O'Donoghue denies Ansbacher claim

 

An angry Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, said he gravely resented any suggestion that the Government was in some way trying to shield any Ansbacher account holder. This was false and malicious.

The Minister was reacting to a claim by Mr John Connor (FG) that he intended to "hold in check at all costs" the powers of the Moriarty Tribunal in relation to the accounts.

The exchanges came during the debate on the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) (Amendment) Bill 1998, which was passed.

The measure was needed to accommodate the request of Mr Justice Flood for the amendment of the tribunal he was chairing on planning matters, the Minister said. Among its safeguards was that a request for an amendment to terms of reference must come from a tribunal itself.

A tribunal would also have to be satisfied that such an amendment would not prejudice the legal rights of any person who had co-operated with or provided information to the tribunal under its terms of reference.

Strongly criticising the Bill as absolutely unnecessary, Mr Connor accused the Minister of being at the centre of a web of secret manoeuvring to ensure that it became law. Mr Justice Flood's request had caused absolute consternation in the Cabinet, which was obstinately opposed to public and political demands for a widening of the Moriarty terms to encompass the Ansbacher accounts.

The Minister, who had contrived to ensure that the initiative in giving a wider remit was removed from the Oireachtas, feared that the Flood and Moriarty tribunals would uncover further shocking scandals that would lead to major public controversy, resulting in pressure to extend their terms.

But if that scenario came about, the Oireachtas would be powerless to respond to the public mood. "If we are so mad as to pass this law that robs us of the power that the Constitution gives us, then we are not worthy to be members of this House, and I would say the very same thing to the members of the other House."

Mr Connor said he and many others believed that something sensational would be uncovered halfway through the Moriarty tribunal. There could then be a furious political row in which no judge would wish to seek extended terms for fear of becoming embroiled in such a row.

Following the revelation that around 129 files relevant to the tribunal had vanished from the Department of Finance, it might become necessary for the tribunal to seek amended terms to examine these disappearances. There could be a major political row if the Dail and Seanad could not ensure that this would be done.

Ms Kathleen O'Meara (Lab) strongly criticised the fact that the legislation was being pushed through in a matter of hours.

The Fine Gael Leader in the House, Mr Maurice Manning, called for a repudiation by the Taoiseach of remarks by the Minister of State, Mr Willie O'Dea, on civil servants. Mr O'Dea referred earlier this week to "troglodytes" working in the Department of Finance, Mr Manning said.