This evening I had to speak for Sinn Féin in our first contribution.
The 'Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments' was established almost 15 years ago in November 1997 and since then it has heard evidence from over 400 witnesses. It was the longest running public inquiry and produced four interim reports.
This is my contribution:
Bhí an fiosrúchán seo dírithe ar chaimiléireacht a bhí ceaptha a bheith ag dul ar aghaidh maidir leis an bpróiseas pleanála, sa chás mar shampla is go raibh íocaíochtaí á ndéanamh le polaiteoirí.
The Tribunals conclusions and its criticism of the political elite in this state are damning.
‘Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated.’
But these words of accusation and condemnation only touch on one aspect of the institutionalised sleaze and corruption that was rife in this state.
It wasn’t just political life that was corrupt.
So too was the business elite.
Together they formed golden circles of self-interest dedicated to preserving their wealth and privilege and power.
And this corruption did not just begin twenty years ago when the Beef Tribunal began its deliberations or later with the McCracken Tribunal or Flood/Mahon.
Institutionalised corruption and gombeenism were part and parcel of British colonial rule on this island and these practices survived and thrived in the post-colonial period.
Liam Mellows warned of this in the Treaty debates. He said:...`Men will get into positions, men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed - or will not take a step that will mean removal in case of failure.'
Mellows was right.
Ní amháin a raibh an ceart aige ach bhí fís difriúl aige de Phoblacht agus rialú ina mbeadh an saoránach mar chroí láir tógáil stát nua.
Politicians and churchmen and business people did get into positions of power and abused that power in their self-interests and not in the interests of citizens.
Partition created not one but two conservative states on this island ruled by two conservative elites.
And the closed, narrow, post-civil war society that emerged out of partition in this part of the island was characterised by economic failure, by emigration, by backwardness on social issues, by inequality and by the failure to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.
Those who built this state also turned their back on the people of the north.
They turned their backs on the ideals of independence and of a genuine republic; on the rights of citizens enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation.
And as it evolved the political elite in this state was increasingly in hock to the Catholic Hierarchy.
The system here for decades abdicated responsibility for the care of children and single women and allowed a regime in institutions that abused and criminalised and terrified those who found themselves locked in these places.
The political establishment and the business elite which emerged in the aftermath of partition — the senior civil servants, the bankers, the judges, big business, the politicians of Cumann na Gael, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and the Ulster Unionist Party in the north, created systems that entrenched their own privilege.
Systemic corruption bred a culture of corruption. It was part of the way that we were.
Corruption and backhanders and brown envelopes became acceptable – a normal way of winning political favour, of rezoning land for profit, and of buying votes and influence.
Cronyism became endemic.
Who you knew was more important than ability or fairness or what was right.
The ‘golden circles’ of big business and speculators, of bankers and financiers and developers, allied to a corrupt political elite, grew rich on the exploitation of others.
Léiríonn an tuairisc seo do dhaoine an santachas a bhí i réim ag elite áirithe ins an sochaí seo a ndearnadh creachadh ar ár maoin inar raibh ar an mórlach íoc as le toradh turraingtheach.
Family dynasties, party connections and donations to political campaigns all entrenched this corruption.
This was made easier by the concentration of political power in the hands of a few.
Weak and ineffective legal checks and balances, and little oversight and enforcement of laws to challenge corruption, made dishonesty and corruption easy and acceptable.
And the arrogance of the ‘golden circles’ has seen powerful individuals consider themselves above the rules that apply to ordinary citizens.
That double standard was graphically demonstrated in the famous television broadcast by the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey who told citizens to tighten their belts, while he lived the highlife at the taxpayer’s expense.
Agus ní raibh an hasc ‘cosy’ seo idir pholaiteoirí agus fir ghnó, baincéirí, tógáilaithe i bhFianna Fáil amháin.
This wasn’t limited just to Fianna Fáil.
In a classic example of the double standards that have applied in the political culture, in 1993 former Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Garret Fitzgerald had debts of almost £200,000 which he owed to AIB and Ansbacher written off.
Just written off! Sin é. No explanation.
How many ordinary citizens, many now in negative equity and struggling to survive, will have the balance of their loans written off by AIB?
New rules and laws have to be put into place to end corrupt practices.
Too many of our citizens live each day with the consequences of corruption.
There are the many homeowners in mortgage distress because some politicians chose to facilitate developers and bankers and pursued an economic strategy which brought the state to its knees.
There are the growing numbers of elderly citizens who don’t know if they will have a public nursing bed when and if they need it.
Or the thousands of patients who languish on hospital trolleys because successive governments have failed to invest in public health services, choosing instead to promote privatisation.
And there’s the rub!
If you decide to privatise a public health service that’s the start of corrupting the service.
That’s the start of the process.
You run health for profit instead of as a right of a citizen that’s where the corruption starts and that’s where the corruption is currently ongoing at this time.
