‘This is incredible stuff’ – Enda Kenny ain’t far wrong there. The confidence debate in Willie O’Dea, last week. February 27, 2010Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
I’m not sure how many of you have read this debate… I only got a chance to look at it one evening this week… but I’d have to agree with Enda Kenny, ‘…this is incredible stuff’. Perhaps most astounding is the intervention of a sitting Minister… you’ll know who he is… throughout the process. The confidence, no arrogance, on the FF side is quite something to see. They clearly had little doubt but that O’Dea would win the day.
Take it away, the first chamber…
By the by, as noted by Wednesday last week, you will search in vain for some names on the Níl voting list…
These are challenging times, possibly the most challenging facing any Government for decades, and the progress of many projects and plans will be subject to constraints on resources. Following on from the difficult decisions we took in the budget and the Estimates, and the review of the programme for Government, we now have a clear agenda going forward.
In the Department of Defence, the priority for the year ahead is to ensure that the Defence organisations maintain the capability to deliver on all of the roles assigned by Government. At the outset, I want to express my complete confidence, and that of the Government, in the Minister for Defence to continue to do his job.
In the midst of the worst global recession since the 1930s, arresting the decline in the strength of the Defence Forces and reaching the recently approved PDF strength of 10,000 will be achieved through prioritised recruitment, with the overarching focus remaining on the operations requirements of the Defence Forces. We are also committed to preparing a new defence White Paper for the period 2011-20 as we plan for the future. I believe the Minister for Defence, with his experience, his ability and his work ethic, is the best person to undertake this work.
I want to avail of the time this motion affords us to outline the massive contribution Deputy O’Dea has made in the Department of Defence. Before I do that, I want to put the Opposition’s attack on the Minister in context. Its criticism of him does not arise from anything he has done in the course of his duties as Minister for Defence. I have heard people on the Opposition benches openly try to propagate the myth that the Minister is in breach of the Cabinet code of conduct, as set out in the handbook. This is once again a case of political discourse from the Opposition benches generating more heat than light. The matter of current controversy did not pertain to Deputy O’Dea’s responsibilities as a Minister in the Government. It did not pertain to Government policies in any way, shape or form and had nothing to do with his function in the Department of Defence.
The facts are now well known. As the Minister said to the House yesterday, on 21 December a defamation action, taken against the Minister by Sinn Féin Councillor Maurice Quinlivan on foot of remarks made by the Minister in a local Limerick newspaper interview, was mutually agreed and settled in the High Court. As part of that settlement, a statement was read out in court which containing the following paragraph: “It is not suggested by Mr. Quinlivan that Mr. O’Dea acted other than innocently in making such denial and he accepts that there was no intention to mislead on the part of Mr. O’Dea”. The Minister for Defence has acknowledged that his recollection of the interview in his original affidavit was wrong and he corrected his mistake when he realised it. He admitted and apologised for this mistake and agreed a settlement in which the other party fully accepted that there was no intention to mislead. The matter was a personal one between him and the local Sinn Féin representative concerned. It was dealt with and resolved in open court over two months ago and the matter is closed.
Clearly, it does not serve the Oireachtas well for people to throw around or imply ill-founded allegations of perjury in a coarse attempt to secure political advantage. Let us be clear, perjury does not arise here and it is despicable that some have suggested it does.
The Taoiseach: It will be circulated. My understanding is that where there is no intention to mislead and the matter is corrected as soon as possible, there is no question of perjury. The position is that for perjury to occur a person must know the statement to be false or not believe it to be true. Perjury in Ireland is governed by common law as the British Act of 1911 governing it never applied to Ireland. That Act is clear that a person has to give evidence which he “knows to be false or does not believe to be true”. This formula has been also used in Irish statutes. Thus it is clear that perjury contrary to common law would also not arise where someone was mistaken.
The approach being taken by the Opposition parties indicates that they are once again trying to take the low road to high office. Their intent on a no confidence motion is completely spurious in both timing and motivation.
The Taoiseach: On the issue of timing, Deputy Kenny informed the House yesterday that he found it “truly astonishing that two months after an issue in respect of a Cabinet Minister became public knowledge the Taoiseach did nothing about it. This is a matter of the most serious import.” Who is the Deputy trying to fool?
The Taoiseach: If he was of the view that this matter was of the most serious import why did he not raise it with me when the Dáil resumed last month? Why did he not demand a statement from either me or the Minister for Defence before now? Why are we debating the matter this week? Is it as a result of the traumas Deputy Kenny and his party endured last week?
The Taoiseach: That party’s intent to seek the resignation of the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, is indicative of a growing tendency within the Opposition that focuses on personality rather than on politics. It is sad that once again their approach amounts to playing the man rather than the ball. Rather than be out-done in the sham indignation stakes by Deputy Gilmore, Deputy Kenny has chosen to join him in taking the old discredited Labour approach of seeking “heads in baskets”.
The Opposition’s eagerness for a motion of no confidence is premised not on the implementation or the administration of the programme for Government commitments on defence, but rather on Deputy Kenny’s promise to his parliamentary party in the aftermath of the George Lee debacle that “what I’m going to do now is be myself”.
The Taoiseach: The waste of valuable hours of Dáil debate on an unnecessary and unjustified motion of no confidence, at a time when there are real and pressing issues to be addressed, owes more to Deputy Kenny’s need to prove to his Members that he is, in the words of Deputy Coveney, “up to the job” than it does to any real concern or reservation regarding the running and administration of the Department of Defence.
