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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C

In full: Enda Kenny's Dáil statement on the Moriarty Tribunal

Here’s the full text of Enda Kenny’s statement to the Dáil on the Moriarty Report, delivered this afternoon.

The following is the full text of Enda Kenny’s statement to the Dáil on the Moriarty Report.

I welcome the fact that the House is holding this comprehensive debate on the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal. I am sure that members will appreciate that I am somewhat constrained in what I can say because there are legal proceedings before the courts.

“A devastating critique of a powerful elite, exposing a gross abuse of privilege. A rank abuse of public office, a devastating abuse of public trust.”

That is exactly how I described the first Moriarty report when I was sitting where Deputy Martin is now.

Across Ireland, four years later, people might be thinking, “Here we go again.”

But today, as Taoiseach, I can assure them that is certainly not the case. Because the recent election did matter. Their vote did bring change. They were right to give us their trust.

Consequently, on this, the final Moriarty Report, they can expect anything but more of the same. Because I know that yet another report, reeking of fanatical greed, obsessive attachment to power, and breathtaking attempts to acquire, use and access privilege… is enough now, for the people of Ireland. In fact, it’s too much: way too much, as they watch their own lives imploding, the future they had planned disappearing.

I believe this report will weary and bewilder people more than others. In these straitened times, when people are hurting and suffering so badly what the report exposes is all the more galling, damaging and worrying.

But in a well-functioning democracy – a republic – this information, difficult as it might be, is essential.

I welcome the publication of the final report of the Moriarty Tribunal. I welcome the fact that the Tribunal does two important things: it exonerates the members of the then Government of any wrongdoing in regard to the awarding of the licence, and it asserts that the normal decision-making procedures were bypassed in that case.

The Tribunal finds seriously, and serially, against Deputy Michael Lowry and others who are major players in Irish business and public life. The Minister for Justice has already addressed the arrogance, unseemliness and danger of their public reaction.

Deputy Lowry, however, was elected here to the Dáil, the highest forum in the land, on the basis of public trust. And it is here in this forum, that I expect him to answer Mr Justice Moriarty’s findings against him, to do it forensically and willingly: not from ego, or from the ‘position’ he and others adopted from the outset of this Tribunal, or from his sense of ‘mandate’.

I cannot imagine a mandate from Irish people – or true democrats anywhere – that would involve an order or desire or permission for the behaviour outlined in the report.

I would remind the House that ever before the Tribunal, in fact, when the first issue regarding Deputy Lowry’s conduct arose, Fine Gael acted immediately to remove him first, from Government Office and then, from the party itself.

We did so in-keeping with our desire to maintain probity and standards in politics as befits the party that founded the State. Fine Gael’s response was swift and appropriate, in sharp contrast with the blind and tribal defences mounted by other parties in comparable circumstances.

In that context then, I welcome, equally, the Tribunal’s recommendations. Recommendations that, in many ways, reflect the vital reform plans of the new government. This is a serious report that merits a serious response.

Previous Tribunals elicited thousands of words, but pitiful inaction, by those who sat, then, over here. The new government breaks from that precedent and acts definitively and decisively.

We referred the Moriarty Report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecution and the Revenue Commissioners, without issue, hesitation or equivocation.

Earlier today, the Cabinet considered this report and directed the relevant departments to provide a comprehensive report to the Government within four weeks on the report’s recommendations so that appropriate action can be taken. And we plan further, direct action, to sever the links between politics and business once and for all.

And in so doing, achieve three things: stop the further pollution of our society. reestablish a moral code and order to public life, and through that, restore public confidence to politics, and to government.

In that context, then, I want to deal with the Tribunal’s interaction with the Fine Gael Party. In September 1997, the party voted unanimously to set up the Moriarty Tribunal. FG assisted the Tribunal in every way possible…. to the degree that, on occasion, the Tribunal has praised its assistance and co-operation.

Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, Fine Gael was the only political entity before the Tribunal to waive its entitlement to legal privilege and made available all notes, letters, and attendance that were available to the party’s legal advisors for the purposes of obtaining a legal opinion from an eminent senior counsel. By any objective measure, these are not the actions of a party that had anything to hide.

