Last night the officer board of the Fianna Fáil National Executive agreed a number of specific actions in response to the final report of the Mahon Tribunal. These were detailed in the statement which I issued last night. I will not go through that statement in detail, but will make a number of comments about the Report and Fianna Fáil’s attitude to its contents.
This Tribunal was set up fifteen years ago to address clear and mounting evidence of corruption in the planning process in County Dublin during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. It addressed specific controversies which were known to be of concern when it was established and also many more which emerged during its proceedings.
I welcome the report and accept what it has to say about corrupt practices. It confirmed systemic corruption in planning in County Dublin which existed over an extended period. Local democracy was subverted by a combination of persons making payments to secure Council decisions and politicians willing to seek and accept such payments.
The findings against individuals are clear and unequivocal. The public have a right to expect that the law will continue to be used to hold them accountable in the courts. Equally, they have a right to expect that the parties who these individuals represented will take action.
A number of those found to have received corrupt payments are now dead or no longer have any connection with politics. We are obviously not in a position to act against them, but we condemn their behaviour.
There are three former councillors who still appear on our membership rolls who are found to have received corrupt payments. Motions to expel them from the party will be taken up by the National Executive next Friday.
The implications of the Report for national politics are also stark.
There is no circumstance in which the cheque received by Padraig Flynn could be justified. The evidence is clear and a motion to expel him from membership will also be taken up next Friday.
Although the central allegation against Bertie Ahern was not sustained, the evidence confirmed by the Tribunal and its comments relating to him are extremely serious. The findings of the Tribunal that the explanations it was given were untrue and the amounts involved are very serious and cannot be ignored. No matter how high a member rises within the party and in elected office, they still carry a duty of trust for the members of Fianna Fáil and for the people who elected them.
Achievements like the Good Friday Agreement are real and enduring but they cannot absolve Bertie Ahern from facing the implications of this Report. The motion of expulsion which will be voted on next Friday is the only route available to us to assert the fact that he fell short of the standard of personal behaviour which all holders of public office should uphold.
During the course of the Tribunal a lot of evidence was produced concerning the handling of the affairs of the Dublin Central Constituency. That is why we have decided to seek a formal root and branch review and restructuring of the organisation in the constituency.
It is intended that, if the National Executive agrees, all functions performed by officers of that branch of the organisation will be transferred with immediate effect to the General Secretary. I am also going to seek that all assets held by or on behalf of that party organisation be transferred into the names of the General Secretary and Treasurers to act as trustees thereof, pending the establishment of a renewed Dublin Central organisation.
It is very important to stress that this decision is not a reflection on the party’s members in the constituency but it is an essential part in re-establishing trust in the handling of the party’s affairs.
Last September at our Parliamentary Party meeting and again at this month’s Árd Fheis I promised that we would act swiftly and definitively on the findings of the Report. I said that we would not take the approach which Fine Gael and Labour followed last year in ignoring the evidence and criticism of the Moriarty Tribunal. Irrespective of how tough the findings were, I said we would act.
In the meetings I have held throughout the country the strongest supporters of this have been our rank and file members. They see that people who they helped to achieve public positions abused these positions for personal gain. They see the damage which has been done to a Fianna Fáil party whose traditions they are proud of but which have been badly undermined.
Separately to these findings, the Tribunal refers in its introduction to criticism of its work and what it believes was an attempt to “collapse” its investigations. Contrary to what some people have said, this is not a finding of the Tribunal and no specifics whatsoever are presented in relation to it. The Tribunal did not put this point to individuals and it is not referred to in either the narrative sections of the Report or the findings.
I take this comment seriously but the fact is that the Report provides no details upon which a response can be given and it is not up to others to decide what instances the Tribunal is specifically referring to. It is to be assumed that the Tribunal does not view all criticism of its work as unacceptable.
The Fianna Fáil party I lead will not tolerate or fail to condemn abuse of public office – whether in our own party or, as both this report and the Moriarty Report have revealed, in others. I am determined to lead a party that will not permit any member to engage in behaviour that debases our primary duty which is to serve the people.
Much of the activity detailed in this report has been tightly controlled or banned for many years, overwhelmingly through legislation introduced by Fianna Fáil. I accept that there are still some actions which are required. Equally, it is also clear that questions remain about the planning process.
Since I became leader of Fianna Fáil, I have brought forward measures that I believe will prevent any repeat of such abuses. As a party we have published legislation to implement the recommendations of the Moriarty Report. We will take the same approach to the recommendations made by Judge Mahon and his colleagues.
The decision last year by the government to disband an independent review of planning decisions in five counties was wrong and it should be reversed. An independent review can be completed quickly, comprehensively and at minimum cost. If the political system is to demonstrate that it is serious about the Mahon Report then this is an essential first step.
I understand and share the anger and disappointment that many people will feel when reading the Tribunal’s report.
I acknowledge that people have heard similar commitments from my party before, but my message to them is I understand the scale of the challenge we face rebuilding trust with people and there is nothing I take more seriously.
The actions I have outlined last night and this morning represent a swift and comprehensive response to the Report and I intend that we will continue to push forward measures to restore public faith in political life.