Powers of Investigation for Oireachtas — Referendum

Think back to two years ago when an artist painted some unflattering pictures of Brian Cowen and placed them in an art gallery.  RTE news reported the prank and showed the pictures in a TV report.

What happened?

The artist was arrested and charged.  Police confiscated other paintings by him.  RTE was forced to apologise.  Police tried to intimidate a radio station, saying the “powers that be” wanted action.


Because an artist painted unflattering pictures ridiculing a ridiculous politician.

I wrote a post on this at the time which I reproduce in full.  In a minute, I’ll tell you why.


Investigating an artist

Let’s just go through the mechanics of this ludicrous episode.


An artist paints a picture. No law broken.
He takes it to an art gallery where he leaves it, free of charge. No law broken.
The painting is an unflattering portrait of a politician. No law broken.
The gallery discovers the unauthorised painting and removes it quickly. No law broken.
The national broadcaster reports the incident. No law broken.
The politician takes offence at the news report.
The politician’s press officer demands an apology from the national broadcaster. Abuse of position.
The national broadcaster removes the news clip from its website and offers an apology for reporting the news item. Abuse of trust by broadcaster. Abdication of journalistic integrity.
Politician contacts police commissioner and demands an investigation. Abuse of office by politician.
Police commissioner diverts valuable policing assets from fighting crime to investigating prank. Misuse of resources by police commissioner.
Interference in politics.
Police visit commercial radio station and demand copies of emails from the artist. Attempted breach of Data Protection Act by police.
Station refuses. No law broken.
Police tell station head that the “powers that be” want action taken. Intimidation.Possible abuse of power by police.
Artist voluntarily contacts police.
Police confiscate other unrelated paintings from artist’s home. Theft of property by police. Intimidation.
Police prepare file for director of public prosecutions. Intimidation.
Abuse of police power.
Abuse of due process.
Waste of police time.
Waste of DPP resources.

So tell me. On balance, who is guilty of an offence?



Now, if politicians are prepared to do this in order to silence an artist, given that they have no power to convict anyone, what will they do if we give them the authority to place individuals on trial without the benefit of a lawyer or jury, send investigators into people’s homes and make findings of fact?

Who is to say that they won’t decide to investigate their critics or those who ask hard questions about their policies?

In the last day or two, we witnessed Bertie Ahern calling for journalists to be investigated for taking their eyes off the economy and spending too much time reporting the bullshit he told the Tribunal.  This is coming from a character no longer in power, thank goodness, but imagine what someone like Ahern or Ray Burke might be capable of if they had the power to investigate a private individual when their seats are under threat or their government is about to fall.

Bad as the courts can be at times, they’re the only protection we have.  Therefore, if we’re unhappy with the courts or with the tribunals, the answer is to reform them, not to hand judicial power to 166 politically-motivated individuals.

When you go into the voting booth next Thursday, just keep that picture in your mind.  Brian Cowen in his underpants.  If they can arrest a man for painting that, what would they do to someone who really hurt them?



Amendment Wording :

1.The Dáil and the Seanad, either separately or together, would have the power to conduct an inquiry into any matter that either or both consider to be a matter of general public importance. Legislation would be required to be introduced to set out the details of how such inquiries would take place.

2 When conducting any such inquiry, either or both Houses would have the power to inquire into the conduct of any person and the power to make relevant findings about that person’s conduct.

3. The Dáil and/or the Seanad would have the power to determine the appropriate balance between the rights of people involved in any such inquiry and the requirements of the public interest. When doing so, they would be obliged to have regard to the principles of fair procedures. These principles have been established by the Constitution and by the Courts.


Referendum Commission

40 thoughts on “Powers of Investigation for Oireachtas — Referendum

  1. Feck off Bock. I’m voting yes to this ammendment. Gladly so.

    Anyone who votes no is basically saying : “I don’t trust politicians—so I think the banks shouldn’t be investigated at all.”.

    If you’re against this amendment, that means you’re on the side of the banks and the Banking Putsch. The same bankers who have mounted a seemingly successful campaign to torpedo this amendment among Irish Times readers at least. I never seen so much rubbish written in so little time about a basic parliamentary function used in and by every other parliament in the world.

    The amendment boils down to the following: Do you want the banks to be answerable to the people? Y/N?

    If you’re worried about Irish politicians abusing their authority, try to remember that the Government couldn’t even keep a 65 year old woman in jail for three weeks without risking open rebellion. Even the ever paranoid anti-government American’s rarely take issue with congressional inquiries. Abuse of power of inquiry is a world-wide non-issue. The fact that out parliament has been without this is a serious and pressing one.

  2. I’m surprised at you being so illogical. This post certainly does not mean that I’m on the side of the banks, and you should know it very well. That’s a ludicrous suggestion. I’m against the proposal as currently formulated, because I think it’s dangerous, and no, I don’t trust all future politicians. What would the likes of Haughey have done with this power?

    Once this is voted into the constitution, it will be there forever, so we ‘d better get it right. Or alternatively, we could fix the tribunal system to make it work properly.

