Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 687 No. 6

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Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

  5 o’clock

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I thank the House for agreeing to consider this legislation this afternoon. Members will be aware that the need for this short Bill results from the issues raised in the recent High Court judgment in the McCann case in which the applicant successfully challenged the constitutionality of section 6 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1940. The High Court delivered its judgment on 18 June last and, following close consultation with the Attorney General, I decided not to appeal that decision but to move quickly to apply the principles contained in it to the existing legislation in order to provide a definite and reliable method of dealing with debt enforcement.

These short but important amendments will be of benefit not just to creditors but also to the individuals who are falling into debt. In these often distressing circumstances, delay and prevarication are the normal human reaction. However, these do not constitute a particularly useful approach. The earlier people can face up to their difficulties and engage positively with their creditors, the easier a manageable solution can be achieved for both parties.

The High Court found that the existing legislation lacked a number of necessary safeguards in circumstances where a person is at risk of imprisonment. The judgment states that while this process has traditionally been regarded as a civil matter, its effect was similar to a criminal process and that, as a result, the debtor was entitled to similar protections. The court expressed [734]particular concern that the 1940 Act did not appear to require a person to be heard by a court before being imprisoned. Following default on an instalment order made by the District Court, the creditor could apply to the court for a committal order and even without appearance by a debtor. Committal orders could be, and were, granted by the District Court.

The absence of a means to ensure that the debtor attended the court gave rise to difficulty, particularly in view of the fact that in the legislation the obligation was on the debtor to show that his or her failure to pay was not simply because he or she chose not to do so. The court had to be satisfied the debtor — if he or she appeared — had proved that his or her failure to pay was not the result of wilful default. The High Court also found issue with the fact that no option was open to a court to grant legal aid to an indigent debtor at risk of imprisonment, although of course it should be remembered that it was open to a debtor to make application to the legal aid board for civil legal aid.

The provision I am now proposing will replace section 6 and amend sections 8 and 9 of the 1940 Act. Its effect will be to insert a number of key safeguards to the provisions under which a court may hear an application or grant an imprisonment order against a debtor who has failed to comply with an instalment order. The Bill will also provide that a debtor against whom an imprisonment order may be made will be entitled to apply for legal aid.

The Bill still allows for the possibility of imprisonment. I am aware there are those who will think this harsh. I have given detailed consideration to this issue, however, and I am of the view that we must live in the real world and consider the effect of abolishing imprisonment on the process of debt enforcement between two contracting parties. While in practice as a solicitor, I had experience of trying to obtain compensation for people who were awarded money by the courts and of trying in vain, through many different layers of process, to collect it.

Without detaining the House with statistics, the data made available by the Courts Service and the Irish Prison Service demonstrates eloquently the effect of the ultimate sanction of imprisonment in dealing with debt. The Courts Service estimates that in the first six months of this year there were approximately 4,300 applications to the District Court for enforcement orders. In the same period, 186 people, less than 5% of the total, were imprisoned. The average imprisonment period is 20 days. The simple fact is that the vast majority of people who may ignore every other step of the process find the means to pay their debts when faced with the threat of imprisonment. It should also be remembered that this process is always preceded by an instalment order granted by the court. It can be seen, therefore, that, even under the 1940 Act, only a very small percentage of debtors were subject to the sanction of imprisonment.

The aim of this Bill is to ensure that people who cannot afford to pay will not be subject to imprisonment but that those who can pay and who simply chose not to may still face prison. The Government’s view is that this sanction is a necessary aid to creditors who are finding it increasingly difficult to collect moneys owed to them, particularly in the current challenging economic climate. This legislation is mainly utilised by small creditors — shops, businesses and credit unions, which are struggling to maintain their trade and their employees — as well as family law creditors. I would be loath to add to their troubles by abolishing the persuasive sanction that enables family members to recover debts owed to them by, for example, spouses from which they are separated.

Fine Gael has suggested that the imprisonment option should be abolished altogether and replaced with an attachment procedure. I had considered that option for this Bill and the Fines Bill, which is already before the Houses, but decided against it at this time. This is doubtless an area which will form a key part of the examination currently being undertaken by the Law Reform Commission. Most Deputies would agree it is more appropriate to await the com[735]mission’s recommendations rather than to proceed in haste to construct an attachment process which may be reframed entirely within a relatively short period.

As Deputies will be aware, the Law Reform Commission is considering this issue and will be commencing a consultation process in the coming weeks. While I have sympathy with the notion of an attachment procedure, we should not second guess the outcome of the Law Reform Commission’s deliberations. What we are doing, on foot of the High Court judgment, is introducing the changes that are required in respect of the existing legislation. When the Law Reform Commission reports, we will re-examine the entire system. I accept that the commission may very well recommend removing the option of imprisonment. Deputy Charlie Flanagan, the Ceann Comhairle and I know, from our experience as practising lawyers, that the threat of imprisonment was always persuasive in encouraging people to eventually pay their debts.

Section 1 of the Bill is a standard provision containing definitions. Section 2 is the principal provision and inserts a new section 6 into the 1940 Act. The latter sets out the process by which the District Court will deal with the summons and the hearing. It also specifies various safeguards and criteria which will in future apply to the granting of a committal order.

The new section 6(1) sets out the circumstances in which a creditor may apply to a District Court clerk for a committal order. As already stated, this will follow on from an earlier court process in which an order for payment by instalment will have been granted. Where the debtor fails to pay these instalments, or one thereof, the creditor can make an application under section 6.

The new section 6(2) sets out the details that will be contained in the summons. These measures concentrate on making the debtor clearly aware of the consequences if he or she fails to attend, as well as the range of potentially less onerous options the court has available to it under this legislation, such as a variation order or mediation. It should be noted that the Bill provides for personal service of the summons and this will be a matter for the creditor.

The new section 6(3) provides that where a debtor fails, without reasonable excuse, to appear in answer to the summons, a judge can either issue an arrest warrant in order that the Garda will bring the debtor before the court at the earliest opportunity or adjourn the hearing. This provision effectively channels the court towards the provisions and protections in subsections (6), (7) and (8).

The new section 6(4) provides that where a debtor is arrested he or she should be brought before a court as soon as possible. The new section 6(5) provides that where a person is arrested and brought before a court under the bench warrant issued under subsection (3), a date shall then be fixed for a hearing and specifies that the judge shall make clear in ordinary language to the debtor his entitlement to apply for legal aid, the consequences, including imprisonment, of failing to comply with the instalment order or of failing to appear for the hearing on the date fixed.

The new section 6(6) deals with the judge’s explanation in circumstances where the debtor attends on foot of a summons, that is, the entitlement to apply for legal aid and the consequences, including imprisonment, of failing to comply with the instalment order.

The new section 6(7) sets out the options open to the court if it is satisfied that the debtor has not complied with an instalment order. In the first instance, the proceedings on the summons may be treated as an application for a variation of the existing instalment order. This option exists at present but I understand that people seldom avail of it. This is clearly a good option for the creditor as well as the debtor because some payment is better than none. By setting matters out clearly in the new section 6, the take-up relating it may increase.

