Seanad Éireann - Volume 152 - 08 October, 1997

Tribunal of Inquiry into Planning Matters: Motion.

Mr. Cassidy: I move:

That Seanad Éireann resolves A. That it is expedient that a Tribunal be established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, as adapted by or under subsequent enactments and the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Act, 1979, [162] to inquire urgently into and report to the Clerk of the Dáil and make such findings and recommendations as it sees fit, in relation to the following definite matters of urgent public importance:

1. The identification of the lands stated to be 726 acres in extent, referred to in the letter dated 8th June, 1989 from Mr. Michael Bailey to Mr. James Gogarty (reproduced in the Schedule herewith) and the establishment of the beneficial ownership of the lands at that date and changes in the beneficial ownership of the lands since the 8th June, 1989 prior to their development;

2. The planning history of the lands including:—

(a) their planning status in the Development Plan of the Dublin local authorities current at the 8th June, 1989;

(b) the position with regard to the servicing of the lands for development as at the 8th June, 1989;

(c) changes made or proposed to be made to the 8th June, 1989 planning status of the lands by way of:—

(i) proposals put forward by Dublin local authority officials pursuant to the review of Development Plans or otherwise;

(ii) motions by elected members of Dublin local authorities proposing rezoning;

(iii) applications for planning permission (including any involving a material contravention of the Development Plan);

3. Whether the lands referred to in the letter dated 8th June, 1989 were the subject of the following:-

(a) Re-zoning resolutions;

(b) Resolutions for material contravention of the relevant Development Plans;

(c) Applications for special tax designation status pursuant to the Finance Acts;

(d) Applications for planning permission;

(e) Changes made or requested to be made with regard to the servicing of the lands for development;

(f) Applications for the granting of building by-law approval in respect of buildings constructed on the lands;

(g) Applications for fire safety certificates;

[163] on or after the 20th day of June 1985.

And

(i) to ascertain the identity of any persons or companies (and if companies, the identity of the beneficial owners of such companies) who had a material interest in the said lands or who had a material involvement in the matters aforesaid;

(ii) to ascertain the identity of any members of the Oireachtas, past or present, and/or members of the relevant local authorities who were involved directly or indirectly in any of the foregoing matters whether by the making of representations to a planning authority or to any person in the authority in a position to make relevant decisions or by the proposing of or by voting in favour or against or by abstaining from any such resolutions or by absenting themselves when such votes were taken or by attempting to influence in any manner whatsoever the outcome of any such applications; or who received payments from any of the persons or companies referred to at (i) above;

(iii) to ascertain the identity of all public officials who considered, made recommendations or decisions on any such matters and to report on such considerations, recommendations and/or decisions;

(iv) to ascertain and report on the outcome of all such applications, resolutions and votes in relation to such applications in the relevant local authority;

4. (a) The identify of all recipients of payments made to political parties or members of either House of the Oireachtas, past or present, or members or officials of a Dublin local authority or other public official by Mr. Gogarty or Mr. Bailey or a connected person or company within the meaning of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, from 20th June 1985 to date, and the circumstances, considerations and motives relative to any such payment;

(b) whether any of the persons referred to at sub-paragraphs 3(ii) and 3 (iii) above were influenced directly or indirectly by the offer or receipt of any such payments or benefits;

5. In the event that the Tribunal in the course of its inquiries is made aware of any acts associated with the planning process committed on or after the 20th June 1985 which may in its opinion amount to corruption, or which involve attempts to influence [164] by threats or deception or inducement or otherwise to compromise the disinterested performance of public duties, it shall report on such acts and should in particular make recommendations as to the effectiveness and improvement of existing legislation governing corruption in the light of its inquiries.

6. And that the Tribunal be requested to make recommendations in relation to such amendments to Planning, Local Government and Ethics in Public Office and any other relevant legislation as the Tribunal considers appropriate having regard to its findings.

‘payment’ includes money and any benefit in kind and the payment to any person includes a payment to a connected person within the meaning of the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995.

B. And that the Tribunal be requested to conduct its inquires in the following manner, to the extent that it may do so consistent with the provisions of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts, 1921 and 1979:-

(i) To carry out such preliminary investigations in private as it thinks fit using all the powers conferred on it under the Acts, in order to determine whether sufficient evidence exists in relation to any of the matters referred to above to warrant proceeding to a full public inquiry in relation to such matters,

(ii) To inquire fully into all matters referred to above in relation to which such evidence may be found to exist, dealing in the first instance with the acknowledged monetary donation debated in Dáil Éireann on the 10th September 1997 Dáil Debates Columns 616-638 and to report to the Clerk of the Dáil thereupon,

(iii) To seek discovery of all relevant documents, files and papers in the possession, power or procurement of said Mr. Michael Bailey, Mr. James Gogarty and Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly Solicitors,

(iv) In relation to any matters where the Tribunal finds that there is insufficient evidence to warrant proceeding to a full public inquiry, to report that fact to the Clerk of the Dáil and to report in such a manner as the Tribunal thinks appropriate, on the steps taken by the Tribunal to determine what evidence, if any, existed, and the Clerk of the Dáil shall thereupon communicate the Tribunal's report in full to the Dáil,

(v) To report on an interim basis not later than one month from the date of establishment of the Tribunal or the tenth day of any oral hearing, whichever shall [165] first occur, to the Clerk of the Dáil on the following matters:

the numbers of parties then represented before the Tribunal;

the progress which has been made in the hearing and the work of the Tribunal;

the likely duration (so far as that may be capable of being estimated at that time) of the Tribunal proceedings;

any other matters which the Tribunal believes should be drawn to the attention of the Clerk of the Dáil at that stage (including any matter relating to the terms of reference);

C. And that the person or persons selected to conduct the Inquiry should be informed that it is the desire of the House that-

(a) the Inquiry be completed in as economical a manner as possible and at the earliest date consistent with a fair examination of the matters referred to it, and, in respect to the matters referred to in paragraphs 1 to 4 above, if possible, not later than the 31st December 1997, and

(b) all costs incurred by reason of the failure of individuals to co-operate fully and expeditiously with the Inquiry should, so far as is consistent with the interests of justice, be borne by those individuals.

D. And that the Clerk of the Dáil shall on receipt of any Report from the Tribunal arrange to have it laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas immediately on its receipt.

AN SCEIDEAL

SCHEDULE

Killnamonan House,

The Ward,

Co. Dublin.

8th June 1989

Dear Mr. Gogarty,

PROPOSALS FOR DISCUSSION

Re: Your lands at Finglas, Ballymun, Donabate, Balgriffin and Portmarnock, Co. Dublin.

I refer to our many discussions regarding your following six parcels of land:— [166]

Lot 1:

100 acres (approx) at North Road, Finglas, including “Barrett's Land”.

Lot 2:

12 acres (approx) at Jamestown Road, Finglas.

Lot 3:

100 acres (approx) at Poppintree, Ballymun.

Lot 4:

255 acres (approx) at Donabate (Turvey House and Beaverton House).

Lot 5:

250 acres (approx) at Balgriffin.

Lot 6:

9 acres (approx) at Portmarnock.

I submit the following proposals for your consideration:—

PROPOSAL No. 1 — Purchase Proposal

Lots 1, 2

Purchase Price £4,000 per acre

and 3

10% deposit payable on the signing of the contract

Completion 1 year from date of contract.

Lot 4:

Purchase Price IR£1 Million

Deposit 10% on contract

Completion 2 years from date of contract.

Lot 5:

Purchase Price IR£750,000.00

Deposit 10% on contract

Completion 3 years from date of contract

Lot 6:

Option to be granted for nominal consideration (£100.00) for a period of 2 years at a purchase price of £30,000.00 per acre.

PROPOSAL No. 2 — Participation Proposal

As an alternative to the outright purchase proposal above I am prepared to deal with Lots 1-5 (inclusive) above on the basis that I would be given a 50% share in the ownership of the said lands in exchange for procuring Planning Permission and Building Bye Law Approval. The time span which I would require to be allowed to obtain the Permissions and Approval and my anticipated financial expenditure (apart from my time input) in respect of the different lots would be as follows:—

A period of 2 years within which to procure a buildable Planning Permission and Building Bye Laws Approval for mixed development including housing, industrial and commercial.

My financial expenditure up to a figure of £150,000.00 (to include Architect's fees, Consulting Engineer's fees, Planning and Bye Law charges etc.). [167]

Lots 4

Time requirement — 3 years.

and 5

Financial — up to £150,000.00

Expenditure

In considering the above proposals the following points of information should be borne in mind by all parties:-

1. From the point of view of obtaining Planning Permission the entire lands (lots 1 to 6 inclusive) have the following shortcoming:-

NO zoning for development purposes

NO services

NO proposal in current draft development plans (City and County) for the zoning of the lands or any part thereof for development purposes.

2. We face a very severe uphill battle to arrange for the availability of services and for the ultimate procurement of Planning Permission.

3. The steps to be taken on the way to procuring a buildable Planning Permission and Building Bye Laws Approval are notoriously difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Material Contravention Orders must be obtained and this involves the procurement of a majority vote at 2 full Council Meetings at which 78 Council Members must be present and it also involves satisfactory compliance with extensive requirements and pre-conditions of the Planning Authority and the inevitable dealing with protracted Appeals to an Bord Pleanála.

4. It is essential that the Planning Application should be brought in the name of an active housebuilding company which enjoys good standing and good working relationship with the Planners and the Council Members and in this regard I confirm that in the event of our reaching agreement regarding the within proposals that all Planning Applications would be made by one of my Companies which meets the said requirements.

5. In the case of all of the lands the applications will be highly sensitive and controversial and we can realistically expect strenuous opposition from private, political and planning sectors. One of my active companies will have to take the limelight in such applications and withstand the objections and protests which will inevitably confront it. Apart from the anticipated financial expenditure as outlined above it [168] should be borne in mind that I will personally have to give extensively of my time and efforts over the entire period of the applications including the necessary preliminary negotiations in regard to services and zoning. It must be borne in mind that I will have to abandon other projects which would be open to myself and my companies in order to give proper attention to this project. If I am successful in changing your lands from their present status of agricultural lands with very limited potential even for agricultural use into highly valuable building lands I would have to be rewarded with a minimum 50% stake in the ownership of the lands. Our advisers would have to work out the details as to how this can be effected in the most tax-efficient manner.

I look forward to hearing from you in relation to the above proposals. In the case of the first proposal which relates to the outright purchase of the lands (excluding Lot 6) I would not be adverse to a proposal which would involve the vendors retaining a participation stake of up to 20% in the purchasing company if you felt that an ongoing interest in the future development of the lands would be more acceptable to the present owners.

Yours sincerely,

MICHAEL BAILEY.

