

The fees charged were scandalous, although I cannot blame those directly involved because if there is a scale of fees then they draw them down. However, they drew them down with extraordinary alacrity and relish. Some followed this up when criticised in the media by taking action for libel to collect further non taxable damages. From a moral point of view. I do not approve of that. I believe the public was disillusioned by that performance and by the [146] evidence of a massive network of fraud, tax evasion, peculation, conversion of funds and all kinds of things in the beef industry.

I would like to give one example on page 529 of the report, although you could spend all day reading extracts, which states:

However the Tribunal accepts Mr McGuinness' evidence with regard to this.

In this regard he stated that:—

“what I saw was the process of cutting off the original stamp, the replacement putting on a new stamp, and also you have to go a step further and you have to take off the killing docket details because the kill docket details, they were applied to the fore quarter and hind quater and they show the kill number and the grade and they have to be taken off as well and effectively a new one has to be put on.”

It appears from his evidence that Mr McGuiness witnessed the process of switching carcasses subsequent to slaughtering and grading prior to being weighed in at the boning hall, that the process involved the removal of the original grading mark on the carcass and the substitution of a higher grading mark and the removal of the label attached to the forequarters and the hindquarters containing the kill number and the grade and the substitution of a new label. This process is similar in practically every detail to the practice described by Mr Lynch as being followed in the AIBP plant in Rathkeale.

This type of practice, which would cause concern to any decent citizen, was widespread. Other things were also widespread, including the drawing down of £106 million under section 84 for purposes which were not those intended by the framers of that legislation. It is extraordinary and is a matter of regret.

[147] I welcome an enterprise culture in so far as it provides jobs. However, there is little evidence that this systematic fraud and evasion provided any jobs; in fact, it may have had the opposite effect in practice.

There is a great deal to be concerned about in the beef tribunal. I refer to the attitude of the Goodman company and of Mr. Goodman in particular. There was a type of buccaneering quality to a lot of the correspondence. It is clear Mr. Goodman believed legislation should be framed and amendments passed in the interest of one company and that the Government of the day collaborated in this view. There is no question about that. It cannot be evaded.

I paid tribute to the Taoiseach, Deputy Albert Reynolds, today because he deserved it. In a realistic way he helped to deliver a remarkable solution of the process towards peace in this country. However, he is not above criticism. He has not yet been assumed into heaven. He has many qualities. I was charmed to hear him say that he was a simple man, that he may have some difficulties with grammar — I am paraphrasing his comments — and that he might not be as fluent with big words as other people but that he could understand small words like “peace”. That was a wonderful, nice, witty rejoinder to the Murdoch press and I applauded him.

However, his deficiencies in language are made manifest when he claims to have been vindicated by this report. If this is vindication I hope to God that I am never vindicated. The report does not convict him of any crime or wrongdoing but it must cast doubt upon his judgment. This is something of which the Taoiseach is obviously aware. When talking about Northern Ireland he said that in another context — that is, the beef tribunal — he had been attacked for not taking the advice offered to him by his civil servants and that if he had taken advice offered to him on all sides about the peace process this frail flower would “have withered upon the vine”. [148] He is glorying in his refusal to take advice on various matters, including the beef tribunal. There is no doubt that by so doing for whatever reason — and this report is not capable of speculating on his motivation, he is not absolved or acquitted; it is just a matter with which the tribunal cannot deal. He exposed this country to very serious financial risk. He must accept that because there is no doubt about it.

I question the gathering rush to supply highly unsavoury people with beef of various quality, sourced in various countries. I remember making the point at the time that supplying beef and offering export credit guarantees for trade with Iraq raised questions about Irish foreign policy. I was told that my comments might be moral but were unrealistic because we had to flog our beef to these people. I think it was Napoleon who said that an army marches on its stomach. We were supplying the Iraqi Government and virtually directly the Iraqi army with what it marches on — its human fuel — at the very time it was committed to serious human rights abuses against the Kurds, the Marsh Arabs and so forth. I objected to that and I still object to it. Frankly, I would have laughed like a drain if the Irish Government had been caught with its pants down and had to stump up all the risk to which it was exposed. It would have demonstrated clearly that the immoral foreign policy of supplying these people is not always the economically beneficial one. Another rotten regime — the Iranian tyranny — is currently being supplied with the same material. I will probably be told that this is also economically necessary.

