Seanad Éireann - Volume 124 - 14 March, 1990

Decimal Currency Bill, 1990: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Finance (Mr. A. Reynolds): I am glad to be here to present this Bill to the Seanad. The Bill deals with three different aspects of the coinage — a proposed new £1 coin, the issue of a series of ECU commemorative coins and a change in the metal composition of the 1p and 2p.

I know that Senators have commented in the past on the design of our coins and many have expressed the desire to see the continuation of the Metcalfe designs. Therefore, I hope Senators will be pleased to know that the new £1 coin, proposed in this Bill, will feature a red deer in the Metcalfe style. The design specification is not part of the Bill. This will be done at a later stage by order under section 3 of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969. However, given the importance of the design I felt that this should be mentioned at the outset.

I am confident that the design will find favour with the public. The red deer is native to this country. The Government feel that such an animal would be very [685] suitable for use on the coin and would fit in well with the Metcalfe style and design. I have made available several sample coins for Senators to inspect. The Metcalfe designs have served us well over the years and are pleasing to the eye. The Government have decided that these designs should be retained as the uniform design theme of the coinage and that the existing motifs on the 1p and 2p should be replaced by two of Metcalfe designs dispensed with on decimalisation. I will return to this later on.

Mr. Tom Ryan, President of the Royal Hibernian Academy was commissioned to prepare the drawings of the new coin. These were based on photographs of actual red deer submitted by Mr. Seán Ryan of County Cork, an acknowledged expert in this field. I should like to express the Government's thanks to both these gentlemen for their contribution.

The question of a £1 coin has been under consideration for some time. The proposal was mentioned in this Chamber as far back as 1986 when the order approving the issue of the 20p was introduced. The short lifespan of the pound note and the increasing production cost has made it unattractive to continue to produce £1 notes. I think all Senators would agree that the tattered condition of our £1 notes, which arises all to quickly after their issue, is not good for the country's image.

The coin itself will be made of cupronickel material similar to the 50p, 10p and 5p. It will be 31.1mm in diameter and will be lighter than the existing cupronickel coins. The coin will be issued in June and the £1 notes will be withdrawn from circulation from that date over a period of months.

The introduction of the £1 coin should be seen as a first step in the Government's overhaul of the coinage over the next three to four years. The first priority in 1991 will be the issue of a new, lighter and round 50p. The coin will be reduced in size by about 5mm and will carry the current woodcock design. I am aiming to reduce the weight of our coins generally for the convenience of the public.

In 1992 it is planned to issue a new [686] 5p and 10p on which the two existing designs, the bull and the salmon, will be reversed to face left. This will give a uniform orientation to all the motifs. Both coins will be reduced in size and weight.

As I indicated earlier, I am pleased to say that it has been decided to revert to the Metcalfe designs for the 1p and 2p. The 1p will feature the Irish wolfhound from the old sixpence while the 2p will have the hare which appeared on the pre-decimal 3 pence.

As with all new coins, many organisations have been consulted in relation to the new £1 coin. For example, the users and makers of coin-operated machines and representatives of the visually impaired have been consulted. Sample coins will be made available prior to the issue to allow any necessary changes and familiarisation to take place. The visually impaired should be able to distinguish the £1 coin from other coins.

The size and weight alone will be of assistance to the blind. In addition, the milling on the edge has been so constructed that it will be recognisable by touch. This milling is unique to the £1 coin as it contains a milled edge with inset beading. There is a clear size differnce between the 2p and 10p and the new coin.

The Arts Council were consulted on the design of the £1 coin. They agreed with the choice of the red deer and supported the retention of the Metcalfe theme for the coinage. In addition, we sought their advice on a number of other matters relating to the coinage generally and we have taken on board most of their suggestions. I would like to thank the Arts Council for their advice. We will be consulting them further as individual coins are redesigned.

The other main purpose of this Bill is to allow for issue of a series of commemorative ECU coins. These will mark the Irish Presidency of the EC Council and will be issued in June to coincide with the EC Council meeting in Dublin Castle. Nineteen hundred and ninety is an important year in the development of the Community and will see the finalisation of some of the legislative framework for [687] the 1992 objective. The commemorative coins will be an enduring reminder of the Irish Presidency.

The Government have decided to issue the coins in gold and silver. The coins will be purely commemorative and not legal tender. Other member states have issued commemorative coins in the past. Most recently, Spain produced a set of five coins in precious metals to mark their first Presidency of the Council.

The coins will be issued through the Central Bank and will consist of a series of three — a gold 50 ECU piece, a silver coin 10 ECU, and a silver 5 ECU piece. The gold coin and smaller silver coin will be roughly the same size as the 10p while the larger silver coin will be of “crown” size, that is somewhat larger than the old half crown.

The gold coin will be 22 carat gold and the silver coins will be sterling silver. They will be issued in proof standard to encourage interest among coin collectors.

It is envisaged that the gold coin will be priced in the region of £250. The larger silver coin will cost £20-£25 while the smaller silver coin will be priced at £10-£15. These prices are tentative since much depends on the value of gold and silver at the time of purchase of the metals. However, while the gold coin and larger silver coins will be of interest mainly to collectors, the smaller silver coin at £10-£15 should be of interest to the ordinary citizen who wishes to have a keepsake of the occasion.

