Taoiseach says Rabbitte party to fines conclusion

 

The Taoiseach and Mr Pat Rabbitte are still in conflict over the circumstances surrounding the then government's decision in 1996 that £70 million in EU fines could not be recovered from the beef industry.

Mr Ahern accused the Democratic Left TD, who was formally suspended from the Dail yesterday, of being a party to the Cabinet conclusion at the time that legal advice precluded it from recovering the money by way of a general levy on specific companies or on the meat industry as a whole.

But Mr Rabbitte claimed last night it was always his understanding of the government's position on March 11th, 1996, that the issue could not be decided until the European Court of Justice had decided on the matter. The court upheld the imposition of the fine last Thursday.

Mr Rabbitte challenged the Government to publish the full text of the previous government's decision which, he said, required the Minister for Agriculture to report periodically on "progress in recoveries arising from irregularities in the meat industry".

A minute of the 1996 government decision, seen by The Irish Times, shows that the Cabinet approved the introduction of comprehensive legislation - a Bill on the protection of the interests of the EU - to enhance domestic legislation and strengthen antifraud legislation, including sanctions against fraud; and changing the system of charging meat inspection fees to a full cost recovery.

The minute of the meeting also reveals that the then government approved the establishment of an operationally autonomous executive unit for all FEOGA payments, reporting to a director recruited by open competition, who would be an accounting officer managing a separate vote, reporting directly to the Dail's Public Accounts Committee.

The record shows that the Minister for Agriculture was required to report to the government periodically on progress in recoveries arising from irregularities in the meat industry.

The Taoiseach told the Dail yesterday that he was pursuing the terms set out by the Rainbow Coalition to take proceedings against companies in the Irish courts, where they could be successfully brought.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture has confirmed Mr Rabbitte's claim that the plenary summons served on the Goodman Group company in Ardee, Co Louth, at 4 p.m. on Tuesday had actually been authorised a year earlier.

The same spokesman denied Mr Rabbitte's allegation that critical files essential to the State's appeal of the £70 million fines at the European Court of Justice "have gone missing in the Department of Agriculture". This statement was "erroneous and untrue", the spokesman said, adding that no files were missing.