Dáil Éireann

03/Feb/2010

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions.

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Visit of Foreign Delegation.

Order of Business.

Arbitration Bill 2008: Order for Report.

Arbitration Bill 2008: Report Stage.

Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Priority Questions.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Mortgage Interest Rates.

Departmental Staff.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Mortgage Debt.

Other Questions.

European Central Bank Lending.

Freedom of Information.

Labour Market Participation.

Banking Sector Recapitalisation.

Adjournment Debate Matters.

Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

Gangland Crime: Motion (Resumed).

Adjournment Debate.

Job Creation.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Flood Relief Works.

Written Answers.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

National Asset Management Agency.

Departmental Staff.

Judicial Remuneration.

Banking Sector Recapitalisation.

National Asset Management Agency.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Banking Sector Recapitalisation.

Public Service Remuneration.

Capital Expenditure.

Commissions of Inquiry.

Banking Sector Recapitalisation.

Financial Services Sector.

Tax Yield.

Capital Expenditure.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Mortgage Debt.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Price Inflation.

Fiscal Policy.

National Asset Management Agency.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Banking Sector Recapitalisation.

Services for People with Disabilities.

National Asset Management Agency.

Financial Services Regulation.

Pension Provisions.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

EU Funding.

Public Service Contracts.

Public Sector Pay.

National Asset Management Agency.

Insurance Industry.

Flood Relief.

Fiscal Policy.

Flood Relief.

Tax Code.

National Asset Management Agency.

Tax Code.

Departmental Agencies.

National Asset Management Agency.

Banking Sector.

Tax Yield.

Banking Sector.

Price Inflation.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Capital Expenditure.

Cross-Border Trade.

Banking Sector Recapitalisation.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Tax Code.

Credit Availability.

National Asset Management Agency.

Flood Relief.

Public Sector Remuneration.

Financial Services Regulation.

Unemployment Levels.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Economic Competitiveness.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Redundancy Payments.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Job Initiative Programme.

Job Creation.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Community Employment Schemes.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Departmental Correspondence.

Tax Code.

Public Sector Pay.

Tax Code.

Pension Provisions.

Tax Code.

European Central Bank Policy.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

EU Funding.

Economic Competitiveness.

Insurance Industry.

Mortgage Interest Rates.

Tax Yield.

Credit Availability.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Nursing Homes Support Scheme.

Hospital Accommodation.

Medical Cards.

Health Services.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Medical Cards.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Health Service Staff.

Vaccination Programme.

Preschool Services.

Health Services.

Health Service Staff.

Thalidomide Survivors’ Compensation.

Medical Cards.

Hospital Security.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Hospital Charges.

Health Services.

Hospital Staff.

Tobacco Control.

Medical Cards.

Vaccination Programme.

Decentralisation Programme.

Medical Cards.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Appointments to State Boards.

Medical Cards.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Assisted Human Reproduction.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

Public Transport.

Road Safety Authority.

Roads Network.

Decentralisation Programme.

Public Transport.

Appointments to State Boards.

Border Controls.

Prison Drug Treatment Services.

Garda Investigations.

Irish Prison Service.

Garda Investigations.

Neighbourhood Watch Schemes.

Community Graffiti Reduction Programme.

Garda Stations.

Garda Deployment.

Garda Recruitment.

Cross-Border Projects.

Garda Transport.

Departmental Correspondence.

Refugee Status.

Garda Operations.

Asylum Applications.

Visa Applications.

Asylum Applications.

Citizenship Applications.

Residency Permits.

Refugee Status.

Residency Permits.

Asylum Applications.

Residency Permits.

Visa Applications.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Garda Investigations.

Human Rights Issues.

International Agreements.

Cross-Border Projects.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Departmental Properties.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Drugs Education.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Social Welfare Code.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pension Provisions.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Pension Provisions.

Cross-Border Projects.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Local Authority Staff.

Foreshore Licences.

Social Housing Leasing Initiative.

Planning Issues.

Construction Industry Review.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Housing Grants.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Flood Relief.

Register of Electors.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Local Government Elections.

Telecommunications Services.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Electricity Storage.

Electricity Generation.

Alternative Energy Projects.

National Electricity Grid.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Grant Payments.

Animal Welfare.

Departmental Properties.

Crop Losses.

Grant Payments.

Aquaculture Licences.

Animal Welfare.

Crop Losses.

Grant Payments.

Crop Losses.

Seafood Industry.

Decentralisation Programme.

Dairy Industry.

Appointments to State Boards.

Special Educational Needs.

Grangegorman Development Agency.

Physical Education Facilities.

Schools Recognition.

Schools Building Projects.

School Closures.

Higher Education Grants.

Schools Building Projects.

Special Educational Needs.

Schools Building Projects.

School Accommodation.

Decentralisation Programme.

Appointments to State Boards.

Chuaigh an Ceann Comhairle i gceannas ar 10.30 a.m.

Paidir.
Prayer.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  These are very fretful times for families in this country. When the Taoiseach came to power in May 2008 the number on the live register was 202,000. The Central Statistics Office will release the comparable figure this morning at 11 a.m. for January 2010. Will the Taoiseach inform the House of what that figure is?

The Taoiseach:  The January live register will show an increase, as it has done every year for the past ten years. The headline total will be 436,900, reflecting five weeks activity. The month on month increase will be 13,300 or 3.1% and the year on year increase will be 110,600 or 33.9%. The year on year increase has fallen again in January, having declined from the peak of 194,700 reported in June 2009. The month on month increase is almost two thirds less than the 36,300 increase reported for January 2009, which also reflected five weeks activity. However, the figure for January 2010 is still the second highest January increase on record. The standardised unemployment rate for January is expected to be 12.7%, up from 12.5% in December 2009. When seasonal factors are taken into account the live register for January is estimated at 434,700. This is a month on month increase of 8,000 or 1.9% since January 2009 and a year on year increase of 110,000 or 34% since January 2009. As the Deputy will be aware, the live register does not refer simply to the level of unemployment. The number of unemployed who are drawing five days a week is 279,000.

[2]Deputy Enda Kenny:  Those are devastating figures. Following on the Exchequer returns yesterday, they are a litany of despair from a Government that has failed to put any plan or strategy in place to deal with this situation. There is no point in drifting onwards and looking back in six months to see what might have happened. It is apparent from the Exchequer returns yesterday that every tax is down, but leaping out of those figures is the decline in VAT. The reason for that is, first, consumers have less money to spend, but they are fearful of spending money because no plan, strategy or hope is being given to them by Government.

Governments can make things happen. The Government must do something. For instance, it could examine the reality of literally thousands of retail outlets around the country that are barely hanging on. I predict that at the end of the first quarter several thousand more of them will be closed unless the Government does something. For instance, it could introduce the concept put forward by Fine Gael of a national recovery bank, which would introduce a new stream of credit into the economy that would allow for jobs to be retained, new jobs to be created and businesses to stay open. The Government could do that. It could consider the proposition put forward by Fine Gael of NewERA, a national economic recovery authority, which we reckon would create 100,000 jobs across the country in communications and renewables; jobs for engineers, graphic designers and farmers right across the country. The Government could do that. It could offer people a plan, hope and strategy to show that it is able to do something about a situation that is a litany of despair and disaster.

A total of 60,000 young people under the age of 25 have left the country. If the valve of emigration was not open the real figure for unemployment would be more than 500,000. Those young people are gone. They are in Australia, Canada, America and Britain. They are doing jobs for which they are completely over-qualified because the Government has failed to put any plan or strategy in place. It is clear from the evidence that the Government’s economic plan, banking plan and stimulus have failed. What does the Government propose to do about that?

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  What is Fine Gael proposing? Deputy Kenny is undermining confidence every day.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  This is the end of the first——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Kenny is being negative.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny should be allowed to speak without interruption.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That is fine until one talks to the despairing parents and young people who see no hope coming from a Government that has no plan in place. I am offering the Taoiseach assistance in terms of an economic recovery authority, NewERA, and a national recovery bank to get new credit flowing into the system. If the Government is serious about making things happen it needs to change its ways and bring about a stimulus and an injection of Government action so that people all over the country will have some hope or confidence that the Government is in control of the economy and that it is not drifting endlessly, where all they hear is talk of further tax increases, levies and pay cuts. There is despair and depression all around.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  Is that Fine Gael’s manifesto?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Thousands of people are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel but they need hope and confidence from a Government that has no plan in place.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  People have no confidence in Deputy Kenny.

[3]Deputy Enda Kenny:  In respect of 436,000 people on the live register, what is the Government’s intention in terms of providing a stimulus to create jobs and give some confidence to people all over this island who are in absolute despair at what the Government is mumbling and talking about for the past 18 months? The Government’s record of an increase in unemployment from 202,000 in May 2008 to 436,000 now speaks for itself. It is a disaster.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Kenny cannot even answer a straight question.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Kenny’s accounts of despair are not where the people are at. They recognise that the country is being led in the right direction by taking the necessary——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Taoiseach is deluding himself.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  Who is the Taoiseach talking to?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  He must be in the “head shops”.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  The Taoiseach can dream on.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach should be allowed to speak without interruption please.

The Taoiseach:  Regaining our competitive edge is essential to protect jobs and to grow jobs in the future. Driving forward with enterprise, exports and employment is the only way forward, but the stabilisation of the public finances is an absolute prerequisite for that. This country is doing that. It is being referred to both at home and abroad as the right way forward to deal with the situation we are in. It is important to point out also that it is only by regaining competitiveness through the reductions in cost that have taken place and which will have to continue, and support from Enterprise Ireland and FÁS, that we will go forward. FÁS has brought forward employment action plans.

Deputy Jim O’Keeffe:  We know all about them.

The Taoiseach:  People are referred to the FÁS employment action plan and 60% of them leave the live register. Of 70,000 referrals, 50,000 came off the register. We have to continue with the increased training and supports we are providing. More than 128,000 people received them in 2009 and will do so again in 2010. The bottom line is the Government wants to make sure we regain competitiveness in this economy. That is the process by which the economic recovery will come and all the negativity and attacks from the Fine Gael leader will not change that.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That is the reality.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  The country will change the Government..

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach does not seem to get it. Ever since the budget, one cannot turn on a radio or television or open a newspaper but there is somebody from Fianna Fáil telling us that we have turned the corner and that recovery is about to happen. I wish that were the case but there is little sign of it.

Yesterday’s Exchequer figures do not show many signs of recovery, even though they were for the two months leading into Christmas when there should have been an improvement. Today’s unemployment figures show that almost 440,000 people are on the live register. According to the redundancy figures, 319 people have lost their jobs every day this year. None of those people will say there is a recovery.

[4]It did not have to be like this. At the time the Labour Party proposed that a €1.15 billion jobs fund should be included in the budget. The Government did not do that. We argued that there should be a new national development plan with an emphasis on shovel ready projects such as schools, hospitals, public transport and perhaps some public works measures to deal with the flooding problems but we did not get that. The Government apparently reviewed the national development plan but it has not published it and we were told no new road project will start this year. Deputy Ciarán Lynch brought forward a Bill that would reduce commercial rents to give some help to those in the retail sector. The Government again would not accept it. I picked up my newspaper today and I saw that some of the property investors who may benefit from these high commercial rents will now benefit from interest free loans from Anglo Irish Bank. We argued that there should be investment in education and training and, as I pointed out to the Taoiseach yesterday, there are two applicants for every place being offered by the Central Applications Office this year.

It seems that what has been happening is that since the budget the Government parties have been basking in the praise they have received from some of the right wing economists embedded with them but we are seeing no action on the jobs front. The Taoiseach said it is not as bad as the figures are suggesting but it is worse. Does he know that one out of every three young men aged between 21 and 24 is on the dole? For how much longer does he think we can sustain that either economically or socially? When will we see a serious effort by the Government to get a jobs strategy in place, get the real economy moving again and get people back to work?

The Taoiseach:  I refute the point made by the Labour Party leader that no stimulus is being provided by Government. A total of €6.5 billion is being provided in our capital programme this year. With regard to road works, €1.5 billion will be spent on road construction this year.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  No new projects.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  How will the potholes be fixed?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption, please.

The Taoiseach:  I am giving the facts. If the Deputies do not want to hear them, that is their problem. With regard to higher education, more than €2 billion will be invested this year. That is the sort of investment we are putting in at a time we have a record high deficit of 11% to contend with and we have maintained a 5% capital investment programme. That work is maintaining 80,000 jobs in the economy on a range of infrastructure projects, including school building. The school building programme will employ 7,500 people this year. That is what is being done by Government.

In respect of the live register, 70,000 people are in casual or part-time employment and they are on the register for perhaps two days a week as well as being employed for three days. A total of 279,000 people are on the live register five days per week while 20,000 provide credited contributions and do not obtain a payment and 75,000 have either been suspended or having their claims processed at the moment. A total of 22,000 of the 75,000 claimants are on supplementary welfare allowance, which gives an indication of those who will qualify in respect of the applications before the officials. That all indicates clearly there is a great deal of movement on and off the register. It is not the same people and I acknowledge an unemployment rate of 12.7% compares with 1995, the last time the rate was 12.7%. Deputy Quinn was Minister for Finance at the time.

[5]Deputy Bernard Durkan:  The rate was coming down. That is the difference.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Those were different times.

Deputy Brian Hayes:  One thousand jobs a week were being created.

The Taoiseach:  With regard to where we are now, the idea that the Government is not involved in seeking to protect jobs is a nonsense. By taking the decisions we have taken and by improving competitiveness in the economy by 7% per unit labour cost compared to our competitors, we are seeking to protect the 1.85 million jobs in the economy. Were we to pursue the policies promulgated by the Labour Party over the past year where we would increase our indebtedness, we would have fewer jobs and we would not be able to maintain competitiveness in this economy.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  That is untrue. Why does the Taoiseach not prove that?

Deputy Joan Burton:  That is rubbish.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Government is giving that money to the banks.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption, please.

The Taoiseach:  Jobs can be created in recession by spending. It is not possible in the context of the public finances to go beyond——

Deputy Brian Hayes:  There are only jobs for the boys.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  While cutting the back to education allowance.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Interest rates are on the increase.

The Taoiseach:  Shouting me down will not win the Deputies’ argument.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to reply.

The Taoiseach:  This Administration is applying a higher level of capital investment than any one of which Deputy Gilmore was a member.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is abracadabra economics.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Absolutely.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  The Deputy would know all about that.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach seems to think he can wish away the number of people who are out of work because of the number of days and so on they are on the live register. If he wants to get into the figures, there are also people who are unemployed but not on the live register because they no longer receive benefits and they are no longer reflected in the figures. The reality is the number of people out of work is increasing.

The Taoiseach has argued repeatedly that somehow we are the unwitting victim of some global forces that have hit this country from out of the blue that he did not see coming. This is a very Irish recession. Ireland was the first to go into recession. We went into recession on 1 January 2008 followed by the rest of the eurozone on 1 April 2008 and the UK on 1 July 2008. All these countries are coming out of recession. The US came out of recession on 30 June last year, France and Germany exited recession on 31 March last year and the UK, the [6]last of the G7 countries to come out of recession, exited on 30 September 2009 but we are still stuck in recession.

The economic principle the Taoiseach’s Government has inflicted on this country is that when it comes to recession, we are first in and we are last out. The reason for that is due to the fact that his incompetent Government got us into this problem in the first place and it is not due to global forces. There is a complacency in Government, particularly since the budget. We have this attitude of wanting to hear the praise from the embedded and that we have turned the corner and we are out of recession. Tell that to the 319 people who have lost their jobs every day since the beginning of this year. Tell that to the almost 440,000 people on the live register. Tell the one of out every three young men on the dole or their worried parents that we are out of recession and we are turning the corner.

I want us to be out of recession and I want recovery quickly, as does everybody——-

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Will the Deputy print the money?

Deputy John Cregan:  We cannot print our own.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  The back of the choir is starting up.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Deputies ran away last night.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is easy for them to laugh when they could not provide a seconder for an obvious motion to deal with a simple issue. The Government has looked after bankers, builders and developers.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must address his remarks through the Chair.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It has looked after the better off and it has ignored, run away from, neglected and abandoned——

Deputy Joan Burton:  They ran away last night.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——those who are out of work and who need some hope.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Rhetoric.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Deputy Mattie McGrath — alone he stands.

The Taoiseach:  I do not agree with Deputy Gilmore’s revision of history. Throughout that period he was involved in promoting spending plans far greater than any this Government ever proposed, yet he now comes in here and suggests we were spending too much. We will let the record speak for itself.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Joan Burton:  It was spending too much on bankers.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  I also reject the Deputy’s contention that there is complacency in the Government about these matters. He talks about unemployment, but when the likes of him were in [7]office and Governments deferred the necessary decisions to correct the public finances, we saw unemployment rise to 20% or 22%.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Who got the public finances into this mess?

The Taoiseach:  Our refusal to defer those necessary decisions and our effort to secure people’s futures by taking the right decisions now, however difficult they may be, are the means through which we can ensure jobs are created again in the future.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is not working.

The Taoiseach:  We recognised — in fact, it was set out in the budgetary strategy outlined by the Minister for Finance — that unemployment could rise to 13.5% this year.

Deputy Michael Creed:  The Taoiseach was the Minister for Finance who got us into this mess.

The Taoiseach:  However, we are also saying that growth can return to the economy this year.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  He increased VAT.

The Taoiseach:  If we had not taken the decisions we did, we would not see the return of growth; we would see Ireland moving deeper into recession. I remind Deputies that there are other countries with high unemployment. Spain, for example, has an unemployment rate of 19%. To suggest that Ireland is the outlier on unemployment is not correct.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  What about the performing countries? That should be our target.

The Taoiseach:  I acknowledge that the reduction in employment in the construction industry has had a major effect on our unemployment figures. The required stimulus is being provided through the 5% capital investment plan on which we have agreed, even at a time of unprecedented financial and economic difficulty. Such funding of employment support agencies and others will continue, as will the increased training and supports we are providing in education and through FÁS.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  We will get more of the same.

The Taoiseach:  What we have from the Labour Party and others is the continuing contention that we can spend our way out of this recovery, when we patently cannot.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  And invest our way out of it.

  1.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on recent developments in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48375/09]

  2.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with political parties in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48376/09]

[8]

  3.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his recent contacts with the British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48377/09]

  4.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to meet the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48378/09]

  5.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation will next meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48384/09]

  6.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when he expects to visit the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48385/09]

  7.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will convene a meeting of the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board during his next visit to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48386/09]

  8.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the arrangements in place for maintaining contact with the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48387/09]

  9.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    when he will next visit Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48417/09]

  10.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the matters discussed with the British Prime Minister on the margins of the Copenhagen summit; if he will give his assessment of the situation in Northern Ireland following this meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48558/09]

  11.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the contact he has had since 1 January 2010 with the British Prime Minister and the First and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland regarding the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew’s Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1241/10]

  12.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the further action he proposes to take on foot of the Barron reports, the Oireachtas justice committee sub-committee reports, the McEntee Report and the Oireachtas resolution regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974 and other fatal attacks here involving collusion between British state forces and loyalist paramilitaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1242/10]

  13.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his most recent contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland. [1277/10]

  14.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    when he next expects to meet the Northern Ireland First Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1278/10]

  15.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the contacts he has had with the Acting First Minister in Northern Ireland since her appointment on 11 January 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1467/10]

  16.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his recent contacts with the British Prime Minister regarding the situation in Northern Ireland; and if he has plans for a meeting with the Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1468/10]

[9]

  17.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting in London on 14 January 2010 with the British Prime Minister. [1584/10]

  18.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting with the British Prime Minister in London on 14 January 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3230/10]

  19.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his meeting in London with the British Prime Minister on 25 January 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5112/10]

  20.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his discussions with the political parties in Northern Ireland on 26 and 27 January 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5113/10]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 20, inclusive, together.

I met the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Brown, and discussed the political situation in Northern Ireland on Thursday, 14 January in Downing Street and again on Monday, 25 January. From there we travelled to Hillsborough Castle where we held talks over three days with all the Northern Ireland parties on outstanding issues relating to the devolution of policing and justice. During these talks we worked hard to establish common ground, to build dialogue between the parties, and to re-establish the trust necessary to complete the devolution of policing and justice in Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement provided the foundation for peace and political progress, and the St. Andrew’s Agreement was a major step forward. However, a number of issues remain to be fully implemented. Resolving these issues is the key to enabling the completion of devolution and the opening of a new chapter in the life of Northern Ireland. The devolved institutions can then focus on the issues that concern everyone — jobs, health, schools, social services and community safety.

We do not pretend this is an easy process. The issues we have been discussing go to the very core of Northern Ireland’s past and their solutions are the foundations for its future. However, we have been determined to bring this process to completion. Progress has been made inch by inch, slowly but surely. Having talked to all the leaders of Northern Ireland’s political parties, we believe there is a clear pathway to an agreement. It is right and necessary that the parties themselves now work together, in the spirit of trust and understanding, to agree and take ownership of the solutions.

We believe there is now a firm basis for the parties to set an early date for the completion of the final stage of devolution; create a new justice Department and define the relationship between the justice Minister and the Executive on an agreed, strong and sustainable footing; benefit from the offer from the British Government of £800 million of resources for a new department of justice — money which will only be available if agreement is reached by the parties at this time; and enhance the existing framework to deal more effectively with contentious parades, learning lessons from successful local models.

The importance of these decisions for the future of Northern Ireland cannot be underestimated. With leadership and courage, they can be achieved. A successful outcome to these talks will leave Northern Ireland better able to overcome divisions and more determined to move forward together, with a greater understanding of what unites its communities. Recent acts of decommissioning, most recently by the UDA on 6 January, remind us all of the great benefits the peace process can bring and the confidence it generates in communities.

