The United Left Alliance TDs, Richard Boyd Barrett, Joan Collins, Clare Daly, Seamus Healy and Joe Higgins are calling for a ‘No’ vote in next week’s Dáil Inquiries Referendum.
The need for an efficient, fair and transparent system for holding inquiries that throws a light on the workings of the state and its agencies, including the Gardaí as well as how the rich and powerful operate in this country and where appropriate bring out evidence and findings that could be used to prosecute wrongdoing is not contested by the United Left Alliance. The Tribunals of Inquiry we have seen over the last two decades have often fallen short on all of these counts.
In that sense the government’s proposal that is being put to a referendum is a missed opportunity. In fact if it is passed the powers that will be bestowed upon the government to hold inquiries into any matter of its choosing and make findings against an individual or individuals is open to abuse.
If this amendment is passed it will be up to a Dáil majority – in effect the Government – to decide on the subject-matter of an inquiry and the balance between the rights of individuals and the public interest. This power should not be entrusted solely to the government of the day. A more independent mechanism could have been proposed, such as Article 44 of the German Basic Law i.e. “[The Bundestag] shall have the right, on a motion of one quarter of its members, to establish an investigative committee, which shall take the requisite evidence at public hearings”.
In a briefing on the referendum by senior officials in Minister Howlin’s department to ULA and Technical group TDs and staff it was confirmed that no legal aid provision would be made to an ordinary citizen being compelled to appear before an Oireachtas inquiry as a witness or as an accused person. In other words only the rich and powerful would have the wherewithal to try to contest through the courts an attempt by an Oireactas enquiry to compel somebody to attend and be adequately represented in an inquiry scenario.
The reality is that there is no equality before the law or in this case before an Oireachtas inquiry. In both ca
ses ones ability to acheive justice or defend oneself depends to a huge degree on the representation one can afford, if any.
Regarding the referendum on Judge’s pay the United Left Alliance advocates a Yes vote from the point of view that we oppose the special status afford to the judiciary, as high paid public servants, regarding matters of salary. In calling for a Yes vote we also take the opportunity to reiterate our opposition to the massive pay differentials that exist in Irish society, both public and private sector.
Yesterday in the Dáil during the debate on reforming public sector pensions we reiterated our call for a salary cap of €100,000 across the public service. This coupled with a steeply progressive system of income tax which would go some way to addressing the massive pay inequality that exists in this country.