From top: Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton at the graveside at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary at a private memorial for her son Anthony Lee (Michael Anthony Hess)
On Today with Sean O’Rourke.
Philomena Lee and her daughter Jane Libberton spoke to Mr O’Rourke in light of the ‘significant quantities of human remains’ being found at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co Galway.
Readers will recall how, in 1952, Philomena gave birth to her son Anthony [Michael Anthony Hess] at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.
She was subsequently forced to give him up for adoption and he was sent to America. He died in 1995.
Philomena was portrayed by Judi Dench in the movie Philomena.
From this morning’s interview:
Sean O’Rourke: “Jane, good morning to you.”
Jane Libberton: “Good morning, Sean.”
O’Rourke: “And thank you for coming on the line. Now, we know, just looking, particularly, a lot of interesting reporting, invaluable reporting done on this by The Irish Examiner [Conall Ó Fátharta], but in 2011, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart who operated the Sean Ross Abbey, they gave figures to the Health Service Executive [HSE] showing there were 269 deaths at that home between 1934 and ’67 – a period of just over three decades. Now, the paper has reported that some of those buried in the plot on the site, they are not on that register. So, the number may be higher. So I’m just wondering do you support the view that maybe there should be excavations also at Sean Ross Abbey?”
Libberton: “Yes, I do, absolutely. In fact, I think they should be conducted in all mother and baby homes. We’ve been there, to the plot, several times, and we recently spoke to a young man, there was a man, sorry, in his younger days, he was a gardener there. Now, he said that, years ago, him and I think maybe his father, or some other chap, they’d gone to clean the angels’ plot as they call it now. And he went in there and they started to dig the place and they said that they came across bones, you know, not very far down, three or four inches down in the ground.”
“And so, they didn’t know what to do about it, at that time. And I think they didn’t say anything at that time because I think that they wouldn’t have been believed.”
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone
On RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone spoke to Mr O’Rourke about several matters.
These included the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes; Sgt Maurice McCabe; Taoiseach Enda Kenny telling RTE about a fictitious meeting with Ms Zappone prior to her meeting Sgt McCabe; and the results of yesterday’s Comptroller and Auditor General’s report which showed 18 religious congregations have, up to 2015, paid just 13% of €1.5billion redress costs associated with the compensation scheme for victims of abuse at religious residential institutions.
They began discussing the announcement Ms Zappone made yesterday that a scoping exercise will be carried out to examine calls for an expansion of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes’ terms of reference “to cover all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children.”
Sean O’Rourke: “When will you announce an extension or a broadening of the terms [of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes]?”
Katherine Zappone: “It’s a, it will be a number of weeks I expect. One of the first things that my department is doing is pulling together the ways in which the country dealt with these issues when the Commission of Investigation was established in 2014, looking at these issues about what institutions, what settings should be included and what should not.”
“At the time it was decided that it was appropriate to have a sample representative of settings but I suppose, in light of the discovery of, in terms of Tuam and the ways in which we are all trying to come to terms with this and Sean, you know, in the last number of days, I’ve listened to so many people, trying to reflect on the meaning of what has gone on in our history.
“And I have had, you know, many grown men come to me and cry in my, in my presence, trying to come with an understanding of what this meant for unmarried women and their children but also, you know, who is responsible, what was it about our society, how could people behave in this way. So, I’m sorry, I’m just trying to come to terms back to, you know, you’re saying how long will it take?
“There were decisions made in terms of the terms in 2014. Now that we’ve had this discovery, we’re trying to come to terms with it, as a nation. We need to look again at whether or not we need to include other institutions.”
Sean O’Rourke: “Does every person who has a story to tell, and wants that story to be told, have a right to have it heard?”
Zappone: “And so, yes I think so. And so, as the minister for children, another thing that I’ve identified that I would like to progress is not only perhaps to look at the extending the terms of reference of the Commission of Investigation but also to initiate a process throughout the country whereby there may be other ways in which we can keep the victims and the survivors at the centre of our attention to provide them with opportunities maybe for publicly to speak their truths which so many of them wish to do. And isn’t a possibility in the context of the Commission of Investigation.”
O’Rourke: “You spoke in the Dáil yesterday about museums of mercy, for instance, of memory, I beg your pardon, in Argentina and Chile. I think reference as well to South Africa – what model might you be thinking of?”
Zappone: “I’m referring to what’s known as a transitional justice approach to dealing with, now that we’re coming to terms with the fact that there was a wide scale large scale human rights violations on behalf of unmarried mothers and their children throughout the country, four decades. Is it enough? Is it enough to have a legal process of Commission of Investigation? It’s very important that we have that. But, in other countries, when they try to move on from what are considered to be repressive regimes, into a new era, they know that there maybe other ways in which there are opportunities for people to tell their truths, to remember what happened. Or to commemorate, a national day of commemoration, would be an example. Or other people are suggesting, perhaps the State ought to acquire some of the properties of where unmarried mothers were affectively put in against their will.”
“And to use that in other ways, as we try to, as a society, cope with, understand and move beyond and to heal, to a new way and a new time where we wish to be.”
O’Rourke: “It’s been quite a tumultuous month, not just for the Government, or the country, but also in particular for you, as minister for children and youth affairs. It was, I think, the 9th of February, when Katie Hannon had that report on Prime Time about the shocking allegations, false allegations, made against Maurice McCabe and then there was a political crisis
Later – speaking about the confusion over who knew what when in relation to Sgt Maurice McCabe
O’Rourke: “You seemed to want it both ways at a certain point. A statement was issued on your behalf saying, initially, that you had informed relevant Government colleagues about the meeting, and then, subsequently, the position was oh it would have been highly inappropriate to brief Cabinet colleagues about matters pertaining to a protected disclosure. To what extent did you yourself add to the confusion?”
Zappone: “Well, as you indicated there, I was out of the country for a very brief time. A long-standing family commitment. So I was not able to, I suppose, add my own voice, to offer the clarity in the way that I think I normally do in terms of issues that arise and coming to the media to address that. And so, given the time difference, distance, sorry the time differences, and the geographic distance I wasn’t able to be there, be there myself in order to offer that clarity about what happened, why I made the decisions and I think still, those decisions, I accept that, I have learned from, in terms of the way that we operate as a Cabinet. To perhaps be more explicit with information that one carries in the decisions that are being made. I said then, as I continue to say now, my prime concern was the protection of the McCabes and my understanding was that, with the information that I had shared, particularly with the Taoiseach, that their concerns would be incorporated into the tribunal of inquiry.”
O’Rourke: “Did you fear, at a certain stage maybe, in the earlier part of this week you were still away, that your own membership of the Government was on the line. That you might have to leave Cabinet?”
Zappone: “I, no, I, I didn’t think that, Sean?”
O’Rourke: “Or be forced out?”