This is our first step into the market of specialised coins. There are certain risks associated with the issue of precious metal coins. The metals must be purchased in advance and may fall in price subsequently, thus affecting market value. There is also the risk the market demand might not be as strong as anticipated.

On the advice of the Central Bank, it is proposed to issue 5,000 gold coins and 20,000 of the larger silver coins and 20,000 of the smaller silver coins. These are the minimum levels necessary to offset the manufacturing costs. An issue [688] of this size will, it is felt, minimise the risks and enhance the scarcity value for collectors. Initial indications of interest in the coins are good and I believe that the issue will be a success.

The Government decided that the design of the red deer should be used for the ECU coin. Given the increased concern about conservation of the environment, the symbol of the Irish red deer is very appropriate. The use of this theme will also increase awareness of our coinage abroad. On the obverse side, it is intended to reproduce the harp surrounded by the 12 stars which is the logo of the Community. The coin denomination will appear on this side also. The use of the stars is common to issues by other countries and again symbolises this country's adherence to the Community.

The final purpose of the Bill is to allow for a change to the 1p and 2p. These coins are made of bronze at present and cost more than their face value to produce. Consequently, the Central Bank has recommended that the metallic composition of these coins should be changed to a copper coin with a steel core. There will be no change in the outward appearance of the coins. This change will enable the Bank to break even on the production of these coins. Coins of this sort are common on the Continent and I note that the UK Royal Mint have recently announced a similar change in the UK coinage.

I now turn briefly to the provisions of the Bill. Section 1 deals with definitions and is self-explanatory. Section 2 relates to the ECU coins. Subsection (1) allows for the issue of coins in ECUs in such sizes, metallic composition, design and weights as the Minister for Finance may decide. Sub-sections (2) and (3) allow the coins to be sold through the Central Bank at a price determined by the Minister.

Sub-section (4) provides that the coins will not be legal tender. Subsections (5) and (6) apply certain sections of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969 to coins issued under section 2. By virtue of these the Central Bank will bear the expenses of the issue and the income from the sale of the coins will accrue to the Bank. The [689] Bank will also bear the cost of any redemption. Sub-section (7) applies section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1963 and vests the copyright in the design in the Minister for Finance. This is a standard provision of coinage legislation.

Section 3 (a) inserts a new section 4A in the Decimal Currency Act, 1969, to enable the provision of 1p and 2p coins in the form of copper coins with a steel core. Section 3 (b) is a technical amendment of section 14 of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969, to include a reference in that section to coins issued under section 2 of this Bill.

Section 3 (c) amends the First Schedule to the Decimal Currency Act, 1969 to provide for the issue of a £1 coin. The amended Schedule specifies the standard weight and composition of the coin and the permitted variation from these standards. The size and design of the coin will be dealt with separately by an Order under the 1969 Act. Section 4 is the short title and construction of the Bill.

The coinage of a country is an important symbol of its nationhood. The coins of a country are used by its citizens every day. Consequently, the design of the coinage is a matter of importance and a subject on which many people will have an opinion. The designs on the Irish coins are of an accepted high standard and the Government are anxious that this should continue to be the case.

In introducing new coins one cannot hope to please everybody but the design of the Irish red deer is a design which I think will find favour with most people. The issue of the ECU coins is a suitable way to commemorate the Irish Presidency of the EC and is an important first step for us into a specialised market.

I was heartened by the generally favourable reception which the new coinage received in the Dáil. I hope that Senators will express a similar welcome. I am anxious to hear the comments of the House and for Senators to share their advice and knowledge with me. The Bill opens up a new area of the coinage with the issue of commemorative pieces and we are willing to listen carefully to the views of the House.

[690] I commend this Bill to the House.

Mrs. Doyle: This is a very interesting piece of legislation that, as the Minister has pointed out to us, deals with three main areas. It is interesting in the order these areas are mentioned in the Bill but as they are mentioned the first point is the commemorative ECU coins, then the change in the 1p and the 2p coins. Finally, the Bill deals with the proposed £1 coin which will replace the legal tender, the note we have known heretofore.

Interestingly, in 1986, when I was Minister of State at the Department of Finance I had the pleasure, and indeed the responsibility, of steering the legislation for the 20p coin through both Houses so in a sense I have been through this issue before and basically it is much the same, even though we are talking about different coins. As I said on that occasion, and it is very fitting for this occasion again, we must remind ourselves that the primary purpose of coins is their use as a medium of exchange. In any modern economy they are used mainly to pay for the many small purchases and services that are an essential part of daily living. It is, therefore, important to provide coins in the denominations that best serve the needs of the public.

These coins should, of course, be of convenient size and weight. With the devaluing of our money over the years needs have changed. Now a pocket full of change or a handbag full of change is not uncommon. The halfpenny has been withdrawn because effectively it was of little use as legal tender. Indeed, it was of such little value that it really did not come into the pricing system or the change we might expect for any particular article. It was just irrelevant because of its devaluation over the years.