I said earlier that one could open this report at random and find something to disturb the conscience of the ordinary citizen. My one criticism is that one almost has to open the report at random because of the inadequate way in which it is presented. In view of the fact that it cost millions of pounds, it could have been somewhat better presented intellectually. It could have been better categorised [149] and indexed. I would like to find some deeply embarrassing material for the Government but it is much more difficult when there is no proper index and system of references. I might be casting aspersions on the good judge. I am sure that is not the reason why it is presented this way but it is not a help.

I wish to discuss the question of public interest. It greatly disturbed me when legal personnel who were hired to represent the State and paid with taxpayers' money told the tribunal that they were not representing the public interest. The public interest, therefore, had to be represented and protected by legal personnel working independently for other individuals. Why is taxpayers' money spent on legal advice which does not meet the requirements of the public interest? I hope that in the establishment of any future tribunal no such moneys will be expended. There was also more than a suggestion that spin doctors were employed in the sectional interest of the major Government party. That is also regrettable. The employment of public relations consultants whose bill only emerged subsequently is very worrying.

With regard to Susan O'Keeffe, the television journalist, I am in danger of repeating what has been said earlier. It seems idiotic that virtually everybody who attended the beef tribunal could claim privilege against naming their sources except the journalist whose inquiries and programme sparked the entire tribunal. The protections afforded in these circumstances in other jurisdictions protect not the parliamentarian or the reporter so much as the source. This principle should be accepted and enshrined in legislation here.

Damage has been done to the beef industry. It is time that the industry was looked at in some detail. Many rumours still abound. I hear them all the time. Some people think that it is rather entertaining when they speak of the best travelled carcasses in Europe which have been across the Border many times to collect European subsidies. Everybody [150] has deep suspicions about the beef trade and I hope they will soon be cleared up. The use of intervention beef and the sourcing of beef from outside the country was a clear violation of the way in which the machinery established previously by Government was supposed to operate.

I had not proposed to speak on this. However, as I am waiting for the vote I thought I might as well inflict my random views upon the House. I will support the Opposition amendment. It is a reasonable and, in the circumstances, justified amendment.

Ms Honan: I will not dwell in great detail on the report's content. The picture that emerges from the report is not pretty. It gives us a view of public and political life in this country which does not make for pleasant reading.

I believe, as the report suggested, that the Taoiseach was acting in good faith in the matters that were investigated by the tribunal, even though he failed to listen to his advisers and to make the most basic inquiries into the risk that was being undertaken through export credit insurance. My acceptance of that will for many people be quite astonishing. All of us make mistakes and take decisions that we would not be proud of, but we must be willing to accept that we have made a mistake and take the repercussions on the chin. Elected representatives, particularly those who reach high Government office, are in very privileged positions. We owe it to the public to carry out our responsibilities to the best of our ability and this involves accepting responsibility for mistakes.

Yesterday was a very good day for the Taoiseach, the Government and everyone in this country. We all generously acknowledged that today when the Taoiseach was present. But we should also be prepared to accept the downside of Government when things do not turn out so well. Who can blame the public's growing belief that if one is in a position of power or wealth one does not have to accept the consequences [151] of one's actions? Looking at the report of the beef tribunal we see incompetence in public office which may yet cost this State a lot of money. We see secrecy and deception, including deception of the Houses of the Oireachtas, tax evasion organised on a gigantic scale, and the inability to recover taxes which the Exchequer was cheated out of. Will anyone be held responsible for this? All we have seen to date is that the journalist who brought these matters to our attention and who caused the tribunal to be set up in the first place, seems to be the only one who is going to be prosecuted. How can we blame the public for being cynical about all politicians?

Last week, when the first round of CAO offers came out, I wondered what young people thought about politicians. Do they consider the job of a politician to be a worthwhile one? I do not think young people are very impressed by politics nor do they have any great aspirations to be Government Ministers. It is dangerous not to be prepared to accept our mistakes. Yesterday we saw protests by TEAM Aer Lingus workers. We are always asking people further down the ladder to accept responsibility and to do things that we think they should do. How can we ask them to do such things when we who are in positions of privilege do not accept our responsibilities?