[736]The new section 6(7)(b) provides that the court may request the parties to engage in mediation. This is aimed at increased use of the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, which provides such valuable assistance to those in difficulties. Government funding of MABS in 2009 is in the order of €18 million. MABS provides an extremely effective service to people in trouble, with over 90% of callers to the helpline finding that their money management and budgeting issues can be resolved with the assistance of the helpline adviser. When I served as Minister for Social and Family Affairs between 1997 and 2002, I was especially pleased to have at my disposal the resources required to increase the number of MABS offices throughout the country.

The other option open to the court is to make a committal order. This may be postponed until such time as the judge thinks is appropriate, thus giving the debtor a further opportunity to make payment, or come into effect immediately.

Subsection (8) sets out in detail the standard and the onus of proof, as well as the criteria that must be applied by a judge before making an order for imprisonment. Members will note that I have included the criminal standard of proof, that is, beyond reasonable doubt. This is to take account of the High Court’s view that the potential effect on a debtor is that he or she may be imprisoned and, therefore, I have erred on the side of caution in requiring a criminal standard.

The onus will be on the creditor to establish the case. The proofs required include establishing that the debtor has means but is wilfully refusing to pay. In addition, the court may require the creditor to establish that the debtor has no goods that could be attached in lieu of the debt. While this seems a potentially onerous provision, it is included specifically to establish that imprisonment really is the last resort.

Subsections (9), (10) and (11) are self-explanatory. Subsection (12) is designed to protect the proceedings from a debtor who fails to attend the court hearing. I accepted a helpful amendment tabled by the Labour Party in the Seanad. We had the same objective in mind, namely, to protect the integrity of the proceedings from the debtor who refuses to co-operate.

Section 2 also inserts a new section 6A, which grants power to the court to consider an application for legal aid. This will operate on a similar basis to the current criminal legal aid scheme. It makes provision for an entitlement to apply to the court for a debtor’s legal aid certificate and sets out the circumstances in which it can be granted. Consideration was given to simply referring to the Legal Aid Board, as it is currently possible for persons to apply to it for assistance in such matters. However, again bearing in mind that the end result can be imprisonment, it was felt more appropriate to leave the granting of legal aid as a matter for the court to decide.

Deputies may be concerned at the financial implications in this regard. Obviously, there will be consequences resulting from extending legal aid in this way. It is not, however, my intention to provide for large fees. Regulations are being drafted and my officials have notified the Law Society that the scheme is being structured to restrict the cost to the State as much as possible, while allowing for a fair rate to be payable to solicitors for their work. This represents a new avenue of business for the profession, which I appreciate has been experiencing its own difficulties, and this will be very suitable work for recently qualified young solicitors. I intend that a rate will be struck on a per-case basis. The Department will monitor the impact of the provision and it is proposed that the arrangement be reviewed once it has been in operation for a period of two years.

Section 2(2) applies the provisions of the amended section 6 above to section 8 of the 1940 Act, which deals with applications for enforcement proceedings for default of payments due [737]periodically, for example, maintenance orders. Section 2(3) amends section 9 of the 1940 Act to render more workable the power of the Minister to release debtors where that is necessary. Following advice from the Attorney General, this is being done to tidy up the existing archaic provision from the 1940 Act that requires the Minister to consult, where practicable, with the District Court judge who issued the committal order. I cannot envisage circumstances where such consultation would be appropriate and the minor change introduced here, which is to include consideration of whether such consultation is appropriate or proper in all the circumstances, is designed to take account of this.

Moreover, I do not envisage that this provision to release debtors will be used frequently as it has been very rarely used in the past. The issue of whether ordinary remission procedures should apply to debtors has been raised — traditionally it has not applied — and this will be examined further in due course.

As Deputies will be aware, the Law Reform Commission is currently engaged in a root and branch examination of the area of debt and will publish a discussion paper in September. This will be followed by the commission’s annual conference in November, which will be centred on this topic. All this work will lead to the publication of a major paper next year in which it will make recommendations for any in-depth reform of this area, which undoubtedly is overdue. The commission has lengthy experience of broad consultation and produces excellent, workable solutions in complex areas. I have no doubt that it will take into account the jurisprudence, as well as the detailed and helpful research produced this week by FLAC. Any other issues arising in this area can and will be considered in that context.

In the aftermath of the recent court case, I decided to hone in on section 6 of the 1940 Act and amend it to take account of the High Court judgment, while leaving the wider examination of this issue to the Law Reform Commission. While the amendment tabled by Fine Gael in this respect is helpful, I do not consider it appropriate to accept it because were the Law Reform Commission to come up with another procedure, Members would be obliged to change this all over again. Consequently, it is better to leave this to the Law Reform Commission.

It also is necessary to emphasise that not only does this measure help creditors in respect of normal contract issues or debts, but the legislation is also required to ensure that an ultimate penalty exists in respect of unfulfilled family law maintenance orders. It is important not to lose sight of that fact. To a certain extent, there is a perception that this measure simply pertains to money in respect of contract debts and such issues. Moreover, I note that attachment applies in the area of family law in respect of maintenance orders and yet 50% of those who are subject to maintenance orders and who fail to pay actually end up in prison. In other words, the attachment procedure in that regard does not work as well as one might think.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  It is timely that a Bill dealing with matters of financial debt should come before the House. However, as the Minister has more or less admitted, the legislation before Members is a sticking plaster to get over a problem that has arisen. It is a pity this Bill has been introduced in a manner that is lacking in imagination and is merely designed to circumvent the High Court judgment of 18 June last, rather than as an attempt to address the real and practical problems that debt defaulters face.

I do not intend to detain the House to any great extent as the Seanad had a detailed debate on this matter and I do not wish to be repetitive. However, when this Bill was before the Seanad, my colleague, Senator Eugene Regan, tabled an important amendment that reflects Fine Gael’s policy on this matter and to which the Minister referred. Fine Gael considers that an attachment of earnings order would be a far better solution to the debt default problem [738]than a term of imprisonment. I am unsure what purpose imprisoning debt defaulters serves because it is strictly punitive and in no way bestows benefit on the creditor. The person is put into jail and it is most unlikely that his or her personal circumstances can improve while serving a prison sentence. That also is to the detriment of the creditor and when that person emerges, having served a prison sentence, the debt remains due in any event. It is important, and the Minister has more or less said the same thing, that one should be pragmatic about such matters and the objective of the Legislature must be to find a way for the debtor to pay the creditor what is owed, rather than having people serve prison sentences.

