Speech by Brendan Howlin TD on Disclosures Tribunal motion
29 November 2017
Party Leader and Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Northern Ireland
The past few weeks have damaged confidence in this Government.
They have probably damaged confidence in politics.
And they have certainly inflicted further damage on the administration of justice in this country.
Last night, the Taoiseach referred to the Department of Justice and Equality as dysfunctional.
That is damning criticism for any Government Department.
And, followed as it was by the immediate resignation of the Secretary General, I’m sure it hasn’t done much for morale within that Department.
So be it.
We have seen evidence of maladministration within that Department over the last fortnight.
The silo-driven culture of secrecy exposed by the Toland report has been on display once more.
Reasonable questions should receive reasonable answers.
Instead, we have seen obfuscation;
Records forgotten about and then belatedly found;
And a remarkably casual attitude towards briefing people who are expected to answer questions before this House.
Last night, I spoke about my scepticism of the independence of the review of these events being carried out by the Secretary General to the Taoiseach.
I still have concerns about that – at the very least, I would have thought he should be accompanied by somebody external while carrying out this work.
I am sceptical too about the stated recommitment to implementation of the Toland recommendations.
The point of Toland was that implementation was to be immediate.
Within two years, all of the recommendations should have been acted upon.
We know now, of course, that that did not happen.
A failure to adequately administer justice in this country has seen a remarkable number of resignations over recent years.
Two Garda Commissioners have resigned.
Two Secretaries General have resigned or retired.
Two Ministers for Justice have now resigned.
And yet none of us can contribute to this debate with any confidence that deep and lasting change has occurred as a result.
In particular, the attitudes of those in the justice sector to whistle-blowers still seems deeply questionable.
The revelations that, while Sergeant McCabe was being publicly lauded, a strategy was being deployed to destroy him behind closed doors speak volumes.
The failure to stop this from happening has been well discussed over recent days.
And this brings us to the core of the motion in front of us today.
It goes without saying I hope, that the Labour Party will support anything that ensures that a full and comprehensive explanation of what happened to Sergeant McCabe be produced.
So, I support the purpose of the motion.
My only question is whether a revision of the terms of reference is necessary.
It appears that the Department has now provided all relevant material to the Tribunal – we can therefore safely assume that the Department regards this matter as being encompassed by the terms of reference.
From Mr. Justice Charleton’s response, we could also assume that he regards this as being within his ambit.
But I do think it is worth confirming that this is the case.
In the first instance, I think it would be appropriate for the Government to engage with Mr. Justice Charleton.
His views should be sought on the scope of his existing terms of reference, and whether he regards them as sufficiently broad to encompass all recent events.
The Government might then return and explain to this House what his views on this matter are, and whether there is a need for the House to revise the terms of reference.
If that suggestion is accepted, then at least we will not waste time in this House debating possible changes to the terms of reference, if the judge regards such changes as being unnecessary.
I would like to thank Deputy O Laoghaire for tabling this motion – it at least gives us the opportunity to focus once more on the substance of this matter, rather than on the party politics surrounding it all.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I am happy to support the motion.
But I hope the interim step I have proposed might be agreeable to all sides.