[Sinn Fein]

3rd July 2003

Taxpayers could face paying costs of Tribunals rogues' gallery

Speaking during the motion on Flood and referring directly to the Taoiseachs handling of the resignation of Justice Flood Sinn Fein leader in the Dáil Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin said it is ``the holding back of information that leads to legitimate speculation''. He went on to say that if some people were successful in challenging costs because of the resignation of Justice Flood then ``we face the nightmare scenario of the taxpayer paying massive legal costs to some of the members of the rogues' gallery who have appeared at the Tribunal''. Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

``This motion is necessary because of the resignation of Justice Flood as Chairperson of the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments. I put on record our appreciation for the work of Justice Flood who deserves praise for his conduct of the Tribunal. The Flood Tribunal has helped to expose much about the corrupt nature of planning in this State over many years. Despite its duration and cost the tribunal has also ensured the return of much taxation revenue both directly and indirectly as a result of its activities.

``There are questions to be answered about the circumstances which led to this motion coming before the Dáil. The Oireachtas should have been informed at least as early as 16 June when Minister Cullen received the letter from Justice Flood stating his wish to resign as chairperson. The Government was aware of this from late May. We were not informed by the Taoiseach until last week, on 24 June. The Taoiseach stated yesterday that ``simply to have circulated the letter would have given rise to wild and damaging speculation that would be contrary to the best interests of the Tribunal''.

``I believe the opposite is the case. It is the holding back of information that leads to legitimate speculation. That is why questions have been raised about the handling of this resignation. And it's no wonder given the action of this government in gutting the Freedom of Information Act. It cannot expect public trust in the wake of that anti-democratic move.

``The Government has indicated that it will have to legislate to ensure that challenges on costs because of the resignation of Justice Flood do not succeed. It seems to be confident that such legislation will succeed in its purpose. Let us hope so, or we face the nightmare scenario of the taxpayer paying massive legal costs to some of the members of the rogues' gallery who have appeared at the Tribunal.

``I believe the Government should also introduce separate legislation to properly regulate the exorbitant fees of legal teams involved in tribunals. There is a wider need for fundamental reform of the legal profession and, in particular, the whole area of legal fees and costs.

``What is the Government doing instead? Minister McDowell has published this week his Commissions of Investigation Bill which provides for private investigations. I am concerned that the Minister and this Government will exploit legitimate public concern over the cost of the tribunals to introduce a process which will go on behind closed doors and lack the transparency and public accountability that is essential if truth is to be established. For example new evidence recently emerged on the murder of Sinn Fein Councillor Eddie Fullerton. The events surrounding his murder, collusion by British forces and the role of the gardai need to be fully and publicly investigated.

``The Interim Report of the Flood Tribunal confirmed that former Minister Ray Burke enriched himself with the help of property speculators and developers who themselves benefited hugely from the corrupt planning system. When the Report was debated here last October we tabled an amendment in the name of the five Sinn Fein deputies calling for the oil and gas exploration licences negotiated and granted by former Minister for Energy and Communications Ray Burke to be fully investigated by the Tribunal. The Government rejected that amendment but I take this opportunity to again call for a public inquiry into the Corrib gas scandal, one of the greatest ever rip-offs of the Irish people.

``I indicate our support for the amendments of the Labour Party and the Green Party.''

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