In this context, I welcome the proposed new section 6(7)(b) of the 1940 Act, which provides that the court may request the parties to engage in mediation. The Government has indicated that it envisages an increased use of the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, which I welcome. The Minister mentioned his practice as a solicitor and from my experience as a solicitor, I am familiar with the mediation process, particularly in respect of family law, and the family mediation service is doing excellent work. It quietly assists people by helping to reduce the adversarial nature of a dispute and in many circumstances it helps to deliver an outcome that is satisfactory to both parties. Mediation has an extremely important role to play in settling some types of disputes. I wish to see mediation at the heart of resolving disputes about debt.

The current budget of MABS is approximately €18 million. This seems generous and I hope it is adequate to enable MABS to carry out an expanded role, as envisaged by this Bill. Irrespective of this Bill, I hope MABS is assisted by the Government in every way because more and more people are likely to seek the help of MABS for help as job losses continue to mount. It is important that the Government recognises the fundamental importance of an agency like MABS at a time like this and ensures that it is working to capacity.

I refer constituents to MABS, as do other Members, almost on a daily basis. I know the local office is under pressure and I value its work. It should be assisted in every way possible. I see an expanded role for an organisation like MABS in respect of debt resolution disputes.

As anticipated by the Minister, Fine Gael would like to see this Bill amended to provide for an attachment of earnings order, rather than a prison sentence, where difficulties arise in respect of debt defaulting. Attachment of earnings orders are common in the field of family law regarding maintenance provision. Where a spouse fails to pay maintenance as per a court order, an attachment of earnings order can be sought from the court if the person is in employment, on social welfare or on a private pension. The order results in the maintenance amount being deducted at source by the employer or the Department of Social and Family Affairs. If the spouse is self-employed, an enforcement summons can be applied for.

Such orders can be handed down by both the District Court and the Circuit Court. In making a maintenance order, a court can direct that the payment under the order shall be made to the District Court clerk if the court considers that it would be proper to do so. As part of its order the Circuit Court may direct that a maintenance order is payable through the District Court on the basis that the office of the local court is more accessible to a querist. The District Court has a fully computerised payments system for the receipt and transmission of payments received. Payments received are immediately dispatched to the applicant and there is no delay. The system is working well. A fully computerised print out of all payments is available to either party on request. The process is simple, fast and efficient. I do not dispute that it has its flaws but it is a more practical measure.

It is a more imaginative solution than putting people into prison. The prisons are dangerously over-crowded. The Government states that in the first six months of this year only 186 people [739]were imprisoned for debt defaulting. The Minister said this number is small but 186 people is a lot. An alternative to prison for those 186 people would make far more sense.

As my colleague, Senator Regan, pointed out when this Bill was before the Seanad, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy stated, on page 84 of her judgment in the recent McCann case, that as the plaintiff’s case illustrated, a statutory procedure for enforcement of debt under which the debtor may be imprisoned, without there being a positive requirement that the court determine if non-payment is due to an inability to pay before making an order for arrest or imprisonment, is not only futile in terms of securing the creditor’s remedy, but it imposes unnecessary expense both on the creditor and the State. If the warrant for the imprisonment of the plaintiff had been executed, the plaintiff would spend a month in Mountjoy Prison. The credit union, however, which its counsel described as a not-for-profit co-operative financial service provider governed by the Credit Union Act, would not have received €5,658 or even one cent from the plaintiff. The credit union would have borne the cost of the proceedings for the instalment order and the application for the order for arrest and imprisonment. The State would have borne the cost of two District Court sittings, the execution of the warrant and the accommodation of the plaintiff in Mountjoy Prison for one month. That is the major defect in the Bill. It still does not provide for an attachment of earnings procedure. In that regard, it fails to adhere to the provisions of the High Court judgment.

Senator Regan proposed a strong amendment to the Bill when it was before the Seanad. It was designed to provide for a procedure whereby an attachment is ordered as a substitute for imprisonment, which is to the benefit of creditors, eliminates the use of imprisonment to force the individual to pay a debt and is more efficient. The proposed amendment provided that where a debtor is liable, by virtue of an instalment order, to pay a debt and costs either in one payment or by instalments, and the debtor fails to make such payment or fails to pay any one or more of such instalments accruing while such an order is in force at the time or times appointed, the creditor may, at any time while such order is in force or within 12 months thereafter, apply to the court for an attachment of income order. That proposed amendment was rejected by the Government for reasons that are less than satisfactory.

Fine Gael’s approach to the Bill is more practical, reasoned and based on sound legal principles and precedent. I am disappointed by the narrow-minded view of the Minister. At this late stage I hope the Minister will be more open-minded in the Dáil than he was in the Seanad when dealing with the matter.

I am aware that the Law Reform Commission is due to present a major paper on debt before the end of the year. This Bill shows that the Government is not averse to introducing amending legislation where it sees a need. I am disappointed that we have not dealt with the very real problems in the area of unregulated debt collection. In April of this year, having been approached by several victims of unscrupulous debt collectors and in the face of Government failure to act on the issue, I published a Private Members’ Bill to regulate debt collection in this jurisdiction. I was very conscious of the involvement of criminals and eastern European mafia types involved in debt collection, which has become more prevalent since the economic downturn.

There is a need for urgent action to protect vulnerable debtors from threatening behaviour by some debt collectors. People have come to me who have been threatened by well-known criminals, property has been vandalised and physical assaults have taken place. Many victims told me they were afraid to go to the Garda Síochána because of the nature of the threats against them. It is clear that the State needs to intervene at the root of this problem by ensuring that those engaged in debt collection and their agents are fully licensed. The operation of debt [740]collection in the State must be governed by regulation and licence. A complaints mechanism for debtors treated in an unfair, unjust and intolerable fashion must be provided.

Fine Gael’s Bill proposed a system to regulate debt collectors so that they must register with the Financial Regulator and be vetted by the Garda Síochána prior to being allowed to operate. It would be run in much the same way as the private security industry in that it would not involve any great new authority and could be self-financing, which is also important. Ireland has no system to regulate debt collectors unlike most EU countries. As a result, anyone can set up a debt collection agency and there are no rules as to how they should operate. Debts can also be sold on and transferred without the debtor’s knowledge. With more people owing more money, debt collection is becoming a more profitable business for some who can operate without having to be under the umbrella of any form of regulation of any description.

Either the Government remains oblivious to this obvious difficulty or it does not care. I encourage the Government to consider over the summer, and prior to our return in the autumn, the plight of debtors who are subjected to threats and violence by debt collectors. We should regularise the industry by ensuring a proper licensing system. This need is pressing and the facts confirm that people are coming under pressure in a way that can be most unsavoury.

I note that the Bill makes provision for legal aid in response to the High Court’s concern that no option was open to a court to grant legal aid to a debtor at risk of imprisonment. The Bill proposes that a debtor against whom an imprisonment order may be made will be entitled to apply for legal aid. This brings us to the reality that civil legal aid is very much the poor relation of criminal legal aid. There have been reports of significant delays in obtaining civil legal aid in recent times and I would again state to the Government that it cannot legislate without matching that legislation with appropriate resources.