As coins no longer satisfy the criteria for which they are needed, it is up to the Government of the day to look at the situation and to see if new introductions are needed or if changes are needed in existing coinage or existing legal tender. There are two changes proposed here, (1), the introduction of the £1 coin and, (2), the change in the 1p and the 2p.

[691] I would like to ask the Minister a few things about the proposed changes in the 1p and 2p before I go on to deal with the £1 coin. The composition of the 20p coin when it was brought out was an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel. It was light, it was relatively inexpensive to produce and there was a colour advantage. It was easily distinguished by colour from our other coins at the time. I have just seen a copy of what the new 1p and 2p coins should look like, colourwise. I wonder will the composition of the new 1p and 2p coins mean that a further third or fourth colour scheme will be introduced into our colour range. I think, in fact, that is so. I had a brief glance at what was passed around the House a few minutes ago.

I accept the reason we are changing from bronze. On face value the 1p and 2p coins now cost more to produce in the Central Bank than the 1p and 2p worth of coin you get for the bronze content. But why was consideration not given to a similar composition as that of the 20p coin? Maybe there is good reason. I would be interested to hear why that was not done, why we are now introducing a fourth type of coin, compositionwise. Surely the composition of the 20p coin would be cheaper than the copper with the steel core, from which, I understand, the new 1p and 2p coins will be made. Again, they are fairly technical points but, having steered similar legislation through the Houses, I would be interested to know why the change now and why we do not continue with what we thought was a good composition when introducing the 20p. It was economic to produce and at the time it was lauded as state-of-the-art. Times do change. There may be very good technical reasons and I look forward to being advised as to what those technical reasons may be.

I noticed in the Official Report of the Dáil a few weeks ago that the Minister replied to questions about whether the £ note and the £ coin would be in circulation side by side for any length of time. As I understand it, the response to Deputy Michael Noonan was that the £1 [692] note would be withdrawn fairly rapidly on the issue of the £1 coin to ensure the acceptance of the £1 coin by the public. The Minister made a statement to the effect that if you left the two denominations or the two types of tender for the £ in circulation, being creatures of habit, there would be resistance among the public to accepting the £ coin and that the only way to get immediate or fairly immediate approval and usage of the £ coin would be to withdraw the £ note. Is there no place at all for the £ note as we now know it?

Perhaps the Minister could develop his thinking and the thinking of the Central Bank on that issue, because certainly for a long time in the UK after they switched to their £ coin there was amazing resistance and, indeed, resentment by the public that they no longer had the £ note. There were occasions when they felt that that would be appropriate and, indeed, many people have stated that they felt the coin type tender of the £, in fact, devalued it, it made them too familiar with it and whereas they would use a 10p or 20p coin in a transaction, the £ coin made them too familiar with the usage of the coin and they did not respect it to the same extent as they respected the £ note.

Taken against the overall argument of the devaluing of money over the years — we might remind ourselves that a 1954 £1 is worth only 2.5p today — one can understand why we must address these issues. But I have some sympathy for the whole concept that a £ coin might be held in less respect than the £ note. Maybe it is just because we are creatures of habit. I would like to hear the Minister's views and the advice he has received in relation to this issue generally.

At the time the 20p coin was introduced — I think it was in 1986 — the same type arguments were used, in other words, because of the devaluation of our currency generally and the large amounts of 10ps, 5ps, 2ps and 1ps and in everyone's pockets, in terms of change, another coin denomination was actually needed. It was stated at the time and the advice of the Central Bank was that the 20p coin would take a lot of 10p coins [693] out of circulation, thereby lessening the weight and the number of coins on average that people would be carrying around with them in their pockets or their handbags. I would like to know if we have any figures as to whether, in fact, it transpired that that view was correct. Has the issuing of the 20p coin some years ago meant that a lot of 10p coins have been taken out of circulation and there is less use for the 10p coin? I am sure the Central Bank must have been monitoring the effect of the introduction of the 20p and the general usage of coins then as a result and whether one coin has been weighted in favour of others subsequently. I would be very interested to know what the views are in that area generally.

The Bill is being presented to the House in a different order from what was done in 1986. I wonder why the First Schedule of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969 is being amended before the coinage order for the £1 coin? If we look at what happened with the issue of the 20p coin in 1986, we had the coinage order first and then we amended the First Schedule of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969. Maybe I am reading a bit much into it. I was just wondering if it is a convenience mechanism, that while we are discussing the commemorative coins here today and perhaps pointing up changes in the 1p or 2p coins that are to come in the future, it has been decided to bulk all three issues into one Bill. I noticed this technical reversal of procedures and I was wondering what it was all about because, if I interpret correctly what will happen from here on in, the Minister will not be able to issue the £1 coin without coming back to this House with an affirmative order and we will again have a debate on the benefits or otherwise of the issuing of a 1p coin. In other words, the debate we are having here today will largely be gone through again at another stage because it has to be by affirmative order that the 1p coin is brought to both Houses. It certainly must be confirmed in both Houses. I notice the Minister is shaking his head as I make that statement. I am really taking from the views I gave, on [694] the advice of my officials, in 1986 that that was the procedure that had to be gone through. I have in front of me the speech I made on the coinage order of the time, confirming that the order had to be confirmed by both Houses. I am interested to know if we will have another opportunity to debate the £1 coin and whether, on another occasion, we will be going over most of what we have been saying today.

