Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
The Taoiseach: It is proposed to take No. 19, Nursing Homes Support Scheme Bill 2008 — Second Stage (resumed); No. 20, Employment Law Compliance Bill 2008 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008 [Seanad]— Second Stage.
Deputy Enda Kenny: The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill will be introduced in the House tomorrow. Has the Taoiseach set a timescale for its conclusion or does he intend it to run its remit if Members from all sides want to contribute on Second Stage? Does he intend to guillotine the legislation?
Deputy Eamon Gilmore: The Bill is somewhat different from what which was originally signalled. We had been led to believe the Bill would deal only with the so-called pension levy. It has been considerably widened and includes provisions for changes in the early childhood supplement, the farm waste management scheme and other matters. The Long Title is also exceptionally wide. The word “whereas” is used six times, which considerably widens the scope of the legislation compared with what was originally signalled to us. Will this be the final version of the Bill to be enacted? Has the Government plans to introduce amendments on Committee or Report Stages?
The Taoiseach: The Minister for Finance will listen to the debate to see if there will be Government amendments on Committee and Report Stages. There may be drafting amendments in the normal course of events. It was indicated, contrary to what the Deputy said, that legislative changes were required in respect of all the elements announced in the €2 billion package, including the early childhood supplement, the levy and the waste management issue and that we would incorporate them in the one Bill. If he is under a different impression, the record will show I indicated we would have an omnibus Bill on these issues as a matter of urgency.
Deputy Richard Bruton: A report published earlier highlights a high level of non-compliance with elements of the disclosure provisions of the code of corporate governance and a recommendation that the code should be enforceable in law. Does the Taoiseach intend to incorporate such enforcement in one of the forthcoming companies Bills because it is important in the context of regulatory confidence in Ireland that we have a regulatory regime that applies to all quoted companies?
I refer to the new regulatory legislation he has promised. Am I to believe the only investigation into regulatory failures is being undertaken by the regulatory authority itself? Does the Taoiseach agree that is a hopelessly deficient approach to resolving our regulatory failures? One cannot expect an agency to be judge in its own case or to be the only body hiring consultants to assess what needs to occur. Could we have a proper, independent assessment, which would inspire confidence that the new regime will be based on much broader consultation than that undertaken by those who have been found to be defective in their roles?
The Taoiseach: I will mention the Deputy’s suggestion on the first matter to the Ministers for Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The report issued by Grant Thornton earlier indicates some companies are not complying with the code and this will be carefully examined to see what policy response is needed to help bolster business and public confidence, which is an important consideration at this time. We will have to examine carefully the practicality of moving from a voluntary code to a statutory basis in the interest of business efficacy and, as the Deputy said, of upholding corporate governance principles, which are important.
With regard to regulatory reform, the Minister for Finance will come to Government in due course with proposals for consideration about changing the regulatory arrangements we have in this country. There is no question lessons must be learned. We also have to see both domestically and internationally a response to the present financial crisis that will result in a different type of regulation, not only in regard to structures but also in regard to interaction between regulatory authorities and financial institutions to bolster public confidence and to confirm there is a response commensurate to the challenge we face.
Regarding the question of the regulator conducting the investigation, it is important that the regulatory authority is the independent body to investigate. In respect of any case where an authority is regarded as inadequate or insufficiently speedy, the issues are normally resolved by active boards, which are in a position to ensure the executive of such authorities carry out their missions and work in the way expected by the public whom they serve. The issue is examining the structures, which has been a matter of debate in recent times. We have a relatively modern legislative framework but the nature of regulation will change internationally and domestically and we need structures in place, which will satisfy people that we are responding in a commensurate way to the need for oversight and real time knowledge of what is happening.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I have not had the opportunity to read the legislation that was presented this morning but I noted with some concern that the promised €100 million environmental fund was not included in the Minister’s statement to the House last week. Is that being provided for in the legislation? If not, when will the detail relating to that fund be shared with Members? Will it require legislation in the not too distant future?
The Taoiseach: Legislation is not required. It is a commercial arrangement with a facility being provided by the banks concerned to the industry and the public generally in respect of assisting in the accessing of finance for important work such as energy efficiency and so on, which can make business more competitive, maintain jobs and contain and cut costs. The fund does not require a statutory basis. The commitment has been made, similar to other commitments in respect of home owners and small businesses, etc., and it will be a matter for the Minister for Finance to monitor and confirm that it is put in place as quickly as possible.
Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I read the legislative programme and I could not find an appropriate Bill to raise a constituency matter, which is the loss of jobs at Intel in Leixlip. Would it be possible to have a debate in the House and introduce appropriate legislation to discuss the importance of competitiveness for the future of the economy? There are two proposed Bills that are purely cosmetic and do not deal with the fundamental issues.
There is a social welfare Bill, No. 82 on the list, which proposes to introduce a means-tested payment using the habitual residency clause as a means of qualifying. I raised this matter last week. Is the legislation now in operation in accord with EU law?
Are the financial services (deposit guarantee scheme) Bill and the National Pensions Reserve Fund (amendment) Bill already drafted and finalised? When will they be introduced in the House? Will they be in their original formats?
Regarding No. 43 on the list, the electricity (transfer of transmission assets) Bill, and given the necessity to focus on that area with a view to reducing energy costs as a matter of urgency, would it be possible to coax that Bill into the House? Perhaps at the tail end of it the relevant Minister from the Green Party might also be coaxed into the House to give us some idea as to what is happening.
