Dáil Éireann - Volume 673 - 04 February, 2009

Order of Business.

  The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. a11, motion re expenditure measures for the stabilisation of the public finances. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings on No. a11 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 1.30 p.m. tomorrow and the following arrangements shall apply: the speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for the Fine Gael Party and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the speeches of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, Members may share time, a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions not later than 12.30 p.m. tomorrow and this shall be brought to a conclusion at 1.20 p.m., if not previously concluded, and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. Private Members’ business shall be No. 5, motion re energy prices (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. tonight, if not previously concluded.

  An Ceann Comhairle: There is one proposal to put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11 agreed to?

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I have a question on the ordering of business.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is it on this issue?

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It certainly is. I would like clarification from the Taoiseach on the ordering of business for today and tomorrow. Are the reported negotiations with the banks on the recapitalisation proposals of some €8 billion——

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into that now. That is not relevant to this issue.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: It is relevant to what we are being asked to address.

[442]   An Ceann Comhairle: This is a narrow procedural motion relating to whether you agree or do not agree with the motion as set out by the Taoiseach.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I want clarification from the Taoiseach on this matter. If one is offering €8 billion in public moneys to the banks, then one should be in the driving seat in terms of what is required regarding addressing changes in corporate governance, management, controls and regulation for the banks.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot go into that now.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: There is nothing at all to be negotiated. We should be laying down what is required. If the public price is €8 billion, then that is what it must be.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I have to ask Deputy Ó Caoláin to raise this matter during the debate.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Changes, however, must be introduced as the public expects.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is the proposal for dealing with No. a11 agreed to? Agreed. I call Deputy Kenny.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: I am concerned with the banks recapitalisation problem. The National Pensions Reserve Fund (amendment) Bill will give effect to the Government decision to recapitalise the banks. On yesterday’s Order of Business, I asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when it was expected the Bill would come before the House. There are streams of cases where credit and overdrafts are not being extended to firms and this is impinging on them doing their business.

The Taoiseach should be aware of some movements in creating new companies that may be deemed to be bad companies later. This will have an impact on choices being made later as to what assets are picked by developers and so on.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot deal with this on the Order of Business. We can only deal with legislation.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: The Taoiseach should be aware that the banks cannot allow any changes in assets.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I cannot go into that now. That is for the forthcoming debate.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: When does the Taoiseach expect the National Pensions Reserve Fund (Amendment) Bill to be before the House as it is a matter of urgency?

Has the Taoiseach sorted out the difficulty that arose in respect of the draft Bill produced by the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security on renewable energy infrastructure planning and development on foreshores? It would replace the Foreshore Acts which are a mess. The Government should prioritise it, given that last week the Taoiseach referred to the potential that exists in the sustainable and renewable energy field.

When does the Government Whip intend to bring forward his proposals for Dáil reform? Yesterday, when the Taoiseach made his announcement on expenditure, the business was able to be changed on short notice. We will not solve the problems of the future with the tools of the past. Whether the Minister of State’s proposals are agreed, they should be discussed in the Dáil.

  Deputy Emmet Stagg: They should be put on the public record.

[443]   The Taoiseach: The heads of the Bill for the National Pensions Reserve Fund (Amendment) Bill were before Cabinet recently and the drafting of the Bill is proceeding.

1 o’clock

Regarding the Bill referred to by Deputy Barrett, chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security, I understand the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has been in communication with Deputy Barrett by way of letter, outlining the position that he is discussing with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on how best to progress the necessary legislative changes. He would welcome an opportunity to engage with the committee over the coming weeks and months on its own proposals. It will be a matter between the committee and the Minister to arrange consideration of what way the matter might be addressed or what way the contents of the Bill may have relevance to what the Minister has in mind.

On the final matter, I am sure it will be brought forward as soon as the Chief Whip finalises his consultations with colleagues within Government. It will happen as soon as possible.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: At what stage of preparation is the Bill to give effect to the new levy on public service pensions and when will it be introduced to the House? Which Minister will introduce it?