Mr. Jim Gogarty,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

An Cathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, to the House.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): On behalf of the Government I am asking the Seanad to approve the resolution passed by the Dáil yesterday providing for the establishment of a tribunal, under the Tribunal of Inquiries Acts, 1921 to 1979, and to investigate, in particular, the planning history of certain lands and, more generally, any instances of possible corruption of the planning system that come to its attention. The lands in question, which are the primary focus of the inquiry, comprise six parcels, 726 acres in extent, in North Dublin and were the subject of the letter which is attached to the motion circulated to Senators. In view of the fact that this letter was widely interpreted as raising questions about the integrity of the planning system by referring to the procurement of planning permission, services and by-law approval, the Government decided at its meeting on Tuesday of last week to move a motion in both Houses of the Oireachtas establishing a tribunal of inquiry to deal authoritatively and conclusively with the [169] public concerns to which that letter and other allegations in the planning area are giving rise.

Under the terms of reference, included in this motion, the tribunal will examine in full detail the planning history of all the lands which were the subject of Mr. Bailey's letter together with the associated servicing and by-law approval relating to these lands. Additionally, it will consider any matters of which it becomes aware suggesting corruption or other abuses of the planning system even if not directly connected to the lands in question. It is the earnest desire of the Government, and I am sure of the Seanad, that this tribunal will do much to eradicate the public cynicism which has been eroding public confidence in, not just the planning system itself, but indeed in our democratic institutions.

The people value our democratic system of government very highly. The democratic institutions — local and national — and the public representatives who serve in them are vital to the operation of our democracy. For democracy to flourish the public must have confidence in the workings of our democratic institutions and the integrity of the people who serve in them. It follows that anything that undermines public confidence in either the workings of the institutions or public representatives cannot be viewed by anybody who prizes democracy except with the utmost concern. Of course, confidence can be undermined by wrongdoing or misconduct on the part of politicians or officials who serve in our institutions. It can also, though, be undermined just as seriously, and more insidiously, by allegations of malpractice, innuendo and rumour, even if these have little basis in fact or are malicious in intent.

I am certain that there is no Member of the Oireachtas who does not feel some unease about the continued emergence of allegations and innuendo in relation to the operation of the physical planning system and the involvement of public representatives. A number of these allegations go back some time. It is not clear whether they stem from disapproval on environmental grounds of some of the decisions taken by councils and the suspicion that they are only explicable by unworthy motives of corrupt financial gain, or whether there really are, in fact, very serious grounds for concern. The Government is now convinced that effective and conclusive action must be taken to put a halt to the corrosive effects of these allegations on the body politic. We believe that the tribunal of inquiry to be set up with the proposed terms of reference will do that very effectively and vindicate the integrity of those who serve our political institutions.

An effective and efficient physical planning system is essential to economic and social development as well as to the protection of our environment and the quality of life generally. The planning process must operate in a fair, open and transparent manner and must be seen to do so. People with legitimate interests or concerns must be given a fair hearing, whether in the making of [170] the development plans or in individual applications for planning permission.

It does not serve the process well if lingering doubts persist in relation to its honesty, nor is it fair to the vast majority of elected representatives and public officials who do a difficult job to their upmost ability if their honesty and integrity is being systematically impugned by malicious and unjustified rumour. We need to be sure that when councillors take decisions for the benefit of their constituents — even where those constituents are landowners, builders and developers — they are not doing so for personal pecuniary gain.

Many people have interpreted Mr. Bailey's letter as raising doubts about the integrity of the planning process in relation to the treatment of the rather extensive lands referred to. The proper interpretation of the letter must be clearly established, as it is not in the public interest that such suspicions should be allowed to persist. The Government has decieded to bring forward an inclusivemotion which will allow us, once and for all, to deal conclusively with the allegations currently dogging the planning system.

The Government is convinced that only a fullinvestigation by a tribunal of inquiry will allow us to arrive at the truth of these allegations and restore public confidence. That is why the terms of reference before us enable the tribunal to deal with all of the issues arising in connection with the planning history of the lands referred to in the letter and will also allow the tribunal to deal with any acts during the period in question which, in its opinion, amount to corruption or other perversions of the planning process and which come to its notice during its investigations. To give any less scope to the tribunal would be to fail all the elected members, officials and members of the public who operate the planning system fairly and honestly.

It is essential that the highest standards apply in the operation of the planning system. The system must be fair and it must be seen to be fair. Above all, the public must have confidence in the integrity of the officials and councillors who carry out the planning functions of local authorities. It must be clear that the decisions taken by councillors and officials alike are in the common good and not for personal gain.

Planning makes a very important contribution to the quality of life in this country and underpins our endeavours to achieve the social, economic and environmental sustainability of development. Proper professional standards must be applied to all planning issues whether at the strategic level of the development plan or the operational level of development control. Planning is a professional discipline, the operation and practice of which require that a wide range of factors and considerations be taken into account and balanced in the interests of the common good. This process must be done in a completely open manner; the rationale for all decisions reached must be clearly set out and available to all interested parties. Professional standards must not only be [171] applied but be seen to be applied. This holds true for decisions of councillors and officials alike.

Local authority and An Bord Pleanála files on individual planning applications are available for inspection by the public. There may be a case for more stringent requirements for local authorities to provide a fuller justification for decisions taken in relation to rezoning or material contravention. This is something that can be looked at in the context of the current review of the Planning Acts.

To safeguard public confidence, the Planning Acts require extensive declarations of interest on the part of councillors and planning officials of local authorities. However, these requirements have not always prevented public cynicism about the operation of the planning system. I believe, therefore, that there is a further obligation on both councillors and officials to ensure that their actions are not open to misinterpretation or do not give grounds for suspicion. Of all the responsibilities and functions of local authorities, planning, through its very nature, is the most demanding in this regard.

I do not subscribe to the view that all decisions in development planning which are the responsibility of elected councillors must necessarily agree on all accounts with the official advice, or that councillors are there to rubber stamp official recommendations. Planning is a complex process involving balancing many issues and that is why the law gives responsibility to people who are fully accountable to the electorate. However, where councillors decide to zone land against official advice, they must be sure that it is properly justified.

It is important that we bear in mind the purpose of this tribunal. It is to inquire into whether improper payments or other inducements were offered to elected representatives or officials in order to secure rezoning of land, planning permission, servicing of land and so on.

This inquiry is not about bad planning decisions or about incompetence in planning matters. All of us have disagreed at some stage or other with the decision of a planning authority in relation to the zoning of land or their decision on an application for planning permission. That is not to say that we considered such decisions tainted by corruption. Therefore, we must be sure that we stay focused on the purpose of this inquiry; that is decisions achieved by corrupt means as opposed to decisions of doubtful planning merit.

One of the main reasons that the difficult situation arose in relation to the zoning of land in County Dublin was due to a failure of the then council to meet its statutory obligations under the Planning and Development Act, 1963. This provides that a local planning authority must review its development plan at least every five years.

The fact is that the 1993 Dublin county development plan was adopted ten years after the adoption of the previous plan. Indeed, the Fingal [172] County Manager's report, which will be presented to the tribunal, points out that it was not surprising that the land use strategy in north County Dublin needed significant review resulting in extensive rezonings given the major industrial, commercial and residential development which was taking place in the area.

This requirement to review development plans every five years was designed to ensure that planning would operate on the basis of up-to-date development plans which would provide a relevant context for planning control decisions. The five year delay in completing the review of the Dublin county development plan meant that planning decisions on development proposals were not being taken with the benefit of a strategic context for the development of the county which an up-to-date development plan would have provided.

There is no doubt that the absence of such a plan contributed to the planning problems in County Dublin in the period we are talking about. There is a clear lesson that steps must be taken to ensure that in the future local authorities keep their development plans up-to-date and relevant to current planning decisions.

The Government's programme recognises that we must update our planning laws to meet the needs of the future and this Government is committed to a wide ranging review of present planning laws. The basic principles of the planning system were laid down 34 years ago with the introduction of the 1963 Act. The system as operated under this Act, and subsequent amendments, has generally served us well. However, much has changed since 1963 in regard to planning, protection and awareness of the environment and people's expectations regarding participation in the decision making processes that affect their lives, whether at national or local level.

Much of the doubt and suspicion regarding the development plan review process arises out of the impression from some quarters that local interests are always at a disadvantage compared to business interests when it comes to drawing up the development plan. While this view can often be mistaken, the Government believes that by making the development plan more inclusive many of these doubts can be overcome.

A more proactive approach to consultation at an earlier stage of the review process would help achieve more widespread agreement among all the interests on the basic principles of the development plan. This should make the latter stage of the review less contentious when the actual details are being decided upon.

The Government has already taken action on its commitment and has initiated a comprehensive review of planning legislation. The Department is at present in the course of consulting widely with the general public, all the local planning authorities in the State and a wide range of interest groups who are affected in one way or another by the operation of the planning system.

[173] Those who wish to make observations have been asked to do so by 10 October. When all the observations and ideas have been considered, it is planned to hold a convention before the end of the year to debate the various issues which the review gives rise to.

Preparations are advanced for drawing up strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area, which can play an important role in drawing up development plans. These guidelines are to be drawn up by consultants in consultation with local and regional authorities in the Dublin and mid-east regions. It is intended that the guidelines, which will be drawn up over 12 months with a 12 year horizon, will put in place a broad planning framework — an overall strategic context within which the subsequent development plan reviews of the constituent planning authorities in the Dublin and mid-east regional authority areas would be undertaken.

It is intended that the guidelines would be accepted by the local and regional authorities involved as setting the general direction in which development should evolve in their areas over the next 12 years or so. The Government intends to introduce legislation to ensure that all local authorities, in reviewing their development plans, will have regard to strategic planning guidelines relevant to their areas.

I will now turn in more detail to the terms of reference that are before the House. In the first place, these require the tribunal to investigate the circumstances of the letter sent by Mr. Bailey to Mr. Gogarty in June 1989. It will first identify and then investigate the planning history of all the lands detailed in that letter. The tribunal will inquire into all councillors, Oireachtas Members and officials who had any hand, act or part in any matters relating to the development of those lands.

In addition to the actual consideration of zoning the lands in question, the terms of reference also propose that the tribunal investigates applications for planning permission in relation to those lands since June 1985, which is the date of the last preceding local authority elections.

The zoning of the lands for development is very closely related to the provision of water, sewerage and other services, and the servicing of the lands is among the matters mentioned in the letter. Therefore, it is appropriate that the tribunal should consider the question of servicing these lands and whether any improper attempt was made to influence the provision of infrastructure.

Building by-law approval was required for all new buildings constructed in the Dublin area prior to June 1992 and fire safety certificates have been required since that date in respect of certain types of building. The procurement of building by-law approval was also referred to in the letter and the tribunal is being asked to investigate whether there was anything untoward regarding the grant of either by-law approval or fire safety certificates in respect of buildings built on the land in question.

[174] The Government recognises that enterprise areas have an important role to play in creating employment in areas where special incentives are needed to create jobs. However, such designation of land for tax purposes confers major benefits on landowners and has implications for the zoning of land. It must be carried out in a transparent manner and in a way that will inspire public confidence. That is why this issue is being included in the terms of reference.