The Taoiseach: I wish to say unequivocally that I am happy to affirm complete confidence in the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea. I have the utmost confidence in his abilities and in his capacity to do his job. On my election as Taoiseach it was my privilege to reappoint him as Minister for Defence. Deputy O’Dea has served in that role with distinction and his track-record is second to none. While achievement and ability to do the job obviously count for little to some, I believe the people of this country are fairer minded. They recognise achievement and they know that people sometimes make mistakes. Everyone is in favour of accountability in public office but when people make a genuine mistake which has nothing to do with their official duties and where they have moved to quickly correct that mistake——
The Taoiseach: ——and have settled the matter with the aggrieved party, I do not see why I should listen to the usual, predictable calls from the Opposition to remove from office arguably the best, the most efficient and the hardest-working Minister for Defence to serve the country in recent times.
Members of the Opposition are more interested in innuendo and stirring up controversy than in people’s political records.
The Taoiseach: I would like to spend some time balancing those books and pointing out that I have the utmost confidence in Deputy O’Dea, who has shown real skills in overseeing the continued modernisation of the Defence Forces and bringing about significant progress across a broad range of areas.
The Taoiseach: The McCarthy report acknowledged the ongoing modernisation in defence and this is the vein in which I want to see the Minister continue during the period ahead. It is worth pointing out some of the many achievements of Deputy O’Dea as Minister for Defence. He has placed great priority on acquiring equipment and rationalising military barracks. The investment he has overseen has led to an improvement in Defence Forces equipment and resulted in the high level of morale among their members.
The Taoiseach: I wish to share time with the Ministers for Finance and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputies Brian Lenihan and Ryan. I make the point that whether it is in respect of overseas peace support, the development of the medical corps or the involvement of Defence Forces personnel in cash escorts, the Minister has always acted competently.
In highlighting the Minister’s achievements and his ongoing programme of work, it is worth considering that in the past two years Fine Gael’s spokesman on defence has put forward only three suggestions which differ from those of the Government in respect of defence policy. The number rises to four if one includes the idea put forward by Deputy Kenny in the run-up to the 2007 general election that we should establish Army-run boot camps.
The Taoiseach: The first of the three policy differences to which I refer relates to the triple lock. Unlike the other main political parties — Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Green Party — and the key independents, Fine Gael is committed to abandoning the letter and the spirit of the triple lock of Government, Dáil and UN approval before Irish troops serve overseas. The idea most consistently pursued by Fine Gael is to have the Army drill and fitness instructors deployed in schools to teach PE. That party has also suggested that we replicate the New Zealand model of defence forces administration——
The Taoiseach: This Government is not going to bow to those cheap tactics. We have full confidence in the Minister for Defence and we look forward to him continuing to serve the Government and the people.
Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan): This matter was raised in the Upper House on Tuesday, 2 February last, and has been in the public domain since then. It was raised by a Senator affiliated to the main Opposition party on the occasion to which I refer. It is now Wednesday, 17 February. Therefore, the enormous sound and fury we have heard from the Fine Gael benches in recent days did not begin on 2 February when the matter was first raised. It was not considered a matter of moment, although it was raised by a member of the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Tuesday, 2 February.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: Given that it has been raised, let us deal with the issues involved. There are two crucial issues that arise. The first of these, as has been already outlined by the Taoiseach, is that this entire dispute came to light in the course of a civil proceeding between two individuals before the courts.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: This was a civil matter which went before the courts and which was brought to a conclusion. Such matters are brought to a conclusion on the basis of both a settlement and the differences of the parties being reconciled.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: I must make the point that this was a civil action in which no public interest, other than and with the exception of that one matter, remained outstanding when the matter was brought to a conclusion.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: Questions have been raised, not in this House but elsewhere, that the earlier hearing before the High Court on the application for the injunction was in some way compromised or prejudiced by the existence of this statement in the affidavit. In fact, this had no bearing on the matter. Due to the fact that Deputy O’Dea disavowed the allegation, there was no need to give an injunction.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: Let us deal with the principal question that has been raised in an ugly and unpleasant way in recent days. The word “perjury” was used in the Upper House and it has been used very freely in the newspapers. The fact is that perjury occurs only when an intentional misleading occurs.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: Everyone in this House is aware of that. However, the word “perjury” has been insinuated into the debate and people have nodded and winked in its direction. That has been the approach of Opposition speakers at a time when this country faces far more serious difficulties.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: It is an abuse of public life to have this type of debate even in progress. Deputy Kenny leads the Fine Gael Party; I challenge him to produce any evidence he has that Deputy O’Dea intentionally misled anybody.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: ——and to date in this debate the Opposition has not produced a shred of evidence that he intentionally misled anyone on this court proceeding. The Opposition does not have any evidence of this but it constantly insinuates that in some sense he is guilty of an offence which he never committed.
Deputy Brian Lenihan: Deputy Kenny cannot act, and this morning his spokesperson suggested that the Director of Public Prosecutions might have some role in this matter but there is no evidence being given to the Director of Public Prosecutions on this matter. What we have in this whole political saga is an attempt by Fine Gael to operate as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. We are not having it.
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan): I am speaking on behalf of the Green Party to set out how we see the issue. The Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, has spoken to our party and set out his version of events——
The facts are clear. They have been gone through and I am sure they will be gone through further. Those facts are the original interview in the Limerick Chronicle following allegations of improper use of civil servants for political work; the allegations during the course of the interview regarding the use of the property by the people in question; the fact that the journalist then contacted those people——
Deputy Eamon Ryan: ——and asked for comment and they threatened legal action against the newspaper which led to publication of a clarification by the newspaper; and the seeking of a High Court injunction against Deputy Willie O’Dea seeking that he would stop spreading allegations, as I see it——
Deputy Eamon Ryan: In April last year the High Court refused an injunction on the basis of a strong denial by Deputy O’Dea that he was spreading allegations; and in June 2009 the person in question was elected to Limerick City Council and pursued a defamation action against Deputy O’Dea who filed an affidavit repeating his denial.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: ——a High Court judge ruled that the case was settled with damages and costs paid by Deputy O’Dea to the person in question. Deputy O’Dea also withdrew and apologised for the wrongful allegations——
Deputy Eamon Ryan: ——and was not an attempt to mislead. That is the crucial issue; when there was a mistake in the affidavit and something that was not true, it was acknowledged in court, dealt with in court, accepted by the other party and reported in the media as such. It was quite some time ago and I do not have the exact details.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: In those circumstances, our job in Government is to get on with the crucial issues that face this country and to start providing the jobs that were mentioned earlier on. That is the crucial task that we have in government.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: I am happy that is what we should be concentrating on, confident that the Government can and will deliver on those jobs having delivered on the change to our budget and banking system, which will also help provide an economic turnaround.