Many people have mentioned the cost of this report. Mr. Justice Hamilton himself said that the tribunal need never have been set up if questions had been answered in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Taoiseach has said that there will never again be a tribunal. Does this mean that all questions will now be answered in the Houses of the Oireachtas? How is it that a question and answer session was not agreed to in relation to this debate? The public are not fools; they can distinguish between doing something that is good and something that is not quite so good. They will give credit where credit is due but people are not impressed when someone [152] comes along and claims to have been totally vindicated when this has clearly not been the case.

Mr. Kelleher: Mr. O'Malley did not win a European seat.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. J. Walsh): I thank all the Senators who contributed to this debate. A large range of issues have been raised in the course of the debate, many of which I addressed in my opening contribution, so I will not detain Senators by going over that ground again. A copy of what I had to say is available and the transcript, I am sure, will eventually find its way into the Official Report. I will, however, attempt to address as many of the questions raised as possible and be as fulsome as I can in my reply.

The first issue I wish to address is the point made by Senator D'Arcy that the Department of Agriculture and Food performed very badly in respect of controlling intervention operations in the period 1987 to 1989 and that Judge Hamilton was extremely lenient on the Department in his report. The only thing I can say about that is that it is an extraordinary criticism of one of the most eminent members of the Judiciary, the President of the High Court, and sole member of the tribunal who spent three years of his life listening to and cross examining several hundred people who gave evidence, as well as evaluating that evidence for 12 months. I find the criticism extraordinary. Mr. Justice Hamilton was given a job to do and most people would accept his findings without trying to recycle the report and pick their own tit-bits out of it. Are we now to accept the views of Senator D'Arcy instead of Judge Hamilton's views? Does Senator D'Arcy know better than the chairman of the tribunal? I do not know. I will leave it to the House to decide.

Senator D'Arcy also suggested that malpractices in relation to the intervention system were not confined to the Goodman plants but were systematic [153] throughout the beef industry. This suggestion is not only a serious slur on the beef industry generally but is another unfounded allegation. It is, in fact, contrary to the findings of the report which states, on page 702, that

In the case of many of the Companies there was no evidence of any irregularities or malpractices as appears from lack of reference to any such irregularities or malpractices in this Report relating to such companies.

I have come to the view that there are a lot of people in this country who have not read this particular report. In fact only a few hundred reports have gone out altogether. If you take the various offices around town that would have the report in their libraries, the number of ordinary people in the country who have read this report is. I suspect, very small. It is though appalling to find people debating and making contributions on the report who have not read it.

It was also suggested in the course of this debate that the beef industry had ceased selling beef into intervention because it is no longer profitable to do so since the malpractices have been uncovered. This is a completely unfounded slur on the reputation of the beef industry. The fact is that the beef industry continued to sell substantial quantities of beef into intervention for almost two years after the beef tribunal had been set up. I am very pleased that in the past year the position has changed enormously and sales into intervention have now stopped completely. However, this development is due to changed market conditions and additional marketing effort on the part of the industry, not because sales into intervention have become less profitable because they were becoming more difficult.

Senator Norris mentioned that enormous damage was done to the beef industry. That is another slur on the industry. The facts are that the Irish beef industry has not put a kilo of beef [154] into intervention this year and hardly any at all last year. The facts are that in 1993 sales of Irish premium beef, vacuum-packed consumer beef to the supermarket shelves of over 1,000 outlets on the European mainland, increased by 50 per cent over 1992. So the Irish beef industry is doing well and 100,000 Irish farmers are benefiting as a result of it.

Mr. Roche: Senator Norris has done it again.

Mr. J. Walsh: Despite the carelessness, and worse, of the unfounded allegations which were made, particularly in the Dáil but also outside it, recklessly, having no regard whatever for this important industry, the industry was strong enough to withstand it. The perception and image of Irish beef internationally in 60 countries worldwide is top of the range.

Senator D'Arcy also said the report concluded that the tribunal would not have been necessary if Ministers had given adequate replies in the Dáil. That point was alluded to by a number of Senators. We find, however, that this is simply not a finding in the report. I suspect that a number of people have not read the report fully. I defy anybody to say that this is a finding in any page of the report. I accept that it is not a terribly user-friendly report. I hope the learned judge will not mind me making that remark, because I had to read it from start to finish more than once and it is quite an awkward document to get round. I agree with people who say it would be very handy if we had an index, a summary and so on, and if it was more user friendly my summer holidays would have been that little bit more pleasurable, although I did succeed in making the festival meetings in Galway and in Tralee.