  [10]11 o’clock

The evil criminal attack on PSNI Constable Peadar Heffron in recent weeks was a stark reminder that there remain those whose aim is to destroy all that has been achieved. The best response to give to such people is to complete the devolution of policing and justice powers, secure the stability of the devolved institutions and show that the democratic political institutions are delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland. Both Governments will continue to encourage and work with the parties to bring the outstanding issues to a successful resolution. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has spent most of the last ten days with the UK Secretary of State and the parties at the talks in Hillsborough. We will remain in close touch and will be available to further engage as required. I am grateful for the continued support of the US Administration for the peace process. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has been in touch with the parties and offered her ongoing assistance. The US envoy to Northern Ireland, Declan Kelly, has also encouraged a successful conclusion to the talks.

I expect to visit the United States for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. My travel programme has not yet been finalised but it will include a visit to Washington DC. I expect to meet with the Ireland-America Economic Advisory Board in the course of my visit. The Irish Embassy in Washington maintains close contact with board members, who are an important source of advice and assistance for us.

With regard to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Deputy Ó Caoláin will be aware that the Clerk of the Dáil received a reply from the Clerk of the House of Commons arising from the Oireachtas resolution of 10 July 2008. As I have said previously in the House, any future follow-up to this should be considered in consultation with the parties and can be raised with the Whips.

There are no current plans to reconvene the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. As the current talks process has illustrated, there is now sustained dialogue between all strands of opinion in Northern Ireland and on the island. The work of Members of this House through, for example, the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly is also crucial in this regard.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The grouping of these questions is not good, a Cheann Comhairle. There are many questions about Northern Ireland, some about Ireland-US relations and one about the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. These could have been grouped better. It is not satisfactory for Members.

Everybody here supports the Government’s efforts to assist in bringing the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement to a successful conclusion. The current impasse seems to have arisen from elements of the St. Andrew’s Agreement, which was put together by the two Governments at the time but was not accepted by all of the parties. It annoys me that there were clear signals coming from Belfast that the talks were about to be concluded, but events have resulted in the Prime Ministers of two sovereign Governments having to change their diaries and so on. Be that as it may, a successful conclusion is what is important.

Is the Taoiseach concerned that a significant proportion of the DUP membership does not accept what is on the table? Is it his view that despite the BBC report of a 60-40 divide on the matter of policing and parades, the impasse can be overcome?

The Taoiseach:  People are speculating in that regard. I have seen statements from the deputy leader of the DUP that there is no such diverse opinion in the party regarding the conduct of the negotiations and that Mr. Robinson enjoys the full support of his party. Negotiations are [11]taking place about finding a resolution to all the problems so all parties can give their support to new arrangements. That issue has been denied internally by the DUP itself.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Does the Taoiseach share my view that the triggering of an Assembly election in the short term could be divisive and could produce an unworkable result? Does the proposal put forward by the two Governments differ in many respects from the points of discussion between the DUP and Sinn Féin? Are there significant differences between the proposals that were to be published by the Governments after the 48 hour deadline but that were not published in the event that negotiations might succeed? Have officials from the Government pointed out to both parties what those differences are and how they might benefit the process?

One significant difference between these discussions and those that have taken place over the past 15 years is the lack of a physical presence of the American Government. The Taoiseach has stated the special envoy is involved and that Secretary of State Clinton has said she is prepared to offer assistance. Does that offer go as far as saying that if she is called upon by the Governments to get this across the line, she is willing to travel to Belfast to assist the Governments and parties to bring this to a final conclusion?

The Taoiseach:  The Secretary of State was confirming, as has been the case in successive US Administrations, the support of the Administration for a successful outcome that would ensure the institutions are sustained and operated as envisaged under the agreements that have been reached between the Governments and the parties.

Prime Minister Brown and I were seeking to bring sides together to indicate ways forward that would be helpful to the process. We are talking about devolving powers to the Assembly and that requires decisions by the parties themselves. A cross-community vote would be required in the Assembly to trigger the devolution process. In terms of subsequent issues that must be undertaken, the agreement of parties is necessary.

In the past there have been negotiations where the Governments have sought to put forward, like we did at St. Andrews, a set of arrangements we believe are the best means of ensuring the re-establishment of the institutions with full participation in the Executive by qualified parties. On this occasion we are also looking at the need for active support from the parties themselves based on direct talks taking place between them, in addition to the facilitation of talks with the Governments. The preferred choice of the Governments is to see arrangements agreed by the parties themselves. We made the point that if there was no prospect of that happening, we indicated a timeframe for the publication of some of our proposals based on what we believed would be a fair outcome to the discussions.

On the basis that there has been a serious engagement ongoing since, the Governments have decided to allow that process to continue as long as there is political goodwill and preparedness on all sides to continue with the talks. Obviously they are taking longer than may have been anticipated but they are ongoing and seek to narrow their differences. I hope these matters can be brought to a successful conclusion sooner rather than later.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  We have offered support already to the Government for what it is doing. The economy in Northern Ireland must be a matter of concern to the Taoiseach. The Government is concerned about our own economy but the situation in the Northern Ireland economy is also serious. The outstanding achievement of putting the Good Friday Agreement in place was the involvement of so many Governments and people over so many years. The involvement of President Clinton motivated the parties to arrive at that point. It may be necessary to call on the Secretary of State to come to assist in that motivation, not to conclude it, because that is not within her remit, but in the same way as the American Government visibly [12]encouraged and assisted the parties to agree to the Good Friday Agreement, so too it should be taken into account if it would bring this across the line.

If these talks drag on for another while, does the Taoiseach intend, along with the British Prime Minister, to publish the proposals they had intended to publish or what might be changed? If there is no conclusion in the next day or so, does the Taoiseach intend to return to Belfast with the British Prime Minister or does he intend to publish the proposals? Clearly, an imposed solution is not as satisfactory as one that can be agreed and negotiated among the parties themselves.

The Taoiseach:  The last point is the salient point. It is more likely to succeed if the parties agree among themselves. If, however, that is not possible, the Governments must take on their responsibilities and respond to public opinion with Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, whereby people want to see the talks concluded successfully, with the institutions they have voted for working as envisaged.

The need to improve relationships across the board is an important issue for the future. We must engender trust and confidence in all our bona fides and must work in partnership, recognising that the Agreement clearly sets out a basis for equality and partnership where the traditions of all sides are respected, people’s cultural requirements are incorporated and diversity is understood as being part and parcel of normalising a society that had been deeply divided.

It is my strong view that the spirit of the Agreement, is just as important as the letter of the Agreement. This is not some inane, abstract mathematical formula about setting up structures for people to coexist peacefully and tolerate each other, it is about people coming to the table with a sense of generosity, understanding and accommodating the views and opinions of others, and doing so in a way that best serves everyone in the community and promotes security and stability and support for democracy. The institutions have been devised to give expression to that diversity and difference. Unless that is added to the equation, unfortunately we see from time to time a crisis of sorts beginning to arise. We need to liberate the process by people having the confidence to, of course, put forward their views, but also to work the institutions and to work with people with whom one has committed to work on the basis of mutual respect and seeking to accommodate one another’s points of view in a sensible and coherent way.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Labour Party supports the efforts of the Government, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs in trying to bring about a resolution to the difficulties that have arisen in Northern Ireland with regard to the devolution of policing and justice issues. I also acknowledge the efforts and significant contributions made by both Governments as well as the US Administration to matters over a period of years. However, I must wonder. We are 12 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, but it was already agreed at St. Andrew’s that policing and justice powers would be devolved. All political parties in Northern Ireland state that they are in favour of having these powers devolved to their Administration. Most Parliaments, administrations and even local governments want to get more functions devolved to them, which is clearly a central issue in the context of Northern Ireland, yet agreement cannot be reached on it.

There is almost a sense of déjà vu. We arrive periodically at these crises in the process and the parties involved must have both Governments on an almost permanent standby to assist. I understand that the diaries of the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Brown have needed to be changed a number of times over the course of the past week. Now, we hear that the US Government might need to be brought in.

[13]My first question is a general one. Is there too much hand-holding in this process? Second, the two Governments set a deadline for last Friday. Was doing so wise, given that it needed to be extended? I understand why it was extended and am not disputing its extension. I understood that the Governments were to publish proposals if the deadline was not met. The deadline has been extended, but at what point does the Taoiseach envisage the Governments publishing the proposals and are they such that they will achieve the objective of the devolution of policing and justice powers, which was agreed some time ago?

The Taoiseach:  In response to Deputy Gilmore, I understand his point. However, the fact of the matter is that if there is a difficulty in the process and the Governments, as co-guarantors of the agreements, wish to see full implementation of these agreements with the participation of the other parties, particularly in the context of the devolution of policing and justice given the steps that must be taken within the Assembly apart from elsewhere to effect that, then the Governments would ideally like to see these matters resolved between the parties in the normal course of discourse between them.

The problem was that they were not getting resolved. It had got to the point at which indications were being given two years on from May 2008, which was the indicative time given by Prime Minister Brown and the then Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, at the time of the St. Andrew’s Agreement as being the time by which they felt sufficient community confidence could be built up to enable the devolution of policing and justice and all of the parties would fully subscribe to signing up to the reforms in the PSNI and putting in place all Patton recommendations and ethos. All of that happened, yet people were still looking at an indicative date as being the time by which it should happen while others were emphasising the conditions being right for it to happen, a conditions-based approach. What was clearly the case, given the very detailed steps that both the First and Deputy First Ministers had agreed to take place in order to build up confidence, was that we had come to a point at which a decision probably needed to be taken. Other aspects of the agreement need to be advanced as well. We are talking about trying to complete agreements that have been reached.

As the Deputy knows, various nuanced positions have been taken by various parties on the St. Andrew’s Agreement and to what extent they were tied into specific processes and timescales announced by the Governments at the time. This was done by the Governments because one did not have overt and explicit agreement between the parties in respect of those issues at that time, but a process was agreed by which one would have expected a consensus to emerge within the timeframes outlined.

I take the point that it is important for these institutions to be sustained and for the working relationship between the parties to be such that the intervention of Government would not be required. I would make the point that, if we get to the point at which we can fully devolve remaining powers to the Administration, then clearly the role of Government in terms of trying to resolve outstanding issues becomes less because one has, by that stage, perhaps crossed an important hurdle, namely, an important landmark whereby devolution in full is operational. However, there are still very important strands of the agreement on the North-South issues and the relationship between the Government and the Administration that need to be fostered and developed. I do not see at any time how the Government could fulfil its obligations by stepping back in the process. The Government should be there to assist a deeply divided political culture in finding a ways and means of having a modus vivendi between parties. It requires a change in the political culture. It requires people to realise that the old hegemonies are gone. We are in a brave new world, a situation in which everyone’s view must be accommodated, but we must also have generosity of spirit in forming that process and in people making [14]compromises. The culture has never been about making compromises successfully in the past. Those who made compromises paid the political price.

We are not only trying to devise structures. People get caught up on structures but, as important as they are, it is about changing the political culture. It is where people see and recognise that one’s position has to take account of someone else’s position and find a way through it coherently. The need for trust and confidence in one another’s capacity to work together is fundamental to that, as is the need to improve political relations, as one knows from this jurisdiction in terms of coalition governments. They need to foster relationships between people who have been politically opposed to one another in a previous parliamentary session. That must all change and people must be proactively working at that all of the time. There is a need for this to be a part of the equation a well. It is not about a separate but equal operation. It is about a coherent whole working together and recognising that there are people with very strongly held and different perspectives on many fundamental issues, such as what they are about, who they are and where their affiliations and loyalties lie.

For me, the great genius of these agreements is that we are not seeking to reach a predetermined destination. We are on a journey that will take us wherever it will based on principles of consent, mutual respect and mutual interest. We have to devise a culture that sustains institutions to be effective and responsive to people’s needs. I feel very strongly that everyone must hear the voice of the public in this. The people of Northern Ireland on all sides of the equation want this to work. They want people to overcome their difficulties and find a way through. They are showing a lot of patience because they understand that the prize is considerable. As a result of the progress made up to Wednesday there was a feeling from us, as British Prime Minister and Taoiseach, that there would be a way through if people kept the momentum going and worked at the issue. We felt that a couple of days should bring about agreement on the principles informing an agreement going forward.

As a result of the way people approach things a level of reassurance is sought that may well be greater than what the Deputy and I or Deputy Kenny and I might seek in respect of a political accommodation based on how we operate. There is a long journey that has been trod and we must be patient and supportive. A prolonged but genuine effort is being made to find a solution. I hope and believe that is the case and everybody is working on that basis. Those are the sort of assurances that people are working to.

I agree with the Deputy and would like to see matters completed quickly. I pay tribute, if I may, to my own colleague, Deputy Micheál Martin, and Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, who have helped the process along as closer agreement has been sought. Other parties in plenary session have also put forward their views and their role in the future working of the administration must be recognised. The two main parties are involved in direct discussions but other parties have a locus and role which must also be respected.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I very much welcome the Taoiseach’s belief that progress is being and will be made. We all wish for that to be the case. It is perhaps not exceptional that there should be some expression of a level of irritation at the length of time the discussions are taking to reach a conclusion on something that was already agreed. Devolution was already agreed in the St. Andrews Agreement and we are a long way on from the original dates identified for having that in place.

I appreciate that the Taoiseach wants to be cautious in replying about the issues being discussed. From the press reports we have seen, it appears that the difficulty has moved on to the issue of parades and the substantial issue of policing and its devolution appears to be mostly agreed. The difficulties now surround the parades issue. If agreement is not reached — I sin[15]cerely hope it will be — will the proposals of the two governments encompass the issue of parades and what is to be done about that?

The Taoiseach:  There are a number of issues and it is important not to reduce outstanding issues to just two. There are a number of matters relating to implementation of the agreement that must be addressed. In talking about steps to devolution, the justice Bill for the creation of a justice department has been passed by the Assembly and once agreement has been reached between the parties the following steps must be taken.

There must be an agreement on the identity of a Justice Minister, an agreement on the relationship of a Justice Minister to the Executive, the finalisation of the Assembly committee report on policing and justice, a cross-community voting assembly requesting policing and justice powers, a budget Bill for the Assembly committee that must be passed, a transfer order approval by Privy Council, an agreement on the programme for government on policing and justice and there is a budget Bill submitted for royal assent. Even just looking at the devolution issues there are a number of processes and procedures that must be agreed in terms of content, substance and timing that must be worked through.

There are other issues as well. The Deputy mentioned the parade question. In the St. Andrews Agreement, it was agreed to look at the long-term strategy on this matter as it feeds into a public order issue, particularly in respect of contentious parades. There is a need to be particularly sensitive to the rights of communities as well as the rights of others to parade. That is a balance of rights that needs to be very carefully calibrated, as we know. The Parades Commission has been the means by which an arbitration on the issues arising takes place.

There is a strong view that we must keep that issue away from politics and direct operational policing decision. We must consider how to build on the current regulatory framework which, in broad terms, has served us well. Every process has room for improvement and discussion can take place in which people can find ways forward that give mutual confidence to those who wish to exercise their right to parade, as well as ensuring that communities are not subject to sectarian or other harassment. There are various means and confidence-building measures that one can identify that would assist in ensuring this happens.

Taking the contention out of parades would be an ideal objective to be achieved but it will require much work, discussion and careful consultation, mediation and arbitration processes that would be transparent and have the confidence of communities. There must be dialogue. The Derry issue was sorted out on the basis of people sitting down and working through the issues of what had been a very contentious matter. It has enabled one cultural tradition to celebrate its particular history while at the same time not impinging or disrespecting the culture of others who do not affiliate to those marches or manifestations of identity which emerge when parades take place.

It is possible to deal with these matters but it requires a sensitivity and willingness on all sides to listen to each other and find a way through based on dialogue, mediation and in some cases arbitration. That process should have the confidence of both communities, engendering and promoting mutual respect. These issues are being discussed in detail with a view to proceeding. Nobody is seeking a quid pro quo and the issue of devolution of policing and justice has its own intrinsic merit and imperative in any event. Other issues that feed into law and order issues in general, including that issue, can and are being discussed on their own merits and in separate contexts and dialogue streams. It is important for all of us to reach agreement generally so that everybody can go forward with confidence.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Having played our part in the direct engagement with the republican base not only in this State but throughout the island of Ireland in winning support [16]for new policing arrangements in the North of Ireland and a new acceptance of changed policing structures in that part of our island, we share very much in the frustration of so many at the passage of time since the agreement was reached at St. Andrews, in which a number of us directly participated. I will not press the Taoiseach on any of the content of the recent negotiations that took place at Hillsborough, except to say that it is my understanding that considerable work and progress has been made over an intense and protracted period of engagement. It is very understandable that there have been expressions of impatience at the length of time, as we are into the second week of these intense inter-party engagements. These expressions have been made across the island of Ireland and undoubtedly beyond these shores.

It is important to recognise that what is at stake is not just something that goes to the core of relations between communities in the North of Ireland, but to the core of the relationship between the island of Ireland and the neighbouring island of Britain. The prize is something of great importance to people of all opinion and it is that we have the transfer of policing and justice responsibilities to the Assembly in Belfast and that there is a joint responsibility for overseeing the working out of those responsibilities into the future. The issue is now one of political leadership and the ability to deliver.

I want to acknowledge the Taoiseach’s direct involvement in these talks and that of his British counterpart, specifically in respect of the Hillsborough engagement. Will he join with me in rejecting the type of commentary that would wish to portray the difficulties that pertain in the overall body politic in the North of Ireland as two intractable foes constantly proving themselves unable to overcome their respective difficulties? This is something of such importance that it warrants the direct involvement of the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. As Irish republicans see it, what is involved here is the future working of the structures established under the Good Friday Agreement to serve the people directly in the Six Counties, as well as the people of the whole island. It also deals with the relationships between these respective islands into the future.

I hope that the final hours of these discussions will lead to a successful outcome, something for which the overwhelming body of people across the island are hoping and praying. Tá súil agam go n-éireóidh leis na cainteanna sin go luath.

The questions posed to the Taoiseach cover a wide range of issues, but I would like to refer specifically to Question No. 12. I asked him in that question whether he has availed of the opportunity to raise directly with the British Prime Minister the issue of collusion. I refer particularly to the unanimous agreement in the Oireachtas on the Barron and justice sub-committee reports, which were forwarded for consideration by the British Parliament at Westminster. While we have received an acknowledgment, we have apparently made no progress in our unanimous call that the outstanding matters be subject to truth and justice. The Taoiseach indicated in the past that he did not directly address these matters with the British Prime Minister. Since the last time we posed these questions to him, has he availed of the opportunity to address the Barron and justice sub-committee reports, as well as the Dáil motion?

We also passed an important unanimous motion in this House. Has he taken the opportunity to address with the British Prime Minister the issue of the murder of Pat Finucane? The Finucane family and many campaigners for truth and justice in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere have been waiting for a resolution to this for some time. Can the Taoiseach give us an update on this? What expectations does he have of any progress in respect of both these matters? Our call from this House should not be viewed as exceptional, when one realises that the British Government and the previous Prime Minister are under intense scrutiny over his decision to [17]participate in the invasion of Iraq. The British have been prepared to address these matters in an open forum, so what is the problem with addressing the British war in Ireland?

The Taoiseach:  In my original reply I explained the position in respect of those inquiries. We have experience of the commission inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. While much was achieved, it did not resolve the issues for the relatives. We also have the work of the Eames-Bradley group. There are also issues that have arisen where legal proceedings have been initiated. A number of relatives of the victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings who are not members of the Justice for the Forgotten group sought redress in the High Court to gain access to the files of the McEntee commission of inquiry, which were held and sealed in my Department. The Master of the High Court delivered his judgment on the matter on 7 May 2008, finding against the Taoiseach, Ireland and the Attorney General.

That was appealed and the High Court upheld the appeal on 18 March 2009. It is now being appealed to the Supreme Court. There are several other cases before the courts in which applicants, including Justice for the Forgotten, are also seeking access to the archive. Therefore, I would not like to comment further on the matter. In defending these cases, the State is honouring commitments of confidentiality given by Mr. McEntee in the course of his inquiries.

The discussions I have been having with the British Prime Minister recently have not related to the collusion issue, as the Deputy describes it. They have been about the institutions and trying to implement the agreements that we have been discussing for the last half an hour. These have been my priority when dealing with the British Prime Minister. At official level, there is continuing interaction between the Governments on outstanding matters. I met with relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims, who are awaiting the publication of their inquiry and want this to be brought forward in a way that allows them study the issues in a timely fashion. I listened to what they had to say about those issues and I would support them in any way I can. In the main body of my reply I said any future follow-up on further inquiries mentioned should be considered in consultation with the parties and can be raised with the Whips. That is the best answer I can give at the moment.

Regarding the talks, at times like this we need political leadership and for people to see the big picture. People must recognise that much progress has been made and that the logic and rationale of the situation is to complete successfully any remaining issues that have not been fully and finally resolved but on which there has been much discussion. In the context of a successful outcome, we need to deal with political relationships and ensure that the Executive is inclusive and provides an opportunity for all to participate. We need to build an esprit de corps that is necessary for a good, efficient, effective Executive to work in any Administration. That requirement falls to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. We must ensure that the relationship is exemplary in terms of effective working methods.