I will now turn to paragraphs 4 and 5 of the terms of reference which, this House will agree, are pivotal. Under these provisions, the tribunal will inquire into all payments made by Mr. Bailey and Mr. Gogarty to public representatives, political parties and officials since June 1985. The tribunal must then find out the circumstances and motives for any such payments, and if there was any attempt to improperly influence the decision-making process.

On a broader level, the tribunal will be able to investigate allegations of corruption in the planning system which come to its attention. Where the tribunal believes it has found evidence of corruption or an attempt to improperly influence the process, it will be obliged to follow up on that evidence, report on it and make whatever recommendations it considers appropriate.

I should also stress that the remit of the tribunal does not extend solely to the actions of elected representatives. If there has been any impropriety on the part of an official in the performance of their functions in relation to the planning process, the tribunal will also investigate it.

The terms of reference make provision for the tribunal to seek relevant documents from Mr. Bailey, Mr. Gogarty and Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly, Solicitors. As Mr. Bailey's letter to Mr. Gogarty is central to the inquiry, it is obvious that the tribunal should be in a position to discover relevant documents. Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly, Solicitors, have recently written to party leaders about the terms of reference and referring to information in their possession. Clearly it is desirable that whatever information they have be made available to the tribunal. The solicitors have frequently said that their, so far unnamed, clients were motivated by a desire to have a public inquiry into allegations of land rezoning corruption in County Dublin and elsewhere.

I am aware that the firm of solicitors in question is based beyond the jurisdiction of this State and that, for this reason, the enforcement of the powers of discovery in the terms of reference may give rise to legal complexities. However, we have gone as far as it is legally within our powers to go in this respect. It would be astonishing given the background if it becomes necessary for the tribunal to have recourse to these powers.

It was clear from the debate in the other House yesterday that it would be completely unacceptable for this firm of solicitors, their clients and complainants to do anything other than put before the tribunal all documents and [175] information in their possession in relation to any possible improprieties in the planning system. I am sure the same message will go out clearly from this House.

If the tribunal points up deficiencies in the Planning Acts, or other relevant legislation such as the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, or where wrongdoing is identified, the Government is committed to ensuring that such issues are properly addressed. Any recommendations with regard to the Planning Acts arising from the tribunal's report will be addressed as part of the planning review I mentioned earlier. In addition, the Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce provisions similar to those in the Ethics in Public Office Act for local authorities and any relevant recommendations of the tribunal will be taken on board in this process.

No one can deny that the Government has been very open about the terms of reference and very accommodating of the reservations and observations put forward by the Opposition parties. As a result of the prolonged and detailed discussions we have rather lengthy and complex draft terms of reference that contrast somewhat with the more broad brush style of the earlier drafts, but so be it.

We have now a set of terms of reference that are acceptable to all the Oireachtas parties and I wish to thank the Opposition parties for their efforts and co-operation in working out mutually acceptable terms for the tribunal. The fact that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government accepted, for all practical purposes, all seven amendments tabled by Deputy Dukes, the Fine Gael spokesman, in the Dáil is further evidence of the level of co-operation and agreement that now exists in the matter.

Senators can be assured that this investigation will be thorough and will cover any aspect of the lands in question that might give rise to public concern. We have all seen the benefits of tribunals with focused terms of reference and I am sure we all want this tribunal to be as focused as possible. Nevertheless the terms of reference will enable the tribunal to investigate any other serious allegations relating to planning decisions in the period in question that are brought, or come to, its attention. None of us wants to see a situation where issues of concern that come to light during its deliberations cannot be followed up because the terms of reference are too narrow or that such issues are left unresolved leading to calls for yet another inquiry. Subject to this there is an obligation on the tribunal to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible and to expedite its investigations.

As in the case of other recent tribunals, the terms of reference require an interim report to inform the House of early progress and to give a general indication of the likely extent and duration of proceedings.

The procedural part of the terms of reference also requires the tribunal to deal in the first [176] instance with the acknowledged political contribution to former Minister Burke and to report on it to the Dáil. There is also an obligation to report, if possible, on this matter, the planning history of the land and any related payments before the end of this year. It is acknowledged that the investigation of any broader allegations of corruption may take longer depending on the number and nature of them as will the matter of making recommendations regarding legislative change.

As I have said, our democratic institutions in general, and the planning system in particular, are much too important to tolerate any hint of corruption or impropriety. Corruption, constant suspicion of corruption or innuendo could destroy the morale and reputation of both.

The good reputation of many elected representatives and officials who work the planning process honestly and diligently demands that confidence in the system is restored and maintained. Accordingly, I commend this motion and the terms of reference to the House.

An Cathaoirleach: Before calling Senator Doyle I would like to acknowledge that this is the Minister's first visit to the Seanad since he was appointed. I welcome him to this House and congratulate him on his appointment.

Mr. J. Doyle: I concur and welcome the Minister to the House.

I wish to emphasise that I find it regrettable this debate is taking place in the aftermath of the resignation from Cabinet and Dáil Éireann of Raphael Burke. In my opinion his resignation and this debate would have been unnecessary if the Government parties had grasped the opportunities given them in the Dáil by the Opposition parties and had had this issue examined by the Moriarty tribunal. Under its terms of reference the tribunal will examine in detail the planning history of the six parcels of land referred to in the letter of 8 June 1989 from Mr. Michael Bailey to Mr. James Gogarty. I am pleased to note that under the terms of reference, paragraph 5, if the tribunal becomes aware of other issues suggesting corruption in the planning system, even if they were not directly connected to the lands in question, it will have the power and right to consider these issues. That is important.

I welcome the establishment of the tribunal for two reasons: first, it will provide a mechanism for Mr. Burke to vindicate his good name and reputation and it will enable those who have made accusations against him to do so under oath, under cross-examination and without the fear or threat of libel; second, I hope the findings of the tribunal will lift the cloud that hangs over the heads of all the members of the former Dublin County Council and will succeed in setting to rest all the unfounded allegations and innuendoes which have been levelled from time to time against them.

[177] The Minister's speech said that, of all the responsibilities and functions of local authorities, planning through its very nature is the most demanding. Planning is a very important function of local authority members. There are a number of avenues open to local authority members when they are discussing planning applications. Once a planning authority has passed its development plan, then all the planning decisions have to relate to that plan and very often local authorities, having adopted a development plan, find it has before it an excellent planning application, but unfortunately it cannot give it permission because it would be contrary to the development plan. Then the council, if it so wishes, will consider the planning application as a material contravention to the development plan, even though the planning application would be contrary to it and would breach its own official plan. The material contravention plan is an accepted part of a planning application. If the council agrees, then the development will go ahead subject to the approval of An Bord Pleanála.

Another planning avenue open to councillors is the making of a variation. This involves the same process as the drawing up of a new plan in that the application has to be voted on twice. In reality a variation only involves a changing or zoning a parcel of land. Recently Dublin City Council, of which I am a member and chairman of its planning committee, had to make a variation to its development plan in order to provide for the tunnel from Marino to the port. There were extensive discussions on those variations and consultations with the public before the decision was made.

Finally and most importantly, there is a local authority's function in reviewing its development plan every five years. In an area such as County Dublin, councillors reviewing the development plan were required to rezone parcels of land so as to provide more land for building and industrial purposes. It seems that one of the real problems was that, instead of reviewing the plan every five years, ten years would elapse before the plan was reviewed. As the Minister pointed out, the manager of Fingal County Council stated in his report that there had been significant requirements for major industrial, commercial and residential development in that particular area and councillors had to address that need. In doing so, I am sure they had to act responsibly in the rezoning they agreed.

Responsible zoning is a lawful function of local authority members. I put great emphasis on the word “responsible” because rezoning can only be considered when it is in accordance with the good planning and development of an area. Councillors, in making their decisions, must take into account the advice they receive from the planning officials. However, as the Minister said, councillors can still make a good and responsible zoning decision even if they do not accept the advice given, and I would concur with that view. There would be little function in having councillors if [178] they were to rubber stamp every decision which officials put to them.

I was not a member of Dublin County Council so I cannot say that irresponsible zoning decisions were made or that members received inducements or rewards for making such decisions. That is a matter for the tribunal to decide. As a member of a local authority who has been involved in planning over a long number of years, I have been deeply shocked by the allegations and innuendo which has been made in the press concerning rezoning by members of former Dublin County Council. It now appears that in 1995 individuals concerned about the continuing rezoning of lands by councillors against professional planning advice and reports of alleged corruption decided to take action. These anonymous individuals — it is the first time I heard that people who cared for the environment wanted to remain anonymous — are not really anonymous because an article in The Sunday Tribune last week stated that the names of these individuals were known to the journalist. These individuals working through Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly Solicitors offered £10,000 for information leading to convictions for corruption and I understand that firm now has 50 or so reports on these issues. I am pleased that under its terms of reference this tribunal has powers to seek discovery of the relevant documents, files and papers in the possession of this firm.

Over a long period of time there has been a constant drip, drip in the media about allegations in relation to planning decisions, zoning, etc. A number of newspaper articles have stated that if it were not for the fear of libel they would name individuals. I hope the tribunal will examine a series of articles published in The Irish Times in July 1993, one of which, dated 13 July 1993, stated that the journalist met a business man in the property world who told the journalist that he had personally handed a white envelope containing £2,500 to a named councillor in a successful effort to persuade him to change his vote on a key zoning decision. I hope the authors of these articles will co-operate fully with the tribunal. Now is the time for them and people like them to speak up or shut up.

A firm regulation should be introduced to ensure that each local authority reviews its development plan every five years. The lack of such a provision resulted in some of Dublin County Council's difficulties.

There should also be a system of dovetailing the development plan of one county with that of another. Some progress has been made on this issue with the regional authorities. I am a member of Dublin Regional Authority and I would like to see it dovetail the development plans of the four local authorities in the greater Dublin area. Unfortunately, the difficulty is that each local authority reviews its development plan at different times so it is very difficult to dovetail them. One way of overcoming this would be to have local authorities throughout the country [179] review their development plans on fixed dates. If that were the case, not alone could there be co-ordination within a region but there could be a national plan for the whole country.

Local authority members have grave responsibilities in relation to planning matters. Members who are involved in these decisions should receive sufficient expenses to carry out their functions. As far as I am aware, Dublin councillors have fallen way behind councillors in the rest of the country under the new system of expenses for councillors and that should be examined.

Yesterday the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, accepted the amendments tabled by the Fine Gael Party to the terms of reference of the tribunal and I do not intend to ask the House to consider any amendments today. The Minister said that the important issue in relation to this tribunal of inquiry is that it will be effective in its workings and vindicate the integrity of those who serve our political institutions. That is its main function and I hope that will be its final result.

Mr. O'Donovan: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Molloy, to the House. Having regard to the fact that one of the prime objectives of this tribunal was to get to the bottom of allegations against the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Burke, it would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to Ray Burke for his long and dedicated service to the other House and, more particularly, north Dublin and the country, especially vis-a -vis his excellent performance during the current peace negotiations.