Senator D'Arcy and Senator Farrelly implied that I misled the tribunal in relation to the involvement of the then Taoiseach in the Goodman development plan. The facts are totally different. My evidence to the tribunal was [155] that I had been given primary responsibility for progressing what was known as the Goodman plan and that the Taoiseach of the day, Mr. Haughey, became involved only on one or two occasions to remove logjams when they occurred. That is the reality. I stand over the fact that I was involved in progressing the Goodman plan and everything associated with it.

Senator D'Arcy and Senator Howard complained that I had not adequately dealt with the involvement of the Government in the Goodman development plan. I dealt very fully with the only criticism of the Government in the report in so far as the Goodman plan is concerned. If I did not deal in detail with all aspects of the Goodman plan, it was only because I could not possibly deal with all the issues raised in the report within a reasonable time. The report clearly accepts that the involvement of Ministers in so far as the evolution of the plan in 1987 is concerned was completely in order and was not such as to bring undue political pressure on the IDA.

At the risk of keeping people here a little while longer, because I was accused of in some way not referring to the Goodman plan, I want to put on record the findings of the tribunal in relation to this plan — page 254 of the report:

In considering the allegations made with regard to the Five Year Development Plan approved by the Authority on the 12th day of June 1987 and approved by the Government on the 16th day of June 1987 it is important to note that this plan did not suddenly emerge on the change of Government in March 1987.

For a considerable time before that plan had been the subject of negotiations between the IDA and Goodman International...

This means that for a considerable time before I was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture this [156] plan was with the IDA and being progressed.

There is no doubt but that the Government was extremely anxious to secure the implementation of this project and on the face of it, this project would appear to have been rushed through the IDA Board and the Authority, but this is not necessarily true and does not mean that the IDA Board and Authority were deprived of the opportunity of objectively considering the plan.

This was a plan that was under discussion during the lifetime of the previous Government. I find it extremely difficult to understand why people choose to make a distinction between decisions taken in the lifetime of their Government and decisions made on a similar basis during the lifetime of a succeeding Government.

As I was accused of not fully dealing with this plan, I will quote further from the findings:

The Five Year Development Plan, 1987-1992 in respect of its beef operations in Ireland was produced by Goodman International Ltd. at the request of the Industrial Development Authority and with its encouragement and there has not been established any basis for the allegation that the Authority did not and were not able to properly assess and evaluate the merits of the plan.

Another quotation reads:

The concept inherent in the plan had the full support of the IDA and it was in accord with their development policy.

Another quotation from the report reads:

The plan was also in accordance with the policy of the Government in regard to the development of the food industry and job creation.

Another quotation reads:

When the Government became aware of the plan and the negotiations [157] in regard thereto being carried out between the IDA and the Goodman Group before it came into office, it decided to support the concept of such a plan and to encourage and assist the parties in the negotiations. The support given and assistance provided did not mean that a similar plan put forward by another beef processor would not receive similar support from either the Government or the IDA. The support and assistance given by the Government and the Ministers thereof prior to the announcement of the plan did not, in the words of Mr. White, the then Managing Director of the IDA, in any way amount to political pressure.

If Senators are prepared for some more of this, I will read more quotes as they drew it on themselves.

At no stage did the Government decide that it would rely solely on the Goodman Group to develop the beef industry. At no stage did the Government decide against the wishes of the IDA to give a grant of £25 million to the group. At no stage did the entire, or any member of the Board of the IDA threaten to resign over a grant to expand an industry that had a surplus processing capacity. On the contrary, the proposed plan had the full support of the Board of the IDA and the Authority and neither the Board nor the Authority was precluded from assessing the implications of the plan on the cattle industry because of political pressure.

The famous press conference was referred to a few times. The press conference held to announce the agreement between the IDA and Goodman International was undoubtedly held prematurely and not in accordance with the wishes of the IDA and Goodman International, but at the instigation of the Minister for Food [I was the person involved and was the Minister for Food] who was unaware of the agreement made between the Chairman of the Authority [158] that there should be no announcement of any plan until the grant agreement had been signed.... many people in public life will appreciate this quotation from the report] but there is nothing unusual in a Government or a Minister being anxious to announce good news and seeking to derive political benefit from such an announcement.