These are important matters that send signals of confidence and give hope to people that what we are doing will accomplish things so that matters will work out as envisaged and people will serve the community that elected them to these positions of responsibility. That is fundamental and the effect of working at the Assembly and the way in which the North-South institutions work means there is a need for people to unshackle the constraints and limitations. What has been a conservative approach thus far to all of these matters must be opened to the potential of these agreements. This will allow people to see we can work together and, by working together, we can bring mutual benefit, which is the objective of the exercise in the first place.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That concludes Taoiseach’s questions.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Very briefly——

[18]An Ceann Comhairle:  We are out of time. I will allow a very brief observation.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Aside from the intense focus of the very recent past and following a hopefully successful conclusion to this process, will the Taoiseach give an undertaking to the House to raise matters of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, the wider matter of collusion and the Pat Finucane murder to which the Taoiseach did not refer in his reply? His family and those who campaigned for justice in his name are very anxious to see the matter properly addressed. Does the Taoiseach accept this can only be done through his direct leadership and intervention at the highest level rather than leaving the matter to officials? Will the Taoiseach undertake to do this?

The Taoiseach:  It has been raised at a political level by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, who is dealing with these matters on an ongoing basis. We have been supportive of trying to find an investigative mechanism that is required for the Pat Finucane issue. I met the family on a number of occasions. I am mindful of the fact that the Eames-Bradley group provides us with an opportunity to examine the past in a way that will help us all to have a greater understanding for the future and to find some means by which matters can be closed and resolved. These matters are ongoing and have not been resolved to the satisfaction of the Government or the Dáil. In many respects, trying to retrace events that far back leads us to not getting to the full truth we want to get to and would like to get to. We continue to see how we can assist those families who seek to obtain the truth in these issues.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before proceeding with the Order of Business, I wish on my own behalf and on behalf of the Members of Dáil Éireann to offer a céad míle fáilte, a most sincere welcome, to Dr. Shinkai Karokhail, M.P., of the Afghan National Assembly.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 27, Arbitration Bill 2008 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 28, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]— Second Stage (resumed); and No. 4, Employment Agency Regulation Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

Private Members’ business shall be No. 82, motion re gangland crime (resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are no proposals to be put to the House. I call Deputy Enda Kenny.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Does the Taoiseach share the view of the ESRI in its judgment that there is no underlying rationale for the policy of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on waste? A spokesman for the Minister was derogatory of the findings of the State body, the ESRI, and made the comment that it erred in fact. This is an important matter and the Taoiseach should make his views clear on it.

I am concerned by an emerging trend, where companies are proceeding to the commercial High Court looking for examinerships. The Government appointed public interest watchdogs to the boards of the banks. As the Taoiseach is aware, if an examinership is granted creditors may get five cents in the euro. This is a gamble with jobs. The problem with the trend is that small companies are being brought before the commercial High Court but trailing elements of much larger companies are coming in behind them. In many cases receiverships are being appointed to what are solvent entities, within those companies, that could trade their way out [19]of difficulty in time. This appears to be an exercise to get examinerships appointed where jobs will be lost, creditors will not be paid and where holding companies will benefit. I do not know if the Taoiseach is aware of this or has a view on it. From an examination of a list of companies with liabilities well over €200 million, some entities can trade out of this, but if the whole lot goes into examinership, jobs could be lost. It is the right of a petitioner to take a case before the commercial High Court——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I am raising this in the context of NAMA legislation. Public interest watchdogs have been appointed to the boards of banks. I raise this matter as a point of concern. The Taoiseach’s people can examine this.

I heard the taxi drivers in Dublin complaining about the new 30 km/h speed limit in Dublin city. Are State cars subject to the speed limit?

Deputy Damien English:  Does the Government move as fast?

The Taoiseach:  Regarding the question on the ESRI report, the first part of the report constitutes a response to the environmental report on the strategic environmentalist process in respect of the proposed section 60 policy direction on the incineration cap and ancillary matters. The second part constitutes a response to the international review of waste management policy undertaken by Eunomia consortium. The SEA is part of a consultative process with inputs from various stakeholders and people with a view on these matters. They have an input on debates on waste and represent different and often partisan point of view that may be contradictory. The Minister and the Government will give consideration to them and must ultimately determine public policy having regard to overarching national and EU objectives and considerations. This is a consultative process where the Minister must consider these issues and inputs before a final decision is taken.

I am not aware of the situation to which Deputy Kenny refers in the commercial court. I will have it checked.

Regarding the third question, Garda cars have the usual requirements under the road traffic Acts.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I wish to ask the Taoiseach about two matters. First, I thank the Taoiseach for writing to me arising from a question I asked him on 20 January 2010, regarding the application of the pay cuts. The Ceann Comhairle will recall I asked the Taoiseach about a circular which was issued by the HSE to the various agencies under its remit and in which the HSE was effectively directing the various agencies to cut the pay of the staff of those agencies. The Taoiseach has replied saying that the circular was issued incorrectly and I accept this. However, he goes on to make it clear that although the circular was issued incorrectly, in effect, the HSE expects these agencies to cut the pay. This is what the reply translates as, even though it is expressed in roundabout language in which he states that providers take appropriate measures to ensure they continue to provide the same level of service in 2010 as previously, notwithstanding the reductions in their funding and that it is the responsibility of each individual employer to decide exactly what mix of actions should be taken, to inform its employees and trade unions as necessary and to manage the human resources and industrial relations implications of its decisions.

All this comes down to, as I understand it, is that while there is no circular, the staff pay of the various agencies will still need to be cut. Is this the Government policy because my point [20]at the time was that the cut in pay in the public sector was now being used by Government to drive down pay in the voluntary sector?

An Ceann Comhairle:  A question on promised legislation.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is a promise of a different kind for the unfortunate staff of all these agencies; it is a promise from the Government that their pay will be cut. I want the Taoiseach to admit this is what it amounts to.

On my second question, yesterday, I asked the Taoiseach and he finally admitted that the number of senior public servants who were being treated more favourably than every other public servant with regard to pay cuts, was closer to 600 than it was to 160. I also asked the Taoiseach about the cost of that decision. He said he would get back to me. I ask him if he has that information today.

The Taoiseach:  No, I do not have that information as yet. I am seeking it for the Deputy but I did not have an opportunity yesterday from the time I was in the House and attending parliamentary party and other meetings. I am having the matter investigated and I will obtain the information for the Deputy as speedily as possible. From memory the numbers are in the order of 655.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  It keeps going up.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is going up every day.

The Taoiseach:  I am getting the exact figures for the Deputy.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Does the Taoiseach get a bonus for writing that letter?

The Taoiseach:  No. What is involved is that the allocations are being given to the funded bodies and it is a matter for the funded bodies to decide how they will maintain a service with the reduced allocations they are receiving because of the economic and financial realities we have to contend with, no matter what Government is in power. In each case they must decide how best they will deploy those resources. If it involves taking actions that require a change to existing arrangements, then they should, as has been said here, consult with and inform their employees or trade unions as necessary and, as managers of those institutions, manage those implications.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I appreciate the Taoiseach was busy with the parliamentary party meeting yesterday——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are on the Order of Business now, Deputy.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I am puzzled about this issue of the costs——

Deputy Joan Burton:  It is €21.5 million.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  When I asked this question before, the Taoiseach told the House that the Minister for Finance had drawn his attention to this. I cannot understand why the Taoiseach would not have asked the Minister for Finance what this decision was going to cost. Second, it would appear now from his answer that none of the reluctant seconders to the motion asked about the cost of it at yesterday’s parliamentary party meeting.

[21]The Taoiseach:  I understand the figure is less than €5 million but I will obtain that information for the Deputy. It is a total spend of——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That would replace all the special needs classes——

The Taoiseach:  ——€20 billion.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I refer to the fact there is no inspection of services for people with intellectual disability and that a HSE report is expected to reveal that some 4,200 people with intellectual disability are currently housed within long-outdated, inappropriate conditions——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Are we talking about promised business?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Yes, it is leading exactly to that. There are still some 300 people with intellectual disability inappropriately placed in psychiatric facilities across this State. What action is the Taoiseach considering against all of these very serious matters? Will he expedite the taking of the licensing of health facilities Bill, which is promised to address the issue of a mandatory system of licensing for all public and private health facilities? Against the information that I have again reflected here this morning and shared with the House, will the Taoiseach take the necessary steps to intervene with the Department of Health and Children, to address this outrageous neglect and expedite the legislation I have called for?

The Taoiseach:  I have every confidence in the commitment and competence of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, who has responsibility in this area. He has displayed a very clear commitment and has engaged very intensively with all stakeholders in the area of mental health. I support him and have been supporting him in every way I can to deal with the question of the historical problem of inappropriate placement. A number of initiatives have taken place which have resulted in modern facilities being provided to assist those who have been inappropriately placed historically and this should continue. The Minister of State has obtained the agreement of the Minister for Finance and the Government in the Estimates rounds for a capital programme that will enable this to happen, by way of the selling-off of existing assets in the health service area. He is very committed in this area and I have every confidence in him to deal with these matters.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  When will the Taoiseach being forward the licensing of health facilities Bill?

The Taoiseach:  Regarding that matter, the Minister of State has indicated that the HSE and HIQA have agreed that progressive non-statutory implementation of the HIQA standards will now commence and will become the benchmark against which the HSE assess both its own directly operated facilities and other facilities funded by the HSE. Challenges exist to moving immediately to full statutory implementation of these standards, including the availability of resources and including regulation and inspection. We will continue to work progressively to bring these standards into play on a non-statutory basis.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Yesterday, the Minister for Finance issued a press release indicating that he intended to delegate functions to the NTMA which have a very intimate bearing on banking policy for the State. The NTMA is not subject to freedom of information requests and it does not have the same Dáil scrutiny so taxpayers do not have the opportunity to oversee its activities. These included the conduct of discussions with the banks on their capital needs, on the restructuring of the banking sector and on the guarantee. These are at the core of [22]central policy issues as to how we are going to deal with the banks who have brought this country to its knees.

I am very concerned about this proposed delegation of functions. I can see that the NTMA can offer a role but delegating the responsibility to it is something that is a bridge too far. I ask the Taoiseach if this delegation of functions will be brought before the House so it can be properly debated before we sign off on these powers and see them disappear into an area where, at best, we will see only darkly what is happening?

  12 o’clock

Deputy Joan Burton:  On the same issue, we were given a very innocuous one-page press release last night from the Department of Finance and the Minister on this subject. I do not know but it seems to me as though the ducks are being put in a row to provide for the full or almost full nationalisation of the banks by this structure. It is being done with almost no discussion provided for in this House. Everybody in the House knows that not only have we the debts of the banks in terms of toxic loans but we have four or five other sorts of areas where the banks are taking heavy losses. If fact, it would seem that the holes in the banks’ balance sheets are so large — when mortgage debt, credit card debt, car finance debt and the rising failures of ordinary companies in what people often describe as the real economy and not in the construction and finance area — are included.

We are being told in this notice that responsibility for this——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is turning the Order of Business into Question Time.

Deputy Joan Burton:  ——is being passed to the National Treasury Management Agency. According to the press release, a “draft delegation order is currently being discussed with the Attorney General’s office”. Under law — as the Taoiseach well knows, because it was his predecessor, Charlie McCreevy, who set it up — the NTMA is at quite a distance from this House and is largely exempt from freedom of information provisions. It does not respond directly to the House, meeting only occasionally with the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service. Effectively, the Minister for Finance is delegating——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are drifting away from the original issue.

Deputy Joan Burton:  This is one of the most important financial decisions that will come before the House this year. The Minister for Finance is delegating substantial responsibility for banking to the NTMA. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Government will provide for a full debate in the House on the implications of this statement, or are we now sidestepping the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance and handing the key responsibility——

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is not Question Time. The Deputy’s queries are more appropriate for the Minister for Finance.

Deputy Joan Burton:  This country would not be bankrupt and ruined if a debate had taken place in this House on how these guys were handling our banks.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am not arguing about the merits of points being made. The Deputy must respect that this is the Order of Business.

Deputy Joan Burton:  With due respect to the Chair’s great office, I am perfectly in order.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Deputy Burton is entirely in order.

[23]An Ceann Comhairle:  Several Members are waiting to contribute and I have allowed the Deputy great latitude.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I am told there is a daft delegation order with the Attorney General. I am asking the Taoiseach — who holds that office for the time being — whether this issue, which is central to all our economic futures, is coming, as it should, before the House for a full debate. There are businesses, families and individuals ruined and unemployed because of the Taoiseach’s actions as leader of Fianna Fáil.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is no need for the Deputy to embellish the point.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Now the Department of Finance, which the Taoiseach ran in his previous Ministry, is to delegate the functions of looking after the banking system to the NTMA, which is not responsible to this House. I am in order in asking the Taoiseach to be accountable for this.

The Taoiseach:  A draft delegation order is being prepared. Questions are to the Minister for Finance this afternoon which will allow Members to ask detailed questions on this issue. We are designating the NTMA to deal with the banks in regard to areas which are currently a matter for either the Central Bank, the regulator, the Department of Finance or the NTMA. Our objective is to have the story told in one place and to ensure that there is proper liaison with the banks in respect of these matters. There will be a continuing role for the Central Bank and the Minister for Finance which will be in no way different in terms of their responsibilities, and the Government will continue to make decisions in this area. We are talking about an operational matter that will enable one institution to deal with the banks in respect of many of these matters which can then be referred back to the Minister and the Government in due course.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  There is no accountability to the House.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Is the order coming before the House?

Deputy Richard Bruton:  That is the question I asked.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies must respect the Order of Business.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I asked the Taoiseach whether the order is coming before the House.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  It is relevant to the Order of Business to ask whether this order will be presented to the House for debate. The Taoiseach should either respond now or provide Deputies with a response so that we can continue to discuss this issue tomorrow.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Taoiseach is the Head of Government. In answering questions later today, the Minister is only the Minister for Finance. Will the Taoiseach, as leader of the Government, say whether this order will come before the House for debate?

The Taoiseach:  If it is a requirement for it to do so, that will happen. The Minister for Finance will provide the details this afternoon.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  In regard to the health information Bill, when will the Minister for Health and Children publish the non-statutory report into the death of Mr. Peter McKenna in Leas Cross nursing home, which was received by the Department last October but remains unpublished. The lessons we must learn from the Leas Cross case——

[24]An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy’s question relate to legislation?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Yes, it relates to the health information Bill. When will this report be laid before the House so that its lessons can be taken on board? This is particularly important in view of another report referred to in The Irish Times today indicating unacceptably low standards at the TLC nursing home in Maynooth whose chief executive officer is a highly placed officer in a medical organisation. It is unacceptable in this day and age that nursing homes continue to be run in this manner. When will that report be published?

Second, in regard to the local government services Bill, the Taoiseach referred earlier to the large amounts of money being invested in roads. Is it not the case that since December 2008, the Government spent almost €500 million less on national, regional and local roads than previously? The message the proud Minister for Transport is putting out is an absolute con given that more than €1 billion is needed to put our roads into proper repair.

The Taoiseach:  I do not know where the Deputy got that figure. It is a gross exaggeration.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It is not. It adds up, €325 million plus €169 million, which are the figures provided by the consultant, Mr. Power.

The Taoiseach:  It is a gross exaggeration.

The report of the inspection of the private TLC care centre in Maynooth was published by the Health Information and Quality Authority and identifies a litany of problems with the facility. HIQA carried out a follow-up inspection in the last week of January which showed an improvement in the level of care provided and identified some issues which are being addressed on an ongoing basis. The report is being compiled and will be published when completed. TLC Maynooth is being re-registered by HIQA and that process includes a full inspection of the centre. The Deputy should put down a question to the Minister for Health and Children regarding the report to which he referred.

We expect the health information Bill to be published in the course of this year.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Will the report I referred to be published shortly? It has been with the Department of Health and Children since October. I have spoken to the Minister for Health and Children twice but nothing has happened.

The Taoiseach:  I have no information on that report. The Deputy will have to put down a question to the Minister.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I have spoken to her twice and nothing has happened.

The Taoiseach:  In regard to the Bill to which the Deputy referred, for which I am responsible to the House, it will be published during the course of the year. I am not here to answer specific questions on health.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must table a question to the appropriate Minister.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  This is not a matter solely for the Department of Health and Children. It is a public health issue. The self-serving response in the case of the institution in question, with serious staff deficits and a serious lack of care in a nursing home run by a medical doctor——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must pursue this matter with the line Minister.

[25]Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  ——who occupies one of the highest offices in this land, is entirely unacceptable.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Deputy James Reilly:  On the same matter——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Deputy’s question relevant to the Order of Business?

Deputy James Reilly:  Yes. We currently have a situation, as reported in The Irish Times yesterday, where there is no inspection regime for facilities caring for children and adults with disabilities. Under the health information Bill, will the Taoiseach afford us the opportunity to put that in place before the end of the year in order to show that we look after the truly vulnerable?

Second, I note the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is in the House. The board of Teagasc is meeting today.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a question on promised legislation?

Deputy James Reilly:  Yes, it relates to the forestry Bill. Teagasc’s proposal to close down Kinsealy will have damaging consequences for horticulture in the State. That is a national issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is no legislation promised on that matter.

Deputy James Reilly:  There is scope under the forestry Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should put down a parliamentary question.

Deputy James Reilly:  Third, has the Government any plans to introduce legislation to control the blight of head shops whose numbers are growing throughout the State?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not relevant to the Order of Business.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is a very serious matter. Will legislation be introduced in this regard?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is turning the Order of Business into Question Time. If I allow that, we will be on the Order of Business all day.

Deputy James Reilly:  I hate to correct the Ceann Comhairle but he is wrong. I am asking a legitimate question. Is there planned legislation in regard to the control of head shops?

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate to ask questions like that on the Order of Business.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is a legitimate question. Is legislation being put in place to protect children from the harm being done by these outlets?

The Taoiseach:  When this issue was raised yesterday by Deputy Naughten, I indicated that the Department of Health and Children is preparing regulations to introduce controls relating to a range of substances on sale in head shops. These regulations are similar to those recently introduced in the United Kingdom, although I understand the latter have run into some legal trouble.

Deputy James Reilly:  Would the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food like to tell us whether he has instructed the board of Teagasc in any way in regard to the closure of Kinsealy?

[26]The Taoiseach:  That is an operational matter for Teagasc and the latter has nothing to do with forestry.

Deputy James Reilly:  Kinsealy is under the control of Teagasc.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I thought Deputy Reilly’s party was anxious to get rid of quangos.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  In view of the obvious and clear evidence to the effect that a considerable amount of reckless lending took place throughout the banking——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Are we on Question Time or on promised business?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  We are on promised legislation. If the Ceann Comhairle lets me finish, my question will emerge.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  We were working with him, a Cheann Comhairle.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  In view of the obvious, clear and emerging evidence to the effect——

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  It is too late.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  ——that a considerable amount of irresponsible lending took place in the banking system, can I ask——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Deputy asking about promised business in this area? Would it be more appropriate for the Deputy to ask the Minister for Finance about the matter during this afternoon’s Question Time?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  With all due respect, a Cheann Comhairle, I am entitled to ask a question on promised legislation, but you keep interrupting.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  He is a big boy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am trying to keep some order on the Order of Business.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  You are interfering with the right of a Member of the House to ask about promised legislation. Can I attempt to ask my question again, this time without interruption?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy can ask a brief question that is appropriate to the Order of Business.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  In view of the clear evidence that irresponsible lending has taken place in this country’s banking system over the past five or seven years, is it intended to approve the heads of the Bills that will deal with that issue? I refer to the Central Bank (consolidation) Bill, publication of which is expected; the Central Bank (No. 2) Bill, publication of which is expected; the financial services (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, publication of which is expected; and the financial services (regulation) Bill, publication of which is expected although it is not possible to indicate at this stage when that will happen. Has the Government done anything to approve the heads of those crucial Bills, having regard to the important issues with which they will deal?

The Taoiseach:  A two-Bill approach is being proposed to make legislative progress in this area during 2010. The first Bill will be relatively short and will concentrate on the reform of [27]the regulatory structures in the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland. The second Bill will facilitate the other legislative changes that are needed to reform and enhance the functions and powers of the restructured banks. Some important regulatory-enhancing elements may be included in the first Bill, as long as they do not lead to a delay in completing that legislation. The Minister for Finance will shortly seek Government approval for the heads of the first Bill and for his officials to proceed with drafting. It is intended to have that Bill enacted by Easter, or shortly thereafter. It is hoped to have the second Bill enacted in the current year and, if possible, to consolidate all the Central Bank legislation into a single statute in 2010. Work on this project will proceed, as far as possible, simultaneously with work on the other two Bills.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I thank the Taoiseach.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Can I ask the Taoiseach about promised legislation? For more than three years, Deputies on these benches have been hammering away at the need for legislation governing the operation of management companies. We cannot get answers to our questions about when the legislation will come into the House. What do I need to do to get that information? Do I have to contact Deputy Mattie McGrath to find out when the Bill will be introduced in the House? The Taoiseach has previously told the House that the Bill got lost in the Seanad and is being considered, etc. When will the Bill come into the House? Developers are going bust and management companies are disappearing at a time when people are suffering from flooding. Nobody can find anyone on the telephone who is responsible.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This Bill is in the Seanad.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  All right. I will not——

Deputy Seán Barrett:  I thought they had no business to do, even though they are sitting on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Minister has withdrawn this Bill from the Seanad, in effect, even though it was agreed by the Government on Second Stage.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  Why do we not get rid of them?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  When a group of builders approached the Minister to say the legislation did not suit them, he withdrew it from the Seanad, in effect.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I did not.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  In such circumstances, is there any way for us to raise the matter in this House? It is not really before the Seanad at all at this stage.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Seanad is a separate House.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  It is not good enough.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is not in the Seanad.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  They are sitting up there having statements three days a week. Why are they not passing legislation?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Is there any means by which we can legitimately raise the matter?