It is a sad reflection on all politicians, whether members of local authorities or Members of this or the other House, that without due process of law a person can be forced from office because of ongoing allegations or innuendo. There is a basic principle in law that one is innocent until proven guilty. It is regrettable people did not wait until this tribunal was over to ascertain if any guilt, impropriety or wrongdoing was attributable to Mr. Burke. This politician has been hounded out of office purely on allegations and I wish that this be stressed now that the media are present. I am not criticising them, however, as there were other political motives involved. Raphael Burke has not alone resigned his position as Minister for Foreign Affairs but has also retired from the Dáil. If this is the way the political system is to evolve, I have grave concerns for its future.

I was led to believe in my legal studies that every person is entitled to his integrity and to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. Allegations in letters emanating from outside the State not substantiated under oath, by affirmation, or by way of statutory declaration, and published in a particular paper, have been the downfall of a particular politician. That said, I welcome the tribunal which, although it may have been sought by Opposition parties with a view [180] to upsetting the applecart as far as Mr. Burke is concerned, has a wider remit which I welcome.

The tribunal is mainly concerned with six parcels of land in Dublin constituting 726 acres, the planning applications surrounding them and various allegations of corruption, malpractice and bribery. It has broad implications which will affect everyone. If it succeeds in establishing that such malpractice occurred in the greater Dublin area, it will have a knock-on effect and open the floodgates for every council throughout the country. Whether we like it or not, politicians are unfortunately held in contempt and there is huge apathy among the public for all politicians. I have been a member of the local authority in County Cork for the past 12 years and sinister allegations of bribery and corruption have been made at meetings. As a former chairman of that august body and in my 12 years as a member, I have nothing but the highest regard for the various managers and planning officers in the county. Although the system might not be perfect, it works reasonably well.

Everyone, including the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, and all parties in both Houses, should hold the view that this tribunal will clear the air completely. I hope it does but I have grave reservations about that in so far as there is a public perception that planning, be it in Cork, Dublin or Mayo, is corrupt. That is an unfair allegation, not alone against politicians who are used to it, but against the fair, decent and honourable men working in county councils and planning offices at managerial level who are doing an excellent job but are tainted by these allegations. That is unfair because they are entitled to their honour, dignity and professionalism. It is unfair that everyone is tarred with the same brush.

The Local Government (Planning and Development) Act was mentioned. This was passed in 1963 and came into effect on 1 January 1965, approximately 30 years ago. The thrust of that Act was not evident until the mid-1970s. Planning was very liberal in the 1950s and 1960s. Even after the inception of the Act, one could obtain planning permission in Bere Island or Cape Clear, for example, which would last forever. Subsequent regulations were introduced to limit that to seven years and now it is five.

Councillors in the various local authorities are responsible for the compilation of the development plan. I agree with what previous speakers, the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, said yesterday, that the compilation of the development plan takes too long. It took ten years for Dublin when it was expected to be five. That is a scandal and is something which should be examined whatever the outcome of the tribunal. In our county, it took eight years instead of five. People have an impression that something fishy is going on, but in my local authority the delays occurred because the planning officers wished to visit the various [181] areas of the county and canvass the opinions of groups such as An Taisce, other environmental lobby groups and councillors so as to tease out a plan acceptable to all.

Although that plan is now in effect, many councillors believe it should soon be reviewed because one result of the huge economic boom, more prevalent in Dublin than in rural Ireland, is that the demand for land has completely outgrown the expectations of four or five years ago. That applies in rural Ireland, in towns such as Skib-bereen and Bantry in west Cork, where lands for rezoning are unavailable. In the next six to nine months we must see if other lands can be rezoned to ensure the proper development of the towns. The situation in Dublin is so severe that the amount of land available for development is inadequate to meet the demands of the housing industry. I am unsure where it will stop.

Many allegations have been made, mostly centering on the greater Dublin area. Allegations permeate through the entire local authority system and I would be concerned that some of the allegations made through a solicitor's office outside the State can and will pose severe difficulties for this tribunal. Will the solicitors Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly make available every document they have concerning the allegations made, whether they be against Mr. Burke or others unnamed — officials, planning officers, council members? Will the complainants and the authors of these letters come before the tribunal to give evidence under oath about the allegations and identify the people alleged to have corrupted the system by accepting or giving bribes? That is one of the most important facets of this tribunal. The Minister said there will be severe difficulties discovering information if it is not volunteered by solicitors or found in letters which it is alleged exist. I endorse that view. Can we compel discovery? Documents exist outside the State and there would be a big international legal wrangle involved in compelling solicitors or clients to volunteer information.

The tribunal will run its course, and that may be a good development. However, I hope it gets to the root of some of the allegations. It might, once and for all, clear the air as regards allegations concerning planning in Dublin and elsewhere, but I have reservations. I welcome the Government's commitment expressed by Ministers Molloy and Dempsey that, if allegations are found to be true by the tribunal, speedy and effective action will be taken against those who have corrupted the system or are guilty of impropriety.

If the system established by the Planning Development Act, 1963, and amended by the 1976 Act needs changing, I would welcome that. Our system is slow and cumbersome and the majority of complaints I receive in my local authority concern undue delays in processing simple, single dwelling applications. We are told a decision is made within two months but my experience is that it takes nine or ten months. If [182] the applicant does not agree with the decision they can appeal to An Bord Pleanála. This is also a slow process.

I welcome the tribunal and the fact that it may kill off the allegations and innuendoes. However, if these allegations are found to be true, then let no holds be barred in bringing these people to justice in the criminal courts or elsewhere. As a member of a local authority I believe that our system is working reasonably well. It is not Utopian or perfect but if changes can be introduced by legislation or other means I would welcome that. It is unfair to public representatives, whether councillors, Members of this House or Ministers, that unfounded allegations can be made under the veil of protection of another jurisdiction. I regret this development.

Mr. O'Toole: This is not a discussion about the planning tribunal or what is fair or unfair. If we were to judge our standards by what is fair and unfair we would be very busy today. Just because life is a little unfair on politicians does not mean that we can whinge our way out of here. This debate is about standards in democracy and high places. More than anything else it is about trust and confidence in the system of Government and in the people who elect Members to this and the other House and to county councils.

This debate concerns who is going to govern Ireland in the future. It is a debate which shows the utter confusion of elected, public representatives about their role, how they should discharge it and, if I may say so, when they are right and wrong. I have rarely seen such confusion as the number of people around this House in the past few weeks who do not know right from wrong because no one ever told them how to do their job. It is about time we had a serious look at this issue and a serious sense of conviction about changing the system.

As an Independent Member I see people from all parties in both Houses who are of the highest honour and integrity and who work very hard, some more competently than others. There are no fewer incompetent politicians than incompetent journalists, teachers, lawyers or any other profession. Politicians are no different from the rest of the community. However, they differ in the sense of expectation they draw upon themselves and the total lack of a frame of reference on which to do their job. We had a classic example today.

This morning I heard politicians complaining about media coverage, this afternoon I heard Members of this House talking about more media coverage. Politicians do not know what they want. They want to say “give us coverage when we want it”. If this House does not receive coverage it is because it is not discussing topical matters or is not discussing them in an interesting or attractive way. We are the people who need to change, not those in the media. People will turn on the radio station which gives them the best news. If it is a sense of public service then the [183] parties in this House who made sure that public service broadcasting had to deal with the private sector — I do not object to that — should have kept this in mind at that stage. This is not a communist or Stalinist state where the Houses of the Oireachtas can demand a certain type of coverage.

As an Independent politician for more than ten years I have seen things which bothered me. I have not seen a sense of consistency. If I am critical of parties it is only because of this lack of consistency of approach. As one who does not put much value on consistency as a virtue, it is not for that reason that I raise this matter but because politicians do not know right from wrong. I do not know why Deputy McDaid never became a Minister. Was it because he walked out of court and celebrated with a member of his constituency who had been found not guilty? It has nothing to do with being guilty or not guilty. He was with someone who had been found not guilty and was sharing that person's joy. In the light of our political non-standards, that made him incapable of being accepted into political life. His party walked away from him because being in Government was more important than standing by something which was honourable. I am not making a defence of Deputy McDaid but I could go through other cases.

I do not know why former Deputy Lenihan had to pull out of Government. Was it because he shot the breeze with a young student in a debate? Deputy Reynolds pulled out of Government because he misjudged the public mood on paedophilia and took responsibility for what officials did on his behalf. Deputy Hogan resigned because, apparently, someone in his office gave information to the press 90 minutes before it was due to be sent out. Deputy Coveney pulled out of Government because he continued to do in Government what he had always done in business. No one ever told him otherwise, and even when he discovered this, he still found it difficult to understand that what he did was wrong.

Mr. Burke is out of office without being tried or found guilty of anything; he is out of office on the basis of allegations which may be proven true or untrue but that is irrelevant to what has happened to him. The real issue is that no one on either side of either House was able to say he should not resign because… or he should resign because… This applies equally to all parties and groups. I have deliberately left out Deputy Lowry and Charlie Haughey because they are far more complicated cases. The fact is that we have never understood what is right or wrong for a politician to do. Are there different rights or wrongs in terms of standards for politicians than for the public? What is guilt or innocence is irrelevant. The question is can one sustain the media's support when everyone is saying one has done wrong?

It is not a question of what is fair and unfair. People should not be allowed to use those words [184] in this debate. It is unfair for the woman forced by her husband to beg in O'Connell Street, it is unfair for the woman put in jail for not being able to pay for her washing machine but we did nothing about that. We see unfair things every day. It is sickening to see parties feed off each other in and out of Government. It is sickening to hear people calling for heads and threatening to leave Government unless a sacrificial lamb or Minister or Deputy is provided. It sickens me to have to listen to pious platitudes from a party in Opposition which in Government mindlessly defends the indefensible if required. This happens because people do what they think they are supposed to do whether in Government or Opposition. They do not know what is the correct approach. We have managed to leave the public utterly confused, uncertain and untrusting. The real issue is that we have lost their trust and confidence. There is no point in blaming the media for this and it should not be allowed. They cover what they find and if they cover something in a particular way it is because we have failed to give them our spin, to explain ourselves or because we are wrong.

I do not want my comments interpreted as meaning that I am in any way better than people who are members of political parties. I hold my colleagues who belong to political parties in the same regard as my Independent colleagues. People make brave choices.

Over the past number of decades we have seen different people setting standards. Not so long ago it was the bishops who set the standards of behaviour. They upheld the Constitution and kept the Government in order. They told parties what to do. There are many examples of this — to the mother and child scheme, constitutional matters and so on. It still happens. However, the situation has changed and the high priests of moral standards are now in the media. This will also change. However, it does not matter who sets the standards because there is a lacuna in that nobody has worked out how we should be doing our job, be responsible to the public or set standards. As public representatives we should take control of our profession. We should look at the job we are required to do, define and set standards and enforce them. This should be done by us. My worry is that over the next six months some bright member of Government will try to gain public kudos by setting up an independent outside commission or ethics committee to set the standards for politicians. Politicians must set those standards if the political system is to win the confidence of the people. They must be seen to be courageous about setting and enforcing them. We need to take control of the valuable and dignified profession of public representation and in doing so we need to set the standards and be prepared to root out people of all parties, and those who do not belong to any. Having set standards and shown a willingness to implement them, we must look at the system of implementation whether it be investigatory or based on [185] enforcement or redress. We must insist, as I would in the case of any member of the INTO, that the principles of natural justice are applied in the way the standards are enforced. Ministers and politicians have as much right to the protection of rules on issues such as unfair or constructive dismissal as anybody else.