While pointing to the need for greater resources in the area of civil legal aid, I suggest that there are savings to be made in the area of criminal legal aid. Wealthy gangsters are known to frequently avail of legal aid in the Supreme Court despite apparent wealth. There is a need to tighten up the checks and balances that apply in this context. It is reprehensible that an ordinary citizen cannot obtain legal aid because of inadequate resources being allocated by the State, while a wealthy criminal can rather easily obtain free legal aid in a criminal case. I have not seen too many cases where the Criminal Assets Bureau has taken over the assets of a person convicted of serious crime and reimbursed to the State any criminal legal aid which may have been granted.

The timing of the High Court finding of unconstitutionality in respect of section 6 of the 1940 Act is interesting, given that expert lawyers from the prosecution and defence sides of the profession have been warning the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, that his proposed gangland legislation is unsound from a constitutional point of view.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I am not so sure about the “expert” bit.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  I encourage the Minister to bear in mind that legislation repugnant to the Constitution will not withstand legal challenge, as exemplified by the court case that precipitated this Bill.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  The legislation is based on a challenge to section 6 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1940, which provides that where a debtor has an instalment plan to pay a debt and fails to discharge that obligation, the creditor may apply to the District Court for the arrest and imprisonment of the debtor.

[741]The Free Legal Aid Centres, FLAC, in its opinion, states the Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Bill 2009 confines itself to remedying the constitutional deficiencies identified by the High Court in the McCann case and this is the most fundamental point. Political and legal arguments were well made by my colleague, Senator Alex White, on the Bill in question and particular reference was made to the instigation of an attachment of earnings procedure when cases come before the courts for non-payment of debt. I have made provision for this argument by way of proposed amendment to the Bill to reflect that view.

We should also take cognisance of the fact that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has indicated that the Department will await the Law Reform Commission’s consultation paper on debt enforcement before taking any further action in this area. Will the Minister give a commitment to legislate for this and, in particular, that aspect of the Laffoy judgment on attachment of earnings? The Law Reform Commission’s report will be most welcome but if it does not give voice to legislation almost immediately then I suggest the inherent problems will continue.

I acknowledge FLAC’s comments in that regard and it should also be noted that its report, To No One’s Credit, published on 6 July, proposes a wide range of recommendations for change in this area. The FLAC position paper states: “These are welcome changes to the existing legislation but it must be said that they only address the last step in what is a complex and less than user friendly procedure that takes place in open court and is in need of comprehensive reform generally.” The report points out that while the Bill contains welcome changes necessitated by the McCann judgment, it does not go far enough in that it still contemplates imprisonment as a sanction for debtors. Although it will improve the current position, it is akin to placing a sticking plaster on an open wound, namely, our shameful policy of continuing to imprison people who for genuine reasons cannot pay their debts as opposed to refusing to do so. We must make the distinction between those who cannot and those who simply will not pay their debts.

FLAC suggests that the State moves towards the removal of imprisonment as an option in debt cases and instead employs effective non-penal remedies to enforce compliance with civil debt judgments. I hope the Law Reform Commission would give greater voice to this aspiration. There is merit to this argument but the complete removal of the sanction of prison is not a vista that we would support at present, particularly with regard to family law matters.

In introducing the Bill in the Seanad, the Minister of State said:

The new section 6 addresses this and we will not seek to amend it in that regard. I believe we must give voice to the McCann judgment and deal with it immediately. However, whether the legislation deals with the Laffoy judgment in its entirety is another matter.

In the debate in the Seanad, my colleague rightly asked how a debtor could be imprisoned without any requirement that the District Court would first have to decide whether the non-payment was due to an inability to pay or a refusal to pay. This seems a fundamental point, but it was not an area of the law with which many of us were familiar until the judgment [742]was made in this case. The judgment probably surprised people in that it deemed the area unconstitutional, which necessitated legislation. I could not understand how it could be justified as a law. It seemed to require a change. It seems basic that fair procedures should be available for a hearing before the courts dealing with the possible imprisonment of a debtor.

The Labour Party acknowledges this is serious legislation, as it involves the potential imprisonment of people for non-payment of debt. We also acknowledge that serious issues were raised in the judgment of Laffoy in the McCann case. We need to discuss those issues in greater detail. The question for the House is whether this legislation is drafted to take cognisance of the difference between those who cannot pay and those who will not pay and whether the application of criminal procedures against debtors who fail to discharge their debts is reasonable.

The fact that the imprisonment order made against Ms McCann would have been carried out if she had not taken the action shows that a person could be deprived of his or her freedom, regardless of whether he or she was deliberately flouting the law or could not simply pay their debts. In that case, the respondents had informed the court that they would vary the instalments, but that the debt would still stand. This was widely reported in the media at the time and The Irish Times of 27 June stated that Judge Neilan said he would remand all committal and many enforcement matters to the end of November, when it might be clear if the Laffoy decision would be appealed to the Supreme Court or if legislators would take action. We are taking action today, but it still remains unclear whether the Government has adequately dealt with the Laffoy judgment as it pertains to attachment of earnings procedures.

The question remains as to whether we should vote against the Bill on the basis that the findings within the Laffoy judgment are not implemented in their entirety in this legislation or whether we should revert to the 1940 Act. I suggest we should not revert to the 1940 Act but that a response is required. I feel the response is delivered in the legislation, although the Labour Party still finds the legislation somewhat flawed. It remains to be seen whether the lack of a provision in this regard will be challenged once the Bill is passed.

We must legislate to ensure that maintenance orders are enforced and upheld and ensure that the threat and potential for imprisonment remain. On the enforcement of maintenance orders, the current situation in this regard is unclear in light of the McCann judgment and until the implementation of this legislation. District Court clerks must maintain those orders, but the situation as to their standing is unclear. Is there an issue with regard to time constraints, from the time of the McCann judgment up to the implementation of this legislation? People seeking maintenance through maintenance orders wonder whether they will be affected adversely and whether the orders will be enforced. They want to know what direction the Minister will give to the Attorney General with regard to advice to court clerks on the matter of what they should do next about those orders once the legislation is passed. There is significant confusion and concern in this regard.

I understand that in one area in the west up to 200 maintenance orders have been put in abeyance as a result of the lack of implementation of the legislation. Will the Minister address that in his response? I may be missing the point, but if Judge Neilan made a judgment he would not do anything until such time as the legislation was passed, we need to find out exactly what the effect the passing of the legislation will have on the issuing of maintenance orders. We must legislate to ensure that maintenance orders are enforced and that the Minister maintains the potential threat of imprisonment where they are not paid.

The attachment of earnings procedure could still be incorporated in the Bill. The changes in the Bill will, in some circumstances, put an end to the sentence of imprisonment of a debtor in [743]his her absence and alter the onus of proof in these cases so that it is now for the creditor to establish that the debtor’s failure to pay instalments was either due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect. This is as suggested by FLAC. This shifts the balance away from the debtor to the creditor but allows for the possibility for the creditor to reclaim the debt or part of it. This concept, however, gives rise to some difficulty for the Labour Party. We seek to amend the legislation to reflect the fact that in her judgment Judge Laffoy spoke specifically about the issue of attachment of earnings procedures.