This is not an untypical response from the Fianna Fáil Party. This is not about Deputy Willie O’Dea; it is about the standards employed by the Taoiseach and the Government.
Deputy Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach’s predecessor eloquently stated from the seat in which the Taoiseach is sitting that Fianna Fáil’s ethics are to get in here and stay in here at all costs. Those are the ethics of the party the Taoiseach leads.
Deputy Enda Kenny: The good people of Limerick have elected that Deputy for many years, as is their absolute right. However, he is not sitting over there just as a Deputy; he is sitting there as an appointed Cabinet Minister, an officer of the court and a constitutional seal of office holder. As such, standards in that office must be of the highest integrity at a time when politics is in a deep depression of cynicism because of carryon over the years. This is not just about Deputy O’Dea; it is about standards at ministerial level, the highest level of political office in the land which the Taoiseach oversees. The response I heard from him and the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform aided by the present Minister in defending this makes the matter even worse.
The reason for this debate is that a Minister in the Taoiseach’s Government, who also happens to be a trained barrister, swore a false affidavit before the High Court and corrected it only when he was caught out on a tape.
The facts are these and the Minister from the Green Party should bear them in mind because I will quote him some of his words in a few minutes. The Minister, Deputy O’Dea, told an untruth about another person. It was not a political charge but an accusation that someone was involved in serious criminal activity, namely, operating a brothel. When he was challenged on that false claim, he swore a further untruth, that he had never made the original accusation. Because of that dishonest affidavit, a court refused to grant an order that would have corrected the original claim of criminal activity. In other words, the second highest court in the land made a decision based on the sworn testimony of a Cabinet Minister which was false. It was only when he was presented with irrefutable proof of his own voice and his own deceit that he corrected this false affidavit and made a settlement payment to the person he had wrongly accused.
Deputy Enda Kenny: First he stated this was a mistake. If the Minister is so used to making allegations like this that he cannot remember one specific instance then the Cabinet and the Government really have a bigger problem. If the Minister, Deputy O’Dea believed what he told that journalist then he should have gone to the Garda Síochána and reported it in the first instance.
Deputy Enda Kenny: The notion that any normal human being can say to a journalist “That man runs a brothel” and then forget that he said it when part of it was in print in the newspaper the following day just beggars belief.
Invisible hairs are being split here. A belief in the capacity to separate private impropriety from public office now appears to be standard operating procedure for Fianna Fáil in Government. We heard precisely the same logic from the Taoiseach’s predecessor when he stated in regard to his Manchester whip-round that despite the fact that he was Minister for Finance at the time, he was Bertie Ahern, private citizen, when he was handed £15,000 in a brown envelope.
The Taoiseach’s defence of his Minister comes straight from Fianna Fáil’s code of operations. He claimed the Minister broke no code of ministerial ethics. The reason he broke no code is because some things are so obviously unethical that it would be laughable to include them in the code in the first place. For example, one would think the sentence: “Do not lie to the High Court” is redundant to a code of ministerial conduct.
The Taoiseach failed to answer specific questions regarding the steps he took in the two months since the issue was brought to his attention. His colleague is involved in a matter of importance. Equally, we have no indication that another Minister attempted to seek an explanation for these events. This is about the Minister as distinct from the Deputy. It appears that it was not an issue for anyone in this Government until it became the subject of an editorial in a national newspaper yesterday. That the Taoiseach and the Minister for Defence define their ethics by the specific warnings of a code of conduct rather than by a moral compass points to a lack of morality which is endemic to their party and which smears the good name of every Member of this House by association.
The vote before us is simple. If Deputies believe it is wrong for a Minister to tell an untruth in a sworn affidavit in the High Court, they can have no confidence in the Minister for Defence. If they believe it is appropriate for a Minister to swear a false and defamatory affidavit in the High Court, they can vote their support for him and, by doing so, define publicly their own political morality. These are the questions that must be answered by Fianna Fáil and Green Party Members when they vote on this issue.
The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government gave the following address on 24 February 2007:
It’s great to be back in Galway. I came down on the overcrowded train. . .there’s a strange cult called Fianna Fáil, a type of religion without vision or values; and every year in August they go on their annual pilgrimage to one of their sacred sites, the tent at the Galway races, where they pay homage to their gods and the gods bestow them with gifts for doing their bidding. . .The Green Party wants high standards in high places. . .
. . .not because we are particularly virtuous, but because strong ethical standards improve the quality of our democracy. We do it because we recognise that there are now three Governments in this country — the permanent Government, which is the civil service; the present Government, if you can call it that, consisting of the PDs and Fianna Fáil; and the real Government which are the gods in the Ballybrit tent…We will introduce the strictest ethical standards ever seen in this country.
Three years on, the Green Party now has the chance to live up to these words.
