Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges and Procedures) Bill 2013: Second Stage
Wednesday, 22 May 2013
I welcome the publication of this Bill. If we were to judge politics and politicians on grandstanding and playing to the gallery and the media, we would have no credibility but, thankfully, we do not all do that. There is a body of work in the Oireachtas which deserves to be analysed and respected. It behoves all politicians to remove the insincerity and not to play to the media and the gallery because it does not do the body politic any good at all.
The Kenneth Starr inquiry into former US President Clinton went on forever and cost money. In the end, it found President Clinton had an affair. It did not require an august principled individual like Kenneth Starr to find that. The political culture dictates that we must be accountable and mature enough to be able to recognise that the body politic has a responsibility and a duty to cast aside vested interests and for people to declare their interests before they can do their job properly in the Oireachtas. That is why it is important that Members of the Oireachtas, as representatives of the people, are able to say that we can do our job and that we trust ourselves.
I understand from where Senator Ross is coming and, in many respects, I would not disagree with some of his comments. What was he was saying was that the body politic did not do itself or the people justice over the years, and he is right. However, it is important that Members of the Oireachtas restore the primacy of the Houses and that we re-establish their credibility.
This Bill is important and I trust politicians of all hues and irrespective of their ideology or beliefs to serve in the interests of the people who elected them. Our track record has been poor but are people really serious when they say they want to go down the road of another tribunal or a Kenneth Starr-type inquiry? The tribunal model is an expensive one as tribunals can go on indefinitely. If one sets a time limit, the chairperson asks for more time.
We should be able to establish a committee, and I say that as someone who has no interest in serving on a committee inquiring into the banks. However, we have the expertise in the Houses of the Oireachtas, notwithstanding the points made by Deputy Ross, whose contribution I followed on my monitor.
At the heart of this Bill is the need to achieve accountability through investigations into key matters of national and public importance. That surely is the function of Members of the Oireachtas. I note the presence in the Chamber of Deputy Catherine Murphy, who serves with me on the Constitutional Convention. I pay tribute to her because she takes her duty and her role on the convention very seriously. It is an honour and a privilege for us to be asked to serve alongside our fellow citizens on the Constitutional Convention. In this case, similarly, I believe Members will put aside the party Whip, as Deputy Donohoe suggested, and choose instead to act and serve in the interests of democracy. That is made clear in the explanatory memorandum and the Minister referred to it in his speech. It is very important for us to be able to show we can act in this manner.
I have seen a list of five things this Bill can achieve. There has been a mad rush to welcome the banking inquiry, but that should not be our only focus as we discuss this Bill. Other areas need to be analysed and investigated as well. We must not shrink from our responsibilities in that regard. We should not cast a sideways look. We must be holistic in our approach. The people deserve to know the full facts about the banks. It is important for us to hear that story. We will see what the outcome is when that story is told and answers are given. I will not pre-empt the inquiry. It is important for people to be held to account. All of us deserve to hear the full, unedited and unredacted story. When the people in their wisdom spoke in the 2011 referendum, as part of the democratic process, they decided they did not want the Bill we put to them. We are back with another Bill now. Deputy Mathews, who is in the Chair, and Deputy Mattie McGrath, who is also present in the Chamber, recently participated in three days of hearings in advance of the introduction of another Bill. Regardless of one’s position on the issue being discussed, one will agree that the hearings were fair and that there was a balance in terms of the witnesses coming in. Respect and co-operation were evident in the running of the hearings.
I believe the majority of Members of Dáil Éireann are characters who will put the national interest first. They will not play to the media to get cheap headlines or be insincere in what they do. I have every confidence in the Members of this House and Seanad Éireann. We must trust ourselves, notwithstanding the criticisms of the past. If we look back all the time, we can never move forward. It is important that any proceedings are free from bias and that fair procedures are always adhered to. I welcome the compellability of witnesses because it is essential. We need to trust our legislators and ourselves. As politicians, we must prove that politics is an honourable profession. We must revisit that point. The majority of us are honourable and decent people. We are involved in politics to serve our people. As Teachtaí Dála, we are not here to get cheap headlines or to act insincerely. The primary purpose of this Bill is to create a legal and logistical framework for Oireachtas inquiries into matters of significant public importance. It can be done. It must be done because the people do not want a repeat of, for example, the 14-year Mahon tribunal, which cost approximately €100 million. That model is done. It is time for a new way of doing business. This can be achieved regardless of ideologies or party political positions.