With regard to the issue of the Telenor donation to the party, mindful of its obligations to the Tribunal, and concerned that the donation might fall within the terms of reference of the Tribunal, Fine Gael sought the opinion of a senior counsel who gave the clear opinion that this donation did not fall within the remit of the tribunal.

That legal opinion stated that the donation in question was a donation to the Party and because it was a Party donation, and of no benefit to Deputy Michael Lowry, it did not fall within the Tribunal’s remit. Fine Gael then acted on this legal opinion.

In order to clear up any doubt that might exist about the clarity of this opinion, I have instructed Fine Gael party officials to publish it on the party’s website immediately.

For its part, the Moriarty Tribunal has recognised Fine Gael’s entitlement to adhere to the strong legal opinion it received. Equally, the Tribunal expresses its regret that the party did not over-ride that opinion.

There are three points I would like to make in this regard: Firstly, I don’t just share Mr Justice Moriarty’s regret. I believe the failure to over-ride the legal opinion, was in hindsight, wrong. Secondly, the circuitous and clandestine way in which this cheque was routed to the party was also wrong. This resulted in the then party officials not being initially aware of the true source of the donation. When the source did become known, the position of the party leadership was unequivocal.

I quote, directly, from the final conclusions of the Moriarty Report. Section 62.04 states

That donation was unwelcome to the party and was rejected by the Party Leader.

Not alone did he reject it, the then-Taoiseach, John Bruton, ordered that the money be returned.

The Tribunal says:

It is satisfied that he (John Bruton) sought to convey to Mr Austin that acceptance of this donation was entirely inappropriate. This is confirmed by his subsequent direction that the donation should immediately be returned to the donor, on learning that, contrary to his wishes, the donation had in fact been received by FG.

Thereafter, when Michael Noonan became leader and the donation was, once more at issue, he in turn, ordered that all relevant documentation be made available to the Tribunal, with alacrity and seriousness. The Tribunal welcomed his actions in so doing.

Thirdly, in the context of the new, revitalised republic we are in the process of building – the government and the people working together in trust and partnership – neither action would happen today. Because I believe that to recreate political virtue, to rebuild public trust, to restore our reputation, it is no longer sufficient to do what is correct. To achieve even a fraction of that, we must do what is right.

Because while what is correct starts in legal opinions and rules and legislation, what is right starts here in the human heart, in our conscience, in respect for our neighbour, in the values that define who we are and what we want to be. If this is how we try to live our lives in this country, then this is how we should practise our politics.

I speak for the entire government when I say this is what will inspire and drive our tenure.

In the Programme for Government, which of course was published by the new Government and endorsed by this House prior to the publication of the Moriarty Report, we set out proposals for the most comprehensive programme of political reform since the 1930s.

We believe that politics must be about service to the public, and not to provide financial gain for politicians, or anyone else. We have already kept our promise to reduce the salaries of members of the Government and to reform the arrangements in relation to Ministerial transport.

With regard to the relationship between business and politics, we committed ourselves to introducing the necessary legal and constitutional provisions to ban corporate donations to political parties. We also committed ourselves to reducing the limits on donations to political parties and candidates and requiring disclosure of all aggregate sums above a limited threshold. We promised to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, as well as a set of rules governing the practice of lobbying.

With regard to the relationship between civil servants and Ministers, we need to introduce reforms which reflect the transformation that is taking place in this relationship in light of the Public Service Transformation Programme. And, of course, the Programme for Government outlines substantial reforms in this area.

We will introduce whistleblowers legislation, and return Freedom of Information to where it was before the 2003 Act. We will amend the Official Secrets Act, retaining a criminal sanction only for breaches which involve a serious threat to the vital interests of the State.

We will scrap the current restrictions on the nature and extent of evidence by civil servants to Oireachtas Committees and replace them with new guidelines that reflect the reality of the authority delegated to them and their personal accountability for the way it is exercised.

We will also amend the rules to ensure that no Minister or senior public servant, including political appointees, can work in the private sector in any area involving a potential conflict of interest with their former area of public employment, until at least two years have elapsed after they left public service.

We will also introduce reforms which, while not directly related to issues emerging from the Moriarty Tribunal, will ensure that trust is restored in our democratic institutions and that the concerns of citizens, rather than the elites, are placed firmly at the centre of Government.