On 12 November 1996, speaking on a motion of no confidence in the then Minister for Justice, Deputy O’Dea, stated:
If accountability means anything, blame must sometimes be taken and consequences sometimes ensue in the absence of knowledge and, therefore, in the absence of culpability in that sense. If that were not the position nobody would ever have to resign because, however great the disaster, it could never be proved as a definitive fact that a Minister had actual as opposed to constructive knowledge.
Here speaks a trained barrister and a supremely confident and energetic politician who knows the law of the land. He now serves not only as a back bench Deputy but also as one of the highest officers of the State in his position of Minister for Defence. How can anyone stand over this situation?
Deputy Enda Kenny: It is not simply about the Minister, Deputy O’Dea. This is an act of criminality against the laws of the State which the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is supposed to uphold and the Taoiseach is supposed to implement.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Gather the wagons around the Minister for Defence. Fianna Fáil’s ethics are get in here and stay in here, regardless of whether one makes a false affidavit and corrects it when found out by tape.
Deputy Enda Kenny: It makes no difference whether one is a Minister as long as the “FF, we rule” imprint is on one’s heart. The law it makes, the law it breaks. The Minister, Deputy O’Dea, broke it as a Deputy and as Minister. He said it was an honest mistake but the person opposite me cannot be divided into Deputy, citizen and Minister. He is the Holy Trinity in one.
Deputy Enda Kenny: A serious and fundamental issue of standards has arisen but Ministers will not oversee or implement these standards. When the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, casts his vote this evening, he should remember his standards and the words of his absent leader.
Deputy Brian Hayes: Between yesterday’s statement by the Minister for Defence and today’s statement’s by the Taoiseach, an important intervention was made. The Official Report will show that the Minister, Deputy Willie O’Dea, intervened while the leader of my party, Deputy Enda Kenny, was speaking. He indicated in the course of the debate that the Garda informed him about the alleged incident and the owners of the property concerned. The Official Report will show that. If he obtained this information from the Garda, the question that inevitably follows is why exactly he settled. Why did he not put it in his statement or affidavit? Why did he not inform the House of that fact yesterday?
Deputy Brian Hayes: Now it is the fault of the Garda Síochána. This is some turn-up for the books. If ever we had a political Pinocchio, it has to be the Minister. This is getting worse by the minute. It means that he mislead the House yesterday. He did not put that information on the record yesterday. Why not? Why did he blurt it out today to save his political backside when he is up against the pressure of this debate?
Deputy Brian Hayes: I wish to raise one other issue. The Minister made the original allegation on 10 March. On 14 April he signed a sworn affidavit to the courts. As a barrister, he is an officer of the court. He is a senior Cabinet Minister. That was four weeks later. It was not four months, years or decades. It was four weeks after he made the very serious allegations against the gentleman concerned. Why did he not check it out? Why did he not go back to check his sources? Why did he not go to all of the third parties concerned? All of this smells of Fianna Fáil circling the wagons.
I have a question for one member of the Government who is not present — I do not mind the Greens, they are hugely irrelevant in all of this anyway.
Deputy Brian Hayes: Does she support the concoction the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, gave to the House yesterday, of which the House has been given another version today? Sir, I put it to you that the House has no confidence in the Minister, Deputy O’Dea.
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: I compliment the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan. It is always a pleasure to watch a skilful lawyer defending the indefensible. The Minister, Deputy Ryan, dropped the ball. Not only that, he knocked it on. Every person in the Chamber can see his body language and that he does not believe one word from the Minister, Deputy O’Dea.
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: The Minister had his moment. The Greens spoke about principles. Marx spoke about principles also — Groucho Marx. He said not to worry about those ones, we have others. The Green Party has none.
Deputy Michael D’Arcy: We are here today as a result of the actions of the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, not Fine Gael. His actions against Councillor Maurice Quinlivan were slanderous. The Minister paid up because he was wrong. The Minister, Deputy O’Dea, got down in the political trench, picked up a ball of political mud and threw it at someone he considered to be an adversary. What has happened since then? Nothing more or less than a good old Irish-style cover up. Every person opposite will vote on the motion. They are voting for the continuation of the same old-style Irish politics that has been tarnished by Fianna Fáil for the past 25 years.
The Taoiseach said he would re-establish the primacy of this Chamber. They were his words. What we are seeing today is more of the same from the Bertie Ahern era that tarnished politics and every good Member of this House who works hard and does his or her best for the citizens of the State.
Let us remember another Minister in that position, namely, Ray Burke. We remember him drawing the line in the political sand and how he said no one should cross that line, and that he was telling the truth. He did not tell the truth. He lied, and so did the Minister, Deputy O’Dea. Shame on him. He has tarnished the Parliament, as always.
The Labour Party has no confidence in the Government as a collective entity or in the Ministers in their individual capacities. This is the Fianna Fáil Government that has brought this country to the brink of economic ruin.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: This is a Government that has allowed unemployment to climb to unprecedented levels and permitted emigration to return to levels not seen since the 1980s. This is a Government that has presided over massive job losses at Dell, in the constituency of the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, at Waterford Crystal and in many other plants without taking any meaningful action to try and save those jobs. This is a Government that failed to take the required action to save jobs at SR Technics and which has subsequently made such an absolute and utter mess of the offer by Ryanair to provide up to 500 highly skilled jobs at Dublin Airport.
This is a Fianna Fáil Government that remains totally indifferent in the face of a forecast from FÁS that the numbers out of work will increase by 87,000 in the coming year and a warning from the Irish Bank Officials’ Association that as many as 10,000 jobs could be lost in the banking sector.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: It did nothing to even try to save the jobs in Bank of Scotland-Ireland. This is a Fianna Fáil Government that has placed a financial millstone around the necks of not just the current generation of taxpayers, but of Irish taxpayers for generations to come. This is a Government that wrote a blank cheque for the banks when it agreed in as yet unexplained circumstances on the night of 30 September 2009 to provide a guarantee for the banks, exposing the taxpayer to a potential liability of €440 billion.