Even Senators would like to announce the good news from time to time. I notice sometimes when I am waiting for The Cork Examiner to report some of the good news I wish to let the constituents of Cork South-West know about, that the advent of local radio means it is necessary to be quicker off the mark. Good public representatives and good politicians take the opportunity of informing their constituents through the medium of local radio since the print media is sometimes delayed in arriving with the news. The final quotation in relation to the Goodman plan reads:

In view of the failure on the part of the Goodman Group to proceed with the plan, no grants were paid in respect of any development under the plan.

All those direct quotations, findings of the tribunal, were the result of baseless, false, malicious allegations made in relation to that plan. I did not wish to delay this House in going through that because I assumed people had read the report in full.

Senator O'Toole accepted that the allegation about the carousel trade was not proven in the tribunal but implied that the incident referred to by Deputy Rabbitte was in fact a carousel operation. The report is unambiguous in its finding that the incident was not part of a carousel operation. Even more important, the tribunal report rejected the very serious slur on the integrity of the Customs authorities and the Government of the day contained in the allegation that no action was taken because the Goodman company was involved.

[159] The report expressed itself satisfied that the investigation of this incident was not in any way hindered by any person in authority, political or otherwise, and that the investigation was completely independent. It accepts that the recommendations made by the Customs and Excise officials who carried it out were based on such investigation and on no other basis.

This allegation is typical of the many baseless allegations made by Deputy Rabbitte which impugned the integrity of the public service and which were found by the tribunal to be totally without foundation.

A number of Senators commented on the fact that the Minister for Industry and Commerce of the day, the present Taoiseach, did not take advice. I am sure he assessed all the advice given to him and then made his decisions.

I argued in my opening speech and was able to substantiate the fact that there was substantial benefit to the Irish economy. I gave those increases in prices per pound for each of the relevant years as a result of the decisions he made.

I draw the attention of the House to another main finding of the report of the tribunal, the decision to reinstate and increase insurance for exports of beef to Iraq. The report states:

In the course of a telex dated the 27th day of April 1983 forwarded to the Department the Insurance Corporation of Ireland reviewed the situation in regard to Iraq and recommended that “we completely suspend all cover for Iraq immediately except where there is a guarantee of payment issued outside that country in the form of a bank guarantee or a confirmed irrevocable letter of credit.

The House is aware of the identity of the relevant Minister at that time. What did he do as a result of this specific [160] recommendation and advice? The report states:

The Minister then submitted to the Government a Memorandum for the Government dealing with “Conditions Applying to the Provision of Export Credit Insurance in respect of Trade with Iraq” and dated the 15th day of June 1983.

In this Memorandum the Minister sought a decision from the Government in favour of providing Export Credit Insurance to Irish exporters dealing with Iraq...

Obviously the then Minister discounted the specific advice then provided to him. Regarding the export credit insurance scheme, the report of the tribunal states:

The allegations made in Dáil Éireann with regard to the operation of the scheme relate to the alleged reintroduction of the scheme in 1987 and to the allocation of Export Credit Insurance for beef exports to Iraq during the years 1987-1988, which allocations were made, as provided for in the agreement, on the basis of “Special Ministerial or Government decisions” and were specified in writing by the Minister and related to number 2 account business to which normal commercial consideration did not apply and which was operated by the Minister for Industry and Commerce in “the national interest”.

The Government decision that allowed a national interest provision was given on 17 June 1983. This decision was made on the basis of the national interest, in other words, commercial interests were discarded, and the subsequent Government made its decision based on that decision. It was acceptable for the Government to make such a decision in June 1983, but when the succeeding Government made decisions based on that Government decision, there was something wrong with it. This does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

[161] The report of the tribunal states:

The creation and operation of this account did not begin in 1987 and it is clear from the documents made available to the Tribunal that, certainly from April of 1983, the provision of Export Credit Insurance in respect of exports to Iraq could not be justified and was not sought to be justified by the ICI on purely commercial grounds but was at all times regarded as a “national interest” case, the provision of such insurance to be a matter of consideration and an authorisation by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.

The report goes on to make clear that “the decisions regarding the management of the export credit insurance scheme in 1987 and 1988 were made against the professional advice available to the Minister, but the basis for these decisions was that they were in the national interest, and the determination of the requirements of the national interest in these matters is a matter for the Government and the Minister for Industry and Commerce.”

