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Nolumus Mutari – Statement by Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan T.D., on the the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Houses of the Oireachtas Inquiries) Bill 2011

There are many eminent graduates of the King’s Inns, who still remain true to the King’s Inns motto, inscribed on their emblem – “Nolumus Mutari! – We shall not be changed!” They should remember that in March 2011, the Irish people voted for change, including a change to allow the Dáil and Seanad to inquire into matters of general public importance. 

I have been in the Department of Finance for over seven months now. There have been three separate reports into the collapse of the Banking system and while each was informative, nobody has been held to account.

At the publication of the Nyberg Commission report in April of this year, I announced that the Government would be introducing a referendum “to address the consequences of the Abbeylara judgment” and to give the Houses of the Oireachtas the power to inquire into matters of public importance, such as the banking crisis.

Earlier today Minister Howlin quoted Mr. Peter Nyberg who included in his report a recommendation that “future Commissions may need stronger mandates to ensure that substance is not eclipsed by legal form or excessive protection of single institutions or individuals.” Subsequently at his press conference after the publication of his report, Mr. Nyberg said “It was a surprise to me, when I came here, the strong and substantial influence of lawyers on everything that happens here. I stumbled over them all the time.”

We cannot allow the legal profession to prevent the representatives of the people examining matters of general public importance.

To put it bluntly, at present, there is no way that the Dáil or Seanad can hold inquiries to hold people to account where matters of general public importance exist. We have all seen the general ineffectiveness of Tribunals of Inquiry and how the processes can go on for up to 14 years at enormous expense.

Ireland’s parliament is virtually alone among democratic parliaments in not having powers of investigation. Such powers of inquiry are common in other parliaments across the EU and in common law jurisdictions such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

The Dáil has already proven in the past that it can examine matters of general public importance effectively and hold persons to account for their actions or lack of action.

The Public Accounts Committee is recognised as being a very effective Dáil Committee. It has in the past effectively and expeditiously held people to account, most notably in the DIRT inquiry. The DIRT inquiry was recognised as the Dáil operating at its best to inquire into issues of general public importance.

The DIRT inquiry preceded the Abbeylara judgement. As a consequence of that judgement, it has not been possible since then to establish an inquiry along similar lines. That is why this referendum is necessary.

If it is passed, the Dáil and Seanad will again be allowed to inquire into matters of general public importance. Its passage will be no threat to anyone, except those in society who wish to operate behind a cloak of secrecy, where their actions are not subject to scrutiny and where they are never held to account.