[28]An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  No, I am asking you this question, a Cheann Comhairle. It is a question of the manner in which we can highlight the ordering of the business of the House.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  The Government should get Senator Donie Cassidy to sit on Fridays, or perhaps get rid of the other House altogether.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Is there any method we can use to legitimately raise the long delay in this regard? It took the Government eight years to put a Bill together. It was agreed after long consultation with all bodies. It went to the Seanad and was passed on Second Stage, but it is now stuck because the Minister has withdrawn it, in effect.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The option of a Private Members’ Bill might just provide a solution to the Deputy’s query.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It would not be worth the paper it would be written on.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  We introduced such a Bill, but it was voted down.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The people cannot wait for action to be taken in respect of this urgent issue, which I raised yesterday. The Bill has been abandoned.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan should consider tabling a Private Members’ Bill.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  What are you talking about? It is the Government’s job to legislate. The Government introduced this Bill, before withdrawing it again.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  The Bill has got lost.

The Taoiseach:  No motion has been tabled to withdraw the Bill. It has not been withdrawn. A great deal of work has been done. The stakeholders are being consulted on an ongoing basis.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Who are the stakeholders?

The Taoiseach:  Let me just tell you that.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  They are the developers.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Was that not done before the Bill was published?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Government has had eight years to bring a Bill to the House.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Stagg would want to read his post.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  There are stakeholders in every town.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  It is a new name for developers.

The Taoiseach:  The stakeholders include the apartment owners’ network, the Law Society and others.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  They are the landlords.

The Taoiseach:  The apartment owners’ network——

[29]Deputy Emmet Stagg:  They are the builders, in effect, on the ground.

Deputy James Reilly:  Deputy Stagg is right.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  In fairness, “stakeholders” is a nice new name for developers. That is a good one.

Deputy Joan Burton:  They drove a stake into the heart of the Irish economy.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The Government has had eight years in which to put the Bill together.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies, we are moving on.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The builders came back and said the Bill did not suit them.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  A Cheann Comhairle, I apologise for the interruptions. Can we hear from the Taoiseach about the current status of the Bill?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  The Deputy can blame the people behind him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Bill is in the Seanad.

The Taoiseach:  The Bill is in the Seanad.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is the position as it now stands.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Bill has not been in the Seanad for a year and a half.

The Taoiseach:  If I may——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That is not correct.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It should have been passed by now.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The builders blocked it.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputy Rabbitte’s memory is letting him down again.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Ceann Comhairle is getting agitated.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister wrote to the Whips on 2 February.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Was that last year?

The Taoiseach:  Have we another problem? It was this year.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Yesterday.

The Taoiseach:  Yes.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  That was a great deduction by Deputy Burton, given that today is 3 February.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  What did he say when he wrote to the Whips yesterday?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  I got no letter.

[30]Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  A Cheann Comhairle——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have to move on.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hold on.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This matter can be raised in many other ways.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Where is the letter?

The Taoiseach:  I am not going to stand up here ten times and be interrupted ten times. What is the point? Do the Deputies think I am an eejit?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Where is the letter?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Perhaps Deputy Stagg will restrain himself. The Taoiseach is about to answer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Terence Flanagan. I apologise for not seeing him earlier.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  What did yesterday’s letter say? Is the Government bringing the Bill into the House?

The Taoiseach:  If I am allowed to say what I want to say without being interrupted, I will say it. If there are any more interruptions, we will forget about it. The Deputies can find out from the Minister what is in the letter, because there is no point in me talking about it.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Do not be like that.

The Taoiseach:  What is the point?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Taoiseach should not be petulant. It does not suit him.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputies opposite might not have anything else to do for the rest of the day, but I have a few things to do.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we stop the interruptions, please?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Deputy Stagg does that deliberately to rile the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach:  He does not.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Ignore him.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Is the Deputy suggesting that he deliberately fails to read his post?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  He is a terrible man.

The Taoiseach:  His daughter in Clonygowan is a lovely person.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Taoiseach needs to remember what happened with Deputy Gogarty — we do not want that to happen again.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is the deputy leader of her party for the time being — that is all I will say.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Touché.

[31]The Taoiseach:  The Minister wrote to the Whips on 2 February last to explain the various issues that are being considered, including the scope of the Bill, the voting rights and the annual service charges. He gave the Whips that information because this issue has been arising regularly. He assured everyone that work on the development of the necessary amendments is proceeding with the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. We are anxious to bring this matter to finality as quickly as we can. There are complex issues involved. If it were a simple and easy matter, it would have been done by now. I acknowledge and accept that this matter has been ongoing for some time. We are trying to resolve the issues in a sensible way that will work for everybody and get the job done. The Minister wrote to the Whips yesterday to update them on the points I have made. The Whips have the detail of the letter.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Was the letter sent to the Dáil Whips or the Seanad Whips?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It was sent to the Dáil Whips, including Deputy Stagg, as they have been raising the matter regularly.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I thank the Taoiseach for that information. I understand he is meeting representatives of the Irish House Builders Association on the matter in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform today. Will a similar meeting be organised with representatives of tenants and owner occupiers who are in trouble?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, this is the Order of Business.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is a reasonable question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Terence Flanagan.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  Does the Government have any plans to help the 6,500 householders who have mortgage arrears of more than a year?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to submit a parliamentary question

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  They are facing the real threat of repossession of the family home as the moratorium comes to an end.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy can raise it on the Adjournment.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  Has the Government put a plan in place to help these people?

Deputy Seán Barrett:  It is a simple question.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  The Green Party has announced that it is looking into the matter and intends to appoint a task force. Can we get a solution?

The Taoiseach:  When I dealt with this matter yesterday, I made the point that the mortgage interest subsidy initiative is helping 14,000 families at the moment.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  The initiative will not help the 6,500 families that have mortgage arrears.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I heard the Taoiseach’s earlier response to Deputies Gilmore and Kenny regarding the horrendous unemployment figures. Is it intended that the Tánaiste [32]should meet the chief executive of Kraft Foods, Irene Rosenfeld, regarding the current threat to almost 1,200 jobs?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is this promised business?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Allow me to finish the question as the Taoiseach is listening. I refer to the threats to almost 1,200 jobs in Coolock and north Kerry.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should consider other ways to raise this matter such as the Adjournment or a parliamentary question, rather than on the Order of Business. There are so many other ways. We are turning meetings with business interests——

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The Taoiseach is aware that the Tánaiste has a track record of meeting companies after the jobs have been lost.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are moving on. I call Deputy Stagg.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Perhaps this time she might do her job and meet them proactively or whatever must be done. I note that Lord Mandelson has met Ms Rosenfeld.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Stagg.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle but I already have dealt with the matter.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy must have read the letter.

Deputy George Lee:  On promised legislation, I wish to ask the Taoiseach a question regarding the road traffic Bill. Last weekend’s newspaper reports included a story about a particular individual who has 400 convictions for burglary in the North of Ireland and who has set up a private car park management company down here. He has been highly controversial.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Lee——

Deputy George Lee:  This matter pertains to the road traffic Bill.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy George Lee:  This individual’s dealings with people have been highly controversial and the controversies that have been raised have been all over the national airwaves. This highlights the need for regulation of the area of private car park operations and clamping. In the United Kingdom, during last November’s——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is there promised business in this area Deputy?

Deputy George Lee:  ——Queen’s speech, it was announced that regulation would be introduced in respect of clamping operations there.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It would be more appropriate to raise this matter at Question Time to the appropriate line Minister.

Deputy George Lee:  In Scotland, it has been outlawed as extortion. Does the Taoiseach not agree that, as the road traffic Bill is on the legislative list, perhaps it is time to include therein some movement towards the regulation of private clamping operations? At present, such oper[33]ators are charging 50% more to release the clamp than is the case on Merrion Square or St. Stephen’s Green.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is there promised business in this area?

Deputy George Lee:  They are highly aggressive in the manner in which they are dealing with it and the public in Ireland needs as much protection as in Scotland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Is it not time to regulate for this matter and does this not constitute an opportunity to do it?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  I understand the road traffic Bill awaits its Second Stage debate, which will give the Deputy and others an opportunity to raise such points with the Minister to ascertain whether this proposal could be accommodated.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It sounds like a highly desirable investment in this environment.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  I refer to No. 67 on the list, namely, the mental health (amendment) Bill, the stated objective of which is to provide a number of amendments to the Mental Health Act 2001. Can the Taoiseach confirm whether this Bill intends to take on board the recommendations of Amnesty International? They include updating the Act in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to spread the responsibility to other Departments, other than the Department of Health and Children. Will the new legislation include the delivery of proper community-based services?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, we are into the detail of legislation. While the broader question——

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  In fairness, I do not make too many speeches in the House——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I know.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  ——and No. 67 is vague in respect of what it promises.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am being tolerant with the Deputy.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  This is the Cinderella area of health——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes, we know Deputy.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  ——and figures for the first quarter of 2009 show a 43% increase in suicides. This is the first time in years that an increase in suicides has been recorded.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will be able to articulate these points when the legislation is introduced.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  My question is whether the recommendations of Amnesty International will be incorporated into this Bill.

The Taoiseach:  As the heads of that Bill are being prepared at present, there is scope.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  Perhaps the Taoiseach will help it along in respect of what it should contain.

[34]The Taoiseach:  Certainly, and were the Deputy to write to the Minister directly, I am sure he would receive a direct response.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  I wish to raise two issues with the Taoiseach. First, this morning he rejected accusations of complacency within the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, does this pertain to promised business?

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  I refer to two parliamentary questions I had tabled and which were due for reply yesterday, namely, Nos. 470 and 526. Although they were only one-line questions, the response I received was: “In the time available it is not possible to provide the information requested.” The Taoiseach should provide the reason for this. Is the Minister on a go-slow, is the Government on a go-slow or is it simply the public servants? Why were these questions not answered? They were simple one-line questions.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Deputy Healy Rae will get them.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  Second, I refer to the issue of the regulation of debt management. The Taoiseach should inform the House which proposed finance-related Bill on the legislative list will deal with regulation of debt management. Will No. 57, No. 59 or No. 60 do so?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should submit a parliamentary question to the Minister.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  This pertains to promised legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is looking for specific information.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  But I have asked questions and the Ministers have not had time to answer them.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This pertains to specific legislation.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  This is promised legislation regarding the regulation of debt management. As this matter does not appear to be catered for in Nos. 57, 59 or 60, the Taoiseach should identify under which Bill the issue of debt management and the regulation thereof will be dealt with and when.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy seeks specific information that is more appropriate to the line Minister.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  The Taoiseach is the man who knows and who has all the answers.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Deenihan.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Ask a decent one, Jimmy.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  When I ask questions of Ministers, they do not have time to reply. What am I going to do?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Government has been on a go-slow for two years.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The response referred to the time available. The Government is running out of time.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It must be the 30 km/h speed limit.

[35]Deputy Seán Barrett:  The Deputy is on a diet and is going through hell at present.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Deputy Mattie McGrath will have to be called on.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Deenihan, without interruption please.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Deputy Mattie McGrath has made so many false starts that were he a horse, he would have to be put down.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  A Cheann Comhairle——

Deputy Joan Burton:  He said he was very disappointed and deflated.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Can we have some respect for the person in possession please?

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Following the resignation of the chairman and chief executive of the Red Cross, as well as concerns being raised about various aspects of the operation of that organisation in Ireland, will the Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is there promised legislation or business?

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  Yes, that is what I am coming to. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that, as promised by the Minister for Defence during a recent Question Time, legislation will be introduced regarding the governance and operation of the Red Cross in Ireland? Is legislation pending or is it being considered by the Government at present?

The Taoiseach:  I am informed there is no legislation pending. If the Deputy has been speaking directly to the Minister for Defence on such matters, I am sure he is in a position to outline what is his position.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Have proposals come before the Government to establish a boundary commission for Limerick city?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Willie wants to spread his wings.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Members have been promised one. Even the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, agrees with the proposal.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Willie wants to spread his wings as he has run out of houses.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  He signed a letter to that effect, as did all five Deputies for Limerick East. Consequently, the Taoiseach may be assured the Government will get full support in this regard.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  What about prospective Deputies?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy O’Sullivan should consider submitting a parliamentary question on the matter. A parliamentary question——

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  As I understand it, this is in legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  ——certainly should provide the answer.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Taoiseach would love to answer me.

[36]The Taoiseach:  The agreement of all five Deputies on a matter from Limerick East is a unique event that should be commemorated.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I seek the protection of the Chair as I did not hear the Taoiseach’s reply to that question.

The Taoiseach:  It is unique in Limerick politics for all five Deputies to agree on one thing.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is.

The Taoiseach:  It must be a good thing.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  What I want is for the Taoiseach to agree to it.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Has there been agreement from would-be Deputies?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we have some order in the House?

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  No, all five sitting Deputies have signed it.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  They are keeping it among themselves.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  I ask the Taoiseach for his views in respect of the forthcoming finance Bill. It has been reported that the Minister for Finance appears to be getting ready for another attack upon rural Ireland through the removal of the tax exemptions for a site to be transferred from a parent to child in the finance Bill. The word has gone out from the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, when Members get around to discussing the Bill, there will be an ideal opportunity to articulate these points.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  I refer to the finance Bill and I am asking the Taoiseach’s opinion prior to that debate. When it is done it is a fait accompli——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are into detail which is not appropriate for the Order of Business.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  ——and everyone will march up through the middle of the Chamber to pass the finance Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate for the Order of Business.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  The Taoiseach is from a rural constituency and I seek his view as to whether it is correct and appropriate to remove the tax relief in respect of the transfer of a site from a parent to a child.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I asked the Deputy to leave this matter until the finance Bill is published.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  The Government intends to tax it.

The Taoiseach:  I cannot comment on rumours. However, the Deputy will see on publication of the Bill that rural Ireland has been well protected.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I move: “That Report Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Michael Kennedy):  Amendment No. 1 requires recommittal. Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, 6, 15, 17 and 18 are related and may be discussed together.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive.

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 6, to delete line 1 and substitute the following:

“(b) an arbitration which is not an international commercial arbitration;”.

The central amendment in this group is amendment No. 15 which proposes the deletion of sections 33 to 37, inclusive. All of the other amendments in the group arise in consequence of that one step.

When the Arbitration Bill was first published, provision was made for a distinction to be drawn between arbitrations which were commercial and international in character and other arbitrations. The latter were referred to as “standard” arbitrations. The main rationale for this distinction was a sense that in the case of this type of arbitration an additional measure of court oversight might be appropriate. Hence, the High Court was to retain the power it has at present to set aside or remit an arbitral award where there was a fundamental error of law on its face. In addition, a special oversight mechanism was put in place which automatically applied to consumer arbitrations and which could be applied by agreement to other standard arbitrations.

The essence of the oversight mechanism was the retention of the case stated procedure and of the possibility to remit an award where new evidence became available which could materially alter the decision on that award. It quickly became apparent that generally these sections were not viewed in a positive light; they were criticised as being unwieldy and unnecessary and as having the potential to impact negatively on our ability to market Ireland as a centre for international arbitration. Furthermore, they were seen as having the potential to prolong the arbitration process unduly and to add considerably to the cost of that process.

As a result of the remarks made on Committee Stage and representations, I gave careful consideration to the arguments advanced. I have decided that the appropriate course of action is to proceed with the deletion of sections 33 to 37, inclusive. I am satisfied that this will not give rise to legal or practical difficulties. The ability to offer a streamlined arbitration regime which does not distinguish between arbitrations on the basis of geographic residence of parties could be seen as an appropriate modernising development consistent with the aim of the Bill to promote the wider use of arbitration in the jurisdiction.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  I welcome the Minister’s removal of these sections. It was an issue that arose time and again when the matter was being analysed. It is a step in the right direction. There is certainly an appetite for Ireland becoming a base for international arbitration. We are non-American and non-British and could be seen as a safe port for arbitration to be considered. [38] The sections in question were a huge negative and I welcome the Minister taking the opportunity to delete them.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I thank the Deputy for his acceptance of this. There would have been an anomaly in that we would have been treating parties to arbitration differently depending perhaps on their geographic basis. For example, a different regime could apply depending on whether both parties were resident in Donegal or whether one party was resident in Donegal and the other in Belfast. We also believe there was unnecessary duplication between Article 24 of the Model Law and section 33 of the Bill. Taking everything into account, it is better to have as streamline an arbitration process as possible.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, to delete lines 8 and 9.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 7, lines 4 and 5, to delete all words from and including “international” in line 4 down to and including “standard” in line 5.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 7, to delete line 30 and substitute the following:

“(b) arbitrations which are not international commercial arbitrations.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, line 7, to delete “subsection (1),” and substitute “subsection (1), or”.

This amendment is purely textual in nature.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 6.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, line 30, to delete “or section 33”.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 7:

[39]

In page 9, lines 41 and 42, to delete all words from and including “, unless” in line 41 down to and including “agree,” in line 42.

This relates to section 12 of the Bill. As now drafted, a party has, unless otherwise agreed, a period of 56 days within which to seek to have an arbitration award set aside on the grounds that it is in conflict with the public policy of the State. That period runs from the date on which the circumstances giving rise to the application becomes known or ought reasonably to have become known to the party concerned.

On Committee State, Deputy Rabbitte suggested that the inclusion of the phrase “unless the parties otherwise agree” might be the subject of abuse especially where there was an inequality of bargaining power. I undertook to examine this point and on foot of that examination I tabled this amendment which I believe will take care of the remark made by Deputy Rabbitte.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I move amendment No. 8:

In page 13, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“(6) Subsections (1) to (5) shall not apply where the arbitrator or other institution or person sought to be made liable is shown to have acted in bad faith.”.

The Acting Chairman is not providing any opportunity to comment on the sections as we go through the Bill.

Acting Chairman:  We are on Report Stage so we only discuss amendments.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Amendment No. 8 seeks to insert a new subsection to provide for situations where subsections (1) to (5) of section 22 would not apply where the arbitrator sought to be made liable is shown to have acted in bad faith. This allows for liability of the arbitrator if he or she acts in bad faith. It is very much along the lines of the law in the United Kingdom. I tabled this amendment at the behest of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Irish branch who feel it is appropriate. I have reworded the amendment since I introduced it on Committee Stage. It is necessary to make an express provision on somebody acting in bad faith. I would like to hear what the Minister has to say on this issue.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Deputies may recall that we had quite an extensive discussion on this matter on Committee Stage. I understand some of the reservations that Deputies have but I do not think they are well placed. I am on record as stating that in my view to attract international arbitration business to this jurisdiction it is critical to have a clear statutory statement on the position of the arbitrator. We all agree that this should be the objective. It is quite clear where the arbitrator stands in his or her position as arbitrator. The only difference between us concerns the way in which the objective of having a clear statutory position is achieved. We examined a number of possibilities and the choice we made was to follow the model adopted by the International Court of Arbitration, which is the arbitration body attached to the International Chamber of Commerce.

Its rules of arbitration provide for a general exclusion of liability whereby the arbitrators, the court and its members or the ICC and its employees shall not be liable to any person for any act or omission in connection with the arbitration. This rule has been readily accepted by all who chose to have their arbitrations dealt with by the ICC and I do not think we will be disadvantaged by adopting a similar rule in this jurisdiction. On the contrary, benefits can be gained from aligning our statutory regime with that of a body such as the ICC. It may, for [40]example, enhance our ability to attract arbitrations which are administered by the ICC to this country. In 2008 alone, more than 650 requests for arbitration were filed with that court. Furthermore, the model we are following is prevalent in the United States and its adoption by us may be helpful in attracting arbitration business connected to that country. For these reasons, I am not prepared to accept the amendment.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I am a little surprised by the Minister’s response given that the Irish branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators is of the opinion that safeguards are necessary.

I wish to raise a separate but related point. The Minister is probably aware of the publication Arbitration and ADR Review, which is edited by two senior counsel. Apropos his comments about developing Ireland as a centre for arbitration excellence and attracting business here, the editorial of that publication states:

The Model Law is an excellent international framework. Is there a need for this International Model Law to be converted fully into our domestic Arbitration Law? Was there a demand for it? I do not think there was any demand or outcry for this new legislation, and clearly there has been no public, or even business, demand for same. I think more debate is needed.

I was surprised to read such an opinion from professionals involved in arbitration. I understand the institute considers it desirable to introduce this Bill. I do not recall discussing the issue on Committee Stage. Would the Minister outline to the House the motivation behind the Bill?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The motivation is to bring together the elements of previous arbitration legislation and developments that have taken place internationally to bring them into line with the model law. From a purely strategic point of view, the motive for having on our Statute Books the most up to date and streamlined arbitration legislation possible is to allow Ireland to be used as a location for international arbitration. The various bodies involved in arbitration in this country would share the view that Ireland’s English speaking and well educated workforce, location within Europe and availability of technology and telecommunications might allow it to become a centre of excellence in arbitration.

In regard to the specific problem of an arbitrator acting in bad faith, such a person is in effect put into a position similar to that of a judge and must operate on that basis. The law requires an arbitrator to disclose any circumstances which would give rise to justifiable doubts as to his or her impartiality or independence before being appointed to a case and on an ongoing basis after appointment. A failure to disclose can result in an appointment being challenged and the removal of the arbitrator. The idea of arbitration is to allow parties to come together on an equal footing and if one party feels deprived of that opportunity it can of course apply to have the award set aside.