The Minister of State in his response to the Fine Gael amendment moved in the Seanad stated that the question of attachments of earnings — the substantive basis of the amendment — and of the whole area of attachments of earnings to social welfare payments had been considered by the Government, both in this Bill and in the Fines Bill. The conclusion, however, was that it would be problematic and difficult to operate fairly. The amendment also acknowledged that it would be necessary to include attachments to social welfare payments, but that this might not be the best time to try to do that. There would also be practical difficulties that would need to be overcome where persons in temporary employment were concerned.

I question the logic of such an approach. If the Law Reform Commission is going to consider the issue of debt and seek solutions by way of legislation, we must consider the range of options available. I contend the attachment of earnings procedure is one such option. This already operates within the family law system and I see no reason that it cannot operate within other areas of civil debt. In the Seanad the Minister of State said the attachment of earnings procedure presented a difficulty. If the difficulty is due to the cost factor or if it is an administrative difficulty, what is the logic of his argument? If the ultimate aim is to keep people out of prison, the cost of administration of such a scheme would be far less than the cost of imprisonment. There is logic in considering the attachment of earnings procedure and including it in the legislation. That would be the way to go. The Minister of State said people had been imprisoned for not adhering to maintenance orders, but with regard to civil debt, one could instigate such procedures.

Senator Bacik, when speaking in the Seanad and addressing the Fine Gael amendment said it is eminently sensible since it proposes a different regime as an alternative to the sanction of imprisonment being imposed upon a debtor, and rather than imprisonment, it envisages an attachment of income or welfare order that would be made to address circumstances where somebody is unable or unwilling to pay debts.

We agree with this approach and have tabled amendments to that effect. We still need to go back to the judgment of Ms Justice Laffoy, who refers to Article 11 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It states: “No one shall be imprisoned merely because of their inability to fulfil a contractual obligation.” The principle in international law that people should not be imprisoned merely because of their inability to fulfil a contractual obligation is clear and we are in breach of it.

Although there are improvements to the current situation in this Bill, which were necessitated by the McCann judgment, the fundamental principle upon which the current system is premised, namely, that people can be imprisoned for non-payment of debt remains in place. What was the point of imprisoning Ms McCann? It is fair to assume that the vast majority of those before the courts are people with little or no means or without the necessary life skills, in some instances, to manage household income.

The idea that someone would be subjected to a committal order without having engaged in any process before a judge speaks volumes about the arcane, archaic and outmoded and borrowed common law procedures which form part of this system. Even when someone receives documentation regarding the discharging of a debt, the chances are that they are intimidated [744]by a language that is far from simple and is typical of a bygone age. I am glad this is being dealt with in the Bill.

The State must immediately begin the process of changing the arcane procedures regarding the discharging of debt. It is one thing for us to change the legislation, but the question then arises as to when the section 6 provisions will kick in and whether we will see a revolution in the courts regarding their arcane procedures and the type of language they use, and whether they will change overnight. I suggest they will not and that many people who present themselves to the courts will be as confused as ever. Until we develop a language for the law that reflects modernity — if I can use that word — we will still have situations like the McCann case.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  It is definitely in the thesaurus.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  We still await the Law Reform Commission’s paper in that regard and hope it will lead to the overhaul of the system.

We need to strike a balance between the rights of the debtor before the court and the rights of the creditor to obtain payment. The Minister stated there were 4,300 applications for enforcement orders to the District Court and that 186 people were imprisoned so far this year. There is no doubt that figure will rise. When one takes into account those in prison for non-payment of fines, we have more trouble than is worth it inside our prisons, where people are there for civil rather than criminal issues. It is something that needs to be addressed.

This brings me back to FLAC. Why not look seriously at the proposal launched on Monday called To No One’s Credit and engage on those issues in a meaningful way? I suggest the Government, particularly the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, has its face set against any idea that seeks to look more laterally at the issue. The fact remains that since Adam was a boy people have reneged on their debts and no government, no matter how well-intentioned, will be able to legislate for human behaviour. I suggest a little bit of common sense and the accommodation of new ideas would be the way to go. We can no longer afford the notion that people would be jailed for debt where it is proven that they genuinely cannot pay.

Ms Justice Laffoy, on page 82 of the judgment, states that the application of elements of the test to section 6 illustrates that it is disproportionate interference with the constitutionally protected right to liberty because the objective of imprisoning a debtor for failure to comply with an instalment order is to procure the discharge of arrears of instalments. She refers specifically to a statutory procedure under which a debtor who is unable to discharge the arrears is imprisoned because of the absence therein of procedures, including procedures which give effect to the debtor’s right to fair procedures under the Constitution, which ensures that the judge ascertains that the debtor is unable to discharge the arrears, cannot be said to be rationally connected with the objective. This speaks to points we made on the attachment of earnings procedures. She states such a procedure is arbitrary, unfair and not based on rational considerations, and is an unreasonable and unnecessary interference with the debtor’s right to personal liberty.

The question is whether this aspect of her judgment has been remedied by the new section 6. I am a layman; I am not solicitor, as are my two learned colleagues, but perhaps the Minister could respond and let us know whether that aspect of her judgment has been remedied. Could the statutory scheme she refers to be applied by way of an attachment of earnings procedure? She states that in circumstances where a debtor has some resources to meet a debt, a statutory scheme which does not require the creditor to seek redress by attaching those resources does [745]not impair the debtor’s right to liberty as little as possible. We wish to speak to that issue by way of the amendments we have tabled.

  6 o’clock

Ultimately, the question for us is whether we need to amend the legislation to give voice to Ms. Justice Laffoy’s judgment so as to offset the risk that the Bill may be struck down again on foot of a legal challenge in these strange times. Where we guillotine at will, we risk the prospect of a challenge when the space for proper debate is curbed. Proper space and time has not been allocated for debate on this matter. It should be stated, for historical purposes, that guillotining legislation such as this does the Legislature no good. I often think that when we legislate in haste, it may come back to haunt us.

We welcome section 6. It will get the Minister over the hump, so to speak, regarding the McCann judgment, but there are other issues which need to be addressed. If we had more time and debate, a greater allowance for amendments and more expert opinion on this matter, perhaps we could have addressed it more fruitfully.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Bille rí-thábhachtach atá i gceist leis An Bille um Fhorfheidhmiú Orduithe Cúirte (Leasú) 2009. Tá muid ag déileáil anseo le gnáth daoine agus tá sé tábhachtach go dtuigeann muid gur daoine leochaileacha atá i gceist. Is daoine iad seo don chuid is mó nach raibh os comhair na cúirte go dtí seo ach a mbeidh os comhair na cúirte amach anseo. Daoine iad atá in ísle brí don chuid is mó. Is minic nach dtuigeann siad cad atá os a gcomhair nó cén fáth gur tógadh os comhair na cúirte iad.

