Full text of Speech by Peadar Tóibín TD
The Lowry affair highlights a number of major problems that demand immediate resolution.
1. Why did the FG/Labour government of the day not prevent this from happening?
2. How as a state can we create fair and honest systems to identify the best placed bids on occasions such as this?
3. How has each party been funded over the last number of decades?
4. How can we investigate wrong doings such as what occurred without having such a disgusting cost placed upon the overburdened shoulders of the Irish people?
5. What level of real censure can be apportioned to people guilty of these wrongs
With regards the first question of how did the FG/Labour government of the day not prevent this? Yesterday in his speech to the chamber Deputy Lowry stated and I quote “Does anybody here as a politician believe that John Bruton, Dick Spring and Proinsias De Rossa would be so stupid as to allow the likes of John Loughrey and myself to pull the wool over their eyes in some way or other?”
The answer to that and many others are found in the 2,438 pages in the Moriarty Report. The report implicitly says that at the very least the wool was pulled over the eyes of the then Fine Gael/Labour government.
But the report goes further and has led to the first crisis of the new government. Not even a month has gone by and Fine Gael is already entangled in allegations of corruption by an eminent tribunal judge. In addition to suggestions of unprecedented inappropriate ministerial interference, serious questions have been asked about the flow of large undisclosed donations through Fine Gael headquarters at a time when John Bruton was in charge.
In relation to the $50,000 donation from Esat/Telenor to Fine Gael, the report says it is regrettable that Fine Gael and other parties to the transaction made no disclosure to the tribunal, even though they had a substantial degree of knowledge about the “clandestine” circumstances involved.
Why, if this money was handed back, could Fine Gael not answer to the tribunal? Is this the transparency and openness in public office that we can look forward to for the next term? Given the tremendous sums of taxpayers’ money that went into these tribunals, it is deeply unsettling that the now-Government party could not make a disclosure.
Again, the statements and the actions of Fine Gael are striking. In 2001, the now Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (February 9th, 2001) said:
"All over the world, it is recognised that financial support from business to politicians is perceived by the public to have one purpose [namely] the securing of commercial advantage. Claims that such donations are made from disinterested motives are simply not believed. As the lurid tribunal scandals play out before our eyes, one thing is clear. We cannot restore politics until the perceived link between political contributions and public policy is broken."
While we can discuss Mr Lowry individually here, we must also have recourse to the other members of the then Government who find themselves on the Cabinet benches again now. Why can’t the cabinet papers of the then coalition government relating to the awarding of the mobile phone contract to Esat to be published in the national interest? Mr Kenny has said that the Report has exonerated Fine Gael Ministers but what about the events?
It is said that you lead by example- and the example that has been set by both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in Government has been appalling.
Political reform was one of the buzz words of the recent election. If the new Government are serious about political reform, if they are serious about openness, transparency, disclosure and bringing the political system closer to the people now is the time to a make a goodwill gesture to the people of Ireland and publish all cabinet papers available.
The Tribunal findings are not just an indictment of an individual or maybe even a number of political parties. It is a shocking indictment of our whole political and justice systems.
That the rich and powerful can buy favour with the establishment political parties is shocking and deeply unfair. That there is no efficient system to bring wrongdoers to justice is also wrong. The tribunals have no teeth; the parties embroiled are still able to remain as members as the national parliament or indeed compose the Government; yet millions of euros of taxpayers’ money has been used to produce a substantive document upon which there is no power to pass a sentence.
The Moriarty Tribunal report just lends more credence to the fact that our political and justice systems are in dire need of reform and that we need to design, implement and use a series of checks and balances to limit the scope for excess by the powerful.
We need to make sure our constitution is a framework for a government allows for the exercise of political power, which the citizens of this state completely own.
We need to ensure that our way of governing ourselves has both the means to be successful for the common good with increased democratic accountability and the capacity and of adapting to the changes that constantly descend upon it.