O’Rourke: “Or be forced out? That you might have been sacked?”
Zappone: “Oh, ok, I’ll tell you, what, again, no, what was most on my mind was to ensure that a way of responding to this kept us moving to an appropriate response to the McCabes and I think, as you know, things have continued and certainly, under my own direct, sense of powers, as minister of children, I have, I ordered the establishment of a statutory investigation by HIQA, in terms of the way in which Tusla manages child abuse allegations, and I’m very pleased to say that I….
Speak over each other
Zappone: “…terms of reference have been agreed within the last week and that investigation will be initiated.”
O’Rourke: “And that’s an important part, perhaps the most important part of the bigger picture. But to go back to the politics of this for a minute. What did you think of what emerged afterwards to have been a fictitious account given by the Taoiseach on [RTE’s] This Week about having met you before you met the McCabes and told you ‘be sure you take a good note’.
Zappone: “Well, as you’ve already indicated. I was in the States when that programme [Prime Time] happened. When I came back, I responded to the media, I put on the record in the Dail, in terms of what happened. And that I know now, and I think everyone else knows that the Taoiseach has agreed with that account.”
O’Rourke: “At the same time, by all accounts, and his own not least, he’s been forced into a position where he’s brought forward, and significantly, it would appear, the date of his departure as leader of Fine Gael and as Taoiseach.”
Zappone: “I suppose, Sean, those are issues and decisions in relation to the Fine Gael party. I, as a Cabinet minister and engaging with this very,very, very difficult issue in relation to the McCabes, obviously, had a history, a complexity, my focus was on them. I behaved in relation to a concern for them. I communicated with the Taoiseach in a way that I thought that was appropriate. And what happened after that is outside of my control.”
O’Rourke: “Should you have been more explicit in Cabinet. And I know there’s a constitutional bar on you giving details of Cabinet discussions but could, and should you have been more explicit about insisting Tusla needs to be brought into much more, front and centre, into the terms of reference of what was originally setting out to be, or being set up, as a Commission of Investigation?”
Zappone: “I suppose everything we do at the Cabinet table, Sean, comes as a result of a discerning process. And as I said, I have learned some lessons from this in terms of, you know, maybe bringing to the table things that before I might have felt were appropriately kept with me. But, at that particular moment, my discernment, as I said, my understanding and my reading of the terms that were in front of me, my communication with the Taoiseach was what I knew, from the McCabes, would be part of the investigation. And the judge who was leading that subsequently confirmed that, even before we actually enlarged the terms of reference.”
O’Rourke: “I suppose we have so many strands to the, our relationship with our troubled past and talking about, particularly, where children are concerned for now. We’ll talk politics later but, that are on the agenda at the moment, not least what’s emerged about the amounts of money being paid as part of the whole Redress arrangements which cost now over €1.5billion. The expectation, hope that it would be a 50:50 split between the State and the Church, mainly the Catholic Church, hasn’t materialised. What do you think should happen?”
Zappone: “I would be very much in agreement with my colleague, Minister [Richard] Bruton and support him in his re-engaging with the religious orders in order for them to make contributions to the redress scheme. Because they do share the burden of the responsibility. And I will support him in those discussions.”
O’Rourke: “And what about something that Micheal Martin, the Fianna Fáil leader, said to us on the programme a few days ago. That he felt it would be appropriate, now it wasn’t exactly in the context of redress, that the Catholic Church should hand over its hospitals is what he identified specifically to the State?”
Zappone: “Yes, I, you know, I reflect on that. I think, underneath that recommendation, is that the desire for all of us to ensure and to see that people are held accountable for what has gone on and in terms of the abuses that were done in relation to children, as well as women over the last number of years. Who is responsible? And if those people who are responsible? How much of they pay? How much should the State pay? Should we extend terms of reference, even for the Commission of Investigation that I’m overseeing and supporting and does that, does that mean that, ultimately, those people, the survivors, who are looking for compensation, ought we, the State, the religious orders, who ought to pay for that and how do we make those decisions. It’s all part of that space, Sean. And, I think, you know, if people are offering solutions on how to move forward, I’m listening to those. But I think we need to spend time reflecting on how to do this in the best possible way.”
O’Rourke: “The Taoiseach said, briefly, if possible, you might respond to this. That during the week, ‘women did not impregnate themselves, nuns did not reach into family homes and take babies out’. Do you think in any truth-telling process, you would set up, there’s any possibility, remote or otherwise, we will hear from men in large numbers, other than those who have suffered in the institutions? About what they knew? What they did?”
Zappone: “That’s a great question, Sean. You have asked it. And I hope that the men here, you as a man, asking that question, I would love to see that happen.”
Dr Michael Woods (Right) with Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen (left) and Micheál Martín at an FF Think-In in 2009
The June 2002 deal between Fianna Fáil and 18 religious orders, brokered by Michael Woods while serving as Minister for Education, awarded indemnity against all legal claims if the orders paid €128m in cash and property.
The agreement was made by Mr Woods, a devout Catholic, on behalf of Fianna Fail, before the 2002 General Election and cabinet approval was never sought. It was also never run past the Attorney General of the day [Michael McDowell].
At the time total liability to survivors was estimated at €300m even though no detailed analysis was carried out by any government department. Total liability is currently estimated at €1.5bn
On this morning’s Today with Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martín was asked about the deal.
Seán O’Rourke: “Should the Government now, given what was revealed in Tuam, revisit the deal that was done in 2002 between the church and the then Fianna Fáil government? You were part of it. There was the minister [for justice], Michael Woods giving the religious orders a €128million or 128million pound/punt indemnity. And, since then, the State has paid €1.5billion in restitution for the abuse. I’m not sure if the €128million, such as it was, has actually ever been delivered?”
Micheál Martín: “Well, first of all, there’s two elements of that. There’s the payments to victims of industrial schools at the time. And the redress board that was established – that would have had to be established irrespective of any deal with the church, Sean. The church would never had been coming up with €1.5billion and the legal advice at the time, and I remember speaking to the late Rory Brady who was the Attorney General [Editor’s note: Mr Brady was appointed Attorney General after the indemnity deal was struck], he was adamant that the State would always, because of its involvement, from the inspectorial regime at the time in industrial schools – it was culpable. And so the choice was: does one, would you leave the victims waiting and those who were in, the survivors, sorry, of industrial schools, would you leave them waiting or would you allow them have to go through the courts for years to get their justified compensation. Or would you do…”
O’Rourke: “Are you saying that was the best deal that could be done at the time?
Martin: “No I’m saying it was the most humane thing that could have been done in terms of the redress scheme. In terms of the Church in my view a better deal could be done. and, for example, I think all the hospitals in the state should be given over by the churches to the state. I think the state has invested hugely in them anyway but I think issues like that could occur but in terms of actual pure cash I don’t think you were ever going to get to a situation the where the church would be coming up with the 1.5 billion. I would respectfully suggest the state was culpable, we were told the state was culpable. Demonstrably so. The state inspected these schools.”
