I welcome the opportunity to speak. I commend Deputy Sean Fleming on proposing this motion and calling for an independent commission of inquiry to examine the circumstances surrounding the sale of Siteserv and other companies by IBRC.
I have listened to some Government Deputies. I remind them that when public meetings are taking place throughout my constituency, whether the issue is crime, housing, agriculture, education or health issues, people are raising questions about the shortage of money for various projects. People are beginning ask about the taxpayers’ loss of €105 million on account of Siteserv.
The bank guarantee has been mentioned. However, if I were to tell people at these meetings that the problem was the relationship framework or that the Minister was going to change the relationship framework I would be laughed out of court. I imagine this is the reason Government Deputies do not refer to the relationship framework when they attend public meetings.
I will set out an example. Last night I attended a meeting with my colleagues in east Galway in respect of a proposal for a new primary school in County Galway, a school first sought over 15 years ago. It has been on the list for construction twice and has been twice taken off the list, something that might merit an investigation on its own. People raised the issue of funding, because funding is needed. Unfortunately, however, the taxpayer must fork out money in respect of Siteserv. The fact is that in 2012 Siteserv owed €150 million to IBRC and, in the same year, IBRC sold Siteserv for €45 million.
As our motion states, some bidders and external trade buyers were excluded from the sale. Of course, the major concern among many people is the fact that Siteserv shareholders received €5 million at the time of the sale. We need to have a fully independent commission to examine the circumstances surrounding the sale of Siteserv and other company sell-offs by IBRC to ensure the interests of the taxpayer can be fully protected in a transparent way.
The Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, said, “I want to see all of the relevant information made available and published.” I wonder if other members of the Cabinet share the Tánaiste’s views and whether all of the various authorities agree with her, because that certainly does not seem to be the case.
Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister, Deputy Noonan, in a parliamentary question, whether he was aware that share acquisitions may have arisen as a result of privileged information in regard to the sale and what the Irish Stock Exchange had done by way of investigation. The reply, I understand, was that the Department does not have a role in investigating allegations of insider trading. Therefore, we see both the Minister and the Central Bank saying it is a matter for the regulator of the market – in other words, the Irish Stock Exchange – yet we do not really get a reply.
I was interested in The Sunday Times report in which the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement was asked if it had ever investigated allegations of insider dealing at Siteserv. The answer was that it was not policy to comment. Again, there is no reply.
Given the controversy – the shareholders getting a €5 million payout and the taxpayer taking a €105 million loss – there is a clear public interest argument as to whether the share trading was ever the subject of an investigation.
This is why we need a full investigation. If we are to have a review, then, as most commentators have said, it is not appropriate for KPMG to carry out the investigation, as this company was one of the financial advisers to Siteserv when it was sold for €45 million in April 2012. Surely the purpose of the review should be to restore confidence in the manner in which deals involving huge amounts of public money were conducted by IBRC.
The Government has missed an opportunity by not having an independent commission. In fact, this is a classic kick to touch. Many people have now questioned whether the Department of Finance would be kept fully informed if there was another sale process. I also wonder whether freedom of information requests can continue during this investigation.
I will finish by quoting Professor David Farrell, UCD professor of politics, who said the controversy highlighted two major weaknesses in our political system. The first, he said, was “a Government that is not held adequately to account by parliament,” and the second was “a mindset that privileges secrecy over openness”.