The Tánaiste yesterday told me the National Pensions Reserve Fund (Amendment) Bill would have to be enacted before the recapitalisation of the banks could occur. Following from the question asked by Deputy Kenny, when will we see that Bill in the House? Will there be a provision in the Bill similar to that announced by the President of the United States yesterday, from which there will be a cap in that country of executive remuneration in institutions being bailed out by the State? If it were to be applied here, it would be a cap of approximately €350,000.

  The Taoiseach: I stated previously that the Bill was being drafted at the moment. On the Bill to deal with the pension levy, the decision was just taken on Tuesday and it will now be a priority for the Parliamentary Counsel and Attorney General to prepare it. The Minister for Finance will be handling it.

  Deputy Eamon Gilmore: Will we have it this session?

  The Taoiseach: Yes. There is no question or doubt about that.

  Deputy Enda Kenny: Will it be backdated?

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: On that legislation, will the Taoiseach be more specific on the legislation that he clearly indicated was required in order to facilitate the signalled pension levy on people in the public service? I raised an earlier question regarding the banks and there should be no mistake that what we have just agreed are expenditure measures for the stabilisation of the public finances. We are talking about an investment of public finances in the order of €8 billion with regard to banking entities in the State.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is for the debate.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Is legislation being drafted by Government——

  An Ceann Comhairle: Is legislation promised?

[444]   Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: ——to address the issues of governance, management, regulation and all similar issues regarding the banking institutions that are now the focus of Government attention in this recapitalisation proposal? If legislation is being drafted, when will that be presented to the House?

There is to be a very regressive and punitive cut in the child care supplement, which will generate a paltry €75 million.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is for the debate today.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: My question is on legislation.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should ask it.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Is there a legislative requirement in order to facilitate that very serious cut, which will bring about a paltry saving? There will be very serious consequences for those depending on it and it is likely to force women out of work as a result.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is it. If legislation is not promised——

  The Taoiseach: I do not agree with the Deputy’s statement. A legislative change will be required to proceed with the alteration in the early child care supplement, in addition to other legislative changes on the pension levy and other announcements made yesterday. For children under five, the payment under current arrangements is €3,100 per child per year and after the changes we have announced take place, it will be €3,000 per child per year. I do not regard that as punitive; it is an indication of the progress made by the policies of successive budgets under this Administration and its predecessors——

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: We will have to wait and see about that.

  The Taoiseach: ——in revolutionising the direct provision for child care in line with national anti-poverty strategies down the years. Many of the targets were reached. Taking child benefit and the early child care supplement together for children under five, the provision is €3,100 per year. With our proposed changes, it will be €3,000 per year. I do not regard the adjective “punitive” as being appropriate in any way in that respect.

On legislation regarding banks, we have outlined our recapitalisation policy position since Christmas and we have indicated that we stand ready to carry it through. No money has been paid into the banks at this point. Some have spoken of banks being bailed out and billions having been spent on the banks but this has not yet happened. What is envisaged is a support to the banking system on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of businesses and the many hundreds of thousands of people depending on their employment. We must have a functioning banking system to provide lines of credit to Irish business.

We have been indicating that the terms upon which that would be provided would require a coupon to be paid. The Government will be ensuring at all times that we seek to protect any taxpayer investment in respect of any decisions taken by us based on the policies we have already outlined and which the Minister for Finance has described.

With regard to executive remuneration, a committee will report to the relevant Minister in due course on executive remuneration in the banking sector. If there were to be recapitalisation, I would expect the directors’ fees to be cut by 25% and I would expect that when they appoint their top executives, there would be an upper limit on remuneration. I would expect that whatever it is at the moment would be cut by at least another 25% as well.

[445]   Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I seek clarification on the detail given to the House by the Taoiseach. It is hardly appropriate that what we are being told is taking place is a negotiation.

  An Ceann Comhairle: This is all for the debate.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Surely this is not the case when public moneys of the order of €8 billion are involved.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We must move on. We cannot debate it now.

  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: The Government, on behalf of the public purse, must be quite firm in its approach. There should be no room for those who want independent and individual advantage.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on it on the Order of Business. We will be all over the countryside. I call Deputy Bannon.