I would like to comment on the design on our coins and the proposed changes in the 1p and 2p coins from bronze to the new composition and the change from the Celtic scroll that is now on our 1p and 2p coins back to a Metcalfe-type design. I was very interested in the contribution of Deputy Ger Brady in the other House. We could all learn a lot from his obvious knowledge in this area. He made a very valid point that we all need to talk, to think and get advice about this.

I do not have any monopoly of wisdom in this area, I just have a peripheral interest in it, as I suspect most Members of the House have, but I feel there is an excellent case for going back to the Arts Council, or even considering a new commission. We have only to think of the commission chaired by W.B. Yeats in 1927 which reported by publishing The Coinage of Saorstát Éireann in 1928. We know the excellent work that commission did and the efforts they went to to reflect our culture and our heritage at the time. Since then, we have been tacking on and fiddling around with designs and adding to our coins. We are now talking about Metcalfe-type designs; they are no longer part of the Metcalfe series.

I like the design of the £1 coin but it is not a Metcalfe design. We must be quite clear here. It fits in with the Metcalfe series, it is part of the flora and fauna type series of the much lauded and beautiful Metcalfe series but we are not being purist.

The question was raised as to whether we should now be considering a total new series of coins with a complete new series of designs. Is it time to ask the Arts Council to look at this issue? Is it time to set up a new competition or a new [695] commission chaired by some eminent person to see if we need a new series of coins with a new series of designs? They may come back and tell us, “No, stick to the Metcalfe designs, even have a Metcalfe-type design tacked on”. That could be acceptable but I feel with the changes we made in our coinage design in 1971, on decimalisation, the Celtic scroll type designs we brought in, with some old Metcalfe designs and now Metcalfe-type designs, we really have a mixum gatherum of designs, even though the final lot of coins, the facsimiles of which were circulated here today, look very attractive. I agree with the proposition to change the shape. I am not sure where we got the shape for the 50p coin. It is out of synch with all our other coins. While I agree with what is trying to be achieved I wonder if, from a heritage and cultural point of view, we are going about it in the right way.

I do not mean to be critical. I am posing a rhetorical question. Are we going about it in the right way by just adding on odd coins here and there as consumer demands dictate that we need to change our coinage denominations? They are very attractive looking, but from a heritage and cultural point of view, we should bounce what is proposed off the Arts Council and off, perhaps, a new commission. Sixty to 70 years later is it time to look again at where we are going, as we enter the next millennium, for example? I pose that question because I have some reservations, even though I find the individual designs very attractive. I found the £1 note very attractive but from a purist point of view is it really in order to keep tacking on to the Metcalfe series Metcalfe-type designs? I have doubts and I question that.

The most important part of the Bill appears to be the commemorative issue of the ECU coins. Perhaps it is the main reason why this Bill had to come before us now and why we did not wait for the coinage order.

Mr. Fallon: Cheap shot.

[696] Mrs. Doyle: I do not think so. If the Senator hears me out he might decide otherwise. There is worse than that to come so the Senator should be patient. Maybe it is the main reason this Bill came to us now rather than await the coinage order and then go back to amending the First Schedule of the Bill. That does not really matter anyway. I just have some views in terms of this whole commemorative issue. The Presidency of the European Parliament is a very important honour for this country. That goes without saying. I would like, however, to remind the Minister and his colleagues that it is not the first time we have had the honour of the Presidency.

Mr. Mooney: Nor the last.

Mrs. Doyle: As it comes up in rote, each of the 12 members will get their turn one year in six——

Mr. Mooney: The way things are going in the Senator's party she might make it herself yet.

Mrs. Doyle: I get the impression that somehow we earned it specially this time, that it was handed to us for some particular reason this time round. Thankfully we have it.


Acting Chairman (Mr. McMahon): The Senator, without interruption.

Mrs. Doyle: I hope we will do a very good job. When June comes and goes we will look back on the six months and then pass judgment as to whether it has been successful or not. I sincerely wish the President and, indeed, all the Ministers who are Presidents of their particular groups of Ministers, every success with what is a very important issue for our country.

I question whether we should decide now, a couple of months into the Presidency, to issue a commemorative coin telling us what great lads and lassies we are and how important we are to Europe. I question that a little. I looked at it and [697] initially I thought it would be great idea, that it would be lovely. This idea of the gold and silver coins and the different denominations reads very well. Those interested in numismatics and those who follow this will have their views.

When I looked at what we did in this area, and the two previous occasions we had commemorated, quite honestly, this third occasion does not hold a candle to the two previous occasions. As I said in 1986 — this is not just a conversion now because I am on record as having views on the issue of commemorative coins and I will quote those in a minute — they must be occasions of great national importance. We issued a commemorative coin in 1966 to commemorate the Easter Rising. There was no national division. It was of major national importance. We issued another one in the early seventies to commemorate our accession to the EC. They were the only two occasions — when we joined the EC and to commemorate the Easter Rising. Now there are coins coming out to commemorate the present Presidency of the EC. If this was the first six months in 1993 and the start of the internal market I would understand; if it was the first time we had been in receipt of the Presidency of Europe, I would understand, but just in an ongoing rota for our turn to hold the Presidency we are going to commemorate the occasions with a coin. When I said, “cheap” was the word used on the other side a few minutes ago——


Mrs. Doyle: I will give the Senator something to shout about when he hears me out in a minute. What will be inscribed on this coin?

