THE following is the transcript of the debate when Deputy Sean Kenny asked Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness to step down from his role.
Deputy Clare Daly: Over the course of the debate there has been considerable looking back at the past with the implication that was then and this is now. However, this phenomenally costly exercise
Deputy John McGuinness: I wish to share time with Deputy Brendan Smith.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Is that agreed? Agreed.
Deputy John McGuinness: I listened carefully to the contributions made by many of the new Deputies who would have been very young at the time the events in question were going on and had no association whatsoever with the political culture and the process in place then. I did not know where to start in my contribution. When I look back on 1979 when I was first elected to Kilkenny Borough Council, if I had been told then that all of this referred to in the report was going on in politics either locally or nationally, I would not have believed it. In my time both on the borough and county councils, I served with people from Fianna Fáil and other political parties who gave their time to public service. It was a job they were elected to do on behalf of their communities which they took seriously. They also took the political engagement and their participation in their political parties seriously while doing it with pride. That was the politics that I came into, enjoyed and to which I committed myself. I do not know what happened in the course of time that changed much of that.
The report from the Mahon tribunal sets out what happened in the political system and administration, as a beginning, in Dublin - I am not saying it did not happen in other areas - events of which I am ashamed. I never thought it could happen but it did. From a public service view, when one reads the report it is shocking that in some way this was not arrested when it began. It has contaminated and corrupted the whole political system, casting a bad reflection and doubt on each and every one of us in politics. Arising from the recommendations of the Moriarty and Mahon tribunal reports, we will have to work on legislation to ensure this will never happen again, either locally or nationally.
From my party’s perspective, I am also ashamed of what happened with every party leader and Taoiseach involved in the tribunal and what went wrong with corruption in the State. Ordinary and decent members of the Fianna Fáil Party who wanted to make a contribution have been betrayed. As public representatives and ordinary individuals, when we made presentations to Ministers at the time in question, we showed them respect, not knowing the extent of corruption and activities in which they and other members at parliamentary and council level were engaged.
I appeared before the Mahon tribunal for all but two minutes. One would not want one’s name mentioned in the same line as a tribunal of inquiry. Some of the reporting has been lazy - I will not say inaccurate - in the context of how it is portrayed for different people who are uncomfortable about the fact they had to attend the tribunal.
I want to join with the House in acknowledging that the Garda, Criminal Assets Bureau, Revenue, or any other arm of State deemed necessary to be involved, need to be brought into action quickly arising from the report’s findings. It must be clearly displayed to the public that we are about our business and setting about ensuring those who have been proved of wrongdoing will be brought to justice. The public also wants to see the political system becoming more transparent and honest with them.
From the perspective of the Fianna Fáil Party, we must do a large amount of work to rebuild trust with the public and our own membership. We must ensure protocols and regulations are in place that will display to the public that we can rebuild a political party for which many people were elected to office on the basis of good public service and nothing else. I acknowledge it was wrong of those involved in the activities in question and so corrupt of them in the terms of the money that was taken. In the context of reform and new legislation, there is a role for the register of friendly societies and for legislation affecting political parties, legislation which has not been reformed since the late 19th century. In Canada and other places, reforming legislation in this area has been put in place to great effect to ensure political parties become more transparent. I acknowledge the very poor display by Fianna Fáil personalities down through the years.
Deputy Brendan Smith: The endemic corruption exposed and outlined in the Mahon tribunal final report is shocking, showing that public representatives at different ranks truly
Deputy Seán Kenny: As a former member of a Dublin local authority during the 1980s and 1990s, I welcome the Mahon tribunal report and its findings. The report has taken a decade and a half to complete but I believe it was worth the length of time and the cost involved.
I will refer to several modules of the tribunal. First, I refer to Cloghran and Cargobridge modules. Cloghran is located on the boundary of my constituency, Dublin North-East, close to Dublin Airport. In 1992, there was a campaign to rezone lands at Cloghran for the Cargobridge warehousing consortium. One difficulty for the consortium, which included Neptune Freight, was that access to this site was over lands owned by the Minister for Transport. On 1 October 1992, the Fianna Fáil Deputy, John McGuinness, then a member of Kilkenny County Council, made direct representations by letter to the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, to allow the consortium to access the site over the lands owned by Minister for Transport. At the same time, Deputy McGuinness’s brother, Michael McGuinness, was a director of Neptune Freight. The Mahon report states that Michael McGuinness gave £10,000 in cash to Frank Dunlop in the knowledge that at least part of the money would be used for corrupt purposes. The report also states that Michael McGuinness refused to attend the tribunal.