  The Taoiseach: The purpose at all times has been how to ensure we maintain confidence and stability in our banking system while simultaneously protecting the taxpayers’ interest, should a commitment be made by the taxpayer in that respect. The portrayal of the issue in any other way — as a bail-out or other irresponsible comment — does nothing to bring confidence to the economy or address the issues that must be and will be addressed. The matter will be dealt with on the basis of defending public interest, which is the sole concern of any Irish Government, no matter what its configuration.

It does not behove this assembly for anyone to come in here on a constant basis to suggest there is any other motivation. It is quite the contrary as the issues are far too serious for those sort of flippant remarks to be made.

  Deputy James Bannon: Given the possibility that the position is likely to change from moment to moment with regard to levies and charges on non-principal private residences, when will the local government Bill to consolidate the €200 charge be published or is it anticipated that it will be superseded?

  The Taoiseach: That will happen this year.

  Deputy Brendan Howlin: With regard to the interim report of the all-party committee looking at the constitutional amendment relating to children, when will the urgent requirement for legislation dealing with so-called soft information be brought before the House?

  The Taoiseach: I understand that will also happen this year. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is active in that area.

  Deputy Brendan Howlin: Is it this year or this term?

  The Taoiseach: The latest information I have is that it is for this year. I cannot give an exact date.

  Deputy Joan Burton: When does the Government propose to publish expenditure profiles for 2009? I asked this question of the Tánaiste yesterday. It has always been the custom to have these published towards the end of January and it is very difficult for Opposition spokespersons to make informed comments on how the economy is going unless the profiles are published.

[446] The Taoiseach referred yesterday to pensions legislation for the purposes of imposing the pensions levy. He is more aware than anyone else that pensions in the public service are devilishly complicated and that a huge range of rates and entitlements apply in respect of them. Does the Government propose, in advance of publishing the pensions legislation, to put forward the equivalent of either a Green Paper or a White Paper explaining the position with regard to the different categories of public servants and the various rates at which they contribute now and at which they will contribute in the future? Will the Taoiseach clarify the important issue of whether, in the context of tax purposes, the levy will be applied in respect of gross income or net income?

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot have a debate on this issue now. This is the Order of Business.

  Deputy Joan Burton: These are reasonable points. I am trying to be of assistance to the Taoiseach. It is difficult for those of us who take these issues seriously——

  An Ceann Comhairle: I would greatly appreciate it if the Deputy would also be of assistance to me.

  Deputy Joan Burton: ——to make sense of them unless we are provided with the necessary information.

  The Taoiseach: The Minister for Finance has indicated that the Revised Estimates Volume, REV, will be available in early March.

  Deputy Brendan Howlin: We cannot hear the Taoiseach.

  The Taoiseach: The REV will take account of the changes relating to the decision taken yesterday in respect of the €2 billion savings that will result from changes in expenditure levels in various Departments. This exercise must be undertaken this month and that is one of the reasons the REV will only be available in early March. It is not intended to bring forward a Green Paper or a White Paper; it is intended to proceed, as a matter of priority, to introduce legislation to implement the decisions taken yesterday in order to secure and stabilise the public finances.

The pension levy will be applied in respect of gross income and not taxable income, which, as people know, is the gross amount of pay minus the pension contribution. In effect, therefore, those paying the new public service pension contribution will benefit from relief at the marginal rate of tax on the same basis and in the same way as those in the private sector who make pension contributions. Public servants making existing pension contributions, such as those in the Civil Service who pay into the spouses and orphans pension, have already benefited from tax relief in this way. That is the position.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: I understand the fisheries (amendment) Bill, the purpose of which is to provide for the establishment of a single national inland fisheries authority to replace the existing central and seven regional fisheries boards, is due for publication in the near future. I discussed the matter with the relevant Minister last night. I caution the Government to be extremely cúramach in respect of the Bill because from what I have heard from people in the regions I am of the view that the difficulties to which it could give rise could be worse than those which arose in respect of rod licences.