Acting Chairman: The Senator, without interruption.

Mrs. Doyle: If I may borrow the words of my ceannaire a weekend or two ago, it really smacks of drifting in the mists of self-importance of one Taoiseach.

[698] Mr. Mooney: The Senator is jealous. She did not have one when she was there.

Acting Chairman: Senator Doyle, without interruption.

Mrs. Doyle: I was not there. I have not managed to reach those higher echelons of political life and it is unlikely to happen. I am just making a point. The only time we should issue commemorative coins must be on occasions of major national importance. It is not of major national importance that the Taoiseach is now President of the Council of Ministers. He happened to achieve this very important and worth-while position on a rota basis, his turn came as in school one's turn comes — you are in there for a while, then you are gone and the next person's turn will come.

Mr. Mooney: There should be medals for the next person, too.

Mrs. Doyle: What will be inscribed on the back of this coin? Charles, President of Europe or something like that? It is the red deer again on the back of the coin, all beautiful coins but I question the motive for issuing them at this point. Lest Senators think I am a late convert to these views in terms of the issue of commemorative coins, may I put on the record words I used in 1986 on this very issue. I said at the time:

A coin is much less ephemeral than a postage stamp. It is a long-lasting artefact that reflects its time and culture. Some last so long that they become invaluable historical records. I believe the issue of commemoratives should be relatively limited, that the occasions should be of major significance——

It certainly is not on this occasion

——and that they should tend to unify rather than to divide.

I do not think it will divide. I will make that point now. There is no question of division on this issue. It certainly is not an occasion of major significance, our [699] third time holding the Presidency. It is not the first start of the Internal Market. Apart from it being The Taoiseach's Presidency, what is the major national importance for the issue of a commemorative coin? I await the Minister's answer with interest.

I also said on that occasion in relation to the issue of coins for commemorative and numismatic purposes, that generally this country has only a policy of providing coins for domestic use and that we had not ventured into the international numismatic market at that time. The only departures from the policy of issuing coins for the domestic market were the ten shilling silver coin issued in 1966, to which I referred, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the issuing of some polished sets of the decimal coins in 1971. I stand corrected, I think I stated they were when we entered the European Community. The issue of polished sets of decimal coins in 1971 was the second occasion. This apparently will be the third occasion.

Mr. Mooney: What about the Millennium 50p?

Mrs. Doyle: That was domestic use. That was actually legal tender. We are talking about coins that were not legal tender, purely commemorative. The Millennium 50p is actually legal tender.

Mr. Mooney: Was the 1966 50p coin legal tender?

Mrs. Doyle: No, it was a solid silver ten shilling coin. I doubt if we did many transactions with it at the time.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Daly): It was legal tender.

Mrs. Doyle: I stand corrected on that. Was it not a commemorative rather than just a legal tender note? In regard to the decimal coins of 1971, am I correct in my interpretation that they were purely commemorative? They were sets. They could have been used if you took the set [700] apart. There were complete sets issued in packets or cards.

Mr. Daly: They were legal tender.

Mrs. Doyle: You could have taken them apart but they were issued in coins at the time. This would appear to be the first one that is purely commemorative with absolutely no legal tender. Is that correct?

Mr. Daly: Yes.

Mrs. Doyle: I accept that. I have said enough in this area. It is nothing I will lose sleep about. When the coins are issued they will be recognised as either good design of coins and nice pieces of art, hopefully reflecting our culture and our heritage. I question the motives behind issuing commemorative coins for the reason that has been given and I put my views on record in relation to it.

I understand from what the Minister said the Central Bank's role in this is that they will have total control over the process of the ECU commemorative coins. I also questioned why we are not using the money saving copper zinc nickel alloy that was used in the 20p for the £1 coin. Indeed I note we are not using it for the change in the composition that is proposed for the 1p and 2p coin. Maybe I could have a response later on, when the Minister is winding up the debate. There may be a good technical change. Could we also have views as to what research has been done into the use of the pound coin at point of sale of equipment, slot machines and items like that? I look forward to hearing the views of others and indeed the Minister's response in relation to the queries I raised.

Mr. Fallon: The Bill, as the Minister has outlined, has a threefold objective; the proposed new £1 coin, the issue of a series of ECU commemorative coins and the change in the metal composition of the 1p and 2p coins. Despite Senator Doyle's comments I think it is very appropriate that we should have a special commemorative coin issued to celebrate [701] our Presidency of the EC. We are not the only nation to honour the Presidency of the EC in this way and it certainly appears a very reasonable, correct and appropriate way to honour what I regard as an historic event.