O Rourke: “Of course the church is not neatly identifiable entity. it has different if you like manifestations a lot of which are independent of one another. Dioceses are different from religious orders…so how do you actually tie it all down?”
Martin” Well I think you engage with all the various orders one by one, you engage with those who have particular responsibilities, some more than others it has to be said. And of course religious orders are very much in decline in terms of nuns and brothers and that who would have been running industrial schools way back then and indeed the mother and baby homes..there’s a limit to what actually can be achieved in this field if one is honest, But on the other hand, there’s properties and land. and so on like that which should be there for the common good. The orders have responded in that regard by the way in relation to the provision of some services in health and education…”
O’Rourke: “…and a plan for social housing has been provided aswell. This idea that you have with the hospitals. The ones that would be obvious and immediately come to mind would be some of the big ones in Dublin like St Vincent’s, The Mater are you saying they should be handed over effectively to the state?”
Martin: “I do actually.And given now the state is now funding all of these hospitals my own view is that it’s time if there any properties still retained by the church they should hand them over.”
O’Rourke: “And without any religious if you will lingering influence in regard to ethical committees and things of that nature?”
Martin: “There are ethical committees that owe more to medicine than religious ethos and in my view that should always be the preeminent.”
O’Rourke: “And is this your alternative to re-opening the Michael Woods deal?”
Martin: “Well when you say re-open…I think we need to cut to chase fairly quickly here and that’s why I made that particular suggestion as an example of what could be done.”
From top: Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan and chair of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily at the Griffith Conference Centre in Dublin yesterday
On RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.
Chair of the Policing Authority Josephine Feehily spoke to Mr O’Rourke following Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan’s appearance before the authority yesterday.
During the interview, Ms Feehily was asked if she had confidence in Ms O’Sullivan.
In addition, during the interview, Ms Feehily referred to a report by RTE journalist Paul Reynolds, on Thursday, February 16.
This was eight days after Labour TD Brendan Howlin claimed in the Dail that a journalist had contacted him to tell him “they had direct knowledge of calls made by the Garda Commissioner to journalists in 2013 and 2014, in the course of which she made very serious allegations of sexual crimes having been committed by Sgt Maurice McCabe”.
Mr Reynolds’ report on February 16 stated that the Policing Authority had expressed confidence in Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and senior garda management via a statement.
In an online report, RTE reported:
“In a statement this afternoon, the authority said it is satisfied with garda management’s ability to do its important, challenging, and difficult job.”
From this morning’s interview:
Josephine Feehily: “We think that it is hugely important, now that the decision has been made by Government, to have an investigation, that it is held in public and that it moves along at a pace to bring, to bring finality, hopefully, to a saga that’s been running for a very long time. Which is potentially corrosive, potentially damaging for public confidence and policing and damaging for the moral of the men and women who work in An Garda Siochana, whether civilian or otherwise. It’s also, I suppose the authority, the authority’s remit is about policing, it’s management, some of it is tedious, some of it is boring. But it is about being persistent and pressing the Garda Siochana to implement their plan to deliver on their targets and to achieve their objectives. And we really need this out of the way because, in the last couple of weeks, policing got lost in the noise around all of this. So, for all sorts of reasons. But it’s also important, I think, that all parties get a chance to say their piece and I’ll say no more than that, about the matters before the tribunal.”
Sean O’Rourke: “One of your colleagues on the authority, Maureen Lynott, felt it necessary towards the end of yesterday’s session to offer a word of warning it could be called, to the members of the Garda management that they should be aware of the dangers of falling into group think, as they prepared for that. Is that a concern that you would share?”
Feehily: “Well I think. Maureen is a very, very experienced person, working in lots of large organisations and I think rather than a ‘warning’ it was perhaps more by way of advice. We have a concern about the culture of the gardai. This is not a concern that’s new to the authority. There are books and tomes written, back to Morris [Tribunal] and so on about that. We pressed the Garda Siochana last year, following O’Higgins [Commission of Investigation] to do a culture audit and they are now out to tender for that to be done by a professional firm. So, I guess it was in the context of our concern about culture and ethics which we talked a lot about yesterday because the authority has launched recently a code of ethics for the Garda Siochana. It was in that context of culture, of closed-ness. Closed organisations, and it’s not unique to the Gardai, can fall victim to group think, that’s just a fact. So, I think I would say advice rather than…”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, and you also had a, I suppose, a little caveat that you entered yourself when one of the members of the other side of the management team was talking about how they appreciated the support of the authority in the way they were implementing the code of conduct and you, you slighted resiled or resisted that motion, that you were supporting them, what exactly is your motivation there?”
Feehily: “OK, this is about the protected disclosure policy and what he actually did was he welcomed our endorsement and that was just going too far from the authority’s point of view. The background to this is that, last summer, following O’Higgins, we called on the commissioner to publish the protected disclosure policy of the Garda Siochana, this is a requirement in law. Every organisation, certainly the public sector has to have one. So, the policy was published, the authority reviewed it. It found some deficiencies in the policy. We shared those back with the gardai. They accepted some of our recommendations, some took a little bit of encouragement to get them to accept. Others then, they haven’t chosen to accept just yet. So, in that context, endorsement was just a bridge too far for me. And we will be working with them, over the next year, to push those recommendations a bit further.”
O’Rourke: “What’s the contested area?”
Feehily: “Well, the original contested area was about the motivation of protected disclosures. Which is not, the Act is very clear that motivation cannot be a factor when you’re assessing how to, when you’re assessing a disclosure. You can’t question the motivation. You have to take it as it is and assess what it stated in it. So, that was the first contested area. And they’ve accepted that and they’ve changed policy and that’s good and we welcome that. The other contested areas have to do with location of the responsibility for protected, for handling. I made the remark afterwards to the same gentleman that, you know, having the function, even partly located in a part of the organisation called internal affairs could be somewhat chilling. So those are the areas of our concern…”
O’Rourke: “Going back to the start of your answer, motivation, of course, is at the heart of matters which will be explored by the tribunal now, the Charleton Tribunal of Inquiry. And the authority took the view that, and this is a matter of public controversy, that for the duration of the inquiry, it wasn’t necessary, it’s not necessary for the commissioner to step back from her position. What led you to that decision?”
Feehily: “I suppose what led us to that decision was the same that what led many other commentators to that decision, it’s a matter of fair procedure. It’s a matter of fair procedure. It’s a matter of everybody, whether it’s the, in this organisation or any other organisation, being entitled to their good name, be entitled to fair procedure, being entitled to have their side heard. And I suppose that the other point I tried to make yesterday, maybe not strongly enough, there’s a very clear provision in the law that says the Commissioner is accountable to the minister and the Government. The Government, having decided that the only way that they could adjudicate between matters that were put before the minister in protected disclosures was to have, first, a commission, and then a tribunal. We had access to nothing, could not come to a different conclusion.”