[447]   An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not give words of warning. He should inquire about the legislation.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: I am advising the Government to tread carefully in respect of this matter. What is it hoping to achieve with this legislation?

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot debate that matter now.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: The Government will damage local fishing interests. Fish stocks in rivers have been conserved by means of the conservation programmes.

  An Ceann Comhairle: When is the legislation due?

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: Anglers are extremely upset about this matter.

When will the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill, which is primarily aimed at elderly people, be published? Some 21 community beds on the Rowan ward in St. Columbanus’s Home, Killarney, are to be closed.

  The Taoiseach: There is no way we can discuss that matter now.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: Is the Bill being kicked into touch until the Rowan ward and others like it throughout the country are closed?

  The Taoiseach: It is not possible to indicate when the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill will be forthcoming. The fisheries (amendment) Bill will be published during this year.

  Deputy Tom Sheahan: Bí cúramach.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The Taoiseach previously indicated that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is drafting a Bill in respect of estate management companies. Will he indicate the extent, if any, of the progress made in respect of the preparation of this legislation?

  The Taoiseach: Progress is being made and the Bill will be brought forward as soon as possible. It is not being left in dry dock.

  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: The Taoiseach also previously indicated his intention that the country would return to traditional banking and lending practices. Will he outline whether the objective of returning to such traditional practices is likely to be realised in the context of the legislation to consolidate and modernise financial services in accordance with the Government’s better regulation agenda, which I did not realise it had developed?

  The Taoiseach: There is no date for the publication of the legislation to which the Deputy refers. However, the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act 2008 gives the Minister statutory and wide-ranging powers to ensure that prudent lending practices will be the norm in our banking industry in the future. The powers to which I refer will allow the Government to have a far more direct influence in respect of this matter than would have been the case previously. There is no need to wait for the introduction of further legislation in order for the Minister to be active — which he already is — in that area.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: I understand that legislation will be required to give effect to the reduction in fees paid to doctors, dentists and pharmacists announced by the Taoiseach yester[448] day. Is that the case and, if so, when will such legislation be introduced? Will the very generous deal agreed with hospital consultants be revisited, particularly in the context of the fact that those in the health services who are on the minimum wage are going to be affected?

  The Taoiseach: The recent contract arrangements agreed with consultants improved the situation for public patients.

  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: They were paid huge amounts of money.

  Deputy Joan Burton: It was €50,000.

  The Taoiseach: The contract to which the Deputy refers provides a better deal for taxpayers and public patients.

  Deputy Joan Burton: An extra €50,000.

  The Taoiseach: I reiterate that it provides a better deal for taxpayers and public patients than was previously the case.

  Deputy Kathleen Lynch: And for the consultants. The Taoiseach should not leave them out.

  Deputy Joan Burton: Each of whom will obtain an extra €50,000.

  The Taoiseach: Of course.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputies should allow the Taoiseach to answer the questions that have been posed.

  The Taoiseach: Deputy Jan O’Sullivan also inquired with regard to the statutory arrangements that must be put in place. These will be incorporated into the Bill relating to the pension levy and other issues to which I referred earlier. All legislative requirements will be dealt with in a single Bill.

  Deputy Pat Breen: On the air navigation and transport (pre-clearance) Bill, it appears an announcement from Ryanair that it may reduce the number of aircraft on its services into and out of Shannon from six to five in the summer and from six to two in the winter is imminent. Ryanair is blaming the Government travel tax imposed in the budget for this development. It was expected that the pre-clearance facility, which could be the saving grace for Shannon, will be up and running in July. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the legislation will be brought forward? It is stated in the Government’s legislative programme that the heads have not yet been approved. The Bill cannot be delayed because it is imperative for Shannon that the pre-clearance facility be put in place as soon as possible.

  The Taoiseach: The heads were approved on 27 January and drafting of the Bill is proceeding as a matter of priority. As the Deputy stated, this is important legislation and we are according to it the necessary level of attention.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Will the legislation to deal with the financial and economic crisis include measures relating to sub-prime lending in Ireland, particularly in light of the havoc such lending has caused for some households and businesses? Will provision be made in the Bill or by some other means to control and change sub-prime lending practices?