In its terms of reference, the Moriarty Tribunal was asked to bring forward any recommendations which it deemed appropriate in relation to the matters investigated by it.

In this context, in addition to dealing with the issue of political donations, the Tribunal’s Final Report outlined a series of recommendations in the areas of company law; the independence of the Revenue Commissioners; and the future conduct of Tribunals of Inquiry.

With regard to Judge Moriarty’s comments on the conduct of Tribunals of Inquiry, the Government, of course, has restored the Tribunals of Inquiry Bill to the Dáil Order Paper. This Bill will provide for a comprehensive reform and consolidation of the current legislation relating to Tribunals of Inquiry and to put in place a modern, comprehensive statutory framework governing all aspects of the operation of a Tribunal, from the time of its establishment to the publication of its final report.

The Bill implements in large part the proposals contained in the Law Reform Commission’s Report on Public Inquiries, particularly those relating to the more efficient management and operation of public inquiries. We will review the Bill in the context of the Report’s recommendations about Tribunals of Inquiry.

Of course, much comment has been made on the effectiveness of using Tribunals at all for inquiring into matters of urgent public importance.

The Government are committed to holding a Referendum, subject to approval by the Oireachtas, to reverse the effects of the Abbeylara judgement and enable Oireachtas Committees to carry out full investigations.

Overall, for the sake of our democracy, and in the context of the national misery caused by weak and reckless administration and corrupt, self-serving politicians: we must return both government and parliament to the people.

We must rehabilitate the idea of civic virtue – the idea of the duty and nobility of public service. We must. And we will.

In conclusion, let me say that as Taoiseach of the new government – and indeed as the father of this House:

The very fact that a modern democracy – a still-young republic – would require tribunals into payments to politicians at all, is proof of the degradation of politics, the decline of civic virtue, the inevitable rise of public cynicism and disengagement.

It shows, too, what happens to a society when people swap the big idea of their being responsible, powerful citizens for the infinitely smaller and confining idea of being mere customers or consumers.

Ironically, it was Deputy Lenihan who best summed up our current situation when he said last Thursday, that “Nothing would damage our international reputation more than uncertainty on an issue of that character.” He was right.

But where he says would damage, I say incalculable damage has already been done.
Because of a culture of, ‘Thanks very much, big fella,” walking-around money, whip-arounds, luck on the horses, of a Taoiseach degrading our nation and this Office by trousering after-dinner tips… a culture typified by arrogant, mercenary and immoral politics that almost ruined our reputation… made a mockery of ‘character’ itself.

When that culture included business and banking, it contaminated our country, divided our society, and diminished our republic. That contamination, division and diminution must end.

Now, when the stakes are soaring, with the eyes of so many on us; when as a country, we have the palpable, urgent sense of our making a new start, for and with each other, together, for a change; and the contamination, division and diminution do end; here with the new government, with a radically different standard, a radically different view.

And it is this: that the Irish people are citizens of a republic. That we have rights and responsibilities to build a bright future, a strong economy, a compassionate, thoughtful society. And that we will exercise those rights to the fullest by believing and showing that we cannot be bought, cheapened or exploited by politicians, banks and businesses – whoever they might be.

This new ‘speculation’ in favour of the citizen, democracy and justice, can do much to give our own people – and others – new confidence, faith and energy in the ideals on which our republic is founded.

Yes – Ireland might be a small country. But we are a significant nation: our honour, reputation and future are priceless. And can never be for sale, whether as a matter of fact, perception or opinion.

When I was elected Taoiseach, I spoke of restoring morality to our public life. I did so aware that we are haunted by a previous ‘morality’, where elements of the Church and State colluded to permit all kinds of savagery on our society.

It was a morality that decommissioned conscience, suffocated ‘the spirit’, created an architecture of intrigue, denial and deception that excluded ‘heart’, ‘truth’ even ‘humanity’ itself.

In the aftermath of this report, I want the government and the people to work together to bring a new, life-giving morality to public and civic Ireland.

A morality based on compassion, kindness, thoughtfulness, dignity, honesty. And above all, respect: respect for ourselves, respect for all who share our society, our country.

Respect that brings out the best in the Irish people, making us responsible for our choices, for our actions; keeping us mindful of their consequences for the generations to come – because the future belongs to them.

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