I know, too, that there will be critics of the fact that the 5,000 gold coins will be available at a very costly price of £250. There will always be coin collectors, there will always be souvenir collectors. I am sure there will be always be people, and indeed corporate bodies, who might feel it appropriate and correct to spend £250 to honour the event that we, a small nation, can have as of right the honour of Presidency of the EC from January 1990 to June 1990, I think what we are proposing is appropriate and correct.

The change in the metallic composition of the 1p and 2p coins — as we know they are made of bronze — is something I definitely agree with because the coins at present in use become very tarnished. Even though these coins are not as readily available as they have been in the past, I have no doubt that many of the bank cashiers throughout the country, having handled these coins for a period of a few hours will almost immediatley retire to the nearest washroom to wash their hands. That can be said equally with regard to the £1 note because over a period of time the Irish £1 note becomes a filthy piece of paper. It is simply not an acceptable standard at the moment and it is right that we should do something in this regard.

I spoke to a number of bank staff in Athlone, young men and women, who every day of the week are handling the 1p and 2p coins and the filthy £1 note and their attitude quite honestly to the Bill is the quicker the change is made the better. In the knowledge that the £1 note has a short life — the Minister referred to this — and for economic reasons it is good business at this time to change to the £1 coin.

I have some experience of the use of the English £1 coin and I noticed the Minister had some coins too. Obviously he paid a visit recently to some part of England. Senator Doyle referred to the [702] fact that we may be creatures of habit. I certainly felt, having six or seven one pound English coins in my pocket that I simply had a pocketful of loose Irish change not of great value, you learn after a while what the £1 coin really is. It will take some time for us to get used to the actual coin.

The design of the coin is a good choice. The Irish red deer is a large, majestic native animal which, unfortunately, has declined in number over the years. However, thanks to various preservation orders it will be preserved. A whole new set of coins were circulated here and it is very interesting to examine them. The 1p coin has the Irish wolfhound. As I have a great interest in the greyhound, I would love to see the greyhound back on one of the coins as it was on the old sixpence. The 2p coin has the hare, which was always a great favourite on the pre-decimal threepence. The new 10p coin has the salmon, the 5p coin has the bull, the 50p coin has the woodcock, the 20p coin has the horse and now the new £1 coin will have the Irish red deer. All seven coins will be quite distinctive. All the species are native to this country.

The actual dimension of the new £1 coin should be very distinctive. It is important that it should be easily identifiable not just for blind people or for people who might have bad sight but in places such as pubs, discos and restaurants which often have dim lighting and where it is often a problem to differentiate between the 20p, 10p and 2p coins which are alike in size. Having examined the new £1 coin it is certainly different. It is the largest of the seven coins I have seen on display here this evening. It is lighter than the present 50p. It is an attractive coin and I welcome the fact that it will be easily identifiable. We have a high standard in design. The changes now being suggested will continue this high standard of design. I welcome the Bill and hope that it will serve the Irish citizens for many years to come.

[703] Mr. B. Ryan: Is it scheduled to complete all Stages of this Bill by 6.30 p.m.?

Acting Chairman: No, not necessarily.

Mrs. Doyle: We were late starting.

Acting Chairman: There was no order of the House made to complete the Bill by 6.30 p.m. We go on to other business at 6.30 p.m.

Mr. Fallon: On the Order of Business it was made quite clear that all Stages would be taken between 5.30 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. That is definite.

Acting Chairman: It was indicated but there was no order of the House to have it completed by 6.30 p.m.

Mr. Fallon: The Leader of the House quite clearly suggested it and there was no objection. That was agreed with the Whips.

Mr. B. Ryan: The only point I will make is that if there is going to be an argument I will not have any time to speak. I will not take more than two or three minutes. My recollection is as I stated. I will not change it now because it happens to be convenient. My recollection is that it was agreed but then we did not get to it until 5.40 p.m.

Mrs. Doyle: We did not get the hour.

Acting Chairman: Is it agreed to go on until 6.40 p.m. and to complete the Bill?

Mr. Mooney: Yes, to complete the Bill.

Mr. B. Ryan: On the understanding that if Senator Murphy comes in at 6.30 p.m. and gets cross the Members here will defend me.

Mr. Mooney: I hoped to make a short contribution in case Senator Ryan thinks nobody over here is offering.

Mr. B. Ryan: I will only take three minutes.

[704] Mrs. Doyle: We will continue another day.

Mr. Mooney: May I make the point that I will abide by the order of the House. I am only making the point to Senator Ryan in case he may feel that nobody else is offering. If there is time left I would like to make a contribution but it is not absolutely sacrosanct.

Mrs. Doyle: I would like the Senator to be able to make a contribution——

Acting Chairman: We are wasting time now. Quite honestly, I do not like it because there may be others who may have wished to come in on it. It was not agreed on the Order of Business that we would complete the Bill by 6.30 p.m. The Leader of the House expressed a wish but indications by speakers in the past hour were that it would not be completed by 6.30 p.m. I am in the hands of the House. If the House decides to finish the Bill this evening we would have to sit until 6.40 p.m. I hope I do not get flak afterwards from somebody.

Mr. Fallon: I suggest that we sit until 6.40 p.m.

Acting Chairman: We will sit until 6.40 p.m. and complete the Bill. Is that agreed?

