December 4, 2014
Deputy John Deasy: I do not know if this is the correct time to bring this up. With regard to what we have been dealing with over the past couple of weeks and what transpired on the floor of the Dáil yesterday, an impression was given and picked up by the media that the Committee of Public Accounts had exhausted the options available to it when it came to dealing with the whistleblower and everything around the issue. Any member may correct me if I am wrong. It is important that the public has set out for it what exactly were the options we were given and where we were in that process.
My understanding is that two recommendations were made to us by the legal adviser. The first was characterised as the quickest and cleanest option, which was to interview representatives of the Revenue Commissioners about all these issues. There was a second option, upon which we had not decided. It was that we could apply for a resolution to be laid before the Dáil to deal with these matters. That would have taken an application to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, but we had not decided on that. There was agreement by all committee members that the decision would not be taken until representatives of the Revenue Commissioners had testified before the committee.
One member, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, gave the impression on the floor of the Dáil that the Committee of Public Accounts was not in a position to deal with these issues when two recommendations had been made by the legal adviser and we had not definitively decided on the second one. It is important that people understand that and the record is corrected in that regard. It is not the case that we have exhausted the options given to us in this regard. It is important that this is stated today and that the public understands it.
Deputy Joe Costello: May I add to what Deputy Deasy said? What he described is the factual position and the record should be corrected as this committee has not exhausted all mechanisms for dealing with the dossier which came before it. It was incorrect to seek to put on record that this had been the case. In having representatives of the Revenue Commissioners before us today, we will have the opportunity to explore the issue further. It is clear from the statement of the Accounting Officer from the Revenue Commissioners that she is quite happy to discuss aspects of the dossier which came before us in the context of the work she has done relating to tax evasion.
It was agreed that we would reconsider the issue after this meeting with representatives of the Revenue Commissioners. It is totally untrue to say we had come to the end of the road and we could not proceed. We had acted within the context of the legal advice received. It was not a matter that had been dealt with and it was still in progress, and it is important to recognise that fact.
Chairman: Before Deputy McDonald responds, I ask members to remove mobile phones from the desks.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: The legal advice to us has been consistent and clear that the Committee of Public Accounts can deal with some of the matters contained in the dossier but only in fairly narrow confines. That was reiterated very clearly and I checked and rechecked that with the legal adviser. It was made very clear that any matters pertaining to specific individuals or allegations of political obstruction are beyond the remit of this committee.
The dossier contains essentially two elements, or possibly three elements. One relates to allegations of tax evasion, and they are only allegations. Allied to that is the possibility of improper or corrupt payments, and those are only allegations. To top all of this off, there is a narrative of political obstruction and blockage. That is what the whistleblower alleges in the dossier. The legal person has made it absolutely clear to us repeatedly that it is beyond the remit of the committee to capture and investigate all those matters.
There will be witnesses from the Revenue Commissioners before us today and I have read Ms Feehily's opening statement, like everybody else I am sure. We will make what progress we can on the issue. It remains my view that the full breadth of what is alleged in the dossier cannot be fully, fairly and adequately assessed within this committee unless we stray beyond our remit.
The legal person has told us that such action will land us in all sorts of difficulties. I wish the position were different and we did have the scope to investigate all these matters. Notwithstanding what I did, I was perfectly entitled to do so as a Member of the Oireachtas and I acted in a considered fashion. It remains open to us to make the application to which Deputy Deasy refers to the CPP. I would wager that even in doing that, we would still run up against difficulties in terms of scope. The allegations in the dossier are considerable and wide-ranging. They are very profound. That is the position as I understand it and as I clarified it on Tuesday evening, when the legal adviser came before the committee.
Deputy John Deasy: I have never experienced the kind of misinformation and disinformation that I am now hearing. The Deputy is speaking out of both sides of her mouth. At the very end of her comments, she mentioned the option I had mentioned. That was an option given to us on the first day. It was the second recommendation, to be taken after we had dealt with the Revenue Commissioners.