These are the same provisions which applied from April 1983 to the end of the 1980s, as Mr. Justice Hamilton indicates in his report. Some people believe that it was acceptable to make these decisions in the middle 1980s, but they try and twist logic to assert that there was a problem in making such decisions later, based as they were on the same Government decision which brought about the change from commercial interest to national interest.

A number of Senators took the view that the Government used the principle of Cabinet confidentiality as a device to prevent the tribunal from investigating certain allegations. The reality is that the Government was bound by the terms of the Constitution. Governments cannot change the provisions of the Constitution of their own volition, nor can they interpret the Constitution to suit the circumstances of the time. Everybody knows that a national referendum is required to change the Constitution [162] and it is not that easy to change, as has been found from time to time. It is for the courts, and the courts alone, to interpret the Constitution and this is precisely what happened in this case. The Government was bound by the terms of the Supreme Court decision and fully complied with it. The case was brought to the courts for a decision by the Attorney General in exercise of his role in relation to the Constitution.

Senator Dardis suggested that the Department of Agriculture knew all along precisely how much intervention beef was being used to fill the export credit insurance contracts to Iraq and dragged its heels when asked to reveal this information to the tribunal. The position is that, when asked by the tribunal to establish how much intervention beef was being used to fill these contracts, it took an enormous exercise, lasting over three months, to establish the precise position.

The use of non-Irish beef was an abuse of the export credit insurance scheme by the exporter and not by the Government. In any event, as the report of the tribunal makes clear, such abuse by the exporter would not have led to a fraud on the taxpayer as alleged by Deputy O'Malley, because in the event of a claim, the Department of Industry and Commerce would have uncovered the fraud because of their insistence that the proof of origin of the beef be provided by the company involved.

A number of Senators have stated that they do not believe the Taoiseach has been vindicated by the report of the tribunal. In adopting this position they are refusing to accept the findings of the report. The tribunal was established by the Houses of the Oireachtas. For over two years several hundred witnesses gave evidence to the tribunal, a public advertisement appeared on the media seeking evidence and a further year was given to evaluating and assessing the tribunal. During that time the newspapers, who styled themselves the quality papers, were marvelling at and commenting on the wisdom of Mr. Justice Hamilton. However, somehow, when Mr. Justice [163] Hamilton produced his findings they appeared to dispute them. They have been writing since that, in their view, Mr. Justice Hamilton, somehow or other, did not get it fully right. This is an extremely dishonest position to take.

The position is that the Taoiseach has been totally vindicated, both personally and politically. In addition, the Fianna Fáil Government of the day has been vindicated. The report of the tribunal confirms that the decisions of the Taoiseach, the then Minister for Industry and Commerce, were taken in the national interest and that there is no evidence that his decisions were in any way based on improper motives, either political or personal.

The report goes on to state:

There is no evidence to suggest that either the Taoiseach at the time or the Minister for Industry and Commerce at the time were personally close to Mr. Goodman or that Mr. Goodman had any political associations with either of them or the Party that they represented.

It was fashionable to suggest that there was a cosy club arrangement and when that did not fit in with the careless comments people were making it upset them greatly.

There is one aspect of the report of the tribunal on which virtually all contributors were in agreement, and that is the vindication of the integrity of the public service. Some of the allegations, and some of the people making the allegations, who popularly became known in the course of the tribunal as “the allegators”, were not satisfied alone to seek to discredit public representatives and the industry itself but also the public service. It is an extremely beneficial outcome of the tribunal that the public service was totally exonerated. As I remarked in my original address to the House, not alone was each and every allegation made against the public service found to be baseless, false, groundless [164] and lacking in evidence, but in fact — and this is repeated over and over again in the findings — Mr. Justice Hamilton found that the contrary was the case. The public servants were extremely diligent in their duty. We would refer to this from time to time as an excessive amount of red tape. The integrity of the public service has been upheld, and this is extremely important.

This tribunal has done a tremendous day's work in upholding the integrity of the way business is done in Ireland. This may not suit many people; it certainly did not suit the people who made the allegations but it happens to be the finding of the report. It is the finding of a tribunal which spent three years listening to witnesses and evaluating what they had to say.