The Fianna Fáil Deputy, John McGuinness, recently made strong, trenchant attacks and criticisms of the Mahon tribunal report following its publication, especially in respect of the tribunal costs. At the same time, he neglected to refer to his own intervention in the Cargobridge affair. Earlier today during his contribution in the Chamber, Deputy McGuinness failed to address the Mahon report remarks on his involvement in the affair. That is deplorable. Deputy McGuinness is currently Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts. I call on Deputy John McGuinness to step aside as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts in the light of the Mahon tribunal account of his involvement in the Cargobridge affair.
A major part of the tribunal report deals with the Quarryvale lands. At the time of the rezoning of these lands I was an elected member of Dublin City Council. Part of the Quarryvale land, approximately 64 acres, although located in the Dublin County Council area, was in the ownership of Dublin Corporation, as it was then called. Any sale or disposal of these lands was a reserved function of the elected members of Dublin Corporation. In 1988, these lands were considered by Dublin County Council as suitable for commercial development. Early in 1989, Dublin Corporation proceeded with the sale of these lands by way of public tender. On 19 May 1989, a written report was put to the Dublin Corporation planning and development committee, of which I was then a member, to sell the Quarryvale lands to Mr. Thomas Gilmartin for the sum of £5.1 million. On that day the planning committee approved the proposal on the recommendation of the manager. At the following monthly meeting of Dublin City Council on 12 June, the recommendation of the planning committee was agreed by the full council meeting following the proposal of the Fianna Fáil councillor, Joe Burke.
The Mahon tribunal was set up in 1997 and its hearings on the Quarryvale module began in early 1999. I was greatly alarmed and shocked at the revelations made known at the tribunal hearings some ten years after Dublin City Council had voted on the matter, a vote in which I had participated. Page 211 of the report notes that Mr. Thomas Gilmartin, who I accept to be an honest man, informed the tribunal of a discussion he had with Bertie Ahern, the then Minister for Labour, in May 1989 in respect of Mr. Gilmartin’s tender which was under consideration for the purchase of the Quarryvale lands.
Mr. Gilmartin told the tribunal that some days after his discussion with Bertie Ahern, Councillor Joe Burke, then the vice chairman of the Dublin Corporation planning committee, arrived at Mr. Gilmartin’s office. Joe Burke told Mr. Gilmartin that he had been sent by Bertie Ahern to discuss Mr. Gilmartin’s acquisition of the Quarryvale lands. Mr. Gilmartin further told the tribunal that he received a telephone call from Councillor Joe Burke on 13 June 1989 informing him that Dublin Corporation had approved his tender.
In the light of these revelations in 1999, ten years afterwards, I came to the conclusion that many of the Dublin Corporation members who voted for the sale of the Quarryvale lands were not given all the background facts relating to the activities of the Fianna Fáil Councillor, Joe Burke, and the then Minister, Bertie Ahern. At the least, Joe Burke misled his colleagues by failing to inform them of his role in the Quarryvale affair. Certainly, he never told me what he was at.
I could go on but I will conclude by saying that I agree fully with the recommendations in the report. I support the views that political corruption diverts public resources to the benefit of the few and to the detriment of the many; that corruption in public office is a fundamental breach of public trust and is inherently incompatible with the democratic nature of the State; and that anti-corruption measures must focus on ensuring transparency and accountability. I am proud to have been a Dublin Labour Party councillor for almost 32 years before I was elected to the House on 25 February last. There is more I could say but, unfortunately, time will not allow it.
Deputy Joan Collins: The Mahon tribunal report is vast, running to more than 3,000 pages. The most telling quote is from the introduction. It refers to how throughout the late 1980s and 1990s corruption in Irish political
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