I would have preferred if this debate had taken place at a time other than the day after the resignation of a Government Minister because it is too close to the bone. It is time we looked at these issues in a broad and clear manner. It is time we set and published the standards and sold them to the media. We should set up a cross-party or inter-House body to implement the standards and ensure the system works.

Having defined and implemented standards we need to write a job description in everyday terms for Deputies, Senators, Ministers of State, Ministers and other office holders of the Houses. The same should be done in the case of county councillors. I recall a row in this House six years ago about whether the Cathaoirleach was acting in a party political manner outside the House. As an Independent I found this row to be ludicrous. I expect a person who is a member of a political party and with a loyalty to that party to act in an impartial manner in this House but I do not expect them to act according to a false and artificial set of standards outside the House when everybody knows they are committed to the philosophy of their political party. There is nothing wrong with this so long as they do their job properly. Similarly, I would not expect a teacher who is a member of Fianna Fáil to act as a Fianna Fáil teacher rather than a professional teacher. People can do their job without having regard to an artificial set of standards. We set the standards and we should deal with them. We should give ourselves a frame of reference for proper behaviour, acceptable procedures and for protection as well as due representation. When people see us do this they are will be more likely to have a sense of trust and confidence in public representatives.

This means public representatives should not be afraid to answer questions about their salaries, expenses, allowances or any other matter relating to their job. It is time people said we do a difficult job well and that we are not paid enough. Those of us who do this for a living have no difficulty with such an approach and could help others with it. I have a clear line in my dealings with people. I would not send those who cannot look after their own job or negotiate a good salary for themselves to buy fish at the pier in Dingle or buy cattle at the mart. I certainly would not let them run the country.

The debate about transparency has outlined the confusion that exists, with certain people thinking it is about being simple. Transparency is about being open, accountable and responsible and this is what we must be.

If time permitted I could continue at some length on these matters. This is not a debate about a tribunal because when the tribunal [186] reports another matter will arise in the future and we will debate the issues again. There should be a way of dealing with allegations and of processing complaints against politicians just as there is in other walks of life. We must grasp this nettle and be prepared to establish such a process on a cross-party basis. We need to be courageous and open. The issue needs to be addressed. It should not be a matter of whose head is it this week and whether it can be balanced with a head from another party when the Government changes. What is happening at present is pathetic and wrong. This is not a judgment on former Deputy Burke or any of those I mentioned earlier. People can be investigated and found innocent or guilty. We should set our own standards, implement them, give everybody the protection of the principles of natural justice and ensure we act with dignity and win the trust and confidence of those who elect us. We will know we have been successful when we see young people in school aspiring towards a political career.

Mr. Chambers: I wish to make some comments on the establishment of this tribunal as a newly elected Senator and as an elected member of a local authority. I have experience of working in the auctioneering end of the property business. The responsibilities of a professional, of an elected representative and of one who wishes to serve the best interests of the public are difficult. We are all imperfect and we all try to fit the job description we set out for ourselves. In our experiences in life and in our efforts to be straight in our dealings with people in a professional capacity, there can be situations as local authority and planning issues develop where people who are disappointed feel on occasion that injustices have been done.

This tribunal will be important if it achieves what it sets out to do, namely, to give a sense of clarity to the public regarding the business affairs of local authorities. I sympathise with former Deputy Ray Burke on his retirement from the Cabinet and the Dáil. I regret that things have turned out this way and I hope he gets over the turbulence of the past few weeks.

We are setting up tribunals against a background of blood letting between the main political parties. Where will it stop? The public realises things are out of control. The purpose of the tribunal is to clarify the situation in relation to the lands set out in the detailed terms of reference and to examine the receipt of money for planning applications. I hope it satisfies the public's demands for clarity.

It is important to update county development plans so people are aware of the conditions involved. There is nothing worse than adopting a county development plan only to discover that many people are not satisfied with its conditions. Some of the conditions in Mayo's county development plan were obtrusive, particularly in relation to development in coastal areas. However, they were included to protect the coastline [187] along the western seaboard. A number of planning permissions were refused by An Bord Pleanála because of certain conditions and this led to third party appeals. It is important that each county reviews its county development plan so that people are familiar with it.

It is important that political parties set out a code of ethics for public representatives. Problems arise in the planning area when substantial amounts of money are involved. The level of payment to local authority members, who are committed to their work, is deplorable. I know several local authority members who have difficulty maintaining their family homes, small farms or businesses. People who are elected should be treated fairly in an age where we expect high standards so that temptation and the potential for abuse are removed. Political parties must have a code of ethics for councillors in the same way the banks and building societies have codes of ethics to protect their workers. This would be good for the body politic.

I welcome the establishment of the tribunal which I hope will remove any uncertainty. Irish politics is not unlike Italian politics with the number of resignations and the sad way people have been taken out of office in recent years. The main political parties must do something to ease the national unrest. I hope the tribunal helps to improve the situation in the public interest.

Mr. Walsh: I welcome the establishment of the tribunal. The media coverage and innuendo over the past three to four weeks have led to an obfuscation of the issues. The tribunal is being set up to “ascertain the identity of any members of the Oireachtas, past or present, and/or members of the relevant local authorities who …… received payments from any of the persons or companies referred to …… and to ascertain the identity of all public officials who considered, made recommendations or decisions on any such matters”. The terms of reference also state “whether any of the persons referred to …… were influenced directly or indirectly by the offer or receipt of any such payments or benefits”. Paragraph 5 states that if the tribunal becomes aware of any “acts associated with the planning process committed on or after the 20th June 1985 which may in its opinion amount to corruption, …… it shall report on such acts”.

The terms of reference are comprehensive and are not confined to the lands mentioned in the letter from Mr. Bailey to Mr. Gogarty. It is appropriate that Mr. Bailey's letter and the issues involved in it are investigated. There is also a request that the inquiry be completed in “as economical a manner as possible and at the earliest date consistent with fair examination of the matters referred to it …… and that all costs incurred by reason of the failure of individuals to co-operate fully and expeditiously with the Inquiry should, so far as is consistent with the interests of justice, be borne by those individuals”. [188] That is appropriate given that Members of the Oireachtas who made allegations failed to properly substantiate them at past tribunals. This cost the taxpayer a lot of money and this should be unacceptable in our democracy.

For many years there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the rezoning of land in Dublin. With large amounts of money at stake, it is obvious that such controversy would arise. Part of the reason for some rezonings — this has been acknowledged in the media — was the failure of the county council to review its development plan. At present, a major review of the planning process is being carried out. During discussions at Wexford County Council it was suggested that there should be an onus on local authorities to review their development plans at five yearly intervals. Failure to comply would lead to a fine or sanction on the local authority which would provide the onus that this should happen.

I agree with the Minister that the process must be transparent and fair and must be seen to be so. As Senator Doyle stated, any hint of corruption directed at local government is grossly unfair to the vast majority of councillors and others who give selflessly of their time and effort in promoting their areas. These people approach all decisions which come before them in a conscientious and judicious manner. I welcome the tribunal because it will provide the opportunity to deal, once and for all, with the innuendo and rumours that have abounded for many years.

As other Members stated, it is important that the highest standards prevail in the discharge of public duties. In fact, it is important that such standards prevail in all aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, they were not evident in recent weeks if we consider the manner in which Ray Burke was hounded from office. It is a matter of some regret that Mr. Burke resigned, given that he and his father gave approximately 54 years service to the State.

I do not intend to comment on the issue to be determined by the tribunal. However, for that matter to be dealt with in the way it was, particularly at a time when Mr. Burke faced great difficulty in coping with family illness and bereavement, leads me to believe that many of those pursuing it were out of touch with the basic common human decency which permeates our society. It is ironic that a man who served in Government after 1987, when the foundations for the economic benefits enjoyed by everyone today were laid, was hounded by those who were the architects of the profligacy of State operations and apparatus during the period 1982-87. That is regrettable and it is worth placing on record.

In the cut and thrust of politics, it is completely understandable that a person who loses office will make every effort to regain it, particularly if it is the office of Taoiseach. However, there seemed to be a concerted effort in the case to which I referred to destroy the reputation of an individual in a way that manipulated public opinion. I do not believe people, whether they are involved in [189] politics or not, should accept that as proper behaviour.

Given the publicity this matter received in recent weeks, it is worth noting that, in respect of the passport issue, the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen, yesterday in the Dáil stated:

I was concerned to ascertain from the interim report if there was any evidence of corruption. I want to make it clear that there was no evidence in the report of corruption or wrongdoing by anyone involved.

I commend her for making that statement. However, in view of the weekend's controversy, we must ask why was it not made earlier. That question is more pertinent when one considers that she was referring to a constituency colleague with whose personal family difficulties she would have been familiar.

I wish to take issue with a number of Senator O'Toole's comments. I agree with him that the tribunal is, to a large extent, about trust and confidence in the entire process. Equally, I agree that it is not about whinging. However, the Senator stated that the tribunal was not about planning and I strongly disagree with him in that regard. I must inform Senator O'Toole that there is an innate sense of fair play in the Irish psyche. If he were in the House he would probably acknowledge that teachers are particularly aware of that sense of fair play. If we leave our humanity outside this House, we deserve the public odium that will befall us.

I welcome the tribunal and its terms of reference. This is a sad and sorry episode from which, hopefully, some good will emerge with the vindication of the planning process and those who are charged with the responsibility to oversee it.

Mr. Costello: I welcome the proposal to establish a tribunal to investigate the matters listed in the extensive terms of reference and recommendations given to it. This matter is extremely important, given that during our first sitting we discussed the deliberations of another tribunal.

Everyone acknowledges that a serious problem exists in respect of confidence in the political process. At present, the profession of the politician is not the most admired in Ireland. It is extremely important that we put our house in order before others intervene to make us do so. We now have the opportunity to ensure that we put proper structures and mechanisms in place to regulate our profession. It must be remembered that politics should be treated as a profession. Politics is one, if not the, most important professions in this country and it is our responsibility to legislate in respect of the quality of life and the livelihood of our citizens. For that reason, we should not react to media criticism as though we are being hounded or believe we are above suspicion. We must ensure that we are above suspicion, by the media or anyone else.

