Check against delivery
“That Dail Eireann reaffirms its confidence in the Government”
I am pleased to have this opportunity to report to the House about the important work being undertaken by the Government, the major challenges that face the country, and how the Government intends to meet those challenges.
This debate is also an opportunity to expose the political opportunism that has resulted in this motion. Sinn Fein, not content with collapsing the power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland, they now want to cause similar chaos here.
By their actions, Sinn Fein have deprived the people of Northern Ireland of proper political representation at this crucial time in the Brexit process. I am not going to let them do the same in this state.
Sinn Fein’s motion was prompted , we’re told, by the Government’s decision to establish a commission of investigation into very serious allegations centred on an alleged smear campaign against a serving Garda.
When one reflects on the history of that party’s relationship with on Garda Siochana over the years, and their shameful handling of sexual abuse cases within their own movement, they have a brass neck to call for a general election on these issues.
I want to make it clear to the House that this Government’s sole objective in responding to the recent protected disclosures has been, and remains, to get to the full truth of all of these allegations.
The false allegations against Sergeant Maurice McCabe are appalling. Sexual abuse is the worst crime a person could be accused of.
He and his family deserve the truth, as do all against whom allegations have been made.
This must be done in a way that is transparent to the public but also fair to all concerned.
The Government has decided that a full Tribunal of Inquiry is the only way that can be achieved.
Intensive work is underway on the terms of reference and I hope the House will support that proposal so that the work of the inquiry can commence without delay.
I reject any suggestion that the Government has not supported Garda whistleblowers.
I want to remind the House that the Government has ensured that all of Sergeant McCabe’s previous allegations were investigated.
This includes the reports on the penalty points, which were published, and the Guerin Report into policing issues in Cavan/Monaghan which led in turn to the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation.
I am pleased that in each of these instances, the inquiries largely vindicated Sergeant McCabe’s concerns and complaints.
It includes the recent inquiry by Judge O’Neill into the allegations of a smear campaign, arising from two protected disclosures.
Last week, we proposed a further Commission of Investigation chaired by Judge Charleton of the Supreme Court, accepting the terms of reference drawn up by Judge O’Neill.
Now that will be transformed into a full Tribunal of Inquiry.
The issues raised by Sergeant McCabe and others also led to very significant reforms by the Government, including the establishment of an independent Police Authority for the first time in the history of the State.
We legislated for the protection of whistleblowers and empowered GSOC to receive complaints from serving Gardai.
In response to representations from the Independent Alliance we have agreed to appoint without delay an independent, international, policing expert to carry out a thorough investigation into the wider and more fundamental issues of public concern which have emerged relating to the administration, ethos and culture of An Garda Siochana.
I would like to recognise the long term commitment of the Independent Alliance acting in the interests of the McCabe family and the cause of whistleblowers. As their Charter for Change states unequivocally that‘Garda whistleblowers have been treated shamefully’ and ‘a complete overhaul of our justice system is necessary’
I hope that the work of this tribunal of inquiry will also contribute to the ongoing process of policing reform which is absolutely necessary in the public interest.
There has been much comment on my brief contact with the Minister for Children. I have corrected the public record on this matter.
On 24 January one of Minister Zappone’s officials told my office that she intended to meet with Sergeant McCabe. That was relayed to me.
On 7 February, in a brief informal conversation as the Cabinet meeting of that day was about to commence, Minister Zappone mentioned to me that she had met with Sergeant McCabe about false allegations of sexual abuse that had been made to Tusla.
She did not go into the details of her meeting with Sergeant and Mrs McCabe, or into Tusla’s gross mishandling of this issue. She was quite correctly respecting his right to privacy and confidentiality regarding very sensitive matters.
It was absolutely clear to me that these allegations would be fully covered by Justice O’Neill’s draft terms of reference as allegations of criminal misconduct against Sergeant McCabe are at the very core of the proposed commission’s remit.
In fact, it was Justice O’Neill who had carried out a thorough examination of the two protected disclosures and prepared his draft terms on the basis of covering all the issues that he believed needed to be investigated.
That has been confirmed by Mr Justice Peter Charleton who has said that all of the allegations revealed in the Prime Time programme are, in fact, covered by the original draft terms of reference.
I have acknowledged that I was mistaken in my account of the sequence of contacts with Minister Zappone. That was an unintentional error for which I apologise.
However, I will not apologise for my record as Taoiseach when it comes to child protection.
I appointed the first cabinet level Minister for Children in the history of the State.
In responding to the Cloyne Report, I expressed the revulsion felt by very many people at the gross failure of the Catholic Church to protect children and punish abusers.
I ensured that a referendum was held to enshrine the rights of children in our Constitution and that the Children First guidelines were put in a statutory footing.
There is more work to be done and more challenges to be met.
The last thing this country needs is a general election less than a year after the last one.
At a time of huge international uncertainty, we need stability.
In a few short weeks, the formal negotiations on Brexit will begin. Ireland is very well prepared for this process but we do need to be ready to hit the ground running as soon as Article 50 is triggered.
Our Programme for Government is based on a clear principle – to use the fruits of a strong and well managed economy to improve the daily lives of our people.
That Plan is working. The economy is growing strongly.
Last year, over 1,000 jobs a week were created and a further 45,000 new jobs are expected this year.
We are continuing to invest in tacking the very serious challenges in the health service.
The housing and homelessness crisis is probably the most difficult legacy of the collapse of the housing bubble which we inherited in 2011.
Bringing housing supply back to sustainable levels, and stabilising the rental sector has been a slow process but we have a clear plan and that plan will overcome this challenge.
Our prudent management of the public finances means we are on course to have a balanced Budget in 2018.
We recently began work on a National Planning Framework, which is essential if we are to achieve balanced regional and rural development.
This will be underpinned by a new 10 year national capital plan which set out the key infrastructural investments needed to support a post Brexit Irish economy.
The delivery of these and other initiatives in the Programme for Government is what this country needs to meet the very real challenges ahead.
Not political stunts by Sinn Fein.
I commend the Government motion to the House.