Speech on Mahon Report Today:
A Cheann Comhairle,
I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on the Mahon Report today and I want to raise four separate points:
· Firstly the findings of the report and what it says about Irish politics
· Secondly, the findings of the Mahon Report in relation to my own party, the Labour Party
· Thirdly, the recommendations of the Report, many of which I agree with, some of which I would have opinions on
· Lastly, the fundamental need for Local Government reform as a lasting legacy for Irish citizens today, and for the generations to come.
Let me turn to the findings of the report:
This report is a damning indictment of the toxic political culture that Fianna Fáil has brought to every level of political life in Ireland. It gives me no pleasure to read this report, or to discover the level of poison, lies, corruption and bribery that have been such a feature of Irish politics in the past.
It should be remarked that there are many decent and disappointed members of the Fianna Fáil party, but their emotions are secondary to those of our citizens whose lives and communities have been broken by the Fianna Fáil style of politics.
When a political party, like Fianna Fáil, believes that they own Ireland and that they have the title deeds of the country in their back pockets - this means that any action of a Fianna Failer is excusable as long as that member is still electable.
The only value that Fianna Fáil hold dear is electability. No lies, no corruption, no allegations of bribery ever mattered to Fianna Fáil because to them the party is everything, and politics is just a game. It is not good enough to act like an infantile football manager, claiming that you didn’t see the incident, blaming the referee and then retreating to the dressing room saying to your team that you must win at all costs.
This is not a game – this is national politics – and it is far too grave and important for such pathetic behaviour. Fianna Fáil is the party of all of my grandparents but became the home-place for every cowboy seeking career advancement because they knew that the party had no standards.
The issue is not just corruption – it is the manner in which corruption is dealt with. Accusations against Fianna Fáil members, councillors, ministers, and indeed leaders were treated with derision, they defended the indefensible, prioritising stroke politics and hoping that the Irish people would believe that all politicians are the same and all political parties were on the take.
And they succeeded, because standards in Irish politics flattened. We must examine as a society why every single TD mentioned in the Mahon report enjoyed massive support continually from the electorate. Fianna Fáil TDs rightly point to those mentioned in the Moriarty report, yet it is Fianna Fáil who were quite happy to enjoy the support of Deputy Michael Lowry for their government until last year regardless of what evidence was heard during the course of the Moriarty tribunal hearings.
Not all political parties are the same. One party of government stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to backhand politics. That party is Fianna Fáil.
Fianna Fáil now have the country that they shaped. No other party had the influence over Irish life that they had. In power for 22 of the last 25 years – Ireland is now what Fianna Fáil created. A country effectively run by the IMF, with a demoralised people who view politics with suspicion and cynicism.
I can bearly utter the words of what my job is; a politician. You have destroyed the words ‘Republican’ and the words ‘Politician’.
It is clear from listening to the contributions from many Fianna Fáil TDs in the house today and yesterday that nothing has really changed. You joined a party knowing its history of corruption. You remained members despite your party surrendering this Republic to the IMF. You can do no more damage. You have no role in the future of politics in this country.
I turn now to the issue of the Mahon Reports findings in relation to the Labour Party:
The attempt in some quarters to paint all politicians and all political parties with the same brush in the wake of the Mahon Report, does not stand up to scrutiny. The Labour Party has a proud record of standing up and speaking out against what has now proven by the Mahon Report to have been corrupt practices. It is important to note that in 1993 the Labour Party expelled the one and only one public representative linked to Labour that the Mahon report is critical of.John O’Halloran was elected as councillor in Lucan in 1991. In September 1993 he was expelled from the Labour Party as a result of his voting record on planning matters while a member of Dublin County Council.
Labour was proactive in dealing with such issues as they arose and had no need to wait for a tribunal to be called or for its findings to be published to act decisively. In contrast to others, Labour councillors on Dublin County Council had a proud record when it comes to planning matters. Specifically mentioned in the Mahon Report are Pat Rabbitte’s actions in returning a cheque to Frank Dunlop in 1992 (p1068), and Eamon Gilmore’s decision to refuse a cheque from Monarch developers also in 1992 (p1579), both of which were described by the Tribunal as ‘commendable’. Joan Burton’s consistent record in opposing rezoning at Quarryvale is also highlighted. (p868).
That is the difference between the Labour Party and others who engaged in, or ignored corruption.
I turn now to matter of the recommendations of the Mahon Report and the Need for Fundamental Reform of Local Government:
The recommendations of the Mahon Report are far reaching and deal in the main with anti-corruption legislation and reforming the planning procedure in our local authorities.
The fundamental reform of our political system is not the abolition of the Seanad, although I support it, or the reduction of the number of TDs in this house, although I support that too.
It is the reform of local government – the connectivity of the vote of the citizen, to the responsabilities and accountablility of the councillor, to the functions of the local authority which are of such importance to each and every community in this country.
Local elections in Ireland are notable for the following:
· Poor turnout
· Used mainly as a referendum on the national government of the day.
· Typified by a general mis-understandings of the role of Local Councils
· Allowing councillors to be elected sometimes with merely a few hundred votes
This dynamic has to change – the reform of local government just involve the levelling of local taxation, including a property charge, a rebalancing of powers away from unelected officials towards the elected councillors, who then by the very nature of the reformed system would be more accountable to the people.
Diarmuid Ó Gráda writing in last week’s Irish Times sites some of the anomalies that exist in the local government system in Ireland:
Leitrim has one councillor for every 1444 constituents. Fingal has one councillor for every 11,377 constituents.
A local government system, with less councils and less councillors is surely desirable. Accountable local politicians who set the rates and take responsibility for formulating budgets around areas of policy such as waste disposal would prevent the type of debacle we have been in Dublin City recently with the privatisation of the bin service.
The Mahon tribunal recommendations are wide and varied: They deal with planning, conflicts of interest; political finance; lobbying; bribery; corruption in office; money laundering and asset confiscation.
I would like to make a number of brief comments relating to the recommendations of the report:
In terms of the Prevention of Corruption Acts 1889 of 1906, there are recommendations in relation to the specific act of bribery, however I would suggest that considering both these acts are over a hundred years old and society has changed radically since their introduction, that the Minister for Justice perhaps needs to completely overhaul this legislation and make it more robust and relevant to the modern age.
In terms of planning, the over-arching watchdog for council Development Plans i.e the National Development Plan and the National Spatial Strategy need to be placed on a statutory footing.
There are two recommendations that I have some concerns over:
Recommendation 12 states:
'The Tribunal is recommending that where the elected members decide to depart from the recommendations made in the manager’s report (of a development plan), they should be required to state their reasons for doing so.'
Recommendation 14 states:
‘The tribunal is recommending that the Minister for the Environment’s ability to give directions to Regional Authorities and Local Planning Authorities should be entrusted to a Planning Regulator.’
Both these recommendations assume the corruptability of the elected councillor and minister of government, but do not take account of the potential corruptabilty of the unelected official or proposed independent ‘Planning Regulator’.
The democratic legitimacy of all agencies of the state is key to how we re-build democracy. It is from the people that political representatives gain their mandate, it is a deficit of accountability in the past which has lead to corruption. While not rejecting these recommendations in totality, it is important that the balance of power within local authorities edges towards those who are elected, and not those who are appointed.
This report gives our democracy a chance to change, to be re-inforced, to re-engage with the people, and to reform in such a way that we never return to the type of politics that have brought such disgrace to this Republic.
We have to expect better, demand better from ourselves, from those who play leading roles in public life and from those who cast their votes. Fianna Fáil stroke politics is over.
Our Republic demands better.