I suggest that we have a greater duty than any other profession, with, perhaps, the exception of [190] the church, to ensure that our standards are above reproach. We witnessed the problems which befell the church in recent years in respect of the Fr. Brendan Smith case and other scandals when the entire nation was shocked that the standards being preached were breached by those who professed them. It was a case of “You do what we say but we will act differently”. As a result, the Catholic Church also faces a crisis of confidence and trust. I place politics on a par with the church in this regard. In the past, there was virtually no criticism of either profession by the media or the public in general. However, in the 1980s and 1990s both have fallen under the spotlight in the same manner as other public bodies or private individuals. We must expect more of the same because it will become hotter in the kitchen in the future. As those charged with running this country and moulding the structures within which people live, politicians have a particular responsibility to show that we are not abusing the system in any way, act or form. That is the challenge we face.

From that point of view, the new tribunal is a specific mechanism designed to deal with one series of allegations and revelations rather than the holistic matter we must consider in terms of our profession and the way in which we must restore to politics the trust of those who elected us to represent them. The terms of reference of the tribunal are the most extensive, farreaching and specific of their kind. I congratulate the Government and the Minister on their good work in putting those terms of reference in place. In acknowledging and taking on board a number of the recommendations made by the Opposition parties in the Lower House, the Government has improved those terms of reference. The issue of the 726 acres of land in north County Dublin, its planning history, rezoning and tax designation, and other areas which can give rise to abuse, should be examined, as well as any material benefit which accrued to any person as a result.

Paragraph 4 (a) deals with the identity of all recipients of payments from Mr. Gogarty or Mr. Bailey since 1985. Such provisions are important. Paragraph 5 allows for the tribunal to go further and examine any acts associated with the planning process committed since 1985. This important paragraph leaves scope for further examination beyond a specific allegation and gives the tribunal a greater degree of flexibility if it uncovers matters needing investigation.

Paragraph 6 provides for a concise tripartite timescale for the reports — preliminary, interim and final reports. The preliminary report will immediately discover whether matters need a full investigation, the interim report will be published within a month and the final report is expected in an “economical” fashion before 31 December. Having read the McCracken report I recommend this report should not consist of more than 100 pages. I have also tried to plough through an earlier tribunal report; brevity is a virtue in matters of this nature. Much will also depend on the [191] strength of the recommendations and the clarity of the report. All these are important matters and I refer to them because this tribunal may be a model for the future. It is important to get it right this time around because the tribunal is an effective mechanism for investigating these matters.

I regret the former Minister of Foreign Affairs' resignation from his portfolio and his Dáil seat. The Labour Party never requested either. We said that in terms of the delicacy of the Foreign Affairs brief, and particularly in the context of the important peace talks, he should have stepped aside and the Taoiseach should have passed the brief to another Minister. The former Deputy Burke could have operated another portfolio. It was not a question of trying the man before the hearing took place, but ensuring he did not maintain such a delicate portfolio. Resignation was a different matter and I regret the former Deputy's departure from the other House. I applaud his statement that he will co-operate fully with the tribunal. He will have the opportunity to clear his name which has been sullied by allegations and revelations. Hopefully he will return to the Dáil if that is the case.

What do we do about the crisis of confidence in politics? We have endeavoured to deal with it in the past number of years. The Government which fell in 1992 did not go out in a blaze of glory but amid the deba cle of the Goodman affair and the beef tribunal. Over a four and a half year period, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party between them produced two sets of manifestos. A large body of legislation had to be introduced to put trust back into politics. Now two new tribunals have been established and allegations of corruption have overtaken us. Some good procedures have been implemented and hopefully these will help to regulate the Oireachtas.

The Freedom of Information Act, 1997, provided the public with access to information on public bodies and Departments. The Electoral Act, 1997, relates to the disclosure of donations by political parties, payments to political parties and candidates and the regulation of electoral expenditure. The Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995, provides for the disclosure of Members' interests. On 30 October the referendum on Cabinet confidentiality will allow further access to Cabinet discussions. These measures, and the tribunal, will provide a regulatory structure to allow the political system to operate and deal with allegations of abuse.

It is important we have a specific mechanism to pursue an allegation when it arises and a permanent structure is available without us going into a tizzy every time there is an allegation of abuse or corruption relating to a Member. There should be sufficient regulatory legislation to deal with disclosures, donations and any other matters which constitute a breach of trust.

[192] I was worried by the Taoiseach's reference to the “misdemeanours” of his predecessor, Mr. Haughey, who held the position of Taoiseach on three occasions. What Mr. Haughey did could not be legally or popularly termed as a “misdemeanour”. I have heard the Taoiseach use this term on three occasions. I hope he recognises that the term “misdemeanour” is much less offensive than the nature of the allegations which surfaced in the McCracken tribunal.

I support this motion and welcome its provisions. The Labour Senators will support it.

Mrs. Ridge: I was a member of Dublin County Council and I wish to address Senator O'Donovan's point about the ten year period for the adoption of a plan. The council had 78 members and received in excess of 290,000 representations from the public. Each member was allowed to speak for three minutes under the standing orders. Such arrangements in that forum gave great cause for frustration and annoyance. The knock-on effect was apparent in the county manager's report on the final adoption of the plan with a number of what would appear to have been rushed motions at the end. I do not think that a process which took ten years can be considered to have been rushed.

With regard to not voting with the manager, I defend the right of councillors to consider that, like them, the manager is not always right. The decisions made by management in the late 1960s and early 1970s ruined the villages of Tallaght, Clondalkin and Blanchardstown. In most cases the people who decided the fate of native Dubliners had not lived in these areas nor ever lived with the consequences of the social ills caused. I refer in particular to places where there are 5,000 local authority houses in one area the inhabitants of which have not come from a cohesive background.

Dublin has a burgeoning population. I have heard it suggested that Dubliners should be housed in Kinnegad. With no disrespect to County Westmeath it is a case of “to hell or to Kinnegad” and constitutes a silly proposition from a traffic perspective alone. To expect people from Dublin to relocate from their native areas without their families and social supports to please the anti-rezoning lobby is as unjust as unjust rezoning.

I agree with Senator Doyle's proposal for a regional authority approach but that may be difficult to achieve as each local authority treasures its independence. However, with a large proportion of the population living within a 20 mile radius of Dublin a joint approach to solving the needs of people employed in the area must be found. We cannot close the shutters on Dublin and exclude people when they have employment there. Some of the solutions being proposed are unworkable.

In areas such as Dublin councillors are damned if they rezone and damned if they do not. Councillors experienced persistent lobbying from the [193] construction industry to rezone land. We were blamed for the high cost of ordinary houses to first time buyers. A three bedroomed semidetached house on the fringes of Dublin can cost up to £95,000. There have been queues of young couples to buy houses at that price.

I appreciate that if I found an oil well in my garden I would be entitled to benefit from such a find. I have always held the view that when land value is enhanced by the direct action of an outside agency — a local authority in this case — it is not unconstitutional that a proportion of the wealth gained by such an action should go to the agency which is the cause of the enhanced land value. I see nothing unconstitutional in that because it has not happened as the result of an act of God or nature, rather it is the direct act of a council. What are the councils to do? Are they to cease rezoning because of allegations and innuendo? I would welcome any commission that would come down on the side of reality and take on board the fact that we have a growing population, two-thirds of which is in the greater Dublin area. I support proposals which will obviate the need for any future tribunals, such as that proposed by this motion.

Dr. Henry: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, to the House. An element of the recent events which caused Mr. Ray Burke great distress and about which he spoke at length in his statement of 10 September to the Dáil, may not be dealt with by the tribunal. Perhaps the Minister of State would clarify the matter.

When Mr. Burke spoke in the Dáil it was obvious that one of the greatest causes of distress to him and to his family was the insinuation made that his father, the late Paddy Burke, who was a psychiatric nurse in St. Ita's Hospital had somehow used his position there with regard to the sale of land belonging to a patient there, Mr. Joseph Coleman, and on which Mr. Burke's house “Briargate” was built. Mr. Burke as reported at columns 636 and 637 of the Official Report of the Dáil of 10 September 1997:

I was amazed at some of the appalling things that were being said about me and my father. I appeal to Members to bear with me so that I can clarify a matter that deserves clarification. My father was a Member of the House from 1944 until 1973. He served the House loyally for 29 years. I still meet people all over the country who admired, respected and had great affection for him. He served in this House with many current Members or their fathers. In Cork last Sunday, at the Liam Lynch memorial, I met many people who spoke kindly of him. On 18 February 1996 The Sunday Business Post featured an article about me, written by Mr. Frank Connolly in his usual complimentary terms. I mention this article because I was asked why I did not go back to the media. Mr. Connolly wrote:

[194] The land on which his house is built was originally purchased by Burke's father Paddy, who bought it from an inmate of the mental hospital in Portrane, Co. Dublin.

My father worked as a nurse in the hospital in Portrane until the mid-1950s. He had come from a humble background in the west of Ireland — I am proud of his background as I am proud of mine. The assertion in that article was a complete and utter lie. I did not take an action against the newspaper because I have never taken one since I entered this House despite the things they have said about me. I have with me the Land Registry documentation relating to my home which clearly shows that, far from being bought from a hospital patient under his care, the house and site was transferred to me and I bought it in a normal commercial transaction from Oakpark Developments Limited. The house was built in the normal commercial manner. I was doing business with that company. That transaction, along with others, was the subject of a Garda investigation in 1974. I did not so much resent the attacks on myself — in this business one learns to live with them although they do not get easier. However, I am glad to have the opportunity on behalf of my family and my father, who died in 1985, to clarify the record in that regard.

Despite this there was a further article in The Sunday Post on 29 September 1997, which stated:

In 1974, [Joseph] Coleman was a long term patient in the mental hospital at Portrane, where Burke's father Paddy worked for many years. Coleman died some years ago in St. Brendan's Psychiatric Hospital.

Coleman is described as a ward of court in the land registry documents which refer to him as full owner of the lands at Malahide and Swords.

“All dealings with the property are inhibited except with the consent of the general solicitor for the wards of court,” the document states.

I hope Mr. Burke, who says he wants to co-operate fully with this tribunal, will be in a position to scotch the further innuendo being made against his father's name. This is very important. The fact that Mr. Coleman was a ward of court may, in fact, be coincidental. There are patients within psychiatric hospitals who have the mental capacity to undertake commercial transactions. Mr. Coleman may have been such a patient. Indeed, transfer of ownership may take place in a situation such as this where a solicitor may be brought in by a member of the family and the transfer of ownership can be addressed, perhaps within a ward setting. Psychiatric nurses, in particular, are very conscious of the additional care they must take to ensure extra pressure is not put on patients in such a situation. It is most important for the Burke family that this tribunal [195] allows clarification of the matter which is obviously causing considerable distress to the family and I can understand why. If the Office of the Wards of Court were involved in the transaction, and suppose the person did not have the mental capacity to undertake a transaction, there should be a file somewhere and it should be possible to look up the case.

It is very important that this be clarified, not just for the Burke family, but because it is important for those who look after mentally incapacitated patients. It is very serious to make allegations against someone that they used their professional position to influence something for their own personal gain. I would be glad if the Minister could tell me if Mr. Burke will be allowed clarify this matter in the tribunal, because what he said in the Dáil does not appear to be accepted by some members of the media.