This is the Government that manoeuvred to avoid a full parliamentary inquiry into the banking crisis, and instead forced through a private, behind closed doors limited inquiry that specifically excludes the events of 30 September 2009 from its limited terms of reference. This is the Fianna Fáil Government that in every year of its record since 1997 has placed the interests of bankers and developers above those of the ordinary taxpayer. This is the Government that has handed over €4 billion to Anglo Irish Bank and another €7 billion to AIB and Bank of Ireland. This is the Government, led by a Taoiseach who has indicated he is prepared to write any cheque, no matter what the cost, to rescue the bankers.
This is a Fianna Fáil Government whose determination to leave no stone unturned to bail out the developers is in stark contrast to its indifference to the tens of thousands of families who are living in fear of losing their homes because the breadwinner has lost his or her job. This is the Fianna Fáil government that has failed to provide people with the decent health service they deserve. Only last week the Comptroller and Auditor General reported that there had been a major increase in the number of people waiting more than 12 hours in accident and emergency units for admission in the first five months of 2009 when compared to the same period in 2008.
This is the Fianna Fáil Government that has taken the unprecedented step of cutting the welfare payments of the blind, widows and those with disabilities. This is the Government that has cut the pay of poorly paid public servants on two occasions in the past year. Faced with the choice of taking some extra tax from super-high earners, or hitting those on welfare or low pay, there is never any real issue for this Fianna Fáil Government.
Let us make no mistake about it; this is a Fianna Fáil Government and it is a misnomer to refer to it as anything else. It is not a coalition government in any accepted sense of the term. We know from the revealing statements made by former Senator De Búrca that Fianna Fáil has little regard for the Green Party, that it can casually renege on agreements made and is quite prepared, in the phrase attributed to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to shaft the Greens whenever necessary.
This is a deadbeat Government led by a Taoiseach who failed to live up to even the low expectations of his opponents and which is made up of Ministers who are demoralised, disenchanted and disillusioned. They have nothing to offer people other than more years of bungling and incompetence. The best service they could now offer to the people is to submit themselves to the verdict of the electorate; allow for a change of government and direction; give others the opportunity to undo the damage they have caused; and clear the way for the process of recovery and reconstruction to begin.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Minister, Deputy O’Dea, as a member of the Cabinet must accept his share of the responsibility for the economic damage and social destruction that Fianna Fáil has wrought on the people. However, it is another matter, of enormous importance and significance that has led to the tabling of this motion of no confidence in the Minister.
Leaving aside the broader issues I referred to, there are two reasons I believe the House should now express no confidence in the Minister, Deputy O’Dea. The first is that he made an absolutely scurrilous and unfounded allegation about a political opponent in his constituency, an allegation that he was subsequently forced to admit was totally and utterly without foundation. The second is that he swore an affidavit that contained a blatant untruth. What was the allegation made by the Minister against Councillor Quinlivan? In his interview with the Limerick Chronicle Mr. O’Dea claimed that Councillor Quinlivan was involved in some way in the operation of a brothel in Limerick. “Do you know the brothel they found in his name and in his brother’s name down in Clancy Strand”, he asked the journalist conducting the interview. It is difficult to think of a more serious, more scurrilous and more potentially damaging allegation that could be made against a political opponent.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: My understanding is that any person making a sworn affidavit to the High Court must do so in the presence of a Commissioner for Oaths. The commissioner then reads over the affidavit to the person making it who will then be asked to either agree or disagree with its content. If one agrees with its content, one takes the Bible in one’s right hand and swears to almighty God, or alternatively affirm, that the affidavit one has sworn is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Minister wants us to examine his swearing a false affidavit only from the point where his barrister made an agreement with Councillor Quinlivan’s barrister — an agreement duly reported to the court. Councillor Quinlivan’s reasons for accepting an amount in damages and his costs in return for agreeing a settlement statement is entirely a matter for him. The issue that affects Deputy O’Dea’s fitness to be a Minister is why he swore a false affidavit to the court in the first place, which caused the court to dismiss Mr. Quinlivan’s application for an injunction to stop the Minister repeating his charge that Mr. Quinlivan was associated with running a brothel.
Deputy O’Dea swore he never made any such allegation. He maintained this position until the journalist to whom he had peddled this falsehood produced the tapes.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Faced with incontrovertible evidence the Minister asks us to believe that he acknowledged his error. He forgot. How could be forget creeping around Limerick alleging a rival candidate was running a brothel?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Would any other Member stoop to making such a charge in the first place, if it were untrue? Is it acceptable behaviour for any Member, whether a Minister or not, to use a political campaign to slander a rival candidate and to implicate him in particularly grubby criminal behaviour?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Not only did Deputy O’Dea have no qualms about imputing criminal conduct to a political rival, he had no regard for the integrity of the journalist to whom he whispered his lies. Only when the journalist sought to defend his integrity by producing the tapes did the Minister remember his “mistake”.
I am frankly amazed that the Taoiseach should seek to retain in Cabinet a man who wilfully committed perjury. If this happened in the neighbouring jurisdiction, a Cabinet Minister would not last until the end of the day. Deputy O’Dea is — as he is fond of telling us — a barrister and an officer of the court and he knows well the implications of swearing a false affidavit. Members of this House have ended up in the criminal courts for matters less grave than swearing a false affidavit. Loyalty can be an admirable quality but the Taoiseach’s loyalty to Deputy O’Dea in this instance undermines any claims that he will enforce decent standards in his Government.