If we consider that we wanted to proceed beyond that, we had the option of applying through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges for a resolution to be laid on the floor of the Dáil to deal with all these matters. Very conveniently, Deputy McDonald did not mention that on the floor of the Dáil yesterday. We decided as a committee that we would wait until Revenue came in and then make a decision with regard to that resolution.
The Deputy conveniently ignored that decision that had been made by this committee. Rather than having commentary going back and forth between the Deputy and myself, I will ask the Clerk what were those two recommendations and to confirm that those were the two recommendations made by the legal adviser or the Chairman and that we had agreed as a committee that we would make a decision on that after Revenue had come in today.
Chairman: It is outlined in the minutes. Rather than having commentary between the Deputy and Deputy McDonald, it is fair to say that the issues pointed out by Deputy McDonald are not within the remit of the committee. The two points Deputy Deasy raised as to the two options were the options that were discussed on the last day. It is reflected in the minute of the meeting and we are proceeding on that basis. That is by way of agreement from everyone.
Deputy John Deasy: Okay.
Chairman: That deals with that matter. I will ask the Clerk to reflect on the minutes. We are not going to enter into a debate on this, Deputy Costello.
Deputy Joe Costello: I am not going to get into a debate but I agree that is precisely the situation, that there were two options that we had decided to leave until after the Revenue Commissioners had appeared before us. I would like to get a steer for the future in regard to the one categorical statement that had been made to us by our legal adviser, which was that under no circumstances were we to reveal any of the names in the dossier. If that is done under privilege in the Dáil, does that mean that the advice that was given to us was incorrect?
Chairman: Let me be clear about this. The advice we received was in regard to the workings of the Committee of Public Accounts. It was absolutely and totally in relation to that. The information we received from the official in terms of the dossier is information that was given, as the legal advice said, to the individual Members of the House who happen to also be members of the Committee of Public Accounts. The document is not a document of the committee. Each member will have it as their personal papers.
The matter that was raised by Deputy McDonald in the Dáil yesterday is a matter for the House. We have agreed on how to dispose of the issues here before us in terms of the two options, in terms of the legal advice we received and in the context of not naming individuals. That is what we normally do here. What has been described by both speakers and by Deputy Costello is in line with the decision taken last week. Members are free after that to use their own judgment in relation to what they do in the House. I cannot allow what happened in the House yesterday under the Ceann Comhairle to pertain here at this meeting because it is against legal advice, and I think we all understand that. Is that right?
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Certainly, Chairman. For the record, I would say that prior to the committee receiving any legal steer on these matters, I, as an individual, had sought advice from the parliamentary legal adviser. In fact, I understand I was the first person to bring the dossier to the attention of that individual. At every step anything that I have done or said has been guided by the legal advice afforded to me but I agree with the Chairman. We in the Committee of Public Accounts should strive to do as much as we can and the options have been set out.
I do not think there is any disagreement on that. I remind committee members that we were told very clearly by that same legal adviser that we would run into issues around the Abbeylara judgment in terms of how we deal with these issues. That is where not only this committee, but any committee of the Oireachtas, runs into the sand. That was in the part the rationale for taking the decision and making the statement that I am fully entitled to make as a Member of the Oireachtas on the floor of the Dáil yesterday. I would point out to Deputy Deasy that in the final analysis I am answerable to those who elect me for the utterances I make rather than, with all due respect, to a Fine Gael member of this committee.
Chairman: I am not going to allow this to proceed.
Deputy John Deasy: That is fine. There is a reason Deputy John McGuinness, a member of Fianna Fáil, is the Chairman of this committee. It is meant to be non-political and bipartisan. Deputy McDonald is using this committee for political ends. She has been doing it for a while and she needs to stop because she is affecting the workings of this committee, which is important. The public and the people she represents in her constituency and beyond believe it is important and she is damaging it. She is using this committee for her own political ends and she needs to stop that. She thinks she can use this committee any way she feels like doing so but she cannot.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Where is the evidence of that, Chairman?
Deputy John Deasy: The debate in the Dáil yesterday is the evidence.
Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: That is a nonsense.
Chairman: I will move on. We will take on board what has been said and I will ask the Clerk to reflect again on the minutes and ensure that views of the members are included.