  3. @ObsessiveMathsFreak: You are talking about changing the constitution for one investigation. If the world has learned anything from the Sept 11th attacks it’s not to have a knee jerk reaction. In America the powers to investigate terrorists are being abused to basically control the people. Once the constitution is changed and we have all forgotten about the banks this *will* be abused.

  4. Bock
    I was undecided whether to vote no. You have convinced me to do so. I do not have faith in politicians to do the “right thing” and while the current crop may not abuse power I don’t see why we should give hostages to fortune. What we need are stronger laws and the will to enforce them.

  5. I really don`t see why we need to change/ammend the constitution, why can`t the tds themselves provide the necessary laws and have them tested in our courts ( bad an all as they are ).

    Funnily enough i was inclined to vote yes to this particular ammendment, not any more. Bocks point is very accurate, how can we trust these politicians of the now and also the ones of the future. Look at where we are with the last shower of fuckers!

    So, vote no.

  6. I completely agree with your point Bock. It would be interesting if they pointed this desire to ‘inquire’ towards themselves.

  7. I’m against the proposal as currently formulated, because I think it’s dangerous, and no, I don’t trust all future politicians. What would the likes of Haughey have done with this power?

    You’re arguing against a phantom menace. Parliamentary investigations are rarely if ever dangerous. In fact, I challenge you to provide one example of a parliamentary investigation which directly resulted in a jail sentence for anyone.

    Against your example, I will weight the public benefits reaped by electorates as a result of successful investigations.

    We don’t have much to fear from Irish politicians finding out facts about anyone. And with the advent of televised inquiries, the capacity of politicians to conduct show trials is very limited, as proven in the McCarthy investigations.

    We do have a lot to fear from completely unaccountable and irresponsible private and powerful interests seizing control of our state, our economy, and our media–all within the law of course. Without powers of inquiry, our elected representatives will have no ability whatsoever to hold anyone to account, now or forever; including bankers, civil servants, the church, multinationals, media groups, or any other over-mighty crooked magnate. The people will be at the mercy of whatever rigged game the big boys are playing.

  8. I’m probably voting yes. This is intended to give the committees powers to rectify things like Callelly’s expenses and phone claims. Callelly beat the Oireachtas Committee in court, not on the merits of his expenses claims but on their exceedance of their powers.
    Endless ranting about politicians is meaningless. They are our elected representatives. If we end up being represented by a bunch of mediocre self-serving unscrupulous gobshites, it’s our own fault.

  9. Youre right Bock. The mechanisms that are there already are not used on our ruling / political elite. This will remain the case.
    more state power will inevitably be used on the easy targets (those without money/influence) as it always is.
    someone does time for getting in the way of a few chainsaws – meanwhile fingleton, who took a million Euro for his pension AFTER the tax-payer was writing the cheque! – well that’s Ok, no laws broken.

  10. OMF — Phantom menace? You’re using very loaded terms here. I’m arguing against allowing oppressive behaviour by future politicians. This week we saw a former prime minister calling for investigation of journalists who, in his opinion, spent too much time reporting on his activities.

    A constitutional amendment is not something to take lightly. When it goes in, it’s likely to remain forever. Therefore, we have to contemplate and weigh up the possibilities of the law being misused. In my opinion, the balance, as currently proposed, is unacceptable. That’s my opinion, and of course, you’re fully entitled to your own opinion, but don’t dismiss my view as somehow delusional by using terms like “phantom”. I’m not talking about phantoms here. I’m talking about making sure we get this amendment right, and in my view, the minister still has some work to do. I can see no reason why the tribunals could not be reformed and restructured instead of giving quasi-judicial powers to a bunch of crowd-pleasers.

  11. I use the term phantom because views like the ones you have expressed–and you are by no means alone–do indeed verge on the delusional. Parliaments all over the world have these powers. Simply considering the remote possibility of some previously unheard of abuse of powers of inquiry is not a good enough reason to deny them to our own parliament, especially when they are so sorely needed.

    Tribunals don’t work. They will never work. They are not a court, they are not a fact finding body. They are legally and practically sterile and have done nothing to tackle corruption in Ireland. In many ways, they have been one of the big enablers of corruption here. They are also a handsome racket for an overpaid legal profession which the country should no longer be forced to pay for.

    I want to see an investigation into the banks. I want to see investigations into powerful interests who hold this country to ransom. That’s not going to happen unless the wrongful decision of unqualified judges on our Supreme Court in the Abbeylara case is reversed. That decision in 2001 neutered the powers of the oireachtas in a critical period which was beset by corruption and scandal. I won’t say that it caused the crisis we now find ourselves in, but it has certainly prevented us from responding to it.

  12. What would be wrong with fixing the tribunals and the courts so that they could do this work without costing a fortune or taking a long time?

    In my opinion, anyone who thinks politicians are incapable of oppressing people is being delusional.

  13. I am basically undecided but

    1. I agree with you Bock and add that most (not all ?) politicians are basically self serving assholes. I wouldn’t trust them to look after my interests or that of the country and in some cases I wouldn’t trust them to make a ham sandwich..

    2 I do want some form of investigative powers that reside with the Dail/Parliament that doesn’t involve ludicrous costs and fat cat legal eagles (Fuck them).