Immunity is required if the arbitral process is to function properly and if arbitrators are not to be intimidated by threats of personal liability. Arbitration is intended to provide a final decision in relation to disputes and claims against arbitrators should not be used as a pretext for rehearing a dispute. The Bill contains safeguards designed to provide remedies for parties where serious irregularities attach to the arbitral process. The Bill as currently drafted adheres to the best international practice laid down by the ICC. By aligning ourselves to that body, we are making Ireland more attractive as a location for international arbitration.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  The objective of the Bill is to create a centre of excellence. I concur with Deputy Rabbitte that if Irish arbitrators are eager to include this amendment, the Minister should consider it. One of the ways we can demonstrate that Ireland is a centre of excellence [41]is by ensuring that an arbitrator who acts in bad faith faces a substantial sanction. The Minister referred to sanctions in other areas but we should be explicit in this regard.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  As I noted in my initial response, we are aligning ourselves to the practice adopted by the International Court of Arbitrators, the rules of which allow for a general exclusion of liability whereby the arbitrators, the court and its members or the ICC and its employees shall not be liable to any person for any act or omission in connection with the arbitration.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  Even if they act in bad faith.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  This includes any issue that would be dealt with in bad faith because remedies are available elsewhere in the legislation. If we were to proceed in a different manner to the International Court of Arbitrators, we would be out on a limb and would limit the possibility of developing Ireland as a centre of international arbitration. If one were to lay down rules on personal liability and suchlike, I hazard a guess that arbitrators would not necessarily want to come to this country in that they would have to carry all of that when they could decide to go somewhere else where the rules and procedures laid down by the International Court of Arbitrators would be applicable.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Minister has clearly focused on this and has made up his mind. He has explained why he is going the way he is. I wish to put on record some advice in order to explain my puzzlement as to why the proviso on bad faith is omitted. I will quote from the document to which I previously referred. It states:

An amendment proposed at Committee Stage would have granted such immunity to arbitrators and arbitral institutions, specifically in the absence of bad faith. As the Bill enters Report Stage, the immunity provision has been retained, although, curiously, it has been divested of the proviso as to bad faith. Section 22(1) of the 2008 Bill now declares baldly that an arbitrator “shall not be liable in any proceedings for anything done or omitted in the discharge or purported discharge of his or her functions”. Section 22(2) applies the same immunity from suit to “an employee, agent or advisor of an arbitrator and to an expert appointed under Article 26”. This is a curious provision. Why are these parties granted immunity or exclusion of liability? Section 22(3) covers those responsible for appointing an arbitrator, who are granted immunity from liability for anything done or not done in connection with the performance of that role. It is not clear why the proviso as to bad faith has been lost. The reasons for immunity from liability for arbitrators may be obvious: above all, immunity incentivises an honest and forthright arbitral process and avoids an awkwardly defensive approach on the part of the arbitrator. However, where an arbitrator has deliberately acted mala fides he or she should be responsible for the consequences.

The document continues. As the Acting Chairman has asked us to speak to amendments rather than to sections I hope it makes the basic point. I take the opportunity on this amendment to make that general point about the exclusion of the bad faith proviso.

Acting Chairman:  It is not strictly within the regulations but I will ask the Minister to comment.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is basically a different approach. That is a view that has been expressed by a minority of people who are interested in this area. The majority view that we have received is that aligning ourselves to the procedures laid down by the International Court [42]of Arbitrators is the best way to proceed. Provision is made in the legislation for setting aside awards made for a number of reasons, including bad faith.

The whole focus of why we want to raise the arbitrator to a similar level of that of a judge — obviously a judge under the Constitution is not liable for any decisions he or she makes — is that we want the arbitrator to be regarded as the last bite of the cherry in terms of making decisions or trying to get agreement between parties who are in dispute. If one party feels aggrieved and he or she has a possibility of claiming bad faith on behalf of the arbitrator or some other infringement of the legislation that I hope we will pass, then the remedies under the legislation will be open to him or her. It depends on what way one looks at it; one could have gone the other way, but from the point of view of putting ourselves out to the international arbitration community as a place where business can be done, it is better that we align ourselves with the norm rather than the exception.

Acting Chairman:  Is amendment No. 8 agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Acting Chairman has changed the direction of arbitration internationally.

Acting Chairman:  I am sorry, it is Deputy Rabbitte’s amendment.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I am happy that the Acting Chairman’s decision should stand.

Acting Chairman:  Is Deputy Rabbitte pressing the amendment?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Not in view of what the Minister has said.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 9.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 9:

In page 13, to delete lines 9 to 11.

I move to recommit this amendment, which arises as a consequence of the enactment of the Defamation Act 2009. As currently drafted, section 22(6) provides that witnesses giving evidence before an arbitral tribunal are to have the same privileges and immunities as witnesses have in proceedings before the High Court. Essentially, what we are talking about here is privilege in the context of defamation proceedings. The matter contemplated here is now dealt with by the Defamation Act 2009 which entered into force on 1 January of this year. That Act deals comprehensively with all of the occasions when absolute privilege can be pleaded as a defence. Specifically, in regard to arbitration, it provides that absolute privilege will attach to statements made in the course of proceedings before an arbitral tribunal where the statement is connected with those proceedings. Accordingly, the section 22 provision is no longer necessary and I am proposing that it be deleted.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Do I understand the Minister to say that this subsection is not needed since the enactment of the Defamation Act?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Yes.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Is the Minister saying that we expressly provided in the Defamation Act for proceedings before arbitration?

[43]Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Yes.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I must say I had forgotten that.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is not infallible.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  In regard to arbitration, the Defamation Act provides that absolute privilege will attach to statements made in the course of proceedings before an arbitral tribunal where the statement is connected with those proceedings.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment.

Acting Chairman:  Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 10:

In page 16, to delete lines 13 to 25 and substitute the following:

“31.—(1) Subject to subsection (2), a party to an arbitration agreement who is a consumer shall not be bound (unless he or she otherwise agrees at any time after the dispute has arisen) by an arbitration agreement where—

(a) the agreement between the parties contains a term which has not been individually negotiated concerning the requirement to submit to arbitration disputes which may arise, and

(b) the dispute which has arisen between the parties to the agreement involves a claim for an amount not exceeding €5,000.

(2) For the avoidance of doubt, a reference in this section to a consumer shall not include an amateur sportsperson who, in his or her capacity as such, is a party to an arbitration agreement that contains a term concerning the requirement to submit to arbitration.”.

  1 o’clock

The substitute section I am proposing does not differ significantly from that which was inserted on Committee Stage. While there are some minor changes of a drafting nature, I think that there are only two issues which need to be drawn to the Deputies’ attention. First, it is now proposed that, as a general principle, a consumer will not be bound by an arbitration agreement where the disputed claim does not exceed €5,000. The threshold originally proposed was linked with the current limit in the Small Claims Court which stands at €2,000. There was some discussion about the appropriateness of the €2,000 amount on Committee Stage. I indicated that I was willing to consider a somewhat higher threshold in order to provide further protection for consumer interests. This amendment carries through on that undertaking.

Second, there is a new avoidance of doubt provision which makes it clear that the section will not impact in any way on well-established arrangements whereby amateur sportspersons agree to submit to arbitration in the event of a dispute arising out of their participation in a particular sport. Since the proposed amendment no longer refers explicitly to Order 53A of the District Court rules, I hope that the Deputy is willing to withdraw his amendment.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I welcome the provision in respect of better consumer protection, which the Minister signalled on Committee Stage. We all agree with the exclusion in respect [44]of amateur sportspersons. I am not entirely sure and the impediment is probably on my side about how that meets my amendment, in so much as my advice was that the purpose of the amendment was to correct a technical error. I explained on Committee Stage that my advice was that there would otherwise be a technical error in the section, which does not state that order 53(a) of the District Court rules was inserted in 2007. Perhaps the Minister has provided for that in his replacement amendment but it eludes me for the moment.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy’s amendment is no longer necessary because amendment No. 10 does not refer to the rules of the court.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 11 not moved.

Acting Chairman:  Amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 12:

In page 16, to delete lines 27 to 46 and in page 17, to delete lines 1 to 16 and substitute the following:

“REFERENCE TO ARBITRATION WHERE PROCEEDINGS PENDING BEFORE COURT

32.—(1) Without prejudice to any provision of any other enactment or rule of law, the High Court or the Circuit Court may at any time whether before or during the trial of any civil proceedings before it—

(a) if it thinks it appropriate to do so, and

(b) the parties to the proceedings so consent,

by order adjourn the proceedings to enable the parties to consider whether any or all of the matters in dispute might be determined by arbitration.

(2) Where a court makes an order under subsection (1), the adjournment shall be for such period as the court thinks fit.

(3) The parties to the proceedings shall, on or before the expiry of the period referred to in subsection (2), inform the court hearing the civil proceedings concerned whether or not agreement has been reached between the parties that any or all of the matters in dispute should be dealt with by arbitration.

(4) Where such agreement has been reached, the agreement shall be treated as an arbitration agreement for the purposes of this Act.

(5) The court, in respect of an agreement referred to in subsection (4)

(a) where the agreement relates to all of the matters in dispute, shall by order provide for the discontinuance of the proceedings and may make such order as to the costs of the proceedings as it thinks fit, or

[45]

(b) where the agreement relates to part but not all of the matters in dispute, may make such order as to the discontinuance of the proceedings as it thinks fit.

(6) Where no agreement has been reached the court may make such order as it thinks fit in relation to the continuance of the proceedings.

(7) This section is in addition to and not in substitution for any power of a court to adjourn civil proceedings before it.”.

I propose to take amendments Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, together. During our Committee Stage deliberations, I indicated that I was willing to consider either the refurbishment of section 32 or its deletion. This was against a background where there was a general consensus among practitioners that the section, which duplicated provisions in the 1954 Arbitration Act, added nothing to the Bill and could well be deleted. In addition, it was not possible to point to any evidence that suggested recourse had been had to the section in the past.

Having considered the matter, I propose that the section be deleted in its entirety and replaced by a more general provision, which will enable both the High Court and the Circuit Court to adjourn proceedings where it appears that the matter in dispute might appropriately be determined by arbitration. The proposed new section will apply solely to civil proceedings and any adjournment by the court will require the consent of the parties to the action. This is in keeping with the consensual nature of the arbitration process.

Deputy Rabbitte’s amendments also emphasise the civil nature of the proceedings and the need for the consent of the parties. While my amendment is more far reaching, it reflects the genuine concerns adverted to on Committee Stage and I hope the Deputy will acknowledge that the new provision improves significantly on what it replaces. Provision is made for the parties to agree that all the matters in dispute should be determined by arbitration. In an appropriate case, it will also be possible for them to agree that part only of the matters in dispute should be so determined. Where there is agreement that any or all of the matters should go to arbitration, that agreement will be treated as an arbitration agreement for the purposes of the legislation. The effect of this will be that the court will no longer have any remit regarding the agreed matters. Where there is no agreement, the court proceedings will continue as normal.

The new section also deals with certain procedural matters relating to the continuance or discontinuance of proceedings and to costs. I hope this new section will encourage the perception that Ireland offers an environment which is generally supportive of arbitration. It reminds parties that arbitration is an option to be considered as an alternative to court proceedings. However, it is not in any way coercive and the wishes of the parties as to how best to deal with their dispute will always be paramount.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The proposed new section empowers the High Court or the Circuit Court to adjourn civil proceedings with the consent of the parties to facilitate arbitration and the Minister explained why this replacement is being inserted. I am asked to agree it is a superior provision and, in so far as I am competent, I so do.

Will the Minister address my amendment No. 13? I advanced it on the basis that it was necessary to ensure the section was constitutional. I explained previously that my advice is that Article 37 of the Constitution only allows the determination of matters in criminal proceedings to be made by juridical bodies and, thus, it would not be open to the court to allow for arbi[46]tration in any criminal matter. Is that provided for in the Minister’s revamp? If not, is the Minister arguing it is unnecessary to make that clarification in the legislation?

I tabled amendment No. 14 to insert the wording “with the consent of the parties” and what the Minister has done probably addresses that. Unless the consent of the parties was required, the difficulty was that the section could give rise to fundamental alteration of the legal system and that was not intended. I would be obliged if the Minister would address the reason I wanted to insert the word “civil” in line 28 to make clear that the reference was not just to any proceedings.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The Deputy raised a pertinent point on Committee Stage and that is the reason we are deleting section 32, as drafted, and replacing it with a new section, which refers only to civil proceedings. Criminal proceedings cannot be dealt with on an arbitration basis under our Constitution. This valid point was made and accepted and my amendment deals with that.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 not moved.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendments Nos. 15 to 18, inclusive.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 15:

In page 17, to delete lines 17 to 41, to delete page 18 and in page 19, to delete lines 1 to 13

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  This involves a major deletion. Will the Minister put his briefing note on the record?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  The amendment was taken with amendment No. 1 and I put my note on the record at the beginning of proceedings. The Deputy was not present. The amendments propose the deletion of sections 33 to 37, inclusive, and I outlined the rationale behind why I am doing that.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I accept that and I apologise.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 16:

In page 61, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:

No. 6 of 1957 Statute of Limitations 1957 Section 77 To delete “or orders, after the commencement of an arbitration, that the arbitration shall cease to have effect with respect to the dispute referred”.

The purpose of the amendment is to correct an oversight in the Bill, as published. This is a necessary amendment to section 77 of the Statute of Limitations 1957, which gives power to a [47]court to extend the time for the commencement of proceedings where there is a court order to the effect that an arbitration shall cease to have effect. Section 77 relates to section 39(2) of the Arbitration Act 1954, which provides that, where there is an agreement between the parties that any disputes arising in the future should be referred to arbitration, the court may, in certain circumstances, order that the arbitration agreement shall cease to have effect in order that it may determine the matter at issue. The amendment arises from the fact that the proposed new legislation does not contain a provision equivalent to that contained in section 39(2) of the 1954 Act. The power given to the court by virtue of section 39(2) is only available where the dispute involves an accusation of fraud against one of the parties. It allows the court to intervene to direct that the arbitration agreement shall cease to have effect so that the matter can proceed to a full hearing. However, this power is discretionary and the court is not obliged to intervene when asked to exercise the power it has. If both parties are content that the matter be determined by the arbitrator, court intervention on this point will never arise. The proposal in the amendment is in keeping with the guiding rationale behind the Bill, which is to ensure court involvement in the arbitration process is kept to a minimum, consistent with best international practice.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 17: In page 61, lines 17 and 18, to delete “, 23 and 37” and substitute “and 23”.

In page 61, lines 17 and 18, to delete ", 23 and 37" and substitute "and 23".

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I move amendment No. 18:

In page 61, to delete lines 28 to 36 and substitute the following:

No. 1 of 1992 Patents Act 1992 Section 74 In subsection (3) delete: “section 35 of the Arbitration Act, 1954 (which relates to thestatement of cases by arbitrators for the decision of the Court), shall not apply to the arbitration; but”.

”.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments.

Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.

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

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I thank the Deputies on the other side for their assistance on this Bill and for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Acting Chairman:  Deputy Durkan is to continue, but we must wait for the appropriate Minister.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Is there a Green Party Minister floating around?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Is this Second Stage of the Bill?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Yes.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will wait here until the Minister of State arrives.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Fair play to the Minister. He makes a fair substitute for the Green wing.

As I was saying when the debate adjourned on Thursday last, it is fashionable nowadays to refer to all development as dubious, possibly corrupt, ill-advised, unwanted and surplus to requirements. However, closer examination shows that this is not true. The market has changed rapidly in the past and will change rapidly again.

I also referred to the quality of development, which has been much criticised in the past throughout the country. In my own constituency of Kildare North, the quality of development over the past 30 years has been excellent. High-quality houses have been built and there is fairly good backup in terms of support and recreational facilities and ancillary services, despite the criticism from all kinds of experts.

The architectural value of some of the more recent developments all over the country leaves much to be desired. I hope that if we learn one lesson, it is that certain types of development are suitable only for tropical climates — namely, those with wood veneers, fascias and soffits. They do not suit this environment at all and turn a horrible colour after a couple of years. They represent bad design, and the problem needs to be addressed.

I have had another worry in recent times. Over the years there has been a clear understanding that Ministers should no longer become involved in planning and development at local level — that they should be completely excluded. This was a good thing. However, I am afraid we are seeing a gradual re-emergence of ministerial interest in all developments, which is often not to the benefit of the developments or the people who reside in them. It would be much better if the people whose statutory duty it was to look after development at local level did so. They should, of course, be accountable.

All county development plans should be examined in the precise local area to which they apply. In other words, the Swords development plan should not be examined in Malahide. Discussion should be in public and there should be no second-hand information — all information should be in the public arena, and then the case can be made. We must remember that it is easy to make a logical case for something that has logic attached to it, but it is not so easy to make a case for something that has no relation to logic and no particular reason for existence other than to confer a benefit on an individual. If we ensured that development plans were always examined in this manner, it would improve the whole planning process. It has never been done as far as I am aware. I spent 20 years as a member of my own local authority and every time I suggested it, nobody would agree to it. It is quite simple — councillors in the local area to which the development plan refers should examine the plan publicly in the local hall [49]or school, and this should be in the relevant area, not the adjacent area or somewhere 25 miles away.

Some issues of concern are not dealt with at all in the Bill. One issue that comes up again and again is the national spatial strategy. This is now being reviewed and we are likely to see a diktat that people cannot build in rural areas. The reason is supposedly that it pollutes the groundwater, but it does not. There is no pollution if the development is carried out properly. There are rumours of further regulations to the effect that there is to be no building at all in rural areas, for two reasons: pollution of groundwater, and economies of scale in the delivery of services. This is all rubbish and does not apply to any country other than this one. It is the result of a notion in somebody’s mind that he or she has achieved the ultimate in terms of what is the right thing.

There is a development tradition in this country — a good tradition — that served us well over the years, until experts and clever guys started to get involved, advising everyone else how to do the job. We could refer back to some of the old philosophies in this regard, such as meeting local needs in the local area and providing for development in line with requirements or slightly ahead of them at all times. This would ensure that nobody could collar the market and drive property and land prices up to the extent to which they have been driven up over the past ten years. This is something that should be dealt with in the Act. Now is the time to do it, not some other time.

I am getting tired of expert opinion. Every time I turn on the radio or the television or read a newspaper, I get expert opinions. More often than not, these come from self-appointed experts who consult with some of their colleagues who are equally expert in the same fields. The sad thing about it is that they are not experts, but they usually generate a notion that they are. They assume a superior air that requires that everybody should acquiesce to them and their views. That is not the way things should be, and it is not the way they will be if we do things right.

Let us consider what has happened in the local authorities, many of which are being criticised for failing to do their jobs properly, although I do not accept this. Most of the development plans in the past eight or nine years have been produced by experts. Consultants produce reports and make recommendations to the local authority, whose county manager then issues a report which is either accepted or rejected. It is dangerous for an elected public representative to challenge the experts’ views in any way, because they must know what they are talking about. However, I have bad news. Based on my observations of what is happening now, this so-called expert opinion needs to be carefully reviewed.

It must also be reviewed against the backdrop of the elected public representatives. If those elected representatives are wrong or have an opinion that is technically incorrect, it should be explained to them. It is not sufficient, however, for someone to suggest that elected representatives have doubtful motives. No one else’s motives are doubted but those of elected representatives are always in doubt even though they are the only people who go before the public to get elected.

There is an urgent need to bring us back to basics and ensure that when it comes to development, more than one issue is addressed. Recently it was deemed that every development that was flooded was built on a flood plain. Presumably then Ringsend was built on a flood plain, or Donnybrook or any other place that has flooded over the years. Where remedial action was taken, in line with the requests of the local authorities and the elected public representatives, no flooding took place.

[50]It is always grand to be able to blame someone else, for Ministers to be able to stand aloof while criticising those horrible red-neck, hard-nosed councillors in remote areas, who are elected by those terrible people, to come up with a plan to suggest something should be built on a place where no one would have built it. They certainly would not have built it because they would not build anything anywhere anyway. People are starting to ask questions because they are fed up with the condescending sneering that takes place at present. Sneering at local representatives is sneering at the democratic system. There are those who sneer at that system; they think there should be a better system. Several alternative systems were tried and none of them worked; some of them had serious flaws.

We should not encourage long commutes to and from work. That does not exclude, however, people’s rights. There is no law in any other country in the world that forbids people from living in certain areas except in Britain. There are certain areas in rural Britain that have no living inhabitants any more. If continued here, it will be detrimental to the community spirit in rural Ireland. The Minister of State knows that.

On one of the few times that I saw a television programme, it featured the Minister of State and other public representatives. Councillors from all parties on that programme expressed themselves well. They knew what they were talking about, a new occurrence because we often hear views expressed by those who claim they know what they are talking about that leave me amazed when I hear them. The councillors were correct about the planning process. They know how it works and their responsibilities.

There is a notion now that if someone supports a development, he is a crook. There was chicanery in the country and it had to be dealt with. There was chicanery in more areas than planning and local authorities. There are many other aspects in society and professions that can ill afford to scoff about this.

It is a pity that we do not have longer to talk about this. All Members who have served on local authorities, and the House would benefit if they could still do that, know that local authorities now tend to treat Oireachtas Members as dangerous observers and intruders in their areas. It is not good that things should be that way.