Ní thuigeann daoine, b’fhéidir, cé chomh leochaileach agus atá na daoine seo. Measaim go bhfeicfidh muid i bhfad níos mó daoine sa gruachás céanna ná bhí le feiscint le blianta anuas. Anuraidh, cuireadh 279 i bpriosún de thairbhe na fiacha a bhí orthu gan a bheith íoctha agus cuireadh breis agus 200 i bpriosún na blianta roimhe sin. Cheana féin i mbliana tá suas le 186 curtha i bpriosún. Ba chóir dúinn déileáil leis an fhadb seo sa Bhille seo. Fáiltím roimh an Bille mar is Bille maith é don chuid is mó, ach ba chóir dúinn déileáil i bhfad Éireann níos tapúla leis na fadhbanna a bhaineann leis an mbun reachtaíocht. Tá súil agam go mbeidh an Law Reform Commission in ann déileáil leo go tapaidh agus go dtiocfaidh reachtaíocht nua ar aghaidh cuíosach tapaidh ina dhiaidh sin.

The Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Bill provides welcome changes to the fundamentally flawed and draconian Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1940. Last year, 276 people were put into prison for non-payment of debt. As the Minister stated, the corresponding number thus far this year is 186, although we have only recently passed the half way stage. It is clear most of these costly incarcerations and the subsequent personal anguish, deepening poverty and the ongoing discrimination experienced by many of those affected could have been avoided had aspects of the 1940 Act been reformed more quickly.

I welcome that we are addressing one part of this today, albeit on foot of a recent court judgment. It is a pity we have been obliged to wait until now. I welcome that the Law Reform Commission will address this area and hopefully it will do so quickly and without a timeframe, given the significant level of indebtedness in society today.

We must be prepared to address that legislation as soon as the Law Reform Commission makes its findings. Within a number of months I hope there will be a change in our attitudes towards indebtedness and the non-payment of fines and debt. In a study launched last week conducted by FLAC, Free Legal Advice Centres, entitled To No Ones Credit, three out of four debtors surveyed claimed not to have understood the full consequences of the proceedings or the options available to them. That is a catastrophe and indicates how the legal system stands and sometimes works against rather than for the citizen.

[746]In the current economic climate, many have found themselves falling deeper and deeper into debt due to job losses, reduced wages, short-time working and business failure, combined with an increased tax burden. Given this, the onset of spiralling debt is blatantly predictable. It is paramount the Government provides in its legislation an alternative to costly imprisonment for non-payment of debts and fines. The current reforms address a way in which debtors might improve their chances of avoiding imprisonment, which I welcome. I also welcome the clarity of the Minister’s suggestion in section 7. However, imprisonment remains the preferred option in the end and I do not believe this should be the case. It is a lazy and costly solution. Ultimately, imprisonment does not result in a guarantee of payment to the creditor. Has consideration been given to community service as the primary penalty for small cases of non-payment of debt? In such lesser cases the seizure of goods and assets should or may be an end as well and should not necessarily be followed by a succession of crippling demands after the goods have been seized. That may be an option.

Noeleen Blackwell from FLAC rightly pointed out that debt enforcement in this country has devastating and largely pointless human costs. I condemn the Government decision, which I have raised several times regarding money lenders charging interest rates of up to 195%. I refer to the comments of Noeleen Blackwell. She stated there is a system of modern day loan sharks with a licence to rob. She called on the Government to bring forward urgently further legislation to reduce the maximum interest that may be charged and to ensure that anyone who has no choice but to default on a loan from a money lender, retail credit firm or hire purchase company, because they are simply unable to make the repayments, is protected from financial demands for payments well in excess of the value of the purchased item.

I will provide several examples and I refer to the money lenders register. Some 49 companies are registered by the Financial Regulator to engage in the business of money lending under the Consumer Credit Act, some of which are reputable companies and act within the law and some of which are simply catalogue companies of larger companies. I have no beef with these. However, of the 49 licensed companies, some 32 charge rates of more than 100%, 17 charge rates of more than 150% on loans and one company, namely, Southside Finance Limited, charges a rate of 188.45% on loans, on top of which it charges seven cent in the euro as a collection charge. That is highway robbery in any language. Anyone who ends up approaching that company must be in dire straits and I do not understand how such companies are regulated or how they are allowed to charge such a rate. There are other companies including, in the Taoiseach’s area of Tullamore, Green Fields Financial Services which charges a rate of
187.22%. I could list more but that is the scale of the business.

The extent of indebtedness in our society is very large and well beyond anything that has gone before as a percentage of income. The numbers suffering over-indebtedness in the 26 Counties is rising and the figure for non-housing and non-investment related unpaid credit balances rose from €3.9 billion in the second quarter of 1999 to €18.8 billion in the third quarter of 2008. That is the scale of the problem and that will be a source of difficulty given the recession job losses and with the availability of money becoming tighter. We will end up with many more people coming before the courts because they cannot afford to pay the debt into which they sank when times were easier for some.

People are not stupid either and some signed up knowingly. However, some did not understand the consequences and that was one of the findings of the report to which I referred earlier. Some such people may not have fully understood the consequences and this is one of the issues which must be fully addressed. Plain language must be used. The plain English campaign exists to ensure that documents are used which people can understand and it attempts to help them to understand legislation. When people sign contracts, they should understand [747]the consequences and if they are illiterate, the full consequences should be spelt out to them chapter and verse.

Community service should be a primary penalty and it might be a mechanism which could be introduced. Perhaps if it was carried out, the State might be able to pay back some of the debt to the credit companies, based on the work done by the person on community service. This is worth looking at.

FLAC’s senior policy officer stated when presenting the report: “The whole process of debt enforcement in Ireland almost seems designed to exclude the debtor from both understanding and fully taking part in it.” He further stated: “Apart from the risk of individual human rights violations involved, which has been noted by the UN, our penal system does not in any way actually improve the debt problem in Ireland.” This is the key point. The penal system does not improve the debt problem.

It has been a lengthy and arduous process in arriving at some reform. While the Bill provides considerable improvements to the enforcement process, along with many others, I remain of the opinion that the reforms proposed could be stretched further. The Bill’s three main changes are all welcome and I fully support them. They include an end to imprisonment of a debtor in his or her absence. I particularly welcome this provision.

A constituent of mine has agoraphobia and she was in complete panic when she received a fine for non-payment of her TV licence. She had not been out of her home properly in over seven years. Her son had recently moved out and she did not attend the court hearing. She never communicated with the authorities, which would have been advisable, because she is not illiterate but she was in a panic about dealing with the system. Many people do not like the system and they are afraid of it. They are afraid of the law, the courts and the police. This woman telephoned me in a panic because she had received notice of a fine for non-payment of her TV licence and with costs, amounting to more than €500. The woman is literate and has her full faculties but this is the effect it had on her and the effect would be much worse for anyone who is illiterate or with no money or in the depths of depression. We need to take such examples into consideration.

