|Posted on April 24, 2013 at 7:00 PM|
It is important that we are dealing with this subject matter given the seriousness of the Report and the time taken to digest it. It is indeed a report of profound significance which arose out of the serious public concern in respect of allegations of corruption in relation to the planning process, particularly in the Dublin region. The Tribunal of Inquiry began in November 1997 held over 900 public sitting days, called over 400 witnesses to appear before it, gathered more than 60,000 pages of evidence and 76,000 pages of correspondence. It was buffeted and challenged frequently throughout.
Great tribute to due to Judges in the first instance Fergus Flood and then Aaron Mahon who succeeded him as Chairman, Mary Faherty and Gerald Keys. They presided over many years of hearings and investigations and deserve our compliments in regard to their comprehensive final report which is rather voluminous and runs to more than 3,250 pages. They pointed out that one module has been withheld, presumably of some hundreds of more pages and obviously relates to Carrickmines because matters concerning it are on-going before the Courts.
Sadly, the Report finds that corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic and affected every level of government from senior ministerial office holders to some local councillors and its existence was widely known and unfortunately tolerated.
One of the most shameful aspects which occurred during the course of this tribunal’s work were the attempts to undermine its independents, express lack of trust in it and by so doing attempted to frustrate the will of the Oireachtas. The judges stated boldly in their report that they came under “sustained and virulent attacks” from senior ministers of the last government at a critical stage of their investigation and that the legality of their enquiries as well as the integrity of the members were questioned. This obviously gave succour and support to the various court challenges to the tribunal.
The government rightly on receipt of the report and initial consideration of its findings referred a report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecution, The Chair of the Revenue Commissioners and the Chairman of the Standards In Public Office Commission. The Garda Commissioner has already referred the report to the Criminal Assets Bureau for their urgent attention.
In addition to its findings of fact the report sets out a serious of policy recommendations for consideration to help ensure that similar situations do not arise again in the future. There are 64 recommendations in all ranging over areas that include planning, conflicts of interest, political finance and lobbying, bribery, corruption in office, money laundering, the misuse of confidential information and asset recovery and confiscation. Furthermore the cabinet decided that all Ministers be asked to consider as a matter of urgency the Report’s recommendations that fall within their respective remits and this is expected by the end of April.
It is good to know that some of the recommendations are already being addressed such as the reform of the Tribunal’s of Inquiry Legislation and new legislative proposals in regard to political funding, corruption, whistle blowers and the registration of lobbyists. The Electoral Amendments Political Donations Bill is one such example. This Bill as we know will provide for greater transparency for both donors and those in receipt of political donations.
The ethical performance of both elected members and officials in local authorities is a key consideration and the Department of Environment is examining the Tribunal’s recommendations closely in this context to ensure that whatever steps are necessary to restore and underpin confidence and transparency in the local government system are taken. Planning is obviously an issue that pervades the Tribunal’s work and analysis and thankfully planning has in recent times shifted from being developer led to a more evidence based and vertically integrated system. It is good to hear the Minister make clear that it is a policy priority of her department that the planning system will continue to evolve into a more evidence based regime so that the scope for incorrect zoning decisions is eliminated as far as possible. We are all obviously interested in the openness and transparency of our democratic process and this Final Report of Mahon makes sound and sensible findings and recommendations of the most profound kind in this regard.
I very much welcome the Minister’s confirmation that this report is being considered carefully and will be acted on speedily and comprehensively. We must ensure that history does not repeat itself in any respect in what happened in regard to planning in the past. This on-going work will really help in restoring public confidence in our political system which is so essential to the health of our democracy