The Taoiseach: The National Pensions Reserve Fund (amendment) Bill should be published later this week. The financial services (deposit guarantee scheme) Bill will be later this session and the social welfare Bill will be later this year.
Deputy Liz McManus: Our energy bills are among the highest in Europe. We all welcome today’s announcement by Bord Gáis that it is to enter the domestic electricity market, which hopefully will provide some relief. However, businesses and domestic consumers are still being crippled by unnecessarily high electricity bills. The Taoiseach in recognising this made a commitment to ensure that energy prices would come down. They have not reduced. The regulator prevaricates——
The Taoiseach: It is impossible to indicate at this stage when that legislation will be introduced. I understand there is a consultation process in place. As the Deputy knows, the electricity industry is a regulated industry.
The Taoiseach: The Commission for Energy Regulation dictates prices. I have indicated, as has the Minister, that an interaction is going on to see in what way, consistent with the regulatory regime, we can reduce prices as an assistance to business at this time. I believe that as a result of that work any possible changes that may be envisaged can be brought forward more quickly than would otherwise be the case under current arrangements.
However, I emphasise it is a regulated industry and was brought to that point in order to try to facilitate competition, which is now coming into play thankfully. I hope it will replicate what we are seeing happening in the gas industry, the announcement of which I very much welcome today. While the Deputy suggests that others pontificate, the Labour Party policy position gestates.
Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: The Bill being published today that is rather euphemistically titled the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill, which may be a matter of contention, contains an obligation on the Minister for Health and Children to engage in consultation with health bodies on the reduction of payments for health professionals. As we all know, the Competition Act is an obstacle in that regard as evidenced when the issue involving pharmacists arose last year. We have also had issues with regard to actors and others. There is a promise to amend the Competition Act. Will that now be brought forward as a matter of urgency? Under the legislation published today, the Minister must consult. However, under the Competition Act there are difficulties with the Minister consulting with the representatives of doctors, pharmacists, dentists and other health professionals.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: When will we see the public transport regulation Bill? Last week, we were to have a debate on the Deloitte report on bus transport, but it was postponed because of the financial crisis. Will we have an opportunity to have that discussion, perhaps next week, before there is any industrial action and services are withdrawn from commuters?  As usual, the Minister for Transport seems to be taking a very hands-off approach to the problem.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I wish to follow up on a point raised by my Dublin North-East constituency colleague on the loss of 1,400 jobs at Dublin Airport. Yesterday, the Taoiseach advised me that the Tánaiste was going to try to address the matter. What initiatives is she taking?
Deputy Emmet Stagg: There is promised legislation in the area of management companies. A number of management companies have gone belly-up. There is a lien on the title of the houses in these areas requiring householders to pay the management levy. As they cannot find anybody to whom to pay it, houses cannot be sold. Another problem arises with the affordable housing scheme, which is a highly desirable scheme. People living in affordable houses, who are stretched to meet the repayments, now need to also pay management fees within these areas. There is no control; there is no limit on the management fee. There is no regulation of it.
Deputy Emmet Stagg: This is happening in housing estates with no flats or anything else. Given that this matter has been examined by a committee of Ministers and the Attorney General, and that it has now been decided to introduce a single Bill, when will we see that legislation?
The Taoiseach: Work is continuing. It was discussed again at Cabinet a couple of weeks ago. I assure the Deputy that work is continuing on the issue. It is very difficult, unfortunately. It is not a simple area. However, that does not take away from the fact that we need to introduce legislation as soon as possible. There is more work involved.
Deputy Joe Costello: Will the Taoiseach give the House some idea of when the PricewaterhouseCoopers report will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas as promised so that all Members will have the opportunity to read all the details which the Minister for Finance may have missed when he was going through it? I refer to reports in today’s newspapers that the European Commission will more or less take us into an emergency supervision mode——
Deputy Joe Costello: I refer to the debt ratio which is going up by a multiple of three or four of what it should be and the breach of the Stability and Growth Pact. Is the Taoiseach proposing to introduce any legislative measure so that we do not find ourselves in the doghouse vis à vis the European Union on this issue?
The Taoiseach: Legislation is not required in that area. If Deputy Costello wishes to show his concern he might support the €2 billion of efficiencies we are bringing forward to help bring our public finances into order and I look forward to his support.
The Taoiseach: I am glad that Deputy Costello is concerned about that matter and I hope he can convince his party colleagues to recognise that putting the public finances in order is a prerequisite to providing stability and growth in this country again.
The Taoiseach: They will require a lot of difficult decisions and there is no legislative instrument that can be devised — perhaps what the Deputy would call the anti-doghouse Bill — to keep us out of the doghouse if the doghouse it is.
The Taoiseach: The relevant parts of the report consistent with recognising those data protection issues will have to be considered and it is in that context and in an effort to be helpful the Minister is providing it.
Deputy Terence Flanagan: Has the Government any plans to scrap the home choice loan scheme as only four applicants have taken up? It is very controversial and it would involve the State becoming a sub-prime lender. Four staff are working on the scheme and only four applications have been received since last October. It is a disgrace and it should be scrapped. At the same time those funds should be moved to deal with the 57,000 people waiting on social housing lists. This is a failed scheme, it is the wrong kind of scheme.
Deputy Enda Kenny: Under the implementation of the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Act, Irish Nationwide is covered by the State guarantee. Will the Taoiseach ask the Chief Whip to have the Minister for Finance or Minister of State make a statement to the House under the terms of that Act to explain the events surrounding the resignation of the chairman of Irish Nationwide as it is covered by the State guarantee?
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