O’Rourke: “In other words, it wasn’t your job to make a ruling on that?”
Feehily: “It absolutely wasn’t our job. Also…”
O’Rourke: “So, did you feely, why should you have said anything about it so?”
Feehily: “We actually didn’t say anything about it…”
O’Rourke: “You did take ten days, I think?”
Feehily: “Well, no, I think I maybe should explain. We didn’t say anything for 10 days because the matters that were being debated were not our job, they weren’t within our remit. And to be honest, Sean, and I think you know this very well. The story was moving extremely fast and it became political very quickly and that’s something we absolutely have no role in because we’re apolitical body.”
O’Rourke: “Going back to what you said, sorry…”
Feehily: “But we didn’t issue a statement, I’d like to clarify that because the notion that we issued a spontaneous statement of support, we were asked a question by your colleague Paul Reynolds and we have a principle of transparency, so we answered the question and we expressed confidence in the senior team of An Garda Siochana to do a very difficult job and, by extension, of course the senior team includes the Commissioner. So that’s actually what happened.”
O’Rourke: “Do you, as chairperson of the Policing Authority, have full confidence in the Garda Commissioner’s ability to do her job while this Charleton Inquiry is going on?”
Feehily: “I would say we have a degree of confidence but we are concerned. And I’m not saying that that’s a deep concern at this point. The Tribunal hasn’t begun but we have flagged that concern to the commissioner, we asked her the question in public yesterday and so I think it remains to be seen whether, as I put in my remarks yesterday, the accelerator can be kept to the floor in policing and in modernising the organisation while servicing a tribunal. So, it’s a question. We do have confidence in the commissioner’s and her senior team’s capacity to run the guards.”
O’Rourke: “Right, but if events at the tribunal raise, or increase, the level of those concerns, what do you do about it?”
Feehily: “We’ll see when it happens. It will depend significantly on context and whether, something in which we have a rol
O’Rourke: “That’s a less than a wholehearted endorsement of the commissioner, if I may say so?”
Feehily: “It’s, it’s not a, it’s a wholehearted endorsement, in terms of her capacity and the capacity of herself and her team to run the guards . It’s the, the, how will I put it, the parallel running of a very complex organisation that does need to keep the foot on change and modernisation while servicing a tribunal. And until that stats to play out, I’m just saying we don’t know.”
Further to an as-yet unpublished review finding there is no need for a second catheterisation laboratory to be opened at University Hospital Waterford.
And Independent Alliance TD John Halligan reportedly threatening to resign from Government if a second cathlab is not opened there – as promised during his negotiations to enter into Government with Fine Gael.
Mr Halligan spoke to Sean O’Rourke on RTE this morning.
The Waterford politician told the show he is still in Government “for the time being”.
He also said that, even though he hasn’t seen the review, it is “fatally flawed”.
From their discussion…
John Halligan: “I’m being quite blunt with you on this and they can deny it if they like but I have witnessed, I had witnesses with me, I had a barrister with me, going through the review, that Minister Noonan told me it was a formality, that they couldn’t be seen to be doing a special deal with a politician. Simon Coveney told me that if I did not sign up to the deal [for Government], they would deliver the cathlab anyway. So, I signed up in good faith. I was honourable in signing up and I’ve been honourable with the Government up to now. They’ve been dishonourable with me… The review has turned, the problem with the review is that it is fatally flawed. That there was parts of the review…the terms of the reference were not included in the review.”
Sean O’Rourke: “Yeah but you had long conversations with Simon Harris, the Minister for Health, last evening. And why didn’t you get to see the review at that or why didn’t you…”
Halligan: “We just didn’t get to it and we haven’t even seen it in Waterford here.”
O’Rourke: “Did he refuse to give it to you?’
Halligan: “He said that he would make the review available shortly. I pressed him on it, I said we needed to see it. We haven’t seen it but it’s not so much if I’ve seen the review, Sean. I’m not a medical expert but, as you would imagine, that the Waterford hospital, or the consultants in the Waterford hospital management or the Waterford hospital would see it so they could have a right of reply to the review and this is what the problem is at present. We don’t know what’s in the review – apart from the fact that he did state that we didn’t need the second cathlab.”
O’Rourke: “So, what’s going to happen now?”
Halligan: “Well, what’s going to happen now is I’ve come from a meeting with the hospital, they have asked me, the clinicians in the Waterford hospital not to do anything yet. They’re seeking to look at the review so they can analyse it and show where the review is fatally flawed and then look for a meeting with Minister Harris. And I think, out of courtesy with the hospital, that’s the very least he needs to do and then let’s see where we move from there.”
O’Rourke: “So, just to be absolutely clear about this. You said that there was no issue with Fine Gael, Michael Noonan saying ‘a formality’, Simon Coveney saying ‘we’re going to do this anyway’..”
Halligan: “Yes. Absolutely, why would I tell a lie on that? I have no reason to do that. Simon Coveney told me that, ‘we will deliver’, when talks didn’t look like they were going well, he actually said to me: ‘with or without you, John, we will…by the way, I will say, we will deliver this and we are committed’… He used the terminology here that ‘we are committed to delivering the second cathlab’. Now by the way, I’m not criticising Simon Coveney. I’ve good time for him, I’ve told you that before. But, I felt yesterday when I spoke to him that he seemed to be a bit disappointed and a bit bewildered.”
O’Rourke: “Yes and now you said yesterday I think, to Martina Fitzgerald that this issue had the capacity to bring down the Government. Are your colleagues in the Independent Alliance, are they all standing four-square behind you on this?”
Halligan: “They are, we’ve had a number of meetings at present. This is not what I want to do, Sean. I don’t want to destabilise the Government, contrary to what people might think. They may call me a destabilising character, I’m not. But I do speak my mind, I understand that there are serious issues affecting the country like Brexit, we have a budget to deal with, we have serious issues like Apple and so on. We don’t know what’s coming down the line and I, it’s been difficult enough for me with my ideology to go in an support Fine Gael, which I have done willingly and honourably. And I don’t want to bring the Government and nor do I want to destabilise the Government.”
O’Rourke: “If you resign, will the others resign along with you, Minister Ross and the others?”
Halligan: “I have no idea, Sean. I think… I’m not being smart at all with you, obviously, I don’t know..”
O’Rourke: “Sure if they’re four-square behind you, they have to resign?”
Halligan: “Well, they said they are behind me like so they’ll have to make that decision. To be quite frank with you, I’ll be honest with you again, I wouldn’t like to see the Government destabilised. I think they’ve broken their promise on this. I’m deeply disappointed they’ve done this. I’m hoping there may be some way through this in the next couple of days. If there’s not, I’ll be back on your show again.”