Deputy Bobby Aylward:  I welcome the broad thrust of this Bill. It is not necessary to say that informed, sensitive and sustainable planning should not be just a lottery or vague aspiration but a real objective that can be attained and implemented. Bad planning and ill-conceived development have long been an awful scourge in too many parts of the country. There are too many dreadful monuments of poor, inferior planning and, unfortunately, too many people have suffered terrible consequences as a result of bad practice and ill-thought out developments. Quality of life has diminished or been damaged and many people have been left without essential facilities or important infrastructure in their locality. Some are occupying a wasteland in terms of amenities because services such as schools, roads and public transport and other basic facilities are not being provided. In many instances the environment has been scarred forever by developments that were either unsuitable in the long term or totally at odds with the fabric of the immediate area. There are myriad examples of irresponsible and downright bad planning decisions. There are too many eyesores, monstrosities and testaments to cowboy developers who have vandalised the landscape in pursuit of the quick buck. Unfortunately, there is also evidence of the wilful abuse and violation of planning laws. Clearly, this is totally unacceptable and must be eradicated once and for all.

[51]As legislators, there is an onus on us to prevent these situations from recurring. It is a truism to say our landscape is unique, one of our greatest assets. It is utterly ludicrous to allow any more desecration of the fantastic resource. We cannot allow any indiscriminate exploitation of the environment for naked gain and profiteering or any other base motives. Our planning laws must incorporate some element of enlightened vision and forward thinking in trying to anticipate the problems that may emerge in the aftermath of development.

Our planning framework has evolved demonstrably since 1964 and we have made good progress. Over the years we have striven to strike a balance between preserving the national beauty of our environment while ensuring it continues to have functionality. We must reconcile the duty to protect the landscape with the need to make adequate provision to enable us to enjoy a certain quality of life and livelihood.

Having identified many of the problems associated with the current planning code, we must determine a code that is practical and remedies the most flagrant failures of the past. I am pleased to note the Bill proposes to introduce proportionate sanctions against those who fly in the face of the planning Acts and who have treated the environment and planning authorities with naked contempt. The planning laws must provide the appropriate penalty for those who would flout the rules and regulations. The cowboys must be subject to stiff sanctions and cannot be allowed to get away with impunity. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done and we must ensure these people cannot repeat their offences anywhere else. The law must have teeth and must act as a strong deterrent. We must make sure the planning laws are watertight and that they cannot be circumvented by anyone.

Aside from residential development, which is fundamental, the planning code must also take account of commercial needs and the imperatives of our economy and industrial policy. There is a requirement to ensure that the proper infrastructural machinery is in place to effect a viable business that provides employment and contributes to local and national economic well-being.

While I fully support the planning measures introduced in the Bill, certain of its aspects bother me slightly. Some local authorities have voiced considerable reservations about the possible impacts of the Bill on the rural environment and its economy. As a rural Deputy and someone who served as a member of Kilkenny County Council for 15 years, I have seen the practical application of the planning laws and the strategic advantage of good, ordinary planning and development. I have also experienced the hideous consequences of bad planning and poor planning mechanisms and controls.

Acting Chairman:  I ask Deputy Aylward to move the adjournment until 2.30 p.m.

Deputy Bobby Aylward:  Before I finish, I want to express my concern about rural Ireland and planning.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy will still have 15 minutes. We are just adjourning for a sos.

Deputy Bobby Aylward:  Okay. Does the Acting Chairman want me to move the adjournment?

Acting Chairman:  I have just checked the time. This debate will resume at 3.45 p.m. Deputy Aylward is just to move the adjournment of the House until 2.30 p.m. He has approximately 15 minutes left.

[52]Deputy Bobby Aylward:  I do not even know whether I will need 15 minutes, but I will keep going for as long as I can. Am I allowed to keep going now?

Acting Chairman:  No. We are adjourning now. This debate will reconvene at 3.45 p.m. The Deputy will have approximately 15 minutes.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

  86.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if the proposed banking inquiry will have constraints on its investigations or on the publication of findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5683/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Government has decided to establish a framework for a comprehensive investigation into the causes of the systemic failures in the Irish banking sector which culminated in the need for the State intervention in the sector. The framework for investigation will have two stages. The first stage will consist of the preparation of two separate preliminary reports from the Governor of the Central Bank and from Mr. Klaus Regling, a recognised international expert.

The second stage of the investigation will be the establishment of a statutory commission of investigation, which will be chaired by a recognised expert of high standing and reputation. The terms of reference of the commission will be informed by the conclusions of the two preliminary reports. It is envisaged its remit will be to examine and report on the causes of the systemic failures in the Irish banking sector which culminated in the need for the State guarantee, the recapitalisation programme, the nationalisation and rescue capitalisation of Anglo Irish Bank and the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency in order to preserve financial stability.

The terms of reference will not be set until we have the benefit of the preliminary reports from the Governor of the Central Bank and Mr. Regling and the views of the Oireachtas on them. In examining these issues, the commission of investigation will have the powers available to it under the relevant legislation, which the Deputy is aware are substantial. The report of the commission of investigation, when completed, will be laid before the Oireachtas for further consideration and action by an appropriate Oireachtas committee.

I am satisfied the mechanism for inquiry contained in the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 provides a robust framework which has already been tested with regard to investigation of matters of significant public concern. This framework will allow the causes of the systemic failures in the Irish banking sector to be identified and fully investigated by the proposed commission of investigation.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I thank the Minister for his reply. When he uses the word “culminated” in regard to the bank crisis, is he still talking about a September 2008 end with respect [53]to the investigation? Do we not have to learn whether the response to this crisis was adequate, just as much as we need to learn whether the preventative strategy in place before the crisis broke was adequate? Why should people’s accountability end when the crisis breaks? Was it not the case that both the regulator and the Governor of the Central Bank were assuring the public that the banks had no solvency problems throughout the period after September 2008?

Do we not need to investigate the adequacy of the information flow to those people who are so advising us? I put it to the Minister that it is equally important that we learn whether the responses we now make to the crisis are correct as to look back in history to whether a preventative strategy could have been better. Will the Minister allow the investigation to extend beyond that arbitrary date that the Government has used in the past?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  With respect to events or parties involved in the collapse of the banking and property sector, I have already made it clear and set out in Dáil Éireann that any wrongdoing which has come to light since September 2008 and any associated failure in the regulatory system to respond to that which was a continuation of previous practices should of course come within the scope of the inquiry of the commission of investigation. That is my view and I take it that the preliminary reports will be conducted on that basis.

With regard to interventions by the Government and by this House through the enactment of legislation, these matters were fully debated in this House at the time. The assessment of the adequacy of the response to the crisis is an entirely distinct exercise from an assessment of the evolution of the crisis in itself. It is quite clear that by September 2008 the crisis was of such gravity and scale that the nature of the various interventions which the Government has been obliged to make was unavoidable.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  If I ever had the chance to be in the Minister’s position, I would commit to open the inquiry. Although these measures have been fully debated, there have been honest different opinions as to which strategy was best, whether we made mistakes and whether the information provided to the Minister was adequate for him to make informed decisions. We need to investigate that if we are to learn how to prevent a recurrence in the long term. We must know that the response mechanisms were adequate.

Does the Minister agree, for example, with the Government’s fateful decision to include subordinated bondholders in the guarantee? That deserves to be investigated because there is much honest difference of opinion in that respect. The Minister may have been right in his decision but do we not need to know if these decisions were correct, well-founded and based on evidence of the time? Is the evidence presented to the Minister to influence his decision not important to consider as part of the learning exercise?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  We will be in a clear position to deal with the issue of subordinated debt on 29 September, and a very exact computation can be made at that stage of what cost, if any, that element of the guarantee occasioned to the State. On the information at my disposal to date, it is an issue of marginal significance.

  87.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on projections that credit institutions operating here, including those covered by the bank guarantee and participating in the National Asset Management Agency, are likely to increase lending margins on mortgages and other loans by up to 100 basis points over the coming year; if his attention has been drawn [54]to the financial pressure this put on hard-pressed households and businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5458/10]

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The level of mortgage interest rates reflects a broad range of factors, including European Central Bank base rates, deposit rates, market funding costs, the competitive environment and an institution’s overall funding. Decisions on the level of interest rates are taken autonomously by commercial lending institutions and are not subject to direction by the Minister for Finance.

I have already made my views known on the decision by Permanent TSB to increase variable interest rates by 0.5% with effect from last Monday. I repeat that I am disappointed by this decision. Unfortunately, the increase reflects commercial market realities, including the increased cost of accessing funds, notwithstanding the State guarantee.

A balance must be maintained by the Government between supporting banks through the bank guarantee scheme and other financial support incentives and broader policy objectives while at the same time ensuring that the daily running of these institutions recognises commercial realities. Interest rate increases will place a financial strain on some affected mortgage holders. Accordingly, in the revised programme for Government we have indicated that we will be introducing new measures to protect families having difficulties with their home mortgage payments, examining ways of expanding existing options available for dealing with debt and examining ways of expanding existing State-sponsored mortgage support measures.

I approved the setting up of the interdepartmental mortgage arrears review group, chaired by one of my officials for the purpose of bringing together all relevant information in the Departments and examining options, including initiatives in other jurisdictions, relating to support for home owners facing the problems of mortgage arrears and repossessions.

The Law Reform Commission, which is under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is addressing the issues of debt management and enforcement. In addition, I have discussed with Cabinet colleagues the broadening of the membership of the mortgage arrears review group and I will bring proposals to the Government in that regard.

On the position of mortgage holders generally, the Irish Bankers Federation published a statement of intent on 10 November 2009, agreed and supported by all federation members, which provides further reassurance to home owners genuinely unable to maintain mortgage repayments on their principal private residence.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

In addition, the IBF oversight committee on implementing the statement of intent includes representation from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS. This co-operative approach follows on from the IBF and MABS operational protocol on consumer debt, put into effect in September 2009, which will enable them to work together effectively when dealing with problems of personal debtors who approach the MABS service for assistance.

Other arrangements in place to assist consumers who have fallen into arrears or are in danger of falling into arrears include the mortgage interest supplement scheme, which provides assistance where the mortgage relates to a person’s principal private residence, and MABS, which provides a national, free, confidential and independent scheme.

[55]The Financial Regulator’s consumer protection code requires that a regulated entity must contact the consumer as soon as it becomes aware that a mortgage account is in arrears and that it must have in place a procedure for handling accounts in arrears. The Financial Regulator also has in place a code of conduct on mortgage arrears which applies to mortgage lending activities to consumers in respect of their principal private residence in the State. This is mandatory for all mortgage lenders registered with the Financial Regulator.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I note the Minister is very fond of the word “disappointed” with regard to the wrongdoing of Seán FitzPatrick in the window-dressing of the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank at the end of a year, as well as the provisions of Permanent TSB to lend money. That was probably one of the most outrageous events in the history of Irish banking when the balance sheet of a major bank was altered, yet all the Minister could say was that he was disappointed. The Minister has again told us today that he is disappointed. Is he disappointed that every Irish banking institution appears ready to increase mortgage lending rates by 100 basis points? Would he agree that these mortgage rate increases are separate to the likely 100-150 basis point increases that are coming down the road from the ECB? Within a relatively short period of time, it is likely that many Irish mortgage holders will be hanging on by their fingernails. Does the Minister agree that keeping a roof over the heads of Irish families has to be public policy, especially when we have already bailed out the banks and will be doing so again?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There are no indications of any imminent increase in rates at the European Central Bank, but the rates are at very low levels and it is difficult to envisage interest rates remaining at those levels in the medium term. Most Members would recognise that. There is no indication of an imminent change on the part of other Irish banks, but any decision they take will be in the context of the commercial setting in which they operate and the cost of funds to them.

I agree with Deputy Burton’s point on the core issue, and that is why there are commitments in the programme for Government — which I outlined in my reply — that keeping the roof over the head of every Irish homeowner is an important policy objective for this Government. That is why we have set up the interdepartmental committee and why we have proposed to broaden its membership. I will be bringing proposals to the Government in that respect in a few weeks.

Deputy Joan Burton:  This crisis is affecting hundreds of thousands of families, many of whom are also facing severe salary cuts. I received a letter yesterday from a public servant who is going to private lenders to borrow in order to meet mortgage payments. Many of the private finance companies are charging a fee of €30 for every €100 borrowed, but that is the only recourse that many people have, and it is effectively money lending through finance companies.

The Minister referred to a committee in his Department that will deal with mortgage difficulties and mortgage arrears. Is the Minister suggesting, following weekend interviews by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, that he has made contact with Deputy Ryan and invited somebody from his Department to be part of this committee? We have never heard about the make up of the committee. There is no information available and the Taoiseach seemed to be completely at sea, as no proposals had come to the Government about mortgage difficulties.

[56]Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The interdepartmental committee is up and running. The group’s terms of reference include consulting with various expert groups as well as examining options to improve State support for homeowners with mortgage arrears, including schemes in operation in the US and the UK. The interdepartmental group is made up of public servants. I discussed the existence of the group with the Minister last week and I indicated to him that I would be bringing proposals to the Government to broaden the membership of the group. I said that in my reply already.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Would that include his representatives?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I would not have thought so, because his Department would not be of direct relevance in this area. However, there was such discussion and I will be bringing proposals to the Government on the issue.

Deputy Joan Burton:  We previously discussed a two year moratorium. The moratorium currently available is very short and sub-prime lenders do not offer it. Has the Minister done anything about extending the moratorium to two years, as we requested?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  All these matters are under consideration at the interdepartmental committee.

  88.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether performance bonuses for certain senior public servants should be regarded as core pay; and the reason he believes the suspension of performance bonuses should allow high paid public servants take a lower pay cut from 1 January 2010. [5681/10]

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Performance-related pay, while not part of the basic salary of assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries in the Civil Service and of related grades in other parts of the public service, has formed part of their remuneration package since 2001, on foot of a recommendation by the review body on higher remuneration in the public service in its report No. 38. The review body recommended that 10% of the bill for the grades would be set aside for performance-related payments. The Government accepted the recommendation. Accordingly, while the payments to individuals varied, the average payment was 10% of salary. It was decided in 2009 that the scheme would be terminated, but this was subject to discussion on the implementation of the decision with the relevant staff association.

It is not the case that the reduction for the grades in question is less than for other grades. In applying the recent reductions in pay, the Government considered that account had to be taken of the reduction in remuneration for assistant secretaries, deputy secretaries and related grades arising from the termination of the scheme of performance-related pay. In plain language, we decided to look cumulatively at the losses suffered by public servants in 2009. Otherwise, the total reduction in remuneration for these grades would have been greater than those for other public servants, including higher paid groups at the level of Secretary General or above. This would have been particularly unfair, given that the review body noted in its report that uniquely among all the grades they benchmarked against counterparts in four other countries, the salary level for assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries grades was broadly similar or lower.

[57]In these circumstances, the Government decided that the reductions should comprise both a reduction in the salary scale and the termination of the scheme of performance-related pay that was previously payable to the grades. The resulting adjustments, including the effect of the termination of the scheme of performance-related pay, produce significant reductions in remuneration of 14% in the case of the grade of deputy secretary and 11.8% in the case of the grade of assistant secretary. These reductions are higher than those applying to other groups at the lower salary levels and significantly higher than the minimum reduction provided for under the legislation of 5%.

It is a fact that the scheme of performance-related pay provided an average payment of 10% of salary, although there were variations in the amounts paid to individuals. Therefore, this was an intrinsic part of the pay package for the grades and the termination of these payments cannot reasonably be ignored.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Minister appointed a review body on higher remuneration in the public sector to look at the salary scales of higher paid public servants. The body recommended an 8-12% cut in salary for higher paid public servants. It did this on the basis of their basic salary, but did not take their bonus into account. The Minister announced the budget on 9 December and brought in the Finance Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Bill 2009 on 15 December. In both cases, he basically stated that he would implement the recommendations of the review body. What change took place between 18 December, when the Bill went through the Seanad, and 23 December, when the circular was issued?

The Taoiseach stated that we cannot undermine the budget, while the reversing of budgetary decisions made two months ago is not an option. The decision to have an equitable system where the recommendations of the review body would be implemented was taken on 9 December. The Minister reversed that decision under the darkness of Christmas on 23 December via the circular. Furthermore, he will rely on section 6 of the Act, which states that exceptional circumstances will apply. When he spoke in the Dáil on 15 December, he stated that it was intended to exercise this power sparingly, and only when just and equitable. Does the Minister regard this as just and equitable? Why did the Minister not take on board the recommendations of the review body? Will the Minister explain what happened between Friday, 18 December, when this was put through based on the recommendation of the review body and Wednesday, 23 December, when the circular was issued? Surely this undermines the budget.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Nothing happened between Friday, 18 December and Wednesday, 23 December.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Clearly something happened.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Nothing happened. A circular may have issued during that period but it was on foot of a Government decision already taken. The Government considered all these issues when settling the legislation. Deputy O’Donnell referred to my contribution in the Houses. I was present during the debate on Second Stage and he correctly quoted from my speech. I was not in the Chamber during Committee Stage, when the matter may have been explored in greater detail. On Second Stage I drew attention to the fact that the section was there. The Government’s view was that it was inequitable to that group to insist on a cumulative reduction in 2009 greater than that of the grade above it. The statistics on the changes in net pay from 2008 include the pension levy and taxation changes. A Secretary General at level 1 [58]has had a net reduction of 33.9%, a deputy secretary general has had a reduction of 27.3%, an assistant secretary general -- the group we are arguing about -- has had a reduction of 24.9%, and a clerical officer has had a reduction of 7.3%. Let us be clear who is taking the reductions. In respect of their own salaries and arrangements, Members of this House should be aware how much misrepresentation can take place.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Minister is working from the top down. What about the people at the lower end on €30,000 taking a 5% hit and those on €50,000 taking a 6% hit? How does the Minister regard this as just and equitable? When the Minister spoke on 15 December he referred to a substantial inequity. A substantial inequity is happening here, where the Minister is effectively ignoring the recommendations of the review body, which stated this category should take an 8%-12% cut. Once again, the small man is paying and this undermines the budget based on what the Taoiseach stated. How does the Minister regard these cuts as fair and equitable with regard to the lower paid?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  What I regard as fair and equitable is to examine the cumulative position since 2008 for various grades. I will repeat them for Deputy O’Donnell. The reduction for a Secretary General at level 1 is 33.9%, 27.3% for a deputy secretary general, 24.9% for an assistant secretary general, 19.3% for a higher grade principal officer, which is the position we have as Members of this House, 16.8% for an assistant principal and 7.3% for a clerical officer. If Members of the House wish to devote themselves to the proposition that sections of the community can be entirely exempt from making a contribution to the economic crisis or the necessary savings that can be effected in the public service, well and good. However, these are the facts and they speak for themselves.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  When was the Government decision taken?

  89.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether serious challenges will remain for the banking sector here after completion of the transfer of toxic loans to the National Asset Management Agency; if, post-NAMA, he foresees significant future losses on the banks’ remaining loan books including mortgages, consumer credit and commercial lending; his views on whether credit flows to businesses and households are likely to remain constrained for some time; if a continued credit famine is likely to constrain economic growth; when he expects the normal flow of credit to be restored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5459/10]

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I accept that serious challenges remain for the banking sector. I have said that following the transfer of assets to NAMA it is likely some institutions will require additional capital to absorb the losses on these loans. To the extent that sufficient capital cannot be raised independently or generated internally, the Government remains committed to providing such banks and building societies with an appropriate level of capital to continue to meet their requirements. This will have to be done in a manner consistent with EU state aid rules. The level of capital that may be required has yet to be determined, though the Financial Regulator and my officials continue to monitor the position. Capital needs will only be identified once there is an indication of the haircut levels being applied to individual banks.

The banks have made, and will no doubt continue to make as necessary, provisions in respect of their mortgage books, consumer lending and commercial lending. It is a matter for each [59]institution to decide within the appropriate regulations the level of provisions to set down for future write-downs. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment or speculate on the loan books of individual institutions.

The second Mazars report on credit availability, published in December, confirmed that while some SMEs are facing significant challenges accessing credit, and the sector in general is more conservative in its borrowing, nevertheless new lending is still taking place. However, the proportion refused credit, especially in certain sectors, remains a concern for Government.

Under NAMA legislation I will shortly issue guidelines to all banks participating in NAMA who lend to SMEs, to ensure that SMEs, sole traders and farm enterprises will have recourse to an independent, external review of decisions of credit refusal by the banks. I hope that banks not participating in NAMA or covered by the Government guarantee will also decide to participate. My aim is to have a simple, effective review process, run by people with experience and credibility. The banks must comply with the recommendations of the review process or explain why they cannot do so.

In addition to dealing with individual cases, the credit review system will examine the credit policies and practices of the banks in respect of SMEs. This will help me to decide what further action might be necessary to secure the flow of credit. I intend to publish the analysis from the review process so that the performance of the banks participating in NAMA will be clear to all. Work has been ongoing since December on the logistical aspects of the review system and it is envisaged that this will be completed shortly.

With regard to mortgages, the latest Central Bank statistics report, for December 2009, shows that residential mortgages outstanding were 0.3% below the figure for December 2008. However, the rate of reduction in activity in the third and fourth quarters of 2009 moderated. Many lenders are conducting extensive advertising campaigns, showing that competition is a real factor on the mortgage scene. The existence of that level of competition in the mortgage lending market is sufficient to ensure that credit institutions will lend to suitable qualified customers to remain competitive and retain their share of the market.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Does the Minister agree the NAMA process is going far more slowly than predicted during the discussion on the Bill in this House? Most of us have heard the horror stories emerging from all sides in banking. A great number of distressed loans were undertaken with almost no collateral. There is great confusion about who has title to loans. Many loans were on foot of solicitors’ undertakings that have not been properly completed. Professional advisers, at €240 million per year thanks to the generosity of the Minister, are crawling all over the loans. Professional advisers such as accountants, lawyers, estate agents, valuers, quantity surveyors and chartered surveyors cannot sign off these loans as high-quality loans when there is no proper title. Therefore, the NAMA process is effectively moving at a snail’s pace. Does the Minister have a date for when he expects the NAMA process of transferring loans to commence?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The NAMA process of valuation and transfer of loans is well under way. Work in several major institutions will be finalised in respect of major lenders at the end of this month. Work is proceeding with considerable expedition. It is essential that the work continues with expedition.