What of citizens living in sprawling, unfinished housing estates, with no shops, no youth facilities, no playing fields, no amenities and no place for elderly people to gather.
Each one of us have those across this island and in our constituencies.
While Mahon has revealed that politicians from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and Labour took bribes from developers perverting the planning process for profit, the upper echelons of Fianna Fáil in particular stands indicted.
And while the Fianna Fáil leader Deputy M
Will he take action against those current Fianna Fáil deputies who questioned not only the legality of the Tribunal, but also the integrity of its members?
The Mahon Report demands firm measures by this government to deal with corruption.
Citizens are demanding resolute action.
If we are to end corruption and ensure transparency and accountability more needs to be done to clean up politics and to restore public confidence in the political system.
For example, one suggestion is the introduction of legislation that would allow impeachment or removal from the Dáil or the Seanad of any Oireachtas member involved in corruption, deliberate misuse of public money or fraud.
Furthermore, and it’s so obvious, former politicians found guilty of corruption should have their public pensions taken from them.
Particularly so when it comes to former Government Ministers or Taoisigh who enjoy excessive annual pension pay outs.
The DPP needs to conduct a full and prompt investigation into the findings of the Mahon report working with the Gardaí to bring charges of corruption to the courts as soon as possible.
It’s quite possible that none of what has been revealed would have come to light were it not for the role of whistle-blowers like James Gogarty and Tom Gilmartin.
Whistleblowers such as these are key in exposing and preventing corruption.
It is imperative that legislation is brought forward to protect whistle-blowers.
I welcome the publication of the draft heads of the new whistle-blower legislation by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.
If citizens are to regain their confidence in the political system, the government must implement the recommendations of Judge Mahon.
No excuses. No fudging.
Cronyism and privilege must be ended.
The Mahon tribunal investigated corruption in Dublin, but do we imagine for one second that this was all confined to the Pale?
Did it not happen elsewhere throughout the state?
I note that an internal review of planning decisions by a number of local authorities is underway but still not completed.
The previous Environment Minister John Gormley announced an independent investigation into six local authorities involved in controversial planning decisions.
However one of the first acts of the current Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan was to abandon plans for independent investigations dismissing them as mostly "spurious".
This includes an investigation into a relief road in Carlow, in his constituency, which was first highlighted in 2008 and led to a compensation case costing a total of €1.1 million.
The public need to have confidence that every decision taken is above reproach.
The internal investigation needs to be completed and the findings made public.
The Mahon report and its indictment of the political system, is a far cry from the ethos and high standards demonstrated by those whose bravery and courage and self-sacrifice we will commemorate and celebrate in 12 days time.
Or indeed to those who founded Fianna Fáil.
The Republic they fought and died for at Easter 1916 and in subsequent generations, is encapsulated in the words of the Proclamation of 1916.
For those who abandoned and corrupted its objectives the Proclamation is no more than a piece of paper to which they occasionally pay lip service.
But it is much more than that.
It is a charter of Liberty and Freedom and Rights as important as anywhere else in the modern world.
The Republic it envisages guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens.
The Proclamation contains a commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally.
Not to exploit or abuse or steal from them but a promise to every Irish man, woman and child that they can share in the dignity of human kind and of this wonderful island that we live in.
Our party and I’m sure other parties and other representatives here are for a new Republic, a genuine republic, a republic fit for the 21st century.
A republic across this entire island where orange and green unite.
A republic based on citizenship and citizens’ rights; a republic that is accessible and responsive and inclusive to the needs of citizens and which upholds civil and human rights.
That republic must include rural Ireland and the protection of our uniquely rural way of life.
It must ensure that Gaeltacht communities thrive and the Irish language has the support required to flourish as a spoken language.
A republic that reaches out to and embraces our unionist brothers and sisters.
A new Ireland built on positive change, on equality and partnership.
A republic that is people centred, owned and responsible to the people and not to elites.
The people of Ireland deserve more than what we have at this time.
We deserve to be free of division, injustice and corruption.
Where wealth is invested creatively and fairly, and where poverty is a thing of the past.
So, that’s what I believe in. I’m sure many others share that belief and we should not let the revelations of corruption and graft put us off from building this new Ireland, this new republic.
The resources to build that – even at this time of great adversity - exist now.
This isn’t a pipe dream. This isn’t an aisling.
This is a real and achievable goal.
At Easter 1993, almost 20 years ago, John Hume and I issued our first joint statement.
We said that the ‘most pressing issue facing the people of Ireland and Britain today is the question of lasting peace and how it can best be achieved’ and we identified as our primary objecxtive ‘reaching agreement on a peaceful and democratic accord for all on this island’.
John Hume was vilified and our vision was attacked by all sides in this chamber. By all parties here.
But five years later the Good Friday Agreement was achieved.
So, nothing is impossible.
What is needed now is a vision of a different Ireland and more especially the political will to make this happen.
It can be done.