Mrs. Doyle: If possible, if the Minister has come in and replied, I would agree on those conditions.

Acting Chairman: I hope that he will have sufficient time to reply to the debate.

Mr. B. Ryan: We are getting into a classic Irish agreement, where everybody gets what they think is agreed and we have not agreed on anything. That is my view.

Acting Chairman: I want to clarify the matter. If we are not completing the Bill tonight, then we finish at 6.30 p.m. but if the Minister thinks he can complete the [705] Bill by 6.40 p.m. we will sit until then. Is it agreed? Agreed.

Mr. B. Ryan: For once I am not the cause of any of this.

Mr. Manning: It must be strange.

Mr. B. Ryan: The Senator should restrain himself. He might be in the High Court shortly. It is about time we introduced a £1 coin. However, in the interests of our perception of ourselves as a tourist nation with an image to portray, it is about time we persuaded the Central Bank or the Government to make sure that our notes in general are of top quality and that we never again have a situation of a disgraceful quality of notes — which to my mind constituted in many cases a health hazard — becoming part of our legal tender. Our notes should be replaced not according to some arbitrary view of what should be but as is necessary to preserve top quality notes. It was one of the great attractions of the earlier automatic teller machines that they had to use good quality notes but some of the more recent models seem to have managed to get their way around that and they are now managing to produce recycled notes of an inferior quality.

I want to put one important point to the Minister, that is in relation to the use of coins by visually handicapped people. Will the Minister or his officials sit down with a group of visually handicapped people and not just listen to an organisation which tells them what visually handicapped people think or feel or how they can handle the coins? I know from talking to people about the 20p coin, which was supposed to be suitable, that many visually handicapped people find it difficult. I would like to reiterate that the vast majority of the visually handicapped are old people and, because they are old, not only can they not see but their use of their hands is often restricted because of the various ailments of old age. Therefore, what might seem to be a reasonably distinctive coin to a young person who happens to have the misfortune of being visually handicapped could be extremely [706] difficult for an older person. As the value of coinage increases the possibilities for old people to make mistakes, or — God forbid that anybody would do it — to be ripped off, increases. The design of coins must be based not on a reasonable position but on the experience of elderly people.

Is it possible for us as a nation to ensure, if we are changing our currency, that all the machines and the equipment in the State that uses coins are geared to cope with the new coins? Will it be the case that all our phones will have signs saying: “these phones will not take the new coins”, that meters in car parks will have notices for two years saying: “these meters will not take the new coins”, that it will take two years after the new coinage has been introduced to make the necessary adjustments? It is not a matter of waiting for technology to catch up, it is a matter of proper planning and proper organisation. We, as a nation, have to get ourselves organised to do things properly. It is simply a question of devising a system and ensuring that Telecom Éireann and other agencies actually do what any proper organisation would do, which is to facilitate their customers.

If we are to have a ridiculous position where people have to go around with a pocketful of old coins to operate various machines and a pocketful of new coins that are handed out to them in change we will make a laughing-stock of ourselves. It is necessary to organise things properly. That does not just mean issuing the coins and hoping for the best. It means reminding people that these coins are about to come into use. I would suggest, therefore, that these coins should be introduced and Telecom Éireann and other agencies should be reminded to pay up the extra cash to convert all their machines, and not in five years' time. There are still telephones in public houses and public telephones around the country that cannot even take a 20p piece and some that cannot take a 50p piece. Can we not organise ourselves to do something properly for once? In something as relatively simple as changing our coinage we ought to make sure that everything in [707] which that coinage is used actually uses the coinage we choose to use and we should not have some sort of antiquated equipment that is 20 years out of date.

Mr. Mooney: I would like to put on record that I, too, welcome this new departure. I hope it is the first of many.

The Minister states, in relation to the limited edition, that it is our first step into the market of specialised coins. Will the new issue be the first of many? Does the legislation as currently framed mean that the Minister will be allowed to make an order rather than having to come back into the House whenever there is a decision taken, irrespective of which Government are in office, to issue a commemorative coin? How will this particular ECU coin or series of coins be promoted? I would have to think that institutional investors would corner the gold coin and the silver coin market. The nation as a whole should have an opportunity of putting some money aside because, after all, these coins should be of value both intrinsically and materially for many generations to come.

A very old lady in my home town of Drumshambo, who is now celebrating her 89th year, only recently gave to one of her great-granddaughters a gold coin that was issued to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1901. It had been in her family since that time. It is obviously worth a great deal of money. I would hope that these limited edition coins, if they are the first of many, would be promoted properly and that the public would be given an opportunity and encouraged to buy them.

Will the Government be considering issuing gold coins on an ongoing basis similar to, say, the Canadian maple leaf coin and the South African krugerrand which, of course, due to the status of South Africa and the hope for a return to the family of nations, is not as much sought after now as it used be?