O’Rourke: “Saying what?”
Halligan: “Well I don’t know but I’ll be saying something different to what I’m saying now…”
O’Rourke: “Is it possible that if they don’t change their stance, as we understand it to be today, and if they don’t deliver the commitment they say they gave you, for the second lab, is it possible that all could happen and you could still stay in Government?”
Halligan: “I think that would be very difficult but what I’m saying now is that, having met the hospital and the clinicians in the hospital that they now are saying, let’s take this out of politics. Give us the review, let us critically analyse this review because we do know, we know that the review is faulty. We know that it didn’t include terms of reference…”
O’Rourke: “So, they’re saying, ‘don’t take any precipitative action… there’s a bit of ‘hold me coat’ about this now, John, listening to you.”
O’Rourke: “There’s a bit of ‘hold me coat’ about this?”
Halligan: “No, Sean, look, I mean I want to do what’s right for the country, but I also want to do what’s right for Waterford. If I still think I can get this over the line, over a couple of weeks or a couple of days, I’ll try. If I can’t get it over the line, I’m going to have to review my position.”
Richard Murphy, a tax expert based at the City University London, along with Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes spoke to Seán O’Rourke this morning.
Mr Murphy, from the outset, explained that he wasn’t in the least bit surprised by the European Commission’s ruling, as Ireland had let Apple have “unfair advantage” over its competitors and, therefore, under EU competition law, the ruling is logical.
He said the decision isn’t one about tax so much as it is about competition, adding:
“It is the right decision, yes it is because if we believe in fair markets, if we believe that that’s the way we should organise the world, then everybody has to compete on a level playing field. And, as any economist will tell you, we need transparency. Well, this was a secret deal, it was done without people knowing. The consequences were unclear for a long time and it did give Apple an unfair advantage over everyone else. It was bad for economics, it was bad for Ireland, let’s be clear here. It’s very obviously bad for Ireland now and it was bad for everybody else in the marketplace – for you and me as consumers.”
From the rest of the discussion:
Brian Hayes: “Well, this is a very serious decision, Sean. And I have no doubt that this will cause significant reputational damage to the country and that’s why I presume the Government will immediately have to appeal this decision. I think some of the logic that is behind this decision, I haven’t got the full document which is now being produced but some of the logic, in my view, is quite faulty.”
“The essential argument is that we’re being asked to collect tax that was generated from profits in other countries, ostensibly in the United States of America. Now there is absolutely no doubt that the change of tax structures brought about by [Finance Minister] Michael Noonan in terms of the ‘stateless’ branches of the companies that were there have come to an end, as a consequence of his decision. There’e been a fundamental change to the law in the last number of years and I think the argument that’s being made in the United States, and by the Irish Government is, and we are being asked to retrospectively apply a new tax code on a whole range of…”
Talk over each other
Seán O’Rourke: “But is it a new tax code, Brian Hayes? I mean if you don’t pay your taxes, or I don’t pay mine, I mean we’ll be very quick to tell us we have to pay retrospectively and with interest.”
Hayes: “You pay tax on what you generate in Ireland, Sean. You don’t pay tax for what you generate in the United States of America or elsewhere. And that’s the fundamental problem here. This is, in my initial reading of this, fundamentally altering the international standard about where you apply. You pay tax in Ireland on the value that you, on the profits that you create in Ireland. We cannot be responsible for taking the tax from other countries. And that’s why all of these issues can only be resolved at an OCED level.”
O’Rourke: “Right. Well, let’s ask Richard Murphy about that. Do you take that argument, Richard Murphy?”
Murphy: “No, I don’t buy that argument at all. There are a number of reasons why not. Firstly, this arrangement was designed to make sure that the tax was not paid in any other country, as well. So you can’t pretend that the tax should have been due in the UK and therefore Ireland shouldn’t be penalised because the arrangement made sure that no tax was paid in the UK. So you can’t use that argument. If you had been sure it was paid in the UK, you could use that argument. But you have not, you know it was not. And, secondly, the deal was designed to make sure the tax was actually paid nowhere. If it had been paid in full and properly in Ireland, I think there would have been some defence but, in practice, the structure was designed to make sure that, in effect, tax was not paid at all. And therefore, the ruling it is, well it must be due somewhere. And that must be Ireland. And, because it has not been taxed anywhere else, because that was what the ruling intended, Ireland should be responsible for collecting the tax…”
Hayes: “And Seán, the only other argument the Irish government have always said and it has been mentioned by every other member state of the European Union, this is ostensibly a matter for the United States of America…In the case of Apple, this could be resolved entirely by the US Congress changing the way in which they allow repatriation and allow…”
Murphy: “No, Brian, that’s no reasonable…”
Talk over each other
Hayes: “In the Irish case, just let me have my point, in the Irish case, there was an issue around stateless companies – that was remedied and the argument that has been made since then is how can you retrospectively apply this bill over a period of time? You’d have no surprise in my view Sean, that most of the cases on this top-level are being taken against small members states of the European Union – Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Ireland. Countries that have, traditionally, certainly in the case of Ireland, have no industrial revolution, have since the 1960s got to open its doors towards inward investment and now we’re being asked, in terms of the entire corporate tax structure in Europe, to take these cases on. I have no doubt that the Government will want to appeal this decision. Firstly, to ensure, that the integrity of our revenue system for all to see. You cannot have a retrospective effect in corporate tax law and that has been applied. And the other argument I would make which I think is important from the Irish Revenue’s perspective is they are, we tax all monies generated in Ireland, profits generated in Ireland, where all of the changes that Michael Noonan has brought about: abolishing the double Irish, making sure that stateless companies registration was changed, changing the residency rules, that happened in the last number of years and that’s right that that should happen. We’re ahead of the OECD in this regard and it’s entirely right that those are in place now in Irish law.”
Murphy: “I’m sorry, Brian, but I’m going to have to accuse you of using weasel words there. One of your key arguments was that this is a problem for the USA. What you were effectively saying, in your first intervention, was ‘Ireland couldn’t tax profits arising elsewhere’ and then you say, ‘the US should have profits, tax profits arising elsewhere’. You can’t have it both ways. This was not a US tax problem. It was a problem of tax not being paid in Europe and Ireland facilitating that by making sure that the tax was paid nowhere. There is no credibility in the Irish tax system. If you think there is, you are deceiving yourself. Around the world, people know…
Talk over each other
Hayes: “With respect…
Talk over each other
Murphy: “No, no, no, I’m allowed to say what I think here…”
Hayes: “And I’m allowed also to say what I think…”
Murphy: “There is no credibility because Ireland did go out of its way to help, the same, by the way, as Luxembourg did, as Belgium did and as The Netherlands have. All are tax havens. You are sitting in a tax haven, Brian, and that tax haven has made a fundamental error…
Talk over each other
Murphy: ..equality in the world and it decided to undermine fair competition in the world and it’s time Ireland stopped doing this and actually put in a place a fair competition policy that the people of Ireland could be proud of.”
