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STATEMENT ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHARLETON TRIBUNAL

16 February 2017

Speech by Brendan Howlin TD
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland

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Thank you, Ceann Comhairle.

The events that have lead us to this point have exposed Irish society in a way that few others issues could have done.

All of this began with the relatively low-key efforts of a decent man who wanted to highlight wrongdoing within our police force.

That the situation has been allowed to escalate to a point where we are once more establishing a Tribunal of Inquiry is astonishing.

The series of events has been a squalid affair.

A man and his family have been subjected to a campaign of utterly false and damaging allegations.

Indeed, as my colleague Alan Kelly and others have highlighted, it appears that he is not the only one to have been subjected to such a campaign.

Public confidence in an Garda Síochána has once more been undermined.

The very many honourable women and men who work to keep our society safe, have had the integrity of their work on our behalves undermined.

And a new agency – created to better protect the children of Ireland from harm – has also had its reputation sullied.

And questions once more arise as to how Ireland works to keep our children safe.

These events are really damaging.

They have revealed dysfunction, and worse, that reached across the fundamental pillars of a functioning state.

Two of our most important institutions, required to keep our people safe, are damaged.

And the contagion has spread far beyond those bodies.

Public administration, politics and the media have all been called into serious question.

And so, here we are – once more creating a Tribunal of Inquiry.

 

We can recite off the lists of reforming legislation passed in recent years – much of it promoted by the Labour Party – to restore confidence to public life in this country.

But those of us with long enough experience here might wonder if what impact it has made.

We might wonder whether we have learned anything at all about real implementation of effective systems to ensure openness and accountability in public life.

There is a Groundhog Day aspect to much of this latest debate, although some of the principal characters have changed positions.

This required a deep level of introspection from all of us, as to what this says about all aspects of Irish society

I remember a Fianna Fáil/PD Tribunals of Inquiries Bill, described as a consolidating and reforming measure, “with a view to putting in place a modern comprehensive statutory framework governing all aspects of a tribunal from the time of its establishment to publication of its final report”.

Most importantly, the Bill would if passed into law have enabled the Government, with the approval of the Houses, to dissolve a tribunal and wind up its inquiries before they had been completed.

The then Minister was of course right to complain about the spiralling legal costs.

He was entitled to say that: “at some stage we have to ask ourselves is it worthwhile proceeding any further in these circumstances. It can’t go on for ever …”

But the upshot was that we also lost the opportunity to properly control legal fees at tribunals.

Or to properly punish time-wasting and non-cooperation by witnesses under investigation.

The tribunals legislation was abandoned in favour of commissions of investigation.

Now that we need another tribunal, the underpinning legislation remains unamended and unreformed.

 

Legitimate concerns have been raised regarding the costs of a tribunal to the exchequer.

Some of those are overstated.  The Commission of Investigation model was intended to be a cheaper option, with a greatly reduced role for legal counsel.

But in reality, the O’Higgins Commission saw multiple legal teams present at all times.

The costs of that Commission will not end up being all that far from the costs of some of our tribunals.

We are not talking about something as broad as the planning tribunals – I believe this work can be carried out quickly and efficiently.

I want to thank the Tánaiste for meeting with me yesterday, and for producing a terms of reference which encompasses many of the issues I raised.

I wish Mr. Justice Charleton well.

And I hope that his ambition to complete this work within a reasonable timeframe comes to reality.

The functioning of our state will require it.

I expect that it his investigation will deliver vindication to people who this state has maligned.

In darkness and shadows, campaigns of vilification have been conducted.

And so perhaps the most important aspect of what we debate here today is that Mr. Justice Charleton will carry out his work in the clear light of day.

In conclusion, I would like to raise a question that I hope the Tánaiste will reflect upon.

I would like the Tánaiste to confirm to the house that she has already, or will today, issued a directive to the Garda Commissioner, under section 25 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, to secure the preservation of all Garda records and equipment that may be relevant to this inquiry and to safeguard evidence?

As we embark upon yet another inquiry into an Garda Síochána, hopefully meaningful reforms and cultural change will finally begin to take root.