The Bill provides that a person with a debt must be present in court or be represented. I welcome the new provision for the possibility of legal aid for debtors. I also welcome the reversal of the onus of providing proof during the court process from the debtor to the creditor. However, reform in this area must go further. Between 2001 and 2007, approximately 200 persons a year were imprisoned as a result of debt. If this is the average since 1940, it would amount to 14,000 people in total having been imprisoned for debt.

Many people have been effectively criminalised simply for being poor. I will withdraw my Committee Stage amendment No. 4 which slipped through the net, given the week we have had in the House. It did not get proper scrutiny. People associate prisons with criminals and stigma results regardless of whether a conviction is recorded. I will ask on Committee Stage whether previous failure to pay a debt is taken into account in these types of proceedings.

We must go further and rectify the wrong done to the hundreds of people who were, in their absence, unfairly committed to prison for contempt of court or failure to comply with a relevant court order in their absence. These people may be continuing to experience stigma and related discrimination as a consequence of their committal to prison. For example, an employer may discriminate against a person who has been in prison because there is nothing to prevent an employer from refusing employment to someone who has been in prison. Many employers would not make the distinction between committal and conviction.

I am tabling an amendment to section 2 in regard to the proposed new section 6(4) of the 1940 Act. As currently drafted, the Bill provides that an arrested debtor shallbe brought before the court “as soon as practicable”. Such a person has not committed a violent crime and will [748]not receive a criminal conviction. It should be provided that such a person should be brought to court within hours if not minutes so that no debtor is forced to spend the night in prison pending the next District Court hearing.

This legislation is one small reform to the end point of an outdated system. The court enforcement procedure operates against a backdrop of an outdated, constrained and extremely expensive bankruptcy system. We also have no personal insolvency system akin to the individual voluntary arrangements made available in recent years in England or to the type of repayment schemes that exist elsewhere in Europe.

In addition, greater resources must be made available to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service offices which are increasingly inundated with requests for help and which are operating in a near vacuum when it comes to statutory supports and systems to recover personal debt in a fair and humane way. We should explore ways of making financial and credit institutions foot some of the funding that is required by MABS. The Government has increased funding for MABS but it is nothing like what it should be. Companies who are charging 188.7% interest should make some long-term contribution to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern): Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  I thank the Deputies for their comments on this Bill. We all share the same objective, to address a relatively urgent matter. When this judgment was handed down we had some forewarning that it might be negative and the Department made preparations in the event the case went against us. Case law in this area has developed over the years and imprisonment is regarded as a last resort. I wish to debunk the notion that our prisons are cluttered up with debtors.

I was a practitioner in this area in my earlier years and as a newly qualified solicitor I was given this type of work because it is not the most enterprising area and it is difficult. Small businesses invariably want to collect their debts and there are many hoops to go through.

It is a frustrating experience for somebody who is owed a debt. It must be said there are many opportunities for debtors to evade their responsibility in this regard. Deputy Flanagan will attest to this but I cannot recall anyone I was involved with in a case, either as a creditor or a debtor, going to prison. That was my experience. Given that there are numbers in prison, it was happening but my experience was that judges were always extremely reluctant to put anyone in prison in respect of a debt.

One of the Deputies raised the issue of whether they have a criminal record. They do not have a criminal record. This is a civil matter and there is no criminal record to be expunged.

The objective we were trying to fulfil was to deal with an urgent situation. When the Laffoy judgment was delivered, there were a number of people in prison and between then and now we have erred on the side of caution. We released 11 people from prison who were there subject to section 6 and, to be fair and absolutely correct, a further 11 people were let out in that period. They were subject to section 8 which is relevant to maintenance orders. Even though maintenance orders were not challenged in this particular action and given the fact that section 8 was framed in the same way as section 6, we felt it would be vulnerable to challenge and we decided, therefore, on the basis of the Attorney General’s advice to err on the side of caution and release from prison those people who were subject to maintenance orders.

We decided that we would hone in on the requirement of the Laffoy decision for safeguards and protections to be put into this section, and that is the reason we have a new section 6. The Law Reform Commission will give a view and it is better that it looks at the entire area of debt, not least the issue some Deputies raised — it was raised in the Seanad also — as to the reason people get into debt in the first place, and some of the issues Deputy Ó Snodaigh raised. It is important that is examined.

[749]We were endeavouring to get a balance between the creditor on the one hand, such as small businesses and situations where there was a maintenance order and the errant spouse was not paying on foot of that order, and, on the other, to make sure the debtor got a fair and reasonable opportunity to respond to the court and in a way in which, ultimately, they do not go to prison. As I said, judges have always been reluctant in this regard. I have dealt with Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s question on the criminal record.

The Bill as proposed refers in two different sections to the requirement for ordinary language to be used in regard to the summons, etc. Section 6(1) is to provide information in ordinary language about the options available. That is a duty the judge has to explain.

I thank the Deputies. This is a tortuous area. To refer back to my experience, I told a story in the Seanad about an effort I made on behalf of a relatively elderly Canadian couple in my constituency about 25 years ago.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Before the Minister embarks on a story, I ask him to address the point on the District Court where there are outstanding issues in regard to maintenance orders.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Yes. This man and wife were subjected to a very serious assault by their neighbour and the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to prosecute because he said there was not enough evidence. We took a civil action against the neighbour in which I acted for the couple and succeeded in the Circuit Court in getting judgment against the neighbour for $5,000 and £2,500, which was a lot of money 25 years ago. He refused to pay and we went through the entire system of instalment orders, committal orders and so on but he evaded them. Given that he had a house, and I accept in many of these cases people are in local authority houses and, therefore, this case does not apply, I decided to register the judgment as a mortgage against the house of the assailant. We could have moved for an order for sale, and Deputy Flanagan would know the procedure, but we decided not to do that as the couple emigrated back to Canada because they were so traumatised by the assault.

Fifteen or 20 years later I got a telephone call from a solicitor in Dundalk who was in an office closing the sale of this particular house and when they did their searches they found that not only was there a mortgage with a building society, but there was also a judgment mortgage registered against it and no one knew what this was about. The sale could not go ahead that day and I had to make contact with the Canadian couple, who I had great difficulty contacting because they had moved back to Canada, but I was delighted to locate them eventually through various sources and to be able to tell them that not only would they get their £7,500 but they would get 20 years interest at 11%. If my memory serves me correctly, they got approximately £17,500. It was one of those cases one takes a lot of sweetness from in terms of people getting what they deserve. There are many opportunities for a creditor and in terms of that judgment mortgage issue, in the aftermath of the Celtic tiger many people would have additional property. Perhaps that is something that should be used.

On the maintenance orders before the courts, many of those cases were adjourned because they would have been awaiting the passage of legislation. That is the reason there is an imperative in regard to this Bill. There is no one in prison currently in regard to maintenance orders that we are aware of. I believe the courts are waiting for us to pass this legislation and, therefore, the sooner we pass it, the better. I thank the Deputies for their contributions.