The citizens of this State need to ensure that the state’s decision making-processes are transparent, structured and disciplined. These structures need to inspire confidence.
The Oireachtas has consistently failed to exert sufficient scrutiny over the Government and public bodies. This is largely because it has not had the powers to perform these functions and its members are distracted by clientelism.
We need to copper fasten new ways of governing ourselves to avoid the kind of muddling through, lethargy, lack of foresight, and setbacks that blight previous efforts at reform.
To ensure this, I am firmly convinced that we need to:
• Crack down on white-collar crime, strengthen laws and give the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation additional resources.
• The annual publication of independently audited accounts by political parties, including income and expenditure accounts and a party balance sheet and I would like to repeat the call made by my colleague Deputy Ferris to the government parties to publish a full list of donations to their parties
• Reverse the dilution of the Freedom of Information Act
• Introduce legislation to protect whistleblowers.
While I accept that these reforms may take time to research, consider and implement however there is nothing stopping political parties themselves taking the last three steps internally themselves
During the election Sinn Féin said that there was a pressing need for the law to be changed to allow for the impeachment or removal of any TD from the Dáil who is involved in corruption, deliberate use of public money or fraud. €42million, 14 years and over 2000 pages later, it is clear that this needs to happen as a matter of priority. That is why Sinn Féin has put the motion before the House that Deputy Michael Lowry would be censured.
At a time when Irish people desperately need transparency in public life, when major political donations have been shown to adversely influence public affairs and when the nation’s reputation has once again been sullied by how the issuing of a lucrative mobile phone license was dealt with, the Government must now play a leading role in the political clean-up that needs to be undertaken. . If the government are real about reform they should provide us now with a time table for the implementation of that reform.
The reaction by the Government will be the litmus test of the capacity and will of the new Government to address corruption and to instigate genuine reform.
Never again can we have a situation whereby corrupt or questionable dealings are referred to toothless tribunals where they merely become a slush-fund for lawyers and consultants for a decade or more. We need real accountability and we need to have strong legislation to make those who are culpable pay a price. This means a system for recalling ministers, TDs and public officials who have acted inappropriately and a mechanism for thoroughly investigating corruption along with legislation to ensure that nobody is above law in this country. These officials are often still being paid by the State and as such should be answerable to same.
In this day and age, it should be expected of leaders that they be, first and foremost upholders of truth. They should be fearless in challenging perceptions, tackling corruption, fraud and public deception where it exists. Instead of taking the moral high ground - as he would have done in his previous role as the official chief critic of Government on the opposition benches- an Taoiseach Enda Kenny has turned passive. In the process he has flunked his first major challenge of leadership.
Remarking on the publication of the first Moriarty Report An Taoiseach stated that it was “a catalogue of corruption. It is a devastating critique of a powerful elite exposing a gross abuse of privilege, a rank abuse of public office and, most importantly, a devastating abuse of public trust.” Little did he know that 4 years later the same could be said about a report detailing the events surrounding a former Fine Gael minister.
I would like to conclude on the issue of the cost of the Tribunal. The cost of €41 million which has been spent so far is another financial assault on the Irish people. In many ways the Tibunal itself became a Golden Circus with a massive opportunity cost to the Irish people.
What can you get for 41 million? Well the previous government’s National Recovery Plan proposed to cut spending in a whole host of important areas. €22 million was cut in Schools capitation grants, including grants for Adult Literacy, Community Education, School Completion Programme, Youthreach. The Overseas Development Assistance allocation was cut by €37 million. There was a reduction in funding and allocation to sporting bodies and agencies including Irish Sports Council and National Sports Campus. There was a reduction in allocations to cultural institutions and cultural projects all totalling €26 million. In Agriculture there was a reduction the REPs of €35.7million. Public transport and regional airports were reduced by 15 million. In a state where the latest economic scandal is measured in the billions it is important to remind ourselves that cronyism and corruption costs money and this money comes out of the pockets of citizens.