Having listened to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, we can all now agree with former Senator de Búrca that she was right. The Green Party Ministers will dance to any and every Fianna Fáil tune. Is there anything that the two Green Ministers would not do to stay in office? The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources offered us a chronological description of what Deputy O’Dea said happened. Is the Green Party’s new standard to parrot Deputy O’Dea’s excuse? Where now are the high standards they called for so many times over the years?
I like the Green Party. I like its politics.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Why is that not an unfamiliar feeling? It is one thing for the Taoiseach not to take the Green Party seriously and he has them not just as passengers but as hitchhikers in Government.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Taoiseach should stop humiliating them. I felt embarrassed for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources who the Taoiseach dragged into the House to say things he did not believe.
Deputy Eamon Ryan: To serve in office is not humiliating. If the Deputy was in Government, he might see that. It is with pride that one represents the people in Government. One never sees it as a humiliating experience. It is an honour to serve in Government.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: This is a disreputable chapter that will bring this House into disrepute if a majority in the House supports this kind of conduct by a Minister. What standards will apply in this House if a Minister can plead honest mistake because he supposedly forgot giving an interview connecting a political rival to brothel keeping?
Deputy O’Dea is not just any Minister. He has political responsibility for the Defence Forces which discharge certain security functions on behalf of the State. Deputy O’Dea was previously a Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and, if my memory serves me correctly, was on occasions delegated the full functions of the office when the senior Minister was out of the country.
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: An allegation of having sworn a false affidavit would be a serious matter for any Minister. In the case of Deputy O’Dea the allegation is of such seriousness that it renders him unsuitable to hold the office he now occupies.
Deputy Joan Burton: I will quote from the transcript of the taped conversation for the benefit of those who may not have heard it. I wish, á la Richard Nixon, that Deputy O’Dea would agree to have the tape played because it must be extant.
“Willie O’Dea: . . .while occasionally we send out letters to planning applicants we have never been involved with anyone who shot anybody, or robbed banks, or kidnapped people. I suppose I’m going a bit too far when I say this but I’d like to ask Mr Quinlivan is the brothel still closed?”
The Minister remembers it. He is smiling fondly in recollection.
Willie O’Dea: Did you not hear that? You better check your sources. There was a house owned by him that was rented out and they found two ladies of the night operating in there in the last couple of weeks”.
Limerick’s own Belle de Jour and Deputy O’Dea was familiar with it all.
We should hear that tape because it would sound fantastic
Deputy Joan Burton: I refer to Deputy O’Dea’s affidavit sworn on oath. He states, “I most categorically and emphatically deny that I said to Mr Dwane that the plaintiff was a part-owner of said apartment. I did not at any time say to any other person that the plaintiff had any ownership of the apartment. Neither did I say at any time to any person that the plaintiff had any involvement in the operation of the brothel”.
Deputy Joan Burton: In the view of most people who understand ordinary language, not senior counsel such as the Minister or the Minister for Finance, that was a lie, an untruth or a misstatement on oath and not a mistake. People have been taught from a young age about making a statement under oath. One barrister and two solicitors are sitting on the Government benches and, given all their extensive legal education and training, they know the system of oaths is fundamental to our system of justice, however nice and charming a Minister is and however fond the Green Party Ministers are of him or her. I can understand why the Green Party members are fond of the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, and why they might have a good relationship with him. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, spoke as though there was a large peg on his nose, but obviously the Green Party members are fond of the Minister.
Oaths are fundamental to our system of justice. If people actually lie on oath it is a serious matter.
Deputy Joan Burton: Since Fianna Fáil returned to power in 2007, the economy has been destroyed and 60,000 people, most of them young, have emigrated. What are those young people who are left in the country, perhaps still in school, supposed to think about the standards of a Dáil in which a Minister can act as this Minister has done?
Everybody can make a mistake in life.
Deputy Joan Burton: Everyone can make a statement that is misunderstood or wrongly taken up. That is why I wanted to read out what the Minister said to the journalist and what he then said in his affidavit. The commentary he made last night was along the lines of “I made an error, but I ‘fessed up and apologised”. Most people understand and appreciate that. However, given the kind of politician he has been in terms of his tremendous ability to win the confidence of the people of Limerick and his experience as a Minister in a series of different offices at senior and junior level, it is impossible to believe that he could have forgotten something as detailed as this.
Deputy Joan Burton: ——to have the request for the injunction thrown out. We must bear in mind what was suggested by the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in his statement, although it is hard to hear a statement when the person making it has a big peg on his nose. From what I heard of the statement he read out at a gabble, he was suggesting that the fact that the settlement subsequently came before a judge was an indication that another court had somehow validated what the Minister had done. All the officers of the court opposite know that when a settlement goes before a judge, the judge receiving the settlement does not make any inquiries into affidavits or anything else; he or she is only concerned about receiving the settlement that was agreed between the parties.
The Green Party’s fig leaf that the courts and a second judge somehow stood over what was done by the Minister is entirely invalid and misleading. If that is what the Green Party is relying on, Déirdre de Búrca really said it all when she left last week. Even at this late hour, the Green Party should give some further consideration to its position. It should do this for the sake of the children of Ireland, who will hear that these are the standards accepted in the House with the Green Party’s stamp of approval. That is simply not good enough. This is dirty politics at its worst.
Deputy Joan Burton: In the United Kingdom, two senior politicians — Lord Archer and Jonathan Aitken — actually went to jail for perjury before a court. It was a different issue, but the point is none the less valid. In most jurisdictions an action of this kind by a serving senior Minister — in this case, one who has a responsibility, together with the President, for our Defence Forces — would be treated extremely seriously.
Deputy Joan Burton: His behaviour does, unfortunately, merit a vote of no confidence. It is shameful for the Green Party to support this action by the Minister, thereby saying to the children of Ireland that this type of behaviour is all right.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: On behalf of the Sinn Féin Deputies, I oppose this motion of confidence in the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O’Dea. We have no confidence in the Minister and no confidence in this Government.