I accept that the report has identified weaknesses in the regulatory system adopted by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. This system has been continually reviewed and updated in the light of experience. There was a major change in the regulatory procedures from 1990 in response to experience and the greatly increased volume of sales into intervention at that time. As I said in my opening contribution, the tribunal accepted this and only made two recommendations. I could quote them but will not delay the House. They are marginal and technical and relate to the activities in boning halls. If things were so bad and grotty in the beef industry, and if people in the public service and the political arena were so corrupt, there would have been more than two relatively small recommendations to tighten up inadequate controls, methods and schemes in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, the primary Department responsible for the development of the beef and food industry. These recommedations will be fully and speedily implemented.

The tribunal has done good work. It has exonerated and vindicated the good names of several people and of the public [165] service. It has also identified malpractices and weaknesses in systems, fraudulent activity, under the counter payments and evasion of tax, which is also important. The overall thrust of the allegations made, which is that we have a suspect Administration and a suspect beef industry, has been firmly rejected and dismissed. It is a benchmark, a watershed and an important contribution to our maturing process as a nation.

It was said recently by a current Member of the European Parliament for Munster, Mr. Pat Cox, that there are no plaster saints in the Progressive Democrats. There are no such saints in any other political parties either; I certainly am not one and members of other parties have not set themselves up as such. We are human. There will be defects in the system and mistakes and errors of judgment in relation to export credit insurance, for example. Last November I supported the application for such insurance for sales of beef to Iran. [166] This scheme, which is being vilified and castigated in every possible way, is still in existence. At some future date there may be severe problems in Iran. Its economy or political system may collapse or run into trouble. I took a judgment that there would be not such a difficulty but many people with 20/20 hindsight may say in a few years that the Minister at the time, Deputy Joe Walsh, should not have recommended the application for export credit insurance for sales of beef to Iran. I have to stand over that decision as a public representative and a person accountable to the Dáil and the Seanad. I took that decision based on my judgment and considered it to be correct.

This report is important. The Government accepts its findings and its recommendations will be implemented speedily, without delay and in full; in fact, many of them have already been implemented.

Amendment put.

The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 24.

Belton, Louis J.

Burke, Paddy.

Cosgrave, Liam.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Dardis, John.

Doyle, Joe.

Enright, Thomas W.

Farrelly, John V.

Honan, Cathy.

Howard, Michael.

McDonagh, Jarlath.

Manning, Maurice.

Naughten, Liam.

Neville, Daniel.

Norris, David.

O'Toole, Joe.

Ross, Shane P.N.

Sherlock, Joe.

Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Níl

Bohan, Eddie.

Byrne, Seán.

Calnan, Michael.

Cashin, Bill.

Cassidy, Donie.

Daly, Brendan.

Fahey, Frank.

Farrell, Willie.

Fitzgerald, Tom.

Gallagher, Ann.

Kelleher, Billy.

Kiely, Dan.

Lydon, Don.

McGennis, Marian.

McGowan, Paddy.

Magner, Pat.

Mooney, Paschal.

Mullooly, Brian.

O'Brien, Francis.

O'Sullivan, Jan.

Ormonde, Ann.

Roche, Dick.

Wall, Jack.

Wright, G.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Cosgrave and Burke; Níl, Senators Mullooly and Magner.

[167] Amendment declared lost.

[168] Question put: “That the motion be agreed to.”

The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 18.

Bohan, Eddie.

Byrne, Seán.

Calnan, Michael.

Cashin, Bill.

Cassidy, Donie.

Daly, Brendan.

Fahey, Frank.

Farrell, Willie.

Fitzgerald, Tom.

Gallagher, Ann.

Kelleher, Billy.

Kiely, Dan.

Lydon, Don.

McGennis, Marian.

McGowan, Paddy.

Magner, Pat.

Mooney, Paschal.

Mullooly, Brian.

O'Brien, Francis.

O'Sullivan, Jan.

Ormonde, Ann.

Roche, Dick.

Wall, Jack.

Wright, G.V.

Níl

Belton, Louis J.

Burke, Paddy.

Cosgrave, Liam.

Cregan, Denis (Dino).

Dardis, John.

Doyle, Joe.

Enright, Thomas W.

Farrelly, John V.

Honan, Cathy.

Howard, Michael.

McDonagh, Jarlath.

Manning, Maurice.

Naughten, Liam.

Neville, Daniel.

Norris, David.

Ross, Shane P.N.

Sherlock, Joe.

Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Magner and Mullooly; Níl, Senators Cosgrave and Burke.

Question declared carried.

An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?

Mr. Wright: It is proposed to adjourn sine die.

The Seanad adjourned at 10.40 p.m. sine die.