Talk over each other
Hayes: “I’d like to counter that ideological rant.”
Murphy: “It’s not an ideological rant, Brian.”
Hayes: “I have my say now, I have my say now. I fully accept that there were issues in the past that had to be resolved but under the last government and under commitments made by this current government, those issues are being resolved and you need to respect that…”
In yesterday’s Irish Independent, journalist Sarah MacDonald reported that seminarians from Dublin will not be sent to study at the national seminary in Maynooth this year.
Instead, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin will be sending them to the Irish College in Rome. The decision followed claims of a “gay subculture” among seminarians in the college in Co Kildare.
Today, Ms MacDonald reports that a former trainee priest will meet with the Garda sexual assault unit this week to make a formal complaint against a priest who, he alleges, harassed him while he was studying in Maynooth.
Further to this, Ms MacDonald spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTEÉ Radio One this morning, along with Patsy McGarry, of The Irish Times, and Anthony Murphy, of The Catholic Voice.
Sarah MacDonald: “People are being given the forum now, for example, a new voice, or a new group called Vama – Voices Against Maynooth Abuse – have brought together complaints from a number of ex-seminarians, and they’re beginning to make their concerns public. And a number of these relate to concerns around staff and seminarians behaving inappropriately within Maynooth. There are also complaints and concerns around confidentiality agreements that are forced on seminarians within nine weeks of commencing studies.”
“And these confidentiality agreements, one seminarian told me that they forbid the disclosure of any activities or anything that they see or hear within the seminary and they’re not even allowed tell their own families about this. So there is a concern that that’s leading to a culture of secrecy.”
“And this culture of secrecy is something that we’ve heard about and was addressed, to some extent, over the child safeguarding scandals but now it seems to be hitting on concerns of young seminarians who feel that they’re being targeted for inappropriate behaviour and that they’ve no way of actually getting their complaints dealt with objectively and impartially.”
Sean O’Rourke: “There’s a combination of different strands there, as you say. But what has Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had to say, by way of explanation for why he has chosen to transfer students for the priesthood, from Maynooth, to Rome?”
MacDonald: “Well he hasn’t come out directly and linked what I’m hearing from ex-seminarians with his decision. He’s being rather coy about it, he said he isn’t happy with Maynooth, that there’s an atmosphere of strange goings-on, a quarrelsome place with anonymous letters being sent around and I suppose this is part of the concern is that if there is a situation where people can’t actually make complaints, have an impartial complaints procedure, seminarians or staff members have concerns that bishops might act against them and that they don’t have a place where they can air their grievances safely, without fear of retribution. Some people have obviously resorted to sending anonymous letters – be it to the bishops or to the media or this new group Vama that has emerged…”
O’Rourke: “You could understand, people listening to this, it’s not the kind of behaviour, not by a long, long shot that one would expect to be happening in a national seminary where future Catholic priests are supposed to be studying and not engage in any kind of sexual activity, it’s supposed to be sublimated to their higher calling, be it heterosexual or homosexual. So, this is the atmosphere that Archbishop Martin is referring to, is it?
Patsy McGarry: “There is an added element to this too, Seán. A senior figure on this staffing team in Maynooth resigned unexpectedly there in June and it’s said his concerns were to do with the theological formation mainly. And it was announced around the same time that the president of Maynooth was taking sabbatical leave for a period. It was pointed out and emphasised that this was not in relation to any of these events. But he’s due to retire next year as president which, really, raises the…”
O’Rourke: “Yes but the resignation of the individual who wasn’t satisfied with the theology, was that on the grounds it was too liberal or too orthodox or what was his complaint? I’m assuming it was a he, by the way.”
McGarry: “well the belief is…It is a he. This man, this priest was himself quite orthodox but his concerns were primarily with theological formation but also with the other, if you might use the phrase, strange goings-on at the college.”
O’Rourke: “Ok, to come to you Anthony Murphy, you the editor of the Catholic Voice newspaper, you’ve been writing about this for some time?”
Anthony Murphy: “Well, we have. We probably started writing about it five years ago and, you know, it’s important to emphasise that this is nothing new, it’s really like history repeating itself. Because these kinds of allegations to have been surrounding and enveloping Maynooth since the 1990s and they’re always of a similar nature. And you know, as you’ve pointed out, it doesn’t sound like a house for priestly formation. It sounds like a cross between a gulag, a mad house and a dating agency.
And we have to ask the serious question: you know, what on earth is going on? And it’s very good, I welcome the decision by the Archbishop of Dublin to withdraw his seminarians from Maynooth but simply to say there’s strange goings-on there, it’s not good enough. You know, these young men, formations are very thin on the ground in this day and age. And when young men make the decision to sacrifice their lives and go through all the difficulties of becoming a priest, to be treated in this appalling way and, you know, and then for the rest of us to be told there’s strange goings-on there, it’s really not good enough. So, we need to know what the strange goings-on are – there should be an independent investigation now, into the seminary…”
Parliamentary correspondent at The Irish Times, Michael O’Regan; Enda and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2014
During The Gathering slot on the Today With Sean O’Rourke show, the panel discussed the fallout of Brexit.
The panel included Stephen Donnelly, Social Democrat TD; Michael O’Regan, parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times; Dearbhail McDonald, Group Business Editor at Independent News and Media; and Mairead McGuinness, Fine Gael MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament.
During their discussion, they talked about the effectiveness of Enda Kenny when it comes to matters concerning Brexit.
Stephen Donnelly: “I would have no faith in Enda Kenny or Michael Noonan negotiating anything on behalf of Ireland, on a European level. At every single point, during the crisis, Ireland had either the worst deal, in terms of the bailout or the joint worst deal and every single improvement we got came from Portugal or Greece or another country.”
O’Regan: “No, no, no. That’s deeply unfair to the negotiation skills of Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan and others. Noonan is a very wily, and Kenny…”
Donnelly: “Michael…I’m sorry, Michael…”
O’Regan: “…is recognised in Europe as being quite skilful.”
Donnelly: “And if I was in Europe and Enda Kenny kept coming over and paying me all of this money that he didn’t own, on behalf of the Irish people, I’d be telling everyone he’s a great lad as well. The facts. Let’s look at the facts. The facts are, we had an every, single point, over the next number of years, the worst deal, or the joint worst deal. The facts are that Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny came back and said, ‘look, we have a seismic shift, we’re going to get retrospective recapitalisation’. And the facts are it never happened.”
Sean O’Rourke: “But they got back…”
Mairead McGuinness: “The facts also are that the economy has recovered, and needs to recover more, that employment has increased, that there is stability. The option… would you have pulled the plug completely and collapsed the economy, like what Greece tried to do?”