Professional fees are being set at the lowest possible level on foot of the tenders issued by NAMA. I am satisfied these precautions are essential to protect the taxpayer in respect of the [60]acquisition of these loans, something that was very much to the fore in parliamentary debate on this subject.

  3 o’clock

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister made an announcement about the delegation of a significant range of banking functions to the NTMA. It seems the agency is taking over a significant quantum of functions in respect of banking that the Department of Finance used to provide. The NTMA is now to deal with the capital needs of institutions, realignment and restructuring within the institutions and the general advice on banking matters. The original date for a significant tranche of NAMA loans to be completed was pre-Christmas. In his reply the Minister has now moved that date back by about two and a half months. Countries in banking crisis, such as Sweden, acted swiftly and rapidly. It is now more than a year since Anglo Irish Bank was nationalised and more than a year since the layout of NAMA was discussed. The Minister is now saying there will be a two-month delay, at a minimum, on the start of transfer of loans. Will the Minister tell the House why he has decided to decant a significant range of functions with regard to banking, from the Department to the NTMA, given that the NTMA is also looking after NAMA? Is it that the Minister has lost confidence in the Department of Finance because of the way it has performed in the financial collapse? Has the Minister been advised by the European Central Bank what view it will take? What is the status of NAMA bonds on their six-month maturity? Can they be cashed?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Deputy has asked a very wide range of questions. I should make it clear that as Minister I will continue to be fully responsible and accountable to the Oireachtas and that these arrangements relating to the NTMA will not result in any change in that regard. As the banking crisis has evolved, officials of my Department and the NTMA have worked together very closely. The demands of the crisis have required significant adjustments in the deployment of resources in both organisations. The recent passage of the NAMA legislation, together with the appointment of a new Secretary General at my Department, who took up work on Monday last, provided me with an appropriate opportunity to consider further the division of work between my Department and the National Treasury Management Agency. The Department will remain necessarily very closely involved with banking and financial services issues. However, the NTMA will be involved in discussions with the covered institutions on their capital needs and it will lead those discussions — although officials from my Department will be present because that is an area in which they have considerable expertise. They will be involved in discussions with financial institutions on realignment or restructuring within the banking sector. They will be responsible for managing the Minister’s shareholding in the credit institutions and they will have some residual functions under the guarantee schemes.

It is important it is understood that the NTMA and the Department are working very closely together. A draft delegation order is currently being discussed with the Office of the Attorney General and I intend to remain fully accountable to the House for all these matters.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I wish to ask a very brief supplementary question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We are three minutes over time. The last supplementary question was a very long series of supplementary questions.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister read out a very long answer and my question is very brief.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am afraid we need to move on.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  If I could have a question from the Deputy.

[61]Deputy Joan Burton:  The NTMA is not directly answerable to the Dáil so we are now——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Burton, please.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Sorry, this is a very real point. The Minister read out very long answers——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy, please, you are four minutes over time on this one question.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Sorry, the Minister read out very long answers——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Other Deputies have to be accommodated.

Deputy Joan Burton:  This is very brief. Where is the NTMA if it is not answerable to the Dáil?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I am accountable to this House and I can give directions to the NTMA.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  On a point of order, there is an important issue here as to whether the Minister has just promised a piece of secondary legislation that will come into the House for debate. Could I clarify, with the assistance of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, whether the Minister just announced that there will be secondary legislation that will come to the House for debate?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is a matter on which we can check the record of the House and see exactly what the Minister said, unless the Minister wishes to clarify now.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Secondary legislation will be required to implement the announcement I made yesterday.

Deputy Joan Burton:  On a point of order, this was already requested of the Taoiseach who did not seem to know what we were talking about this morning.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Will the Government provide time in the House for a full debate on this new division of functions——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is something appropriate——

Deputy Joan Burton:  ——and arrangements with the NTMA?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  ——to the Order of Business or another matter. We are in the middle of Priority Questions and I call Priority Question No. 90.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Taoiseach and the Government did not give us the answer. Can the Minister give us the answer?

  90.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the initiatives under study by the new group considering debt distress and home repossession; and the timeframe set for implementation of agreed measures. [5682/10]

[62]Deputy Brian Lenihan:  As I have said on many occasions in this House, the Government is conscious of the high value Irish people place on home ownership and the growing problem of indebtedness and mortgage arrears that home owners face in the current economic climate. The renewed programme for Government sets out the Government’s commitments for addressing these issues under the headings Protecting the Family Home and Helping Those in Debt.

I approved the setting up of the interdepartmental mortgage arrears review group, chaired by one of my officials, for the purpose of bringing together all relevant information in Departments and examining options, including initiatives in other jurisdictions, in relation to the matter of support for home owners facing the problems of mortgage arrears and repossession. The Law Reform Commission, which is under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality, and Law Reform, is addressing the issues of debt management and enforcement. In addition I have discussed with Cabinet colleagues the broadening of the membership of the mortgage arrears review group and I will bring proposals to Government.

The mortgage arrears review group is examining options to improve State supports for home owners with mortgage arrears, including schemes in operation in the USA and UK. These schemes are designed to address particular problems for particular groups of home owners and include options for re-financing mortgages, modifying the terms of existing loans, shared equity and purchase of mortgages for the purpose of renting back to the home owner. Other matters to be considered by the group will include the recommendations coming from the review of the Department of Social and Family Affairs mortgage interest supplement scheme, when it is completed, as well as suggestions for improving existing advisory services for persons who are in arrears with their mortgages.

The group will engage with various experts bodies involved in mortgage arrears such as the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, Economic Social Research Institute, the Irish Banking Federation and the Free Legal Advice Centres, among others, as part of its consultations. The Government is aware of the growing pressures on home owners in keeping up with their mortgage repayments, due to unemployment, reduced earnings and increases in interest rates and the need for early action. Nevertheless, the Deputy will appreciate that the overall consideration in terms of timeframes must be that decisions taken to improve current Government support measures involving taxpayers’ money are taken in the full knowledge of the overall cost to both State and taxpayer. The group has met on several occasions and work has commenced on bringing forward options for dealing with these matters.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Law Reform Commission’s consultation paper on personal debt management and debt enforcement, published in September 2009, contains an extensive list of provisional recommendations for reform of the law on personal debt that includes provision for a system of non-judicial debt settlement. The commission has indicated that the date for completion of submissions on its paper is the end of January 2010. It aims to have its final report available by end of August 2010.

The Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Act 2009, provides that certain safeguards will apply 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 Act ensures that the court will not imprison the debtor unless it is satisfied that he has the means to pay and may also postpone the execution of an imprisonment order until such time as it thinks just. In addition, the court will inform a debtor of the risk of imprisonment and of his entitlement to apply for legal aid. The Act gives the court a clear power to vary the terms of an order to pay by instalments or alternatively to refer the parties for mediation.

[63]Deputy Richard Bruton:  We have two versions of what is happening. One version is that the Minister is extending the membership of a think-tank and the second version is the one that has come from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, that the Government is preparing a new scheme to bail out mortgage holders and that Cabinet will approve an implementation committee for this new scheme. Which of those two versions of events is the correct one? While this deliberation is going on, will the Minister extend the moratorium of one year for 6,400 mortgage holders who are now one year in arrears and are at serious risk? Is the Minister on board for the idea, which underlined Fine Gael’s proposal, of the banks writing down some of the value of the loans? This has implications for recapitalisation and for the banks’ capital. This is the essence of any of these schemes. Does the Minister accept that principle?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Deputy asked three questions. First, with regard to the position of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his observations on this matter, clearly he was referring to the commitments in the programme for Government which are very explicit in regard to this matter and the various options set out there which can assist mortgage repayment. That is within the remit of the current review group and as I indicated on foot of my conversations with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, I am bringing proposals to Government to broaden the membership of the group. The third issue the Deputy asked me about was the Fine Gael proposal on write-downs.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  The second issue was whether the Minister will arrange to extend with the covered banks the moratorium which is now coming to an end for 6,400 people.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  That is an issue that obviously has to be examined by the committee and I am not in a position today to make an announcement in that regard.

With regard to the question of write-downs, Deputy Bruton’s question draws attention to the fact that were we to write down mortgage debt in the manner he suggests, then clearly that would accelerate further losses in the banks requiring further capitalisation. While decisions will be required on capitalisation before the summer, and clearly in that context, consideration will be given to the exposure of the banks right across their loan portfolios in the years ahead.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I want to press the Minister on this matter. The essence of any of these arrangements is that there is some write-down by the banks of the value of their loan. In principle, is this something the Minister is willing to contemplate, otherwise much of this work will be for naught. I ask the Minister to understand there is a great deal of pressure out there. While an extension of the moratorium would be welcome, most people would like to see the Minister engaging directly with the banks to ensure they show forbearance while we work out the details of our proposals. People do not want to see the establishment of a think tank to consider the extension of the moratorium.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The banks are well aware that this is a high priority for the Government. The one-year moratorium was introduced at the time of the recapitalisation of the two main institutions because of our concern about this issue. It is not correct to say the matter has been consigned to a think tank or that I do not accept personal responsibility as Minister for taking initiatives in this regard. Far from it. However, the issues involved are complex. For example, our statistical base is somewhat inadequate in regard to the nature and scale of the problem. A diversity of approaches have been attempted in other jurisdictions with varying degrees of success. Discussion about write-downs in unqualified terms can lead to a perception on the part of those who are in a position to pay their mortgage debt that they need not do so. Governments must be cautious about their utterances in this regard.

  91.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which banks are currently depending on European Central Bank liquidity support; his views on whether the terms in which its support is available will be tightened; and the implications of such changes for Ireland. [5212/10]

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The latest Central Bank statistics, released on 1 February, show that Eurosystem borrowing by credit institutions resident in Ireland has fallen significantly from its highs of last summer. Borrowings at end December 2009 stand at €91.9 billion, down from the high of €130 billion in June 2009. These numbers reflect not just Irish headquartered banking groups but include subsidiary operations of international groups operating in Ireland. While the Central Bank publishes figures which cover all credit institutions operating in Ireland, including the IFSC credit institutions, it does not publish figures for individual institutions as these are highly market sensitive. The total aggregate balance sheet of all institutions is €1,306.9 billion, of which €91.9 billion represents ECB lending at end 2009, that is, 7% of aggregate assets.

Funding from the ECB is an important part of funding not just for covered institutions but for all credit institutions and was a common feature even before the recent turmoil in the markets. For example, in December 2006, €27 billion of the aggregate balance sheets of all credit institutions operating in Ireland represented ECB lending. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate upon or pre-empt the decisions of the ECB governing council concerning future funding decisions, but should it bring forward changes to funding policy this might be a good indication that wholesale funding markets are improving and returning to proper functioning.

The ECB has indicated publicly that it is engaging in the progressive, timely and gradual phasing out of the non-conventional measures which had been introduced in response to the financial crisis but that liquidity will remain abundant for months to come. As such, there are no negative implications in the medium term from the announced “phasing out” measures.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  While I welcome the reduction in the dependence of financial institutions on ECB funding, that dependence has increased since October. That is, while it is lower than the peak of last summer, it is rising once again. Is the Minister confident we will have enough qualifying collateral as the ECB tightens its lending range, as it has indicated it will in the course of the year? The values applied to many Irish denominated bonds are being downgraded, with the result that some could fall out of qualification. Is the Minister confident that Irish banks have sufficient qualifying paper?

Second, will Irish Government paper as issued through NAMA qualify at the ECB in all circumstances? Could the downgrading of Irish bonds and the ECB’s tighter lending categories ever exclude Irish NAMA paper from being brought to the ECB for liquidity? In other words, does the Minister have a guarantee that at all times and forever Irish NAMA paper will be accepted for liquidity purposes at the ECB?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  In the course of the financial crisis, credit institutions have made active use of the Eurosystem’s re-financing operations and have deposited as collateral some eligible assets for which market liquidity had basically dried up. The eligibility criteria and [65]risk control measures of the Eurosystem’s collateral framework are an important tool in the reactivation of the asset-backed securities markets. The risk control measures employed by the ECB include the prohibition of some types of close links, the raising of the rating threshold for asset-backed securities, an increase in valuation haircuts and the phasing out of multi-layer securitisations. It is untrue therefore that the ECB is open to accepting all assets within a class regardless of their quality. On the contrary, the ECB actively grooms assets presented to it and it could be said that it is already seeking higher grade assets than were the norm on the markets that have dried up.

That said, in regard to NAMA bonds specifically, I am not aware of any particular difficulty that has been raised at the ECB.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  A downgrading of bond ratings could see them fall out of the qualifying list.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Such a downgrading is highly unlikely given the general improvement of sentiment towards Ireland in the eurozone and on world markets. I draw the Deputy’s attention to two articles in the Financial Times today which indicate that Ireland is seen as a very solid risk compared with several other eurozone countries.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  Is it the case, however, that we have no guarantee in this regard? Is it dependent on the rating of those bonds from time to time?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I have not conceded that. I said that no difficulties have been drawn to my attention in regard to NAMA bonds. Deputy Bruton raised the question of sovereign risk and I responded to it.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Does the Minister agree that in the longer term, the bond markets are likely to count NAMA bonds as part of Irish debt? While I agree with the Minister that there has been much favourable international comment in regard to wage reductions, for example, and a favourable comparison of Ireland with Greece, that is unlikely to sustain itself as the NAMA process works through because the level of Irish debt is rising dramatically.

What is the status of the NAMA bonds, which mature every six months? The Minister has used a phrase of his adviser, Dr. Aherne, on several occasions, when he observed that for the first six months the NAMA bonds would “wash their face”. What happens after the first six months? Will the Minister confirm that the receiving banks can cash the bonds as opposed to holding them or using them with the ECB in terms of the capital structure? Is that not a legal condition within the NAMA legislation?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There is nothing unusual about NAMA bonds. In the case of the phrase to which the Deputy referred, I am not sure whether Dr. Aherne borrowed language from me or vice versa. NAMA bonds can be presented like any other bonds at the ECB. No difficulty has ever presented in that regard.

The broader question raised by Deputy Burton which needs to be addressed is the question of whether NAMA bonds will in some way affect our status as sovereign. As is clear from all international reports, views of rating agencies and commentary about the Irish economy and the Irish sovereign, the greatest obstacle to putting ourselves beyond any risk as a sovereign is the uncertainty surrounding bank debt and bank exposure. That is why it is of fundamental importance that we resolve in the coming months the issues relating to NAMA and the capitalisation of the banks.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The nationalisation of the banks.

[66]Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The markets have already discounted into their calculations substantial losses in the Irish banks. What we are required to do is to quantify precisely what that exposure is. In doing that, we will give further certainty to our fiscal position and reassure investors that Ireland is a good place to do business.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The former chief executive officer of Allied Irish Banks, Mr. Eugene Sheehy, indicated at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service before Christmas that AIB may not use NAMA bonds to obtain credit from the ECB. In light of this, is the Minister confident that NAMA will facilitate a flow of credit to small business? Does he expect that the banks will use NAMA bonds to secure credit from the ECB?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Yes, I do. I am confident as a result of good work done in this House on Committee Stage of the legislation that the Minister for Finance has ample powers to ensure credit can be secured as a result of the NAMA operation.

  92.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will comment on the refusal of the Information Commissioner to allow a freedom of information request to release documents related to two meetings on the night of 29 and 30 September 2008, one involving senior Ministers and officials and another involving senior banking executives. [5100/10]

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Under the Freedom of Information Acts, the Information Commissioner is completely independent of the Government in the performance of her functions. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on her legally binding decision in this or any other case.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Minister has given a very brief reply. Surely he accepts that he is the custodian of this information. Now that the public is pouring money into the banks to save them, does the Minister appreciate that people are entitled to information on the meetings between Ministers, as representatives of the people, and bankers? This House was misled in September 2008 in respect of a number of issues, not least the scale of the difficulty in the banking sector. In that context, I am sure the Minister will agree that it is imperative for us to get this information. Perhaps he will elaborate on these matters.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Information Commissioner is not accountable to me in any sense. She makes her own decisions in this regard. She has decided that the materials in question are not required to be disclosed under the freedom of information legislation.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Will the Minister disclose the information?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  It is not customary for such information to be disclosed. It is not covered in the freedom of information legislation for a good reason. That is the position. There is nothing unusual in any of this. The position I have set out in respect of these records applies to all Government records. As I understand it, that position is in accordance with the view of the Information Commissioner, having examined the records in question.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I would like to ask the Minister about his Department’s handling of a number of freedom of information requests made by me, which have been ongoing since last July or earlier. The requests relate to the handling of the events referred to in Question No. 92. The Department has informed me that of the 90 documents pertaining to my request, it has decided to refuse to release 64 of them, to release ten of them in part and to release just [67]13 of them in their entirety. It is incredible, given that the actions of the banks have cost this country so much money, that the Department is taking this approach. It has nothing to do with the Information Commissioner, as the Minister is the primary decision-maker in terms of departmental policy. The Information Commissioner gets involved at a much later phase of the process. In my case, the only remaining phase probably involves having recourse to the courts.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I have no——

Deputy Joan Burton:  As my party’s finance spokesperson, I am already spending hundreds of euro on trying to get information from the Department of Finance. As a Member of this House, I should be entitled to receive that information. The policy being operated by the Department essentially involves a complete clampdown on the vast bulk of my serious and reasonable freedom of information requests.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Deputy will appreciate that I do not decide on requests for information.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister does.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  No, I do not decide on requests for information.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister sets the policy of the Department. He can decide to release this information.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I do not decide on information requests at the Department. An official in the Department is designated to do that. That person’s decision can be appealed to the Information Commissioner. That system applies to information concerning my Department.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister sets the policy.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I have not changed or varied the policy that was pursued by my predecessor. As I understand it, the protection of Cabinet records is fundamental to the operation of the legislation.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Government has disemboweled the freedom of information legislation.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I have not sought to change the policy. As the Deputy is aware, the Department decides separately from me on each freedom of information request. I have not engaged in any of Deputy Burton’s verbal histrionics. I have not disemboweled or filleted the freedom of information legislation.

Deputy Joan Burton:  That is exactly what the Minister and his party have done.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I do not have a precise statutory function in relation to any of the matters that have been raised so far this afternoon.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  It would be highly appropriate for this information to be brought into the public domain. Will the statutory inquiry into the banking system and the subsequent Oireachtas inquiry be able to obtain all the information on the meetings of 29 and 30 September 2008? Will public servants be allowed to issue expressions of opinion during the public inquiry into what happened on the nights in question?

[68]Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Will the Minister give us details of the nature of the meetings that took place on the two evenings in question? Were they arranged for lobbying purposes? Was the Minister threatened or intimidated by the bankers? Did they attempt to threaten or bully the Minister on these matters?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  This was all discussed in the House at the time.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Minister is the custodian of this information. Others may make freedom of information decisions, but the Minister is before the House this afternoon to answer questions on these matters. In light of the import of the crisis that was brought upon us by these bankers, aided by Government policies, surely the Minister feels obliged to answer such questions.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  A great deal of information can be gleaned from the parliamentary debate on the legislation that was produced following these meetings, during which I was questioned extensively about what exactly was said on the night in question. The question before us this afternoon has nothing to do with that issue. As Deputy O’Donnell is well aware, the terms of reference for the scoping inquiry do not include the Government decisions that were necessitated by the banking crisis. The inquiry is an examination of the banking crisis.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  What about the statutory inquiry?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  If the Deputy has studied the crisis to any extent, he will be aware that by September 2008, Government action on the matter was unavoidable.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Minister did not answer my question on public servants.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Public servants will co-operate with any inquiries that are established.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Minister will set the terms of reference, or gagging orders, for the inquiries.

