McDowell: Taoiseach was ill-advised, but not improper…

Michael McDowell has been keeping his powder dry all afternoon the Dail, despite some heavy taunting from the opposition benches. He was never going to treat this crisis quietly, but whilst passing the Taoiseach’s action as ill-advised, he doesn’t entirely pull his punches. But the it is the last line that will have many inside and outside the state shivering in thoughts of what might now be contained in his planned Privacy Bill, which has received heavy criticism on both sides of the Irish Sea. Full text of statement by Michael McDowell

Since the publication of information volunteered in confidence by the Taoiseach to the Mahon Tribunal, I and my colleagues have refrained from any substantive public comment. This was to afford the Taoiseach an opportunity to assemble the relevant information, ascertain his legal obligations in relation to the Tribunal, and to account publicly for the facts disclosed insofar as they were true.

Based on what the Taoiseach has stated, it is clear to me that the actions of a group of friends in late 1993 and in 1994, in advancing to him monies to assist him in the discharge of liabilities arising from his separation, were ill-advised. Based on what he has stated, it would also appear that these actions were well-intentioned and were not intended by them to have any improper effect or to compromise the Taoiseach in his then role as Minister for Finance or public representative.

In the light of what the Taoiseach has said about their identity and of pre-existing relationships of personal friendship and trust, and in the light of the scale of the individual payments, it is reasonable to accept that the motive for the payments was benevolent and was not intended to compromise, to be corrupt, or to obtain improper influence or reward

Although at all levels of Irish society there are and will be many cases where friends and acquaintances come together to help a friend in financial and personal difficulty, the fact remains that in the sphere of public affairs, an individual is not as free as others to accept such well-intentioned assistance. It seems to me that the Taoiseach should probably have declined such help even in the very difficult personal circumstances which he faced in 1993. However, I think it fair to say in the light of what the Taoiseach has stated that accepting such help was an honest error of judgment and was neither dishonest nor corrupt.

I have had the privilege of working with the Taoiseach as a fellow public representative, as Attorney General, and as Minister over many years and I have never had any reason to doubt his financial honesty or to suspect that he has abused his public office for self-enrichment. All the evidence points to the contrary. I look forward to continuing to work with him in implementing the Programme for Government, a duty which we both owe to the people of Ireland I believe, with the Taoiseach, that the payments in question should now be fully refunded with interest. If the donors are reluctant to receive them, they can surrender them to charitable causes.

I fully appreciate that it may have been difficult to make the refunds after the Taoiseach’s voluntary confidential disclosure of the payments to the Tribunal lest it might have been interpreted as some form of cover-up. But that issue no longer exists.

Finally, I condemn the unlawful, very carefully timed, ill-motivated betrayal of confidence by someone with access to the papers of the Tribunal. It is a supreme irony that in order to disprove an unfounded series of private allegations of corruption (in this case based in part on clever forgery) the Taoiseach was obliged to lay himself open to other charges of impropriety. The Tribunal, in amassing personal information for its work risks becoming discredited and ineffective if by its processes it cannot prevent such abuses.

The hurt caused by recent events to entirely blameless and innocent people should not be forgotten. Our focus remains on serving the public in accordance with our mandates. By dealing with these issues in a proportionate and clear-minded way, the public interest has been served and has not been compromised. 27th September 2006.

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