Donnelly: “It’s a non-question. Obviously…”
McGuinness: “It’s not a non-question.”
Donnelly: “Mairead, asking someone if they’d collapse the economy is a non-question. The question is when Michael Noonan…”
McGuinness: “Well it could have been the outcome of what you are proposing.”
Donnelly: “The question is when Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny went out to Europe, did they, at any time, get us a better deal? And the answer to that question is: no, they did not. Our better deals came from Greece and Portugal negotiating better deals and then we got them as well. Just on the leadership, Sean, very quickly. The TDs kind of banging the drum is one thing, actually, the much more interesting bit is the fact that Enda Kenny’s chief economic advisor is on his way to the EIB in a few months time. You want to look at the most telling timetable for the Taoiseach’s departure, it’s when his chief economic advisor leaves, it’s not when…”
O’Rourke: “Sure he can get another one. Sure people are coming and going in the White House all the time…”
McGuinness: “Yeah, I don’t think that’s quite on the button..”
O’Rourke: “And the state department in the United States.. and look Alistair Campbell moved out of 10, Downing Street, long before Tony Blair.”
From top: RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke and Fine Gael Minister for Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney
RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke interviewed Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney on his show Today with Seán O’Rourke.
They discussed the resignation of Joe O’Toole, from his position as chair of the Water Commission following his comments that people should pay their water charges; Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace’s bill on Fatal Foetal Abnormality; and housing.
During the interview, Mr O’Rourke appeared to be particularly riled by the promises made by Independent Alliance TDs Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and John Halligan that they will not vote with the Government and, instead, support Mr Wallace’s bill this week.
He described the three TDs’ actions as driving “a coach and four through the traditionally understood interpretation of the Constitution that’s there in black and white.”
From the discussion…
Seán O’Rourke: “Why didn’t you, as minister, say, ‘Joe, you overstepped the bounds of sensitive commentary here, you have to go’ instead of just hiding behind Fianna Fáil or looking over your shoulder at them?”
Simon Coveney: “I’m not hiding behind anything. I’m just telling you the truth. So, like, I’m not putting any political spin on this, Seán.”
O’Rourke: “Yeah but you seem to be suggesting that it would have been OK by you if he stayed.”
Coveney: “Yeah. Well I mean I asked Joe to do this job. I think he would have done a very good job. He’s very experienced politically. I think he did make a mistake in terms of being overly forthright in terms of his own views but he was asking, or he was answering questions that he was asked. What he wanted to do was get his own personal views out of the way early and then get on with being an independent and open-minded chair. Which I think he could have done.”
O’Rourke: “Do you know at this stage..”
Coveney: “I’m not going to start putting a spin on this, that I demanded he go or anything. I explained the position…”
O’Rourke: “But maybe you should have…”
Coveney: “Well, I mean, you can decide whatever you want but…”
O’Rourke: “But I’m asking you…”
Coveney: “I asked Joe to do a job. I think he would have done a good job. I was willing to support him through the comments that he’s made in the last number of days because I can understand the context around that. But others weren’t. And the important, this isn’t like a lot of other political decisions that I have to make as a minister. The Water Commission has to have the confidence, in particular of the two big parties that actually put it together in the Confidence and Supply agreement. And, also, I think, I hope it needs to have the support of other parties as well. Some of them would have been campaigning against water charges, who would at least have an open mind to the outcome of that commission report. And you know there was a lot of criticism of Joe because of the comments that he made. But I mean ultimately, you know, if I didn’t have the support of the other major party, that put this proposal together, with Fine Gael, well there was going to be a problem and I’m just being upfront about that, that’s what happened.”
O’Rourke: “So here we are, we have a situation where it’s Fianna Fail rather than you, as the minister responsible for his departure, you also have a situation where, we don’t need to go through it all, where you have partners in Government who refuse to abide by the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility,as outlined in the Constitution or they have refused as well, to accept the advice of the Attorney General. I just have a question for you about the viability and the strength of this Government. I mean, and I’ll put it in maritime terms because I know they’re ones you’re very familiar with, as somebody who is a seaman, but how would you feel about going around the Mizen in a Ford Seat with Shane Ross and company in your crew?”
Coveney: “Look, first of all, can I say that anybody who thinks that politics in Ireland should be politics as normal, as if the Government had a majority which a Government would normally have, doesn’t understand the new realities of politics. We are in a minority government, we’re trying to give leadership in that environment. Sometimes we have to negotiate with Fianna Fail as a main opposition party in areas where we have a Confidence and Supply agreement like on water for example. There are many other areas where we have no agreement with Fianna Fáil. And Fine Gael and our partners in Government will put policy together and we will debate it and implement it and…”
O’Rourke: “And that’s all perfectly understandable but what sure as hell is not politics as normal is where Cabinet ministers can drive a coach and four…
Talk over each other
O’Rourke: “Where Cabinet ministers can drive a coach and four through the traditionally understood interpretation of the Constitutionthat’s there in black and white.”
Coveney: “Yeah and this is not something that should happen often in Government. I mean what we have is…”
O’Rourke: “Often? It should never happen, surely.”
Coveney: “Seán, could you let me answer the question. What’s happened here is arguably the most sensitive political issue, which is around abortion, termination of pregnancy in areas or in circumstances where we have a tragic diagnosis of Fatal Foetal Abnormality. And where we have two independent opposition TDs bringing forward a bill that in our view, in Government, is unconstitutional, on the advice of the Attorney General and that is why Fine Gael’s position on this is absolutely clear. We have an agreed Government approach to trying to resolve this issue through a Citizens’ Assembly that will make recommendations that Fine Gael has agreed to have a free vote on at the end of that process, to try and bring a more permanent and real solution to this problem. In my view, what Mick Wallace is doing here is proposing a piece of legislation that will have no effect whatsoever in terms of outcome should it be introduced because it is unconstitutional and therefore won’t work. We have a Chief Medical Officer, to the Government and to the Department of Health, saying that this bill will not work and so, what Fine Gael wants to do is actually address this issue in all of its complexity and have an outcome that can help women who are in crisis. Unfortunately, what’s happened here is there’s a difference of opinion in Government…”
O’Rourke: “Yes but…”
Coveney: “The Independent Alliance, most of their members have already voted for this legislation when it was previously brought before the Dáil a number of months ago…”
O’Rourke: “And that’s all been well rehearsed, that’s well understood minister but essentially what the position here now seems to be, because it is such a sensitive issue, those ministers and members of your partners in Government, be they Cabinet or just beneath Cabinet level, are being told, ‘ok, because it’s so sensitive, you can do that on this occasion’ but they’ve been given a stern warning as to future behaviour but sure nobody will take that seriously.”