[449] The Taoiseach is virtually the only Member of the House to raise the issue of the appreciating euro at every possible opportunity and the problems to which this gives rise for Irish competitiveness, particularly in the context of sterling.

  An Ceann Comhairle: We cannot discuss that matter now. The proceedings of the House are due to be suspended at 1.30 p.m.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Taoiseach has raised this issue every day in the House and will not mind answering my question.

  An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Broughan may make a contribution to the debate.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Is the Taoiseach in discussion with the governments of Spain, Greece, Portugal and other countries which are finding the euro difficult to manage on new financial architecture for the European Central Bank? If not, will he have such discussions?

  An Ceann Comhairle: As the House must adjourn at 1.30 p.m., the Deputy must confine questions to proposed legislation.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Is the Government having any such discussions in light of the difficulties being experienced with the euro in a number of countries, including Ireland?

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is an issue for the debate.

  The Taoiseach: As the Ceann Comhairle suggested, the issue the Deputy raises can be raised in the debate today and tomorrow. I am sure the Minister for Finance will be pleased to answer any questions Deputies may have on monetary policy and the impact exchange rate movements are having on Irish competitiveness during the question and answer session. This issue is of particular importance for Ireland given that we, unlike many other countries in the euro area, share a border with a jurisdiction which has a strong, world recognised currency, namely, sterling.

On sub-prime lending, the Financial Regulator is in the process of preparing a statutory code of practice.

  Deputy Kathleen Lynch: God help us.

  The Taoiseach: A voluntary code of practice has been in place in respect of members of the Irish Banking Federation, with which the regulator deals. The statutory code of practice would include——

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: We do not have much confidence in the Financial Regulator.

  The Taoiseach: That is fine.

  An Ceann Comhairle: That is a matter for the debate.

  The Taoiseach: The Financial Regulator has statutory responsibility to draw up a code of practice which will be put on a statutory basis. I presume the Deputy is seeking information in response to his question rather than merely interrupting me. To answer him, it is intended to include in the statutory code of practice being drawn up those entities involved in the sub-prime market which are not part of the voluntary code.

[450]   Deputy Seán Sherlock: I respectfully ask that time be made available for a debate on the 2009 allocations made by the National Roads Authority for non-national roads. The reason I seek a debate is that County Cork has received an allocation of €61 million, the 27th lowest of the 29 local authorities. The county has more than 11,000 km of roadway.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy’s request does not stand a hope, although he may ask about legislation if he wishes. I must move on.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock: The reason I ask for a debate is that it is important to examine the allocations made by the NRA in relative terms and in the context of Exchequer expenditure on roads, particularly in County Cork.

  An Ceann Comhairle: I must move on. The Deputy has another way of raising the issue.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock: Is it not in order to ask for a debate?

  An Ceann Comhairle: No.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock: Why?

  An Ceann Comhairle: The question is not in order because it does not refer to promised legislation.

  Deputy Michael D. Higgins: My questions refer to promised foreshore legislation and another Bill to amend legislation governing ports, which has been proposed outside the House. I understand the need for amending legislation on ports was identified in talks in some Departments arising from the possibility that port authorities may have transferred land without authority. It has been suggested that legislation may be necessary to cover retrospectively the conveyance of land and leases and the acquisition of new land. I understand legislation will be forthcoming to correct this matter as a number of port authorities’ plans are affected by the current legal imperfections. What is the position regarding legislation to amend legislation on ports to handle issues of property and with regard to the foreshore Bill promised in the Government’s legislative programme?

  The Taoiseach: I understand foreshore legislation is due in the course of this year. I referred earlier to this matter when Deputy Barrett raised a related matter regarding a draft Bill relating to offshore development of renewable energy. The foreshore Bill to which the Deputy refers is separate and is due in the course of the year. I am not aware of the second proposed Bill to which he refers. I will ask the Minister to communicate with him on whether it is necessary to rectify an issue.