Question put.

[750]The Dáil divided: Tá, 71; Níl, 43.

Information on Bertie Ahern  Zoom on Bertie Ahern  Ahern, Bertie. Information on Dermot Ahern  Zoom on Dermot Ahern  Ahern, Dermot.
Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Ahern, Michael. Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Ahern, Noel.
Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  Andrews, Barry. Information on Chris Andrews  Zoom on Chris Andrews  Andrews, Chris.
Information on Seán Ardagh  Zoom on Seán Ardagh  Ardagh, Seán. Information on Bobby Aylward  Zoom on Bobby Aylward  Aylward, Bobby.
Information on Joe Behan  Zoom on Joe Behan  Behan, Joe. Information on Niall Blaney  Zoom on Niall Blaney  Blaney, Niall.
Information on Aine Brady  Zoom on Aine Brady  Brady, Áine. Information on Cyprian Brady  Zoom on Cyprian Brady  Brady, Cyprian.
Information on Thomas Byrne  Zoom on Thomas Byrne  Byrne, Thomas. Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  Calleary, Dara.
Information on Pat Carey  Zoom on Pat Carey  Carey, Pat. Information on Niall Collins  Zoom on Niall Collins  Collins, Niall.
Information on Margaret Conlon  Zoom on Margaret Conlon  Conlon, Margaret. Information on Sean Connick  Zoom on Sean Connick  Connick, Seán.
Information on Mary Coughlan  Zoom on Mary Coughlan  Coughlan, Mary. Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John.
Information on Ciaran Cuffe  Zoom on Ciaran Cuffe  Cuffe, Ciarán. Information on Martin Cullen  Zoom on Martin Cullen  Cullen, Martin.
Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  Curran, John. Information on Jimmy Devins  Zoom on Jimmy Devins  Devins, Jimmy.
Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  Dooley, Timmy. Information on Frank Fahey  Zoom on Frank Fahey  Fahey, Frank.
Information on Michael Fitzpatrick  Zoom on Michael Fitzpatrick  Fitzpatrick, Michael. Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Fleming, Seán.
Information on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Zoom on Paul Nicholas Gogarty  Gogarty, Paul. Information on John Gormley  Zoom on John Gormley  Gormley, John.
Information on Noel Grealish  Zoom on Noel Grealish  Grealish, Noel. Information on Mary Hanafin  Zoom on Mary Hanafin  Hanafin, Mary.
Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán. Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire.
Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy. Information on Peter Kelly  Zoom on Peter Kelly  Kelly, Peter.
Information on Brendan Kenneally  Zoom on Brendan Kenneally  Kenneally, Brendan. Information on Michael Kennedy  Zoom on Michael Kennedy  Kennedy, Michael.
Information on Tony Killeen  Zoom on Tony Killeen  Killeen, Tony. Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Seamus.
Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Kitt, Michael P. Information on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Zoom on Brian Joseph Lenihan  Lenihan, Brian.
Information on Conor Lenihan  Zoom on Conor Lenihan  Lenihan, Conor. Information on Tom McEllistrim  Zoom on Tom McEllistrim  McEllistrim, Thomas.
Information on Michael McGrath  Zoom on Michael McGrath  McGrath, Michael. Information on John McGuinness  Zoom on John McGuinness  McGuinness, John.
Information on Micheál Martin  Zoom on Micheál Martin  Martin, Micheál. Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  Moloney, John.
Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael. Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  Mulcahy, Michael.
Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  Nolan, M. J. Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  O’Connor, Charlie. Information on Willie O'Dea  Zoom on Willie O'Dea  O’Dea, Willie.
Information on Noel O'Flynn  Zoom on Noel O'Flynn  O’Flynn, Noel. Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  O’Hanlon, Rory.
Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Batt. Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Edward.
Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  O’Rourke, Mary. Information on Christy O'Sullivan  Zoom on Christy O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Christy.
Information on Seán Power  Zoom on Seán Power  Power, Seán. Information on Eamon Ryan  Zoom on Eamon Ryan  Ryan, Eamon.
Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Sargent, Trevor. Information on Eamon Scanlon  Zoom on Eamon Scanlon  Scanlon, Eamon.
Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  Smith, Brendan. Information on Noel Treacy  Zoom on Noel Treacy  Treacy, Noel.
Information on Mary Wallace  Zoom on Mary Wallace  Wallace, Mary. Information on Mary Alexandra White  Zoom on Mary Alexandra White  White, Mary Alexandra.
Information on Michael J. Woods  Zoom on Michael J. Woods  Woods, Michael.  

Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Allen, Bernard. Information on James Bannon  Zoom on James Bannon  Bannon, James.
Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Barrett, Seán. Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  Breen, Pat.
Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard. Information on Ulick Burke  Zoom on Ulick Burke  Burke, Ulick.
Information on Catherine Byrne  Zoom on Catherine Byrne  Byrne, Catherine. Information on Joe Carey  Zoom on Joe Carey  Carey, Joe.
Information on Deirdre Clune  Zoom on Deirdre Clune  Clune, Deirdre. Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Connaughton, Paul.
Information on Simon Coveney  Zoom on Simon Coveney  Coveney, Simon. Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  Crawford, Seymour.
Information on Michael Creed  Zoom on Michael Creed  Creed, Michael. Information on Michael D'Arcy  Zoom on Michael D'Arcy  D’Arcy, Michael.
Information on Jimmy Deenihan  Zoom on Jimmy Deenihan  Deenihan, Jimmy. Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  Doyle, Andrew.
Information on Bernard Durkan  Zoom on Bernard Durkan  Durkan, Bernard J. Information on Damien English  Zoom on Damien English  English, Damien.
Information on Olwyn Enright  Zoom on Olwyn Enright  Enright, Olwyn. Information on Frank Feighan  Zoom on Frank Feighan  Feighan, Frank.
Information on Charles Flanagan  Zoom on Charles Flanagan  Flanagan, Charles. Information on Terence Flanagan  Zoom on Terence Flanagan  Flanagan, Terence.
Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Hayes, Brian. Information on Philip Hogan  Zoom on Philip Hogan  Hogan, Phil.
Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul. Zoom on George Lee  Lee, George.
Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  McCormack, Pádraic. Information on Shane McEntee  Zoom on Shane McEntee  McEntee, Shane.
Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny. Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  Mitchell, Olivia.
Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran. Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus.
Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John. Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John.
Information on Dr James Reilly  Zoom on Dr James Reilly  Reilly, James. Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  Shatter, Alan.
Information on Tom Sheahan  Zoom on Tom Sheahan  Sheahan, Tom. Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  Sheehan, P. J.
Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David. Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  Timmins, Billy.
Information on Leo Varadkar  Zoom on Leo Varadkar  Varadkar, Leo.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and David Stanton.

[751]Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on John O'Donoghue  Zoom on John O'Donoghue  We will move to Committee Stage in accordance with the Order of the Dáil of today.

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