Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Sinn Féin supports motions in support of Tribunal

31 January, 2008 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Sinn Féin Dáil Leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has said Sinn Féin endorses the Private Members Motion from Fine Gael which reiterates support for the Mahon Tribunal. However Deputy Ó Caoláin reiterated Sinn Féin's position that Bertie Ahern has far bigger reason to resign than his financial affairs and his engagement at the Tribunal.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning Deputy Ó Caoláin said, "This Taoiseach should go because he has presided over a decade of government which has seen deepening inequality in our society, the squandering of economic prosperity, the downgrading and privatisation of public services, atrocious planning and delivery in housing and infrastructure and above all the ongoing chaos in our grossly inequitable and inefficient health services.

"These are the reasons why the Taoiseach should step down. They far exceed in importance the Taoiseach's financial affairs and his engagement at the Tribunal.

"Of course the Taoiseach's ability to deal with these issues and with the day to day affairs of Government is now deeply undermined by the mess in which he finds himself. The Taoiseach has failed to convince people with his account of his personal and constituency finances. He has made contradictory statements and produced convoluted explanations that stretch credibility to the limit.

"Sinn Féin endorses the motion in the name of the Fine Gael deputies reiterating support for the Mahon Tribunal. We reject the Government amendment principally because it includes full support for the Tribunal of Inquiries Bill 2005 which would give far too much power to Ministers to control future tribunals.

"We now have a serving Taoiseach at odds with the Revenue Commissioners as he had to admit here in the Dáil yesterday. Who advised him that Revenue would not be able to settle his tax affairs until the conclusion of the Mahon Tribunal? Did anyone do so or was this just another convenient way to deflect questions about his tax compliance? We also have a serving Taoiseach who cannot provide a tax clearance certificate. This was the Taoiseach who claimed last year that he was fully tax compliant. It was clear from the correspondence between the Taoiseach and the Revenue Commissioners that they were not and are not satisfied that he is tax compliant." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin's speech follows:

Private Members Motion - Mahon Tribunal 31/1/08

Sinn Féin's approach to the issues raised by this motion is based on our own analysis and our own politics. It was put to me by a journalist this week that Sinn Féin was out of line with the other two Opposition parties in not concentrating all our fire on the Taoiseach over his lack of credibility at the Tribunal. We were accused of clouding the issue by introducing all the areas of public policy on which this Taoiseach and this Government have been responsible for monumental failures. I make no apology for our position. This Taoiseach should go because he has presided over a decade of government which has seen deepening inequality in our society, the squandering of economic prosperity, the downgrading and privatisation of public services, atrocious planning and delivery in housing and infrastructure and above all the ongoing chaos in our grossly inequitable and inefficient health services.

These are the reasons why the Taoiseach should step down. They far exceed in importance the Taoiseach's financial affairs and his engagement at the Tribunal.

Of course the Taoiseach's ability to deal with these issues and with the day to day affairs of Government is now deeply undermined by the mess in which he finds himself. The Taoiseach has failed to convince people with his account of his personal and constituency finances. He has made contradictory statements and produced convoluted explanations that stretch credibility to the limit.

Sinn Féin endorses the motion in the name of the Fine Gael deputies reiterating support for the Mahon Tribunal. We reject the Government amendment principally because it includes full support for the Tribunal of Inquiries Bill 2005 which would give far too much power to Ministers to control future tribunals.

We now have a serving Taoiseach at odds with the Revenue Commissioners as he had to admit here in the Dáil yesterday. Who advised him that Revenue would not be able to settle his tax affairs until the conclusion of the Mahon Tribunal? Did anyone do so or was this just another convenient way to deflect questions about his tax compliance? We also have a serving Taoiseach who cannot provide a tax clearance certificate. This was the Taoiseach who claimed last year that he was fully tax compliant. It was clear from the correspondence between the Taoiseach and the Revenue Commissioners that they were not and are not satisfied that he is tax compliant.