On a separate issue, will the Government be contemplating reducing the size of the £50 note and what is the current status of the £100 note? I am not even [708] sure if there is such a note in existence. When I was very young I remember farmers going to the banks on fair days with the large £100 notes. I am wondering whether, in the current situation, there will be a need for a £100 note. Are the Government contemplating reducing the size of the £50 note, because it is rather unwieldy and due to inflation and pressures, etc., over the last ten or 15 years it is coming increasingly into use. I hasten to add that I do not have all that many of them, in fact, they rarely pass my table, but in the context of the other contributions made about the usage of our coinage and the usage of our notes perhaps the Government might take the opportunity to look at the £50 note.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Daly): I will endeavour to reply to the points raised within the limited time at my disposal, perhaps not in the order in which they were raised. Senator Doyle asked whether the Arts Council might be consulted in relation to the overall design. The Arts Council were consulted and in their reply stated that they were most pleased with the Metcalfe design and that they were possibly the most pleasing coins in Europe, if not in the world.

Mrs. Doyle: I agree, but these are Metcalfe-type, not Metcalfe.

Mr. Daly: With regard to the commemorative coins Senator Doyle mentioned, this is a very unique and special occasion but apart from that there is an increasing interest in commemorative coins generally. It is an area that we have not been involved in up to now to any major extent because we did not exploit that area. There is an increasing and growing interest in commemorative coins and it is important that we get into a market which will offer opportunities for employment. It is an area that has been researched by the bank. It has not been entered into just purely on speculation. Before this decision was taken, some research work was done specifically to determine whether or not there was a [709] market for such a commemorative coin. It has shown that there is a market. It is one that we should be involved in. It is a wise step, a welcome one and one that should be advanced further.

Mrs. Doyle: Charles, President of Europe.

Mr. Daly: Senator Mooney asked whether it would be the Government's intention to issue further commemorative coins. Yes, further commemorative ECU coins can be issued under the Bill. The silver and the gold coins are aimed at the man in the street and will be available to the public at large. It will be acknowledged that there is a specific market and demand for that type of coinage and one that will be taken up quickly by the specialists interested in it.

Senator Doyle raised the question of cost of the 1p coin and the 2p coin. The cost of these coins is 40 per cent more than the actual face value. The Central Bank, having examined the technical aspects, decided in favour of a copper coin.

Mrs. Doyle: Why not the alloy?

Mr. Daly: That will be considered for use in the 5p and 10p coins. Senator Doyle also asked whether the 20p coin has taken the 10p coin out of circulation.

Mrs. Doyle: To what extent it has been taken out of circulation.

Mr. Daly: There have been no 10p coins minted since 1984, where as 66 million 20p coins have been minted.

Mrs. Doyle: So it has reduced the demand for the 10p?

Mr. Daly: Yes, that seems to be the position. The 1p and 2p coins will be exactly the same colour at at present. Senator Doyle asked whether there were consultations with the principal coin users. Yes, there were extensive consultation by the bank with the coin users. [710] They were acquainted with the planned dimension and the consultations extended to the ESB, Telecom Éireann, CIE, Dublin Corporation, Dublin Gas, Aer Rianta and the matters of coin-operated machines. The consultation clearly identified that the coin users were satisfied with the coins.

The question as to whether the £1 note and the £1 coin should remain in circulation simultaneously was one that was raised previously. The evidence is that in the practical day-to-day working of this system if you leave the two in operation one seems to negate the impact of the other. Part of the reason for introducing the new coin is it lasts about five to seven years without any major change in the face value as against the £1 note which only lasts for about six months. That would be one of the main advantages — the durability and reliability of the new coin — and the fact that it has a pretty good face value for about six or seven years and has a life of about 40 years.

Mrs. Doyle: Will there need to be a coinage order before the £1 coin comes out? Surely there has to be?

Mr. Daly: No. It is included in the Bill. All we need is a design order for the coin and this will be done by way of negative order.

Mrs. Doyle: There is a provision for an affirmative order in the Bill. You will not be having that?

Mr. Daly: I am told it is not necessary, that this will be done by way of negative.

Mrs. Doyle: I think that that should be looked at.

Mr. Daly: We will certainly look at that but my advice is that it is not necessary. Senator Ryan raised the question of whether there had been consultation with the visually impaired. The bank did consult with the representatives of the various organisations involved with the visually impaired and it has been clearly [711] identified that it would be acceptable to those people.

I think that covers the main points that have been raised unless anybody wants to question anything else. Overall, I believe it is a very timely and useful piece of legislation and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Senators for their very constructive and helpful comments.

Question put and agreed to.

Agreed to take remaining Stages today.

Bill put through Committee and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Mrs. Doyle: May I ask that we look again at the position in relation to he coinage order. I am seriously concerned about the difference in the procedure of the passage of this piece of legislation relating to the £1 coin and what happened in relation to the 20p coin. I would like an explanation as to how we can appear to be departing from what I understood was the procedure. There is a matter of amending the First Schedule and there is also a coinage order and I thought both had to be dealt with.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Mr. Daly): I am advised that you cannot compare what is proposed in this legislation with what was in the legislation for the 50p coin and 20p coin. The advice is that this is dealt with in the legislation.

Mrs. Doyle: They are both coins.

Mr. Daly: They are two different pieces of legislation.

Mrs. Doyle: I will accept your advice but I have reservations.

Mr. Daly: I am advised there is no problem.

[712] Question put and agreed to.