Mr. O'Dowd: Fáiltím go mór roimh an bhinse breithimh nua seo agus tá súil agam gondéanfaidh sé an obair atá le déanamh chomh tapaidh agus is féidir. Beidh an tír go léir ag féachaint ar cad a thiocfaidh amach as. Tá sé sofheicthe go bhfuil gá leis agus go bhfuil faitíos ar mhuintír na tíre faoi na rudaí atá ag titim amach ó thaobh pleanála sa Stát seo.

I welcome the new inquiry which is very important. The people of Ireland are deeply concerned about the quality and integrity of the planning process. As someone who has been a councillor for in excess of 20 years, I have great respect for all the people involved in the planning process, in particular, the officials and elected representatives who give of their time to work for the public. The public have their tribunal of judgment on public representatives when they vote during election time. However, there are issues which need to be examined by this tribunal. One matter that could be improved within the planning process would be total transparency in terms of meetings and representations made by either applicants for planning permission, members of the public or public representatives. I feel that when one goes into a local authority to examine a planning file, some information is not on the file. We ought to insist that if there is a meeting between a planning official such as a county manager and a builder, for example, a note be taken at the meeting and that the date and content of the discussion be recorded in the public file. This would lead to much greater credibility within the system. At the moment it is the decision that is recorded and any letters are put on the file. This would be a welcome change and would lead to greater transparency and an understanding of how decisions are reached.

Problems occur in places such as Drogheda. This is a growing town and there is a lot of land on the outskirts of town which is zoned for agricultural purposes. Obviously the push for development will have to lead to the rezoning of significant portions of agricultural land in many [196] east coast towns. The way in which this is dealt with is very important. I take Senator Ridge's point, which is a very important one, that is, it is a misunderstanding to say that if one is for rezoning there is something wrong. Rezoning is essential in areas where there is fast growth and expansion. Development plans are reviewed every five or six years. Perhaps the time and manner in which they are reviewed ought to be changed. We need a cast iron procedure for rezoning. This might involve the referral of the decision to a third party who would not be an official of a local authority. I do not necessarily think An Bord Pleanála is the best body to do this.

While I know there is tremendous integrity and commitment within An Bord Pleanála, nevertheless, its decisions on rezoning and so on have shocked me at times and I know they have shocked my fellow councillors. We need to make it clear to the public that if rezoning takes place, it is because it is essential and necessary. That is what must be done in Drogheda.

Like the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I have been a councillor for many years and I know hundreds of councillors. I know they are hardworking, committed and dedicated to public service. We are all diminished by these allegations, and it is essential that the tribunal discovers all the facts. I know from personal experience that the majority of councillors are totally dedicated and are true and proper servants of the public.

Mr. Coghlan: I welcome this inquiry and trust that it will deal satisfactorily with the matter referred to it. There has been so much adverse criticism regarding all of the matters involved that this course is imperative for the good of our democracy and the body politic. There is an obvious need to deal comprehensively and expeditiously with all of the various allegations. It would perhaps have been preferable, not least from a cost point of view, to have these matters dealt with by the Moriarty tribunal. The Taoiseach, however, had very firmly set his face against proceeding in such a manner for his own reasons. I believe this to have been a bad mistake.

The main item to be inquired into relates to the 726 acres referred to in the much publicised letter of 8 June 1989 from Mr. Michael Bailey to Mr. James Gogarty. This is undoubtedly a startling letter in which the writer proposes being granted a 50 per cent share in ownership of the lands in exchange for procuring planning permission and building by-law approval. He sets out the severe uphill battle that would be involved in this procurement, that it would be time consuming and expensive. He explained that material contravention orders would have to be obtained involving a majority vote at two full council meetings of the 78 members. He further points out that the applications would be highly sensitive and controversial and that it would be essential that any applications should be in the name of an active housebuilding company enjoying good [197] standing and a good working relationship with the planners and council members.

This sounds disturbing and is obviously deserving of investigation. It is equally important that the tribunal has the powers conferred by virtue of section 5 of its terms should it become aware of any acts associated with the planning process committed on or after 20 June 1985, which may in its opinion amount to corruption or which involves attempts to influence by threats or deception, or otherwise, to compromise the disinterested performance of public duties. It shall report on such acts and should, in particular, make recommendations as to the effectiveness and improvement of existing legislation governing corruption in the light of its inquiries.

There is a belief abroad that a Garda investigation into alleged corruption in the planning process floundered for two reasons — the failure to guarantee immunity to those making allegations of corruption and because no legislation has been enacted in this area since the foundation of the State. All that were available to the Garda were the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906, which is totally outmoded and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1916, which dealt specifically with bribery in relation to public contracts and were of no assistance. There is an obvious glaring need for updated legislation in this area. It is proper also that the tribunal is given authority to obtain all relevant documents, files and papers from Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly, Solicitors, so that the 52 allegations made to them may be examined. They have stated that many seem prima facie to give cause for concern and apparently three were made by former county councillors.

The Taoiseach had been most anxious to include the Newry solicitors' material within the terms of reference, and properly so. However, he steadfastly refused to permit the Moriarty tribunal to investigate the notorious Ansbacher accounts. This is amazing. In the view of the McCracken tribunal, these accounts are dubious offshore accounts and it is extremely disturbing that the Taoiseach has chosen not to allow an investigation of them. An image has been projected of the Taoiseach, Deputy Ahern as Mr. Clean — someone determined to ensure there is no corruption in public life, an able politician whose judgment is sound and a steady hand on the tiller.

Whatever commitment the Taoiseach may have had to political transparency and the maintenance of the highest ethical standards in public life, I am afraid it has been severely dented in recent times by his dithering, reluctance and vacillation. My namesake's opening paragraph in last Saturday's Irish Times comes to mind where he wrote “Caution and cunning are important qualities of political leadership and the Taoiseach is well endowed in both departments. But he has failed to prove himself in terms of courage, standards and vision.”

[198] Maybe the Taoiseach does not have such a safe pair of hands after all.

Mr. Glynn: I was interested in the comments of an earlier speaker pertaining to the actions of a patient who was a ward of court. As somebody who has worked in the psychiatric profession for 30 years I find it amazing since people who are wards of courts in psychiatric hospitals are not empowered to sign any documents which would devolve property to a third party. As their property, estate or affairs are administered by a committee set up by the High Court I find that a little strange.

On the concept of planning and rezoning there is a view abroad that if there is rezoning by a local authority there is some obscure reason for it. As a member of a local authority for 18 years most of the rezonings in my local authority, and indeed in others, are on recommendations from management and 99.5 per cent of them have a great deal of merit. Members and managers are not always right nor are they always wrong. The present system, for all its pitfalls, works well.

I refer to Senator Ridge's comment about people from Dublin having to live in Kinnegad; I can assure her they would be most welcome there. Westmeath has an all-embracing community and the Government should address the issue of decentralisation.

Senator Costello referred to the Catholic Church. What he said is partly correct but I wish to put on record my appreciation of all the priests and religious persons about whom we hear so little. It is right to condemn out of hand those people, irrespective of whether they wear clerical cloth, but for those who are the rule and not the exception this House should be grateful to them for the great service they render to our community.

I welcome the tribunal. I should have said at the outset that I welcome the Minister to the House. I hope that, in the fullness of time, society will appreciate the convenient amnesia that Deputy Nora Owen suffered when she timed her comments to coincide with the resignation from office of former Deputy Burke. It is pathetic that the former Minister did not see fit to inform the House of the facts.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil do gach Seanadóir a labhair sa díospóireacht seo. Glacann chuile duine go bhfuil sé an-tábhachtach nach mbeadh aon uisce faoi thalamh i gcúrsaí pleanála sa tír seo. Os rud é go bhfuil daoine éagsúla in áiteanna éagsúla le fada ag rá go bhfuil rudaí mícheart in áiteacha, tá an seans ann anois dóibh siúd a cheapann go bhfuil cás acu i leith duine teacht os comhar an bhinse seo agus an t-eolas iomlán atá acu a chur faoi bhráid an bhreithimh a bheidh i gceannas air. Tig leis an cheist a phlé agus cinneadh a dhéanamh uirthi. Tá seo tábhachtach do chuile dhuine atá [199] ina bhall de na hdaráis áitiúíla, na daoine a bhíonn ag obair sna bardais, a mbíonn curaim pleanála orthu, nach mbeadh aon duine a rá nach raibh siad macánta dá bharr rud éigin a rinne duine amháin nó beirt, go mbeadh chuile duine thíos leis toisc nach mbeadh seans aige a ainm a ghlanadh. Má tá rudaí le cur i leith daoine áirithe tá an t-am tagtha chun sin a dhéanamh. Dár ndóigh tá rudaí ar leith a bheidh an binse ag plé ach faoi alt 5 tá seans ag éinne nithe eile atá ag baint le pleanáil a chur os comhar an bhinse chomh maith. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh siad úsáid as an seans seo.

I am very grateful for Senators' contributions to this debate. We have shown our concern about the integrity of the planning system and our wider political institutions must be vindicated. This has been a useful opportunity for us to air our views. I thank Senators for the objective debate. The well being of a planning system is not a party political issue. Professor Bannon of the planning school in UCD, in a letter published in today's Irish Times, made a very valid point that the tribunal is being set up to investigate abuse in the planning system, and he is right. It is not being set up to inquire into bad planning decisions. Many of us disagreed with various planning decisions but that is not to say that we thought corruption was involved in arriving at that decision. The terms of reference of the tribunal to investigate the planning system — and where there is prima facie evidence of corruption — the allegations, innuendo and rumours which have beset the planning system over recent years, have scant regard to the good names and reputations of those who serve in public authorities whether as elected members or officers and particularly those involved in decision making. If people are guilty of impropriety that will be established by the tribunal and they must face the consequences of their actions. If, on the other hand, people who have been fingered are proven innocent then it is more important that their good names are vindicated.

I am confident the tribunal will be good for the planning system, that it will result in committed and enthusiastic people continuing to participate in local government as elected members or as people working in the system. The tribunal will help by dispelling the cynicism that frequently affects planning and will point out lessons that can be learned and where legislation can be strengthened.

The commitment contained in the Programme for Government to improve the operation of the planning system will yield positive results. In accordance with the programme agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, the Government is committed to carrying out a complete review of planning laws including the manner in which they relate to local authority development. It is committed to increasing public participation in the planning process, introducing seven year development plans — a time limit which must be adhered to, providing more qualified planners at local authority level, introducing [200] similar provisions to those contained in the Ethics in Public Office Act in relation to local authorities and introducing conservation legislation to protect and enhance our built environment.

The review of the planning system is well underway and Members of the House will be glad to know that the drafting of a Bill to improve the protection of our architectural heritage is at an advanced stage. Submissions have been invited from the general public, specifically from groups or organisations which have a special interest in planning, in relation to the planning review. Clearly many Members of the Seanad have views on our planning system and I invite them to make submissions which could be taken on board from an early stage in the review process. Any recommendations made by the tribunal will also be given careful consideration by the Government as part of the review.