    3 I do want senior civil servants (and some junior ones), politicians, bankers and other assorted crooks and miscreants investigated and punished in a timely fashion ( but reasonably and not as per my post on Gadaffi – I’ve had a sandwich and a quick nap since).

    Hard to get through all the shite that’s been written about it though.

    I think the main points are in part 1. it notes that legislation will be needed (and this will frame the powers that are given) and part 3. talks about ‘fair procedure’ but who judges the fairness or otherwise…..

    Another quagmire……..maybe I’ll just feck off to a warm country, find a beach and a babe and sip Pina Coladas…………….or become a politician and put the whole country on trial, become a despot and rule the land.

    Maybe I need another nap.

  14. The big problem, in my opinion, is that politicians are, by definition biased. Therefore, their natural instinct is to come up with populist findings. They have no incentive to be objective and every reason to reach conclusions based on political gain.

  15. “We do have a lot to fear from completely unaccountable and irresponsible private and powerful interests seizing control of our state, our economy, and our media–all within the law of course.”

    – This has already happened. No point in giving the emasculated former bullies a new toy which they’ll use against us just to make themselves feel better.

  16. David Gwynne Morgan has a letter in todays IT which puts most of the hysteria to bed. Essentially it says that the amendment will only be judged in the conrext of the remainder of the constitution thus allowing an individual access to the courts.

  17. Check. Gwynne Morgan makes it clear that judicial review is rooted in the constitution and cannot be up- rooted. Your door will not be kicked in and you will not be dragged off without recourse to law. Period. So whether the government of the future is right, left or centre doesn’t matter…as regards this amendment. However governments of the future may have a totalitarian bent , but this amendment won’t be of much use to them.

  18. Sorry. You didn’t answer the question.

    Are you saying that opposition to this amendment is hysteria?

    We can deal with DGM’s opinion after that.

  19. It’s a bit like that. It’s a bit like conscription in the Lisbon Treaty. What am I supposed to think the notion of being dragged off by the government whitout recourse to the courts is ? Rational ?

  20. I don’t know what you’re supposed to think. What I think is that I’m not prepared to give quasi-judicial powers to politicians. I don’t regard that as hysteria.

  21. Why not ? They make the laws. They’re lobbied by and appoint judges ? It’s not as if laws are brought down from the mountain carved in stone. They are, in fact, more likely to be the result of collusion and malpractice than the proposed ammendments, for the laws are passed by the executive without any meaningful participation by the opposition.

  22. I think you have every right to be wrong. I don’t believe that the MaCarthyite scenario had any basis in fact. Moot now it’s lost and all we can do is watch toothless committees gawp as miscreants give them the two fingers.

  23. I didn’t ask you if I was wrong. I asked you if you thought legitimate democratic opposition to an amendment was hysteria.

  24. This seems fitting:

    ‘Recent experience has underlined again the weaknesses of the current system. It was unhelpful for the referendums to be held under the shadow of a presidential election. Then once attention finally focused on the 30th amendment, members of the Government too often failed to engage with the genuine constitutional issues raised by opponents. An approach based on attacking the personality of opponents and on dismissing the issues raised as implausible may make for good politics but does a disservice to the people and to their Constitution.’

    We should have every right to have concerns and question the implications of a referendum. Anyone that says otherwise is very foolish and arrogant in my opinion.

  25. can’t question proposed amendments…can’t protest outside embassies…tow the line there boy! Who do you think you are, you dissenting lefty subverting terrorist supporting hysterical shit stirrer. just listen to us and do what we say, there’s a good lad. Governments know best. Trust us, believe us!

  26. Yes it’s hysterical. The amendment was offered up on demand ie do something, and was to be read in the context of the rest of the constitution which remained, article by article , unchanged in its ability to provide individual rights. This was not the intrusion of an outside body politic like Nice/Lisbon was.

  27. Going for pints now, will toast our new President (an advocate for Palestinian rights, removal of illegal blocade, etc)

  28. It’s a legitimate concern about what a future government might do. To describe people you disagree with as hysterical is just another form of ad hominem attack, trying to discredit the person instead of addressing their argument. It’s a meaningless and shallow way to debate. Why am I not surprised?

  29. Did you also vote to reduce judges pay ? It would appear that many did, without having any concern for what a future government might do.

    And Tommy..quit pretending that you’re not Tommy Donnellan.

  30. Don’t change the question. I already wrote a post about judges’ pay. It has nothing to do with this.

    Also, you have no evidence of other commenters’ identity. Stop that.

  31. The question then. It is a fact that the Abbeylara case defined once and for all within the parameters of the constitution as it stands that the only two conclusions a Daíl committtee can come to are either no fault found, or, the fault is systemic. If the fault is systemic then that becomes the defence of anyone who may be brought before the courts. Which is of course why no-one appears in the courts after an enquiry.
    I have no skin in this fight btw, in fact I find chaos amusing. As amusing as the notion that the amendment to cut judges pay, which carries far more serious threats against the operation of the law insofar as it could be said to make a Siamese twins act of the executive and the judiciary, than the Abbeylara amendment, will almost certainly be passed.

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