PAC Meeting | February 6, 2013 (Prelude)
Re: Correspondence, dated 31 January 2014, from Seán Costello & Co. solicitors regarding their client Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
Clerk to the Committee: My advice is that the publication of the transcript of a meeting is a procedural rather than a legal matter. The appropriate rules which apply, therefore, are the Standing Orders of the Dáil. I have consulted senior colleagues within the office who have informed me that publishing the proceedings of a private meeting would constitute a fundamental change in procedure for Oireachtas committees and that this could have implications for the future not just of the PAC, but also for other committees to which evidence might be given in private session. The advice I received is that in accordance with Standing Order 99, the matter should be reserved to CPP if the PAC decides that it wants to accede to the request of Sergeant McCabe.
Vice Chairman (Kieran O'Donnell): I would like to hear members views on this matter. When issues of this nature arose in the past, we always took advice from Ms Mellissa English, the parliamentary legal adviser. Perhaps we might request that she come before us early next week to outline her views on this matter.
Deputy Shane Ross: I do not agree with the course of action outlined. Sergeant McCabe has made a reasonable request and surely he is entitled to a copy of the transcript. We do not need to procure copious amounts of advice in respect of an issue of this nature. We would not be releasing the transcript to the public, we were requested to release it to Sergeant McCabe. He can then do what he likes with it. I really do not understand why there should be any delay and I am of the view that the transcript should be released to him. Sergeant McCabe made a reasonable request for the transcript of the meeting at which he was the chief witness to be supplied to him. I thought we agreed last week that we would give it to him. However, I do not know what the minutes have to say in that regard. I was of the view that we agreed that if he requested the transcript, we would supply it.
Vice Chairman: What was agreed at last week's meeting was that if the witness wished to seek the transcript he would write to the committee and that the committee would consider his request. The initial feedback we have received is that any such request must be referred to the CPP and that the Editor of Debates will not provide a transcript without a direction from the latter.
Deputy John Deasy: We should make a decision on the matter rather than referring it to the CPP. It was a private meeting and the committee agreed that it would be private. The clerk referred to legal advice received, which stated that publication of the transcript would constitute a fundamental change in the way the Oireachtas and its committees do their business. The reality is that there was not a great deal of substance to what was said at that meeting. In the past five minutes, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr. McCarthy, debunked quite an amount of what was said in the context of the number of penalty points that were written off. The theory posited by Sergeant McCabe was that tens of thousands of penalty points were written off. The Comptroller and Auditor General made a definitive case to the effect that only hundreds of penalty points were written off.
Outside of that, the committee did not learn a great deal as a result of what was said at the meeting in question. It might be stated that the latter is a good reason to allow publication but I do not believe that to be the case. I return to the fact that publishing the transcript would give rise to a fundamental change in the way Oireachtas committees operate. If someone were to appear before one of the committees in the future to discuss security or privacy issues, there could be a danger that a transcript of the proceedings could be made public in certain circumstances. That is a step too far for the Oireachtas and its committees. I stated at last week's meeting that the committee had, to an extent, entered "The Twilight Zone". We have crossed over into the realm of the politically paranormal where a private meeting becomes a public meeting. Perhaps we should hold a public meeting and ensure that everyone swears on the Bible that he or she will not repeat what was said. It is just absurd. We must be clear and definitive with regard to how we treat private meetings. We must clarify the position completely. Beyond that, we are entering the arena of the nonsensical.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: I agree with what Deputy Deasy said. My recollection is that at last week's meeting we agreed that if Sergeant McCabe - for legal reasons - sought a redacted transcript of the proceedings, we would consider his request and make a decision. The first thing to say is that he does not appear to be requesting the transcript for legal reasons.
Vice Chairman: I understand from the clerk that it is not possible to produce redacted transcripts.
Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Then we cannot publish a transcript at all, particularly in view of what transpired at that meeting. The letter received from Sergeant McCabe's lawyers is clearly not a request because the phrase "He has asked that we would write to you" is used. I agree with Deputy Deasy to the effect that we can settle this matter now, we do not need to refer it to CPP and we do not need to publish a transcript.