There has been much comment in both Houses on the tribunal's ability to inquire into other allegations of wrongdoing in the planning system which are unrelated to the issues raised in the Bailey letter. I assure the House that paragraph 5 will allow the tribunal to deal with all allegations of corruption or other wrongdoing within the planning system. However, we must be realistic as regards the tribunal's remit; it must satisfy itself that there is some prima facie case to be made in relation to any other matters which may brought before it. There is no doubt that a certain number of people will expect the tribunal to inquire into decisions with which they disagreed. There may be a number of trivial or vexatious matters brought to the attention of the tribunal. It is not intended that the tribunal waste its time dealing with such matters. However, where the tribunal comes across any act associated with the planning process which, in its opinion, amounts to corruption or other wrongdoing it will be obliged to investigate those matters completely and make recommendations in relation to them.

Many Senators called for the inclusion of a number of specific planning controversies in the terms of reference. The Government is satisfied that the terms of reference are adequate to deal with any allegations of wrongdoing associated with the planning system. Furthermore, there would be a danger that the inclusion of significant numbers of specific planning controversies would not only delay the workings of the tribunal but would hinder its ability to deal with the particular instances of alleged corruption brought to its attention.

Senator Doyle raised the issue of co-ordinating neighbouring development plans and suggested that if all development plans were adopted at the same time, many of the difficulties regarding zoning could be overcome. The Government believes there is a need to have an overall view of development plans which cover the same region and is committed to introducing strategic planning guidelines — initially in the greater Dublin area — whereby all local authorities within the [201] region must have regard to an overall planning framework for it. The guidelines for the Dublin area are to be drawn up by consultants and are due to commence early next year in consultation with the local and regional authorities in the Dublin and mid-east regions. These guidelines are intended to lay down a 12 year broad planning strategy within which all subsequent development plans will be reviewed. This is a more realistic approach to the co-ordination of development plans than requiring all local authorities to review their development plans at the same time. That could be a difficult and bureaucratic exercise which might not bring the necessary benefits which overall strategic guidelines will bring to the development plan review process.

Senator Doyle queried the need for a new tribunal when another tribunal, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Moriarty, had recently been set up and suggested that the issue we are now dealing with could be brought within its remit. While I agree that tribunals should not be set up lightly and duplication of effort should be avoided, there are a number of compelling reasons a separate inquiry is necessary in this instance. First, the Moriarty tribunal follows on very specifically from an earlier tribunal and is concerned solely with the affairs of persons found guilty of wrongdoing by it. To include Mr. Burke or anybody else named in the present context in that tribunal's remit would, whatever about legal niceties, be bound to imply some degree of guilt by association in the public mind. It would be grossly unfair to the persons involved and would reflect badly on the fair-mindedness of Members of this House. It is now beyond doubt that the acknowledged political donation made to Mr. Burke will be considered by the proposed tribunal. There are also other reasons a separate tribunal is needed. There are other allegations in circulation in regard to other planning matters and if it were to be shown that these merited investigation, the Moriarty tribunal would not be able to follow up that trail. Controversy over planning decisions is an entirely separate issue which is important in its own right; that deserves a close focus and should not be subsumed into a more general inquiry.

The Moriarty tribunal already has the task of looking into matters of considerable detail and complexity and may not be in a position to give the questions we are discussing the degree of urgent attention which is necessary if we are to clear these up within the shortest possible time — an aim that is clearly reflected in the terms of reference before the House. The terms of reference make provision for the tribunal to seek relevant documents from Mr. Bailey, Mr. Gogarty and the solicitors' firm, Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly. Senators referred to the fact that the firm Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly is based beyond the jurisdiction of the State and that, for this reason, the importance of the powers of discovery in the terms of reference may give rise to legal complexities. The Government has gone as [202] far as is legally within its power in this respect; in any event it would be astonishing, given the background to this case, if it became necessary for the tribunal to exercise those powers. The truth of the matter is that it is now time for that firm of solicitors and their unnamed clients to put up or shut up.

Senator O'Toole spoke about the need to have a clear set of standards which would be generally accepted and would set out criteria by which all politicians would be judged. As the Taoiseach has said on a number of occasions, and as recently as this afternoon in the Dáil, the Government proposes to set up a permanent ethics commission. That will go a long way to meeting the points raised by Senator O'Toole and others in relation to having a body in existence to which matters of concern to the public could be referred for examination as they arose. That would be preferable to the current situation where something has been allowed to simmer and has been fed to newspapers thereby raising doubts in the public mind; the State eventually had to take measures to prove or disprove things said in the media. In many cases very little specific or prima facie evidence existed to substantiate some of the allegations made in spite of the fact that people's names were being associated with wrongdoing.

Senator Ridge spoke about the need for the State to recoup part of the gains made through the tax system. I am surprised the Senator is not aware that this facility already exists. This argument was made many years ago and resulted in the introduction of the capital gains tax. It may be that some developers have an incentive to acquire green field property and subsequently lobby for the land to be rezoned for commercial or residential development. The gains from rezoning can, as has been shown, be very substantial. That has led to the belief that developers have been tempted to interfere with the zoning process. There have been suggestions that such windfall gains should be severely taxed. The sale of development land is subject to capital gains tax at 40 per cent and it should be noted that the provisions regarding roll-over relief do not apply to the sale of development land. The introduction of increased capital gains or local authority charges on development land could, in itself, bring problems. A penal tax regime for development land could lead to a restriction in the supply of land if landowners deferred disposals until the tax position became more favourable. Increased taxation of development land could push house prices up even further and the cost of providing premises for industry and business could also rise.

Under section 26, contributions to the development levies can be, and are, imposed by local authorities on the planning system. This allows local authorities to attach conditions to planning permissions requiring a contribution towards the costs of works carried out by the local authority or proposed works facilitating development. Contribution conditions, like all other conditions [203] attached to a planning permission, can of course be appealed to An Bord Pleanála. These contributions are used to provide infrastructural services, including roads, water and parks. In 1995 the amount received in planning contributions by all planning authorities was estimated at over £22 million — up from £10.5 million in 1990. The whole issue of how development contributions are levied and used is one of the areas being focused upon in the review of the planning process.

While most schemes for the provision of water and sewerage services attract 100 per cent capital grants from the Department, it has been made quite clear that the Department will not consider funding for schemes for the servicing of land zoned in excess of the objective needs of a local authority. Therefore, should a local authority wish to see such areas serviced, it will have to be financed from a local authority's own resources or by contributions attached to a planning permission. That is something that will be more vigorously enforced.

The point raised by Senator Henry is not really relevant to this inquiry. She raised questions about wards of court arising from former Deputy Burke's contribution in the Dáil some weeks ago. This is not a planning issue and is not really a matter for this tribunal.

Some Senators argued that action should have been taken on this matter before now and that it should have been referred to the Moriarty tribunal but I have explained why that would not have been practical. The Senators said that a tribunal of some kind should have inquired into it before now arising out of the statement in the Dáil by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Burke, with regard to a £30,000 contribution. There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of the Fine Gael Party to turn the spotlight away from its own role in this matter and to undermine the stability of the Government and the authority of the Taoiseach by questioning his decision-making capacity and leadership qualities. I do not think such an effort will succeed because it is an out and out political ploy on the part of the Fine Gael Party, in particular.

It was only when the Bailey letter came into the public arena that it was clear there was an inevitable need for an inquiry into the matters referred to earlier by former Deputy Burke. That evidence was certainly not available to any member of my party nor, as far as I know, to any member of the other Government party. When the implications of that letter became known, people made a clear association because of the timing of the meetings and the handing over of money. The terms in which that gentleman wrote that letter were quite extraordinary and, from that point forward, it was inevitable there would have to be a full inquiry into the whole matter. However, the implication that some action should have been taken before the Bailey letter came into the public arena is being made purely from a political motivation. It will not [204] succeed in achieving its objective of undermining the Government in any way.

I want to put on the record the position as regards officials and other persons operating in the system with regard to the legislation on corruption with which they have to comply. The Corruption Acts of 1889 to 1916, and the Ethics Act, 1996, apply to elected Members and officials of local authorities in carrying out their duties. The provisions of these Acts were significantly reformed and the penalties under them increased by the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995. The new penalties for corruption on summary conviction under the Acts are a fine of up to £1,000 and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months and, on conviction on indictment, a fine not exceeding £50,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

At the international level there have been important developments in the fight against corruption with a European Union convention on corruption involving public officials, which was signed earlier this year. There have also been two additional conventions on corruption, one in the Council of Europe and the other in the OECD, which are currently under negotiation. Arising out of Ireland's participation in the negotiation of these international instruments, our law on corruption is under review.

Earlier in my speech I mentioned that the Dublin county development plan had not been reviewed within the statutory period of five years. This was confirmed by Senators from the Dublin area. This has led to many of the difficulties and pressures that have arisen in Dublin. Because of population growth and the lack of suitable development land zoned in the county's development plans, there was pressure for rezoning outside the normal review of the development plans. I am concerned that such a long delay should have taken place. Senators mentioned the number of representations made at the time of the review. It was extraordinary. It involved a mammoth task and provides some justification for the delay that occurred. The review was ongoing for a period of three years.

The five year period is too short and it is now proposed to extend it to seven years. However, it is necessary for the Department to ensure that local authority officials comply with the requirements of whatever legislation exists. Recognising the difficulties that existed in Dublin at the time, but also accepting that there has been a change since with the establishment of new local authorities in the Dublin area, there should now be a much greater capacity within those local authorities.

In future, persons who deal with planning matters arising during the course of their consideration of a review of a development plan, will relate more to the area in which they live and for which they are elected than previously when when there was one huge authority for a very big area. At that time, councillors from areas far removed from the area under discussion were [205] involved in the decision making and that removed the decision making process a bit too far from local communities.

The change in the Dublin authorities structure will be helpful in ensuring that reviews can take place more regularly in future. That is not to say there will not be delays, but everything possible must be done at official level to ensure that development plans are reviewed within the statutory term.

The results of a recent check by the Department on all 123 planning authorities may be of interest to Senators. The check revealed that 63 per cent of authorities reviewed their development plan in less than five years, 12 per cent in less than six years, 9 per cent in less than seven years and 16 per cent exceeded seven years. So, the situation is not very satisfactory.

I hope the review of the planning process and the recommendations which, hopefully, emerge from this tribunal, will result in major improvements being undertaken in all these matters so that we can restore the community's full confidence in the planning process. I appeal to anyone who feels they have matters of serious concern, and evidence to substantiate their claims, to come forward and have their complaints aired at the tribunal when it is formally established. If they do so, they will be performing an important public service and will restore people's confidence in the planning process in a major way.

In fairness, all those outstanding officials who work under great pressure in planning offices around the country and in An Bord Pleanála are entitled to have their work recognised and appreciated. No clouds should be cast on their integrity when they are performing their duties in the best interests of the State and in the most honest and professional way they can. We owe that to all those people. If there are some rotten apples in the barrel, then hopefully this tribunal will expose them.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 5.50 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.