Coveney: “Well I think they will take it seriously because if we’re going to have a coherent government, you do need to take collective Cabinet responsibility seriously. And it’s important that the Government sticks together. And I think, you know, with what the Taoiseach said this week and I support him very strongly, you know, in a minority situation, in particular in a minority situation, a Government needs to stick together, you need to have collegiality and a Government needs to take a collective approach but there are circumstances and we have them this week, on an issue like Fatal Foetal Abnormality, and a piece of legislation relating to it where the independents feel that they want the freedom to be able to vote according to their conscience, is what they would say…”
O’Rourke: “Have you got assurances from them…”
Talk over each other
Coveney: “When the work of the Citziens’ Assembly is done and when those recommendations are made to the Oireachtas and when we are voting on those recommendations, at some later point, which won’t be the far distant future, Fine Gael will also have no whip in that situation because people will be allowed to vote according to their conscience…”
O’Rourke: “Right, but just before we move on…”
Coveney: “The difference here is that there is an expectation being built up that, actually, this bill can solve problems for women and, in our view, it can’t which is why we’re voting against it and we’re going to have a process underway that can deal with this in a more comprehensive and more sensible way.”
O’Rourke: “Have you, and has the Taoiseach more importantly, got an assurance from Shane Ross that the principle of Cabinet collective responsibility, or collective Cabinet responsibility, will be adhered to into the future after this one-off exception?”
Coveney: “Well I think there’s an understanding that this a one-off exception. I don’t think we’re going to have a repeat of this very often. And I think there’s an understanding across the Cabinet…”
O’Rourke: “A one-off that won’t be repeated very often doesn’t sound like a very reassuring kind of understanding.”
Coveney: “Well I’m just, I’m just telling you that any, there’s nothing in writing here but I think the Taoiseach made it very clear, the responsibilities that members of Government have…”
O’Rourke: “Yeah, it shouldn’t actually need to be in writing.”
Coveney: “…that is protected by the Constitution and it’s our job as a Government to actually act in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution so, you know, what’s happening this week is not going to be a regular occurrence, I can assure you.”
From top: Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace in the Dáil last night and Irish Times deputy political editor Pat Leahy
Further to last night’s debate on Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace’s bill to allow for terminations in Ireland in the case of fatal foetal abnormality – a bill which has been deemed unconstitutional by the Attorney General Máire Whelan.
Pat Leahy, deputy political editor of the Irish Times, spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One this morning.
During their discussion, Mr Leahy insisted that, having seen Ms Whelan’s advice, it is ‘utterly unconstitutional’.
He also suggested that if the Government doesn’t accept Ms Whelan’s advice, she may have to step down.
Readers may note that Mr Wallace has called for the advice to be published – to allow for a debate on the advice.
From the interview…
Pat Leahy: “At present the Government is unable to reach a collective position on Mick Wallace’s bill which was debated in the Dáil yesterday evening but won’t be voted on until next Thursday. And normally what would happen is with a private members bill like this, the Government would oppose it or not oppose it. But normally would oppose it, put down a countermotion and Government TDs would be whipped into voting for the countermotion or the amendment but, at its meeting last Tuesday, the Government was unable to reach a decision. Now, constitutionally, legally, the Government must act with collective authority. That means that it must, all its members must agree to act and speak as one…”
Sean O’Rourke: “I’ve just happened to find that article 28 in Bunreacht na hÉireann, it says, one, well it says, ‘the Government shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann’ and then, ‘the Government shall meet and act as a collective authority and shall be collectively responsible for the departments of state, administered by members of the Government.’
Leahy: “Yeah. And at present in relation to this issue, the Government is unable to do that. And that’s despite having been advised by its chief law officer and legal advisor, the Attorney General, that the bill that Mick Wallace has put before the Dail is unconstitutional. And I’ve seen that advice, I wrote about it in the Sunday Business Post last year and again recently in the Irish Times, and that advice is utterly unequivocal, it’s not, ‘on the balance of probabilities, this is probably unconstitutional’. It’s completely unequivocal that, it couldn’t be stronger that the bill is unconstitutional. And despite that clear advice, the Government is unable to come to a collective position on that.”
Leahy: “Because the Independent Alliance members want a free vote. Now it’s my understanding that the Independent Alliance members of the Cabinet are prepared to sign up, if you like, to a collective decision to oppose this bill. But they want to be allowed the right to abstain on it themselves. Now that sounds slightly constitutionally shaky to me but it may be a way out. And, ultimately, if you were to ask me, I suspect that that’s the way out that will be found. As of yesterday, I’m told, that the Taoiseach and Sarah Bardon writes about this in our paper [Irish Times] today, the Taoiseach was absolutely firm that that would be impossible. That having been advised by the Attorney General, the Government must follow his advice and ministers must act in accordance with that advice.”
Later – after Mr O’Rourke played clips of Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell speaking during last night’s debate and Independent Alliance TD John Halligan speaking earlier today on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland
Leahy: John Halligan gave a very powerful speech last night in the Dáil. Not the first powerful speech he’s given on this subject and there was motions on this in the last Dáil as well and it’s peroration was that he didn’t care what the Attorney General’s advice does, sorry, didn’t care if it was unconstitutional. Anyone who was there last night or anyone who was watching last night, couldn’t have been in any doubt other than he’s certainly, if he’s not going to vote for this, he’s certainly not going to vote against it. I think that presents him with a problem.”
O’Rourke: “Here’s a question and I’m just wondering, I’m no constitutional lawyer but is John Halligan part of the Government in the sense of being part of the Cabinet, he’s not?”
Leahy: “No, he’s not. No, he’s not. He’s not. The Government in the constitution, we use it as a generic term to mean everybody in Government buildings and so forth.”
O’Rourke: “So could it not be said, look he’s not in the Cabinet, so he’s not, he doesn’t have the same constitutional responsibility, we’ll cut him a bit of slack. On the other hand, it’s very bad, is it not, for political discipline?”
Leahy: “That deal could perhaps, maybe that’s what happens. But he’s got a slight problem with the programme for Government that he spoke about there and in the programme for Government it says that where the Government reaches a decision that all members and office holders specifically, and he is an office holder, are bound to support that decision. Now, so under the terms of that, under the terms of the programme for Government…”
O’Rourke: “That’s where his difficulty will lie…”
Leahy: “If the Government decides that to oppose this bill, and that depends on the independent ministers in Cabinet, resiling from their opposition to that collective decision being made, then he’s got…but there’s another problem here I think Sean, which is that if this is let slide and the Government does not reach a position on it, I think that’s a very serious situation for the Attorney General, whose advice to the Government is unequivocal. Now if the Government is unable to follow that advice, I think it probably puts her in a more or less untenable position.”
O’Rourke: “You think she might resign if the Government doesn’t stick by and accept the Taoiseach’s insistence, they have to vote against this…”
Leahy: “If the Government doesn’t take the Attorney General’s advice on an issue such as this then it would be hard to know what the Attorney General is for…”