Seanad Éireann - Volume 157 - 18 December, 1998

Appropriation Bill, 1998 [Certified Money Bill]: Committee and Remaining Stages.

SECTION 1.

Question proposed: “That section 1 stand part of the Bill.”

Mrs. A. Doyle: My question relates to Vote 9 of the Schedule, relating to salaries and expenses of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, and arises from a point made by the Minister in replying to Second Stage.

An Cathaoirleach: We will come to the Schedule, Senator Doyle, we must first deal with sections 1 and 2.

Mrs. A. Doyle: Section 1 refers specifically to the Schedule.

An Cathaoirleach: I will allow the question.

[1351] Mrs. A. Doyle: The Minister made a valiant attempt to defend the situation and I accept justice must be done and be seen to be done across the board on this issue, but compliant taxpayers do not see justice being done. As to the appointment, salaries and expenses are paid to employees in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. Does this Government intend to amend the legislation whereby political appointments of tax appeal commissioners will continue? I accept this is done under the law and do not question the basis on which this appointment was made during the interregnum Government in 1992-3. The embarrassing position into which the present Taoiseach has put the appeals commissioner — inadvertently, I accept — was caused by the political appointment by him, as then Minister for Finance, of his brother-in-law to that position. The case in question was heard by only one commissioner, when two should have taken it to prevent any perception of conflict of interest. This was extremely unfair to the commissioner in question.

Mr. Finneran: On a point of order, what has this to with Committee Stage of the Appropriation Bill? This is a Second Stage speech on another item.

An Cathaoirleach: To clarify, the Appropriation Bill allocates a sum for the payment of salaries and expenses of officers in each Department and the Revenue Commissioners, as has been pointed out.

Mr. Finneran: I accept that, but Senator Doyle has been talking about appointments.

An Cathaoirleach: The question asked by Senator Doyle is relevant to the Bill.

Mrs. A. Doyle: Does the Government intend to continue political patronage in appointing tax appeal commissioners, albeit legally at present? This example indicates that the continuation of this practice is unacceptable.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Cullen): I am not in a position to make up Government policy in the Seanad today. I take the point made by the Senator and all legislation is kept constantly under review by the Government of the day. I emphasise what the Taoiseach said, which I believe to be absolutely correct and which no one has doubted — the first knowledge he had that his brother-in-law heard this case was when he read it in the newspaper this week. It is wrong for anyone to imply that, because this individual happens to be related to the Taoiseach, this had an influence on any decision he would have taken. It is outrageous, and demeans politicians and politics, for any Member to suggest that. The point the Senator and others are making is that any Member of the Oireachtas who has relations in various aspects of life is now to be held responsible for any of their actions, which [1352] would be absurd in a modern society. I have great trust and belief in the integrity of everyone who serves or has served this country and reject Senator Doyle's implication that an appointment of a person in good faith, based on ability and qualifications to serve in a position, is questionable because a politician or Minister made the appointment. That is grossly unfair and a distortion of the integrity and honesty of many politicians, the majority of whom have served this country well.

Mrs. A. Doyle: I ask the Minister to accept it was the Taoiseach, when Minister for Finance, who put the tax appeals commissioner in question into this embarrassing position. His integrity is not being questioned, nor is it being impugned, because we do not have the judgment — despite it being a matter of general application it has not been published, and it should be.

Mr. Cullen: It is a matter of public record.

Mr. Finneran: Political opportunism.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has already made that point.

Mrs. A. Doyle: The judgment of this person could be questioned because he took the case on his own. Two commissioners should have sat in judgment.

Mr. Finneran: Senator Doyle is continuing to throw mud in the hope that some will stick.

Mrs. A. Doyle: In relation to political appointments, we are not all in a position to appoint our relations to sensitive jobs. Even if he were the most brilliant and qualified person, the only one fit to do the job, he should not have taken the case on his own.

An Cathaoirleach: This is repetition. The Senator has made all these points.

Mr. Finneran: Political mud throwing.

Mrs. A. Doyle: My telephone and those of my colleagues have been inundated with callers naming other people of better qualifications and ability who were passed over in favour of the two commissioners in question in 1992. However, I accept the law was not broken.

Mr. Costello: I wish to reiterate the point I made to the Minister seeking clarification on the £20 million which was provided for technical difficulties in section 1 and in the Schedule. Will the Minister give a breakdown of how £20 million could be required for technical difficulties in the payment of a fortnightly instead of monthly cheque?

Mr. Cullen: That was an important issue raised by the Senator but I do not have the information here. I sent for it but it has not arrived yet. I will [1353] ensure the Senator gets the information. I am sure there is no mystery about it but I would like to facilitate the Senator by providing him with that information.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 2 and 3 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without recommendation, received for final consideration and returned to the Dáil.