Last night the Taoiseach's spokesperson responded to the news that the Taoiseach had assisted Manchester businessman Norman Turner with a passport application. It was stated that all TDs assist people with passport applications. So we do. But how many of us have provided such assistance to wealthy business people who also happen to be major donors to our parties and who also happen to be seeking political and planning support for multi-million euro projects such as casinos and conference centres? There's only one party and only one TD that fits the bill in that case and they are Fianna Fáil and Deputy Bertie Ahern. It should be noted that the Taoiseach's spokespersons have not felt it necessary to defend the acceptance by Des Richardson on behalf of Fianna Fáil of a donation of $10,000 from Norman Turner at the time he was trying to advance his casino plan. Most citizens would rightly regard the acceptance of such money in such circumstances as deeply unethical but of course it was perfectly legal so the Taoiseach and his party feel no need to defend it.

The Government managed at the last minute to produce an amendment to the Private Members motion but that amendment cannot hide the contradictions within this strange patchwork of an administration. We have seen the two-person PD party split down the middle with Deputy Noel Grealish attacking the Mahon Tribunal and Minister Harney defending it. We have seen the Greens stopping short of expressing full confidence in the Taoiseach while clinging steadfastly to their Cabinet seats.

In putting their name to the Government amendment the Greens are endorsing the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005. Reform of tribunals is very necessary, especially in relation to exorbitant costs, but this Bill would effectively give the Government the power to suspend or dissolve a Tribunal for unlimited reasons and to prevent the publication of a Tribunal's report. This is completely unacceptable and will further undermine public trust and confidence in the political system. The Green Party's claimed support for tribunals and for ethics in public life is undermined by their endorsement of this flawed legislation.

I have described this as a strange Government. Its Programme for Government was sneaked out rather than launched. The leaders of the three parties in Government - if the PDs can still be called a party - have never to my knowledge stood together for a photo-call or press conference. If the Greens and PDs truly believed they were in a partnership Government in which Bertie Ahern should remain as Taoiseach they would surely be clamouring to be his side at every opportunity.

Of course they will not do because they want to have it both ways. They want to remain in Government while distancing themselves from the troubles of the Taoiseach. They want to shirk their collective responsibility for the ongoing and deep-seated policy failures of a Fianna Fáil-dominated government, heavily influenced by PD ideology. But they all bear collective responsibility for the disasters of this administration.

This is only last day of January but already this year we have had a succession of reminders of the disastrous state of our health service. These include the study showing slower access to cancer services for public patients than for private patients, worsening waiting times in A&E and longer waiting lists for out-patient treatment, a tightened HSE embargo on recruitment in the health service, the HSE's refusal to fund the essential increase in GP training places, no increase this year in funding for mental health services and the advancement of the notorious co-location scheme. On top of all this we have had cuts in hospital services around the country and more planned in the North East with other regions to follow. In the North East services at all hospitals are to be cut under a draft plan revealed this week. These cuts have more to do with book-keeping than life-saving.

I referred at the beginning of my contribution to the journalist who challenged Sinn Féin on our position on the Taoiseach's engagement with the tribunal. The journalist said the electorate had made their judgement on the policy issues at the General Election.

Not so.

People voted for a Taoiseach who said he was tax compliant.

They did not vote for water charges for schools.

They did not vote for growing job losses.

They did not vote for parents of autistic children being bankrupted by the State because they fought in court for the right to education which had been denied to their child.

They did not vote for another two-year wait for basic facilities for people with cystic fibrosis.

And they certainly did not vote of cuts in health services that are a throwback to the savage cuts of the 1980s.

The average voter now is a bit like a diner who is starting to regret what he ordered in the restaurant. The Fianna Fáil/PD stew with Green side salad has arrived but it doesn't smell right at all. There are plenty of vegetables from Backbench Farm but they are starting to go off. All that's left of the PDs is a greasy bone. The Green side salad looks good but leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And the beef from the butcher's shop in Drumcondra is very hard to swallow.

It's time to send back the meal, call in the Health Inspector and get the place shut down.

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