Dogged by the controversy, the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government has swiftly introduced its own motion of confidence in the Minister. It is a desperate effort to head off the issue and reduce the length of time the Green Party Deputies will have to spend in the bunker they are currently occupying.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Taoiseach and his Fianna Fáil and Green Party colleagues in Government have further shredded their already tattered credibility by fully backing the Minister. They are parroting his ludicrous and blatantly false defence that this was a personal matter between him as a private citizen and another private citizen of Limerick.
In the Dáil yesterday the Taoiseach repeated this when he said: “The Minister was acting in his private capacity, not in pursuance of his ministerial duties.”
It is true that the Minister was acting. He was acting the maggot, as is his well-established inclination.
Let us take a look at the facts behind this story. They are, of course, totally different from the assertions made in the Taoiseach’s vain attempt to dismiss the Minister’s actions as something personal or unconnected to his political life and responsibilities. The Minister, who is a Deputy for Limerick East, was stung by a political charge from Mr. Maurice Quinlivan, then a Sinn Féin local government candidate, in the run-up to the June local and EU elections last year. The charge was that the Minister was wasting taxpayers’ money by having at his disposal six civil servants to assist with his constituency work. This was a political — not a personal — charge. The charge was about the deployment of public money allocated to the Minister’s office, and concerned the Minister, Deputy O’Dea, in his capacity as a Deputy and in his ministerial role.
The Minister chose to respond in a most scurrilous, despicable and personal way by falsely and outrageously linking Maurice Quinlivan to the operation of a brothel in Limerick city. The Minister is a political animal and has one of the highest personal votes in the country. That must be acknowledged. He knew very well what he was doing, even though his tongue often runs ahead of his brain. He was trying to prevent an electoral breakthrough by Sinn Féin and Maurice Quinlivan in Limerick City, which the Minister regards as his territory — his Fianna Fáil fiefdom.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Even if one were to accept the Minister’s original affidavit to the High Court, which he admitted was false, the Minister would still have a serious case to answer because of his false allegations that were published in the Limerick Chronicle — not to mention the even more serious charges which were not published but which he did utter and which were recorded on tape. This was totally inappropriate conduct for any member of the Oireachtas, let alone a Cabinet Minister.
In his so-called personal explanation to the Dáil yesterday, the Minister maintained the charade that the matter was personal. He claimed: “The matter was a personal one between me and a Sinn Féin representative in Limerick.” It was as if it was a row between business rivals or a falling out between neighbours. People should examine the Minister’s comments last evening. In the same paragraph as that claim, the Minister contradicted himself when he said it was “born out of heated political exchanges”. Therefore, the matter was clearly in the political domain.
The Minister, the Taoiseach and the rest are contradicted by the Minister’s own mouth in his original affidavit to the High Court, which began:
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Minister in his affidavit defended his allegation concerning the brothel. He asserted: “I say and believe that I was fully entitled to raise this issue in my capacity as an elected public representative to whom enquiries and concerns about the existence of this brothel had been expressed by a number of constituents.”
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Let there be no pretence that this was a personal matter and that Deputy O’Dea was acting as anything other than a Deputy and a Minister. Everyone knows that he is the face of the Government in Limerick and the entire mid-west region.
Faced with this outrageous defamation, Maurice Quinlivan sought an injunction in the High Court to prevent the Minister from repeating his false statements. The Minister then swore the now infamous false affidavit. Mr. Justice Cooke in the High Court accepted the affidavit and, on the basis of the Minister’s lie, refused the injunction application from Maurice Quinlivan. That decision was made on 20 April. From then until the local elections on 9 June and afterwards, Maurice Quinlivan had the Minister’s false accusation hanging over him. Many believed that, since Maurice had lost the application for a High Court injunction, he had lost the action for defamation. Despite this, he succeeded in being elected to Limerick City Council for Sinn Féin, a testament to his and his party’s hard work on behalf of the people of Limerick and a sign also that the Minister had no credibility among the electorate in attacking Maurice’s character.
The Minister subsequently changed his story when the tape recording of his interview was revealed. However, the damage had been done during an election, as was clearly intended from the outset. It was only in December that Maurice succeeded in his defamation case. The Minister was forced to withdraw his comments and to apologise. He claimed in his personal explanation last evening that he corrected the mistake when he realised it. That is stretching credibility, since it took him four months to do so. I do not believe the Minister when he says that he forgot he made the defamatory remarks. Not a chance.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: He has abused the democratic system and the courts and should resign. His continuing defence of the indefensible and the efforts of his Fianna Fáil and Green Party colleagues clearly underscore the fact that his position is untenable, as is that of the Government.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: These are the facts, but he is not happy facing them. Much has been made by the Minister and the Taoiseach of the terms of the settlement in the defamation action on 21 December as if they exonerate the Minister. They do no such thing. Clearly, Maurice Quinlivan accepted the legal advice he was given, having secured the vindication of his good name and the withdrawal by the Minister of the latter’s false and defamatory statements. The matter of the false affidavit sworn to the High Court in the earlier injunction has not yet been considered by any court.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Minister must also answer to the people in his role as a public officeholder who is supposed to be a servant of the people and to uphold the highest standards in all matters. How can the people have confidence in a Cabinet Minister who has acted in this way? How can the people of Limerick have confidence in such a Minister who has also presided over record unemployment in the mid-west region and the virtual collapse of the long-promised Limerick regeneration? How can the people have confidence in a Government that, like yesterday, attempts to defend the indefensible? We certainly have no confidence in this Government and we want to see all of its members, including Deputy O’Dea, turfed out of office.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We may all need to wait for the Green Party, with respect to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, whose entrance into the Chamber was the most reluctant that I have witnessed in a long time. He skipped off quickly, but seems to have been sent back in again, by whom only goodness knows, as he needed to return to his seat.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It was not a bulb that went off in his head outside in the corridor. Someone told him to get back in there and to stick his ass back in his seat. That is what he has had to do.
For the record, no length of time after a recent directive from the office of the Ceann Comhairle concerning appropriate language by Members of this House, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, was in direct contravention of same when he charged Deputy Kenny, the leader of the Fine Gael Party, with the word “guttersnipe”.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: I will come to that in a minute. Last night, I stood before the House to refute the baseless, cynical and malicious allegations that have been made against me in recent days by Members of the parties opposite.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: The fact that my opposite number on the Fine Gael benches has not contributed to this debate would indicate to me that this has nothing to do with my work as the Minister for Defence.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: ——but it has taken until now — two months later — for Deputy Kenny to decide that this is a matter that, in his own words, he believes “goes to the very heart of the standards, judgment and ethics displayed at the top of this Government”. It is not as if he could not have known about the case and my apology. It was widely reported in the media on 21 December and 22 December.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: One of Deputy Kenny’s Senators issued a statement on the day the case was finalised in court, yet Deputy Kenny did not regard it as going to the very heart of anything at that point. On 2 February Senator Regan raised the allegations in Seanad Éireann but again Deputy Kenny did not regard it as going to the very heart of anything.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: What we are witnessing since the departure of the former Deputy George Lee back to a career in television is the opening performance of the new improved “Enda Kenny Show”. It is more a sitcom than a documentary and like most sitcoms it is destined to be cancelled early in the season.
I do not expect any of the Deputies opposite in the Fine Gael Party——
Deputy Willie O’Dea: Let me remind the House of the actual and verifiable facts that I placed on the record of the House last night. The settlement that was agreed before the High Court and which was finalised in proceedings of 21 December contained this key paragraph: “It is not suggested by Mr. Quinlivan that Mr. O’Dea acted other than innocently in making such denial and he accepts that there was no intention to mislead on the part of Mr. O’Dea.”
Deputy Willie O’Dea: I have openly and fully acknowledged that my recollection of some of what I said in the interview with the journalist as described in my original affidavit was mistaken. I corrected the mistake on the day, not four months later. On the day I realised it, I corrected the mistake. I admitted the mistake and apologised for it.
I have never denied saying what was reported in the The Limerick Chronicle. I knew I had made the remarks reported in the newspaper but I honestly did not recollect going further. My genuine and honest mistake relates specifically to remarks — this is important — that were not published in the newspaper at all, which I honestly did not recall making.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: ——and having seen the transcript, I took the initiative. I went to my solicitor and immediately corrected my affidavit. I was not forced or pressed to do this. I did so of my own volition as I then knew that my original affidavit was incorrect.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: I am dealing with this. I was not, as Fine Gael has asserted, found out by the production of a tape recording of my interview. Its members have been insinuating that as if the interview had been recorded without my knowledge. I knew it was being recorded as there was a cassette recorder clearly in front of me.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: ——a minority of whom have been putting out comment masquerading as fact. There is a witness to the interview, namely, the journalist concerned. Why has he not been asked whether I knew the interview was being recorded? Has anybody bothered to ask the journalist who did the interview to see if a tape suddenly appeared or if I knew that the interview was being recorded?
Deputy Willie O’Dea: Now Fine Gael wants me to pay a double price. It wants to remove me form office for openly admitting, owning up and remedying a mistake I made to the satisfaction of the aggrieved party.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: If Fine Gael and Deputy Kenny’s idea of standards, judgment and ethics is to punish those who admit honest mistakes, then that is one more reason many decent and law abiding people who should fear the prospect of Enda Kenny ever becoming Taoiseach.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: People in all walks of life have been obliged to correct testimony whether in written and oral form. However, there is a principle that he who comes looking for justice should come with clean hands. How clean are Fine Gael’s hands when it comes to owning up to its mistakes?
Deputy Willie O’Dea: It is also the party that destroyed its own financial records. The information it failed to give to the Moriarty tribunal was about a $50,000 donation it received from the Norwegian telecommunications company, Telenor.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: He said that he feared that if the donation was revealed, a connection might be made between Fine Gael and the granting of a mobile telephone licence to Esat Digifone, about which we will discover an awful lot more shortly.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: The Fine Gael leader at the time of the donation, Mr. John Bruton, brushed the matter aside with the extraordinary excuse that he probably had not informed himself as fully as he should have about the matter. It is all right for him to make a mistake and at the time and since then Deputy Kenny——-
We accept that was a mistake. However, such omissions and errors are not the sole preserve of Fine Gael. It is not so long ago that Sinn Féin in the person of Deputy Arthur Morgan was denying that suspected paedophile, Liam Adams, was a member of the Sinn Féin Party in Louth——
Deputy Willie O’Dea: At the beginning of this debate the Taoiseach set out what we have achieved in the Department of Defence in recent years. He also set out the dearth of new ideas and new policies on defence coming from Fine Gael. I have a job to do as Minister for Defence.
Deputy Willie O’Dea: I am committed to doing that work and will not be dissuaded from doing my job by politically motivated accusations from the parties opposite. I have spent almost 30 years of my adult life as a Deputy and have been proud of the work I have done for the people of Limerick. I am proud to have represented them in Dáil Éireann.
An Ceann Comhairle: That concludes the contributions on the motion of confidence in the Minister for Defence. I am now obliged to put the question as it is approaching 5.15 p.m. Standing Order 71 provides that a list vote through the lobbies is the appropriate way of taking a vote of confidence in the Government and I consider that a vote of confidence in a Minister is of such import that I should exercise my discretion to have a full list vote on this item.