  93.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make a statement on the recent declines in labour market participation, its likely effect on the macro economy and on tax revenues for 2010 and beyond; his views on the fact that this development depresses the live register figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5310/10]

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The latest data on labour force participation relate to the third quarter of last year when, according to the quarterly national household survey, 62.5% of the total population over the age of 15 was in the labour force. As labour force participation peaked in the third quarter of 2007 at just over 64.5%, it has declined by 2.1 percentage points over the last two years. There was a fall in the participation rates for all male age groups during this period. Participation rates among females over the age of 25 showed minimal falls for two age groups and increases for the other four groups. The biggest fall in the labour force participation rate was in the 15 to 24 age group, among both males and females. Although full data for 2009 are not available, it seems that the fall in labour force participation for this age group reflects an increased participation in education by younger people and therefore should be welcomed. The increase in participation in education, which is associated with the fall in labour force participation rates, will contribute to enhancing the skill level of our labour force and the productive capacity of the economy over the medium and longer terms. The fall in the average labour force participation rate is an outcome of the reduction in employment opportunities [69]that is associated with the economic downturn. While receipts from income tax were weak last year, reflecting the poor economic and jobs climate, it is difficult to estimate the impact the drop in participation, particularly among younger people, would have had on tax receipts. In the absence of detailed information on those involved, it is not possible to estimate with any certainty the impact on the live register of the fall in labour force participation rates.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Is the Minister aware that approximately 440,000 people, one third of whom are men, are unemployed? It is a national disaster. The figure I have given does not take account of emigration, which has resumed at a strong level among people who had previously migrated to this country and at a high level among young Irish graduates. People in the latter group are going anywhere in the world they can, in order to try to secure employment. Does the Minister have any plans in this regard? Can Fianna Fáil offer any hope that a job creation strategy will be introduced? We know that Fianna Fáil is spending a lot of time on bankers and developers, but it seems to have no interest in the unemployed. The Green Party does not seem to be making an input into solving the problems of the unemployed. Does the Minister have any kind of strategy for getting people back into work? Is he aware that tax flows are strongest in countries with high labour participation rates, such as the Nordic countries, because more people are contributing and that economies tend to be most stable in such countries?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Of course the Government has a policy to bring people back to employment and to improve the economy. It requires improving our competitiveness, getting our financial house in order and restoring our banking sector to stability and to the capacity to provide credit to the economy. The Labour Party has consistently chosen to oppose the various measures adopted to advance such policies, which are essential if we are to see a return to employment-creating conditions. I accept there are no easy solutions to this serious problem and of course I am aware of the position reflected in the January live register returns. However, it should be borne in mind that the figures are as predicted at budget time and do not constitute a deterioration on what was anticipated. In every economic crisis, there is a prolongation of unemployment even when the end of the crisis is in sight and regrettably, that is the position in Ireland as well.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Does the Minister——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  While I will return to Deputy Burton, I call Deputy Morgan.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  In light of the figures published this morning by the Central Statistics Office on unemployment, does the Minister accept that the real number of unemployed people probably is close to or in excess of 500,000? For example, one should consider those who were forced into being sole traders, particularly in the construction sector, in order that their then employers would not be obliged to pay PRSI and who therefore are not entitled to jobseeker’s benefit or assistance. Second, one should consider those unemployed people who were entitled to jobseeker’s benefit for 12 months because they possessed the requisite stamps. Thereafter, another income coming into the affected household would disqualify that person from an entitlement to jobseeker’s assistance. Therefore such people may not be registered as many people do not feel obliged to register when not in receipt of a payment from the State. Does the Minister appreciate the huge number of people involved, which I estimate to be in excess of 500,000 rather than the published figure of 436,000? This is the scale of the crisis facing us.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  While I accept Deputy Morgan’s good faith in putting this question, I do not accept its premise. I consider the quarterly labour force survey to be a far more [70]reliable indicator of the extent of unemployment than are the CSO data relating to the live register. It provides a more accurate picture because not everyone who is on the live register is unemployed. Nevertheless, the position is serious and regardless of how one analyses the statistics, it reminds one of the essential need to put our economic house in order. The position in respect of competitiveness in Ireland, as it developed during the latter part of this decade, is highly serious. It is clear that we had priced ourselves out of world markets and had developed unrealistic expectations about how we could manage ourselves as citizens, workers, employers, householders or self-employed producers. There are clear signs in the economy that this has been recognised, that such realities are accepted and that we are taking the necessary measures to put us back on the road to recovery.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I accept that as a mea culpa from Fianna Fáil for economic policy from the year 2000 onwards, when almost all the cost rises in the Irish economy were led by increases in Government charges as an alternative to reforming the tax system in a fair and balanced way. As for competitiveness, does the Minister agree there is indeed a sheltered private sector? For example, I have yet to hear of families who have been obliged to take their children to a GP, including many low-income public servants, and who have found that the GP prices have decreased. It still costs €50 to €60 over almost all the country.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is extending the scope of the question.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister has answered regarding competitiveness, which is important.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Not before the question.

Deputy Joan Burton:  However, most of the lack of competition occurs in areas that were controlled or organised by Fianna Fáil in government from the year 2000.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  An tAire, a brief reply.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Again, I agree with some, albeit not all, of what the Deputy said. However, I accept that the introduction of competitiveness in the sheltered private sector is of crucial importance. One reason I placed on a standard rate the reliefs available for medical expenses in the penultimate budget was because I considered it to be an important disincentive towards medical inflation. One must take such individual decisions in individual areas to ensure that competitiveness and transparent pricing are to the fore.

  94.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Finance    when interest is due to be paid on preference shares held by Government or the National Pensions Reserve Fund; if he expects these payments will be awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5223/10]

  147.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the consequences of the decision of the European Commission to disallow payment of dividend interest by the Irish banks on the moneys advanced to them in return for preference shares; the impact on State ownership of the possible issue of ordinary shares in lieu of interest dividend; the situation on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5138/10]

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 94 and 147 together.

[71]As a condition of state aid approval, in respect of the recapitalisation by the Irish Government of both Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland, the European Commission required that the two banks each prepare and present restructuring plans to the Commission. The plan for Bank of Ireland was submitted on 30 September 2009 and the plan for Allied Irish Banks was submitted on 13 November 2009. The restructuring plans must comply with EU guidelines in this regard and have regard to EU state aid rules.

The commitment to burden sharing by the institution is a key consideration of the EU requirements for restructuring plans. Drawing on this, the EU issued guidelines in October 2009 aimed at clarifying its position on burden sharing, in particular with regard to the non-payment of discretionary coupons for hybrid capital instrument holders. The basis of the Commission’s policy is to ensure that the amount of state aid should not exceed the minimum necessary and to achieve appropriate burden sharing with bond holders. Commission practice in this area is guided by the principle that transactions such as coupon payments reduce the total regulatory capital of an institution and this is incompatible with a position in which those same institutions are still reliant on state aid to fulfil regulatory capital requirements.

In response to the Commission’s policy in this area, Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland have both been obliged to announce to the market that they cannot make discretionary coupon payments on tier 1 and upper tier 2 capital instruments. Non-payments of these coupons gives rise to a so-called dividend stopper, which prevents payments on a range of other hybrid capital instruments held by the two institutions, including the cash coupon on the State’s preference shares. This would result in the activation of an alternative payment mechanism that would give rise to issuance of ordinary shares related to the cash amount of the dividend that would otherwise have been payable.

I am determined, in the context of ongoing discussions with the European Commission to secure agreement on the banks’ restructuring plans, to resolve this issue to ensure that the State receives appropriate remuneration for its recapitalisation of these banks. Importantly, the European Commission is open to finding a solution, particularly since payment of a cash dividend on the State’s preference shares was an important element of the Commission’s approval for the state aid provided to the banks in the first instance. I will keep the Deputy updated on progress in this matter.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. Why did the Minister not exercise his rights to take ordinary shares, rather than going to the European Commission to try to find a way of getting an exception to its general ban on the payment of dividends? My understanding was that the Minister structured the deal in such a way that in the event of non-payment, he would receive ordinary shares, as the latter would appear to put the taxpayer in a position to gain from a recovery in the banks. Alternatively, is the Minister of the view that he wants the cash? Furthermore, how could general guidelines provide that dividends would be paid to one type of investor, namely, the State, while other investors would be excluded from such privilege? Would this not in itself be in breach of state aid by favouring one type of creditor?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There is a fundamental distinction between a bond that provided for the repayment of interest advanced on foot of an arrangement with a private investor and a capitalisation arrangement that was approved by the Commission itself. While the position is that the payments are stopped at present, that is without prejudice to the State making its case in the context of the restructuring plan that such preferential payments should be made. On the wider question raised by the Deputy as to the reason the State does not simply rely on the ordinary shares, the return on the preference shares is immediate and tangible, while the return [72]on an ordinary share is a matter of some volatility, depending on the value of the equities in the market over time.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  One certainly would get good value at present.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  However, the whole point about the preference share arrangement is that it provided the taxpayers with an immediate return on that particular investment they made in Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks. I believe the coupon was set at 8% and that particular coupon was a return to the pension fund from the institutions in question.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I refer to the Minister’s investment of €7 billion on behalf of the taxpayer into Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks through this preference share structure. Is the dividend on these preference shares a cumulative preference dividend so that the dividend rights accrue until such time as the banks ever pay a dividend, when that dividend comes first?

Under the new arrangements announced by the Department last evening the NTMA will take over the management of the Minister’s shareholding in the credit institution. The National Pensions Reserve Fund, which is also under the remit of the NTMA, provided these funds. Will it be the NTMA’s decision from hereon as to whether or not the option on converting the arrears of preference dividend into ordinary shares is taken up?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The NTMA does not decide that. Under the terms of the capitalisation arrangement the Allied Irish Bank dividend on preference shares is payable annually in advance on the anniversary of the 2009 issue date, which is 13 May, or the next business day. The Bank of Ireland dividend on preference shares is payable annually in arrears on 20 February or on the next business day. That is the position.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Does it accumulate?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I will have to write to the Deputy about this as I do not have the information to hand.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Normally in most companies it does accumulate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has asked a question.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There is no provision in the recapitalisation agreement for the conversion of the preference shares into ordinary shares. The banks can repurchase at par up to the fifth anniversary of the issue and thereafter at 125% of par. The effect of the restrictions by the banks would be to trigger the dividend stopper provisions of the Government’s preference stocks and the pension fund would then become entitled to be issued a number of ordinary shares related to the cash amount of the dividend that would otherwise have been payable should there be no change in these circumstances. That is the position. It may be if the matter is still with the commission on 20 February that it can be left in dry dock until final advice is received from the commission

Deputy Joan Burton:  Does section 3 of last night’s document mean the NTMA now makes the decision?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should not address the House from a seated position until she is called.

[73]Deputy Joan Burton:  Section 3 states that the NTMA is now managing the Minister’s shareholding.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  It has been managing my shareholding for the past year in practice also. There is no constitutional revolution here. The NTMA is subject to ministerial direction as an arm of the Minister for Finance.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It also has responsibility to the National Pensions Reserve Fund.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy cannot simply address the House from a seated position.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  When does the Minister expect that the business plans that are with the European Commission in respect of the recapitalisation of AIB and Bank of Ireland will come back from there? What percentage shareholding does the Minister anticipate that the Irish State and the Irish taxpayer will have on the two main banks post recapitalisation?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  I will not hazard any speculation on a percentage share that the State might or might not have in any particular institution as a result of capitalisation. I am in consultation with the Governor of the Central Bank, the regulator and my officials about the extent of capitalisation which will be required. The structural plans and their approval will have a bearing on that. Work on the structural plans is ongoing in the Commission and I anticipate the Commission will revert on the structural plans in the first half of this year.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  A total of €560 million is due to the Irish taxpayer in February or May. What will happen to this? Will the taxpayer definitely get value of some sort on 20 February or 13 May or will this just be added to the money owing? A cheque is due to the National Pensions Reserve Fund on those dates and we need clarity on the Minister’s view of what will happen on those dates.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Does the Minister anticipate that the State will have a controlling interest in the ordinary shares of the two main banks, namely, AIB and Bank of Ireland post recapitalisation?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Deputy O’Donnell is speculating about the future capital structures of institutions.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Which have huge implications for the Irish taxpayer.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  We must determine the level of capital they require in the first place. With regard to the payment, it is set out in the agreement that an arrangement exists which will come into operation in default of payment. However, the question may still have to be determined as to whether the effect of European intervention is simply to freeze matters for a relatively short period of time. Whether it happens in February or some weeks thereafter, finality will be brought to this matter.

Written answers follow Adjournment debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Emmet Stagg — the site on which the Waterways housing estate in Sallins, [74]County Kildare, was developed; (2) Deputy Pat Breen — the future of special needs assistants employed in schools in County Clare; (3) Deputy Michael Ring — flood mitigation works in the Roundfort-Hollymount area of County Mayo; (4) Deputy Joe Costello — proposals for the metering of water in family homes; (5) Deputy Deirdre Clune — the need to implement the recommendations of the Lee catchment flood risk assessment and management study; (6) Deputy Leo Varadkar — the construction and completion of the N2-N3 link road; (7) Deputy Joe McHugh — employment initiatives in respect of County Donegal; (8) Deputy Seán Sherlock — the need to review the FÁS work placement programme; (9) Deputy Liz McManus — the need to hold a public inquiry into the granting of a waste licence at Ballybeg, County Wicklow; (10) Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin — the need for the Minister of State with responsibility for children as a matter of urgency to reform the regulations regarding age qualification for the free pre-school year in early childhood care and education since the regulations as currently framed create an “age gap” which discriminates against some children who will not be able to avail of this scheme in advance of commencing primary school education; (11) Deputy Chris Andrews — according to recent CSO statistics there were 26,783 burglaries and related offences recorded last year, an increase of 8.5%. The annual increase in aggravated burglary offences was 11.7% compared with 2008. In cases where the elderly are victims of these crimes, particular consideration should be given to the implementation of mandatory sentencing; (12) Deputy Máire Hoctor — to ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, to investigate the significant shortfall of payments to former shareholders of the AES waste management company by Bord na Mona; (13) Deputy Thomas P. Broughan — the urgent need for the Minister to fully report to Dáil Éireann on why cutbacks of up to 30% in funding have been sanctioned in 2010 for Sphere 17 and RASP programmes in Dublin 17 which provide essential community programmes including educational, health, art, drug outreach and counselling programmes and support for the local travelling community and given the appalling effect these cutbacks will have on the local north Coolock communities; if the Minister would also indicate if the Government is planning to end completely funding for these vital programmes in 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter; (14) Deputy Alan Shatter — to raise on the Adjournment that immediate action be taken by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in accordance with the Children First: child protection guidelines and arising out of the Minister’s reply to Parliamentary Question No. 46388/09 on 10 December 2009, to facilitate the return to this State of the mother of Faruq Adetokunbo Sanusitoyin who is presently in his fourth temporary foster care placement, pursuant to a care order granted to the HSE, arising out of the deportation of his mother so as to facilitate his being reunited with his mother and that the Minister exercise his discretion to permit the mother to remain in the State to take care of him; and (15) Deputy Andrew Doyle — the future of the horticulture industry in Ireland.

The Matters raised by Deputies Joe McHugh, Seán Sherlock, Deirdre Clune and Michael Ring have been selected for discussion.

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

Deputy Bobby Aylward:  As a rural Deputy and as somebody who served as a member of Kilkenny County Council for 15 years, I have seen the practical application of the planning laws and I have seen the strategic advantages of good orderly planning and development. I have also experienced the hideous consequences of bad planning and poor planning mechanisms and controls. Over the years, we have sought to redress the various deficiencies and the short[75]comings of the planning legislation and while we may not have achieved an ideal system just yet we are nevertheless on our way to producing a sound, democratic and transparent system. We are making that system more relevant, practical and responsive to regional and national needs.

Planning and development, by definition, are constantly evolving and new demands and difficulties are emerging all the time. The implications of the proposed Bill, together with the draft regional planning guidelines, have been examined closely and with great interest and there is a sincerely held view that this element of the legislation may have long-term implications which are not positive or desirable.

As I stated earlier, the promotion of orderly, balanced and sustainable economic activity is at the forefront of our national political agenda; it is a central plank that we continue to stimulate and promote that activity. It is not entirely clear how the provisions of this Bill will lend themselves to these objectives or if it will assist us greatly in achieving the goals as set out in the national spatial strategy. It would be useful if the Minister would elaborate more fully on the precise thinking behind this aspect of the Bill so that everyone comprehends the theory and exactly how it will manifest itself in practice.

The obvious principle contained in the national spatial strategy is that we have to attain a proper, realistic balance in regional development. Rather than arriving at an over-concentration or a fragmentation of development, the primary aim is to strike a more even balance in terms of the availability of employment, an improved quality of life for all our citizens, suitable places to live which are attractive and which provide a better quality of life, and appropriate amenities which cater to the needs of the local population.

In January of last year, regional population targets for the next 12 years up to 2022 were published. These targets gave a low to high range for 2022, the lower figure of which would indicate a 14.7% increase with the higher figure suggesting a 20.4% population increase in that 12-year period. Given the marked trend in population increase to date in this country, the higher figure of 20.4% represents a more realistic figure. Last October, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government directed that the minimum population targets should be used only when preparing the regional planning guidelines.

The net effect of this directive is to contain or limit population increases in the regions. For example, the population of the south east will increase by 72,600 over the 12 year period in question. According to the national spatial strategy, populations should be diverted towards gateways, which will increase by a minimum of 50%, and hub towns, which will increase by 33%. I appreciate the logic behind the clear requirement to boost the gateways and hubs but, taken in conjunction with the new minimum population targets, it means that county areas will be severely limited in the total number of houses which may be built. This situation will be replicated in every county and the requirement to create the critical masses allied to the new minimum population targets will permit very little development beyond the cities. Planning authorities throughout the country will be obliged to implement that policy accordingly.

If we are to adopt this practice, there will be grave consequences for smaller towns and rural areas generally. While I am all in favour of balanced regional development and economic expansion which is compatible with the objectives of the national spatial strategy, this should not be advanced relentlessly without due regard for the needs of country people for housing within their own rural communities. There is nothing wrong in principle with placing the development emphasis on gateways and hubs but that policy objective should not work to the detriment of people from rural communities. It may be the case that people may gravitate towards the hubs and gateways but the legislation should not ignore the needs and desires of country people simply because excessive restrictions are placed on the number of residential [76]units in smaller towns and rural areas. I understand the rationale behind a coherent approach to regional development but there should be more to planning than the provision of visually appealing physical structures and the promotion of and support for economic activity. We should show more consideration to those who want to remain outside the hubs and gateways. I am not convinced of the wisdom of concentrating population growth around specific centres while at the same time denuding the rest of the county of people and depriving rural areas a new influx.

I ask the Minister to reflect on the potential effects of this Bill on rural and small town communities and perhaps afford some latitude in respect of any residential development restrictions which may be imposed. On the whole, this is imaginative and positive legislation, not least in terms of taking decisive action against those who show no respect for either the letter or the spirit of our planning and development laws or who cynically exploit the natural environment for personal gain and enrichment. We have learned several chastening lessons from our mistakes and abject failures over the years. These lessons may be costly but this is our golden opportunity to make sure that they are never repeated. Some of the resulting damage cannot be undone but we can rectify and improve our framework and our planning apparatus for the future. We must have a fair and equitable system in which we can all have confidence.

Oireachtas Members from the south east recently met councillors and an official from Carlow County Council to hear their concerns about the impact on Carlow of the designation of gateway status for Waterford and hub status for Kilkenny and Wexford. Waterford hopes to increase its population by 50% by 2022, while Wexford and Kilkenny will experience 30% increases. These designations will have serious consequences for population growth in rural areas and small towns in Carlow. I come from a rural area and would like to see growth in my region. It is particularly important that one-off houses are protected, once they are built to an adequate environmental standard. I could also name several small villages around south County Kilkenny and County Carlow which are projected to expand by 200 or 300 houses. Perhaps this expansion should be curtailed somewhat but they also deserve a slice of the growth planned for the coming 12 years. I hope the Minister takes account of my concerns so that rural Ireland is not forgotten.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Coveney, by agreement.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states its introduction is “driven by the overarching ambition to strengthen local democracy and accountability, a key objective in accordance with the ongoing process of local government reform being pursued in the context of the White Paper on Local Government, by maintaining the central role of local government in the planning process”. However, the provisions of the Bill are contrary to that aspiration. It appears to be driven by a Minister’s desire to pander to a particular urban electorate at the expense of a large number of people who probably would not vote for his party in the first place.

The Bill makes no mention of An Taisce, which is charged with protecting the country’s heritage and which does fine work with its green schools programme. That organisation has the right to be notified of and submit appeals to every planning application made to local authorities. It may make observations on files without being required to make a prior submission or pay the €20 required from every citizen. It should at least be required to pay €10 because it appears to make a standard observation on planning files throughout the country. It is unfair if everyone else has to pay to make an observation whereas An Taisce does not. [77] Furthermore, the motivation behind some of the appeals made by the organisation is questionable.

At present a decision by An Bord Pleanála cannot be made by fewer than three members. For some reason, reducing this number to two in certain cases is seen as an improvement. Given that there is no obligation on the body to reach a decision on an appeal within a specified timeframe, I intend to submit an amendment which requires it to determine appeals within one year of their date of registration or within a short period thereafter and, failing that, allows the decision of the local authority will stand by default.

  4 o’clock

People working in the forestry sector have raised concerns regarding section 4 of the Bill. I am informed that new access roads and entrances to forest plantations will be subject to planning permission. The revenue to be earned from thinning is limited at present and the section is seen as a means of levying extra development contribution funds. This provision could call into the question the viability of thinning, which will impact on the quality of forestry and future value of standings. If thinning is not carried out, the mature timber in a forest will be of poorer quality. The inclusion of forestry roads and access points in the planning process leave them open to appeals which could scupper the viability of harvesting timber.

I welcome in part section 23, which relates to the extension of time as it allows for permission to be extended in the event of issues being outside the commercial or economic consideration beyond the control of the applicant and substantially mitigated against either commencement or the development of the carrying out of substantial works. The previous provision to allow for a second extension is denied. In certain cases wind farm applications have been granted but there has been difficulty in getting into the grid through no fault of the applicants rather due to a lack of network capacity and availability. It is questionable whether some of those projects in Gate 3 will be connected in ten years. Deputy Coveney will probably elaborate more on that. Currently, some projects look doubtful unless things change.

The lack of reference to management companies has been signalled. I am aware of a case where a management company has held a controlling interest in a development. In effect, the management company is the developer, who has kept ten apartments with 1,000 votes each and that will remain the case until all apartments are sold. It seems most unfair. Many problems arise about the finances of the company in question, which is based in Greystones. The situation is replicated across the country. The Bill does not mention that nor is there any attempt to address the management company structure as it currently stands. That is something that should be included if the Bill is to be more than just a political document.

The national spatial strategy is the foundation for many of the new rules that are attached. It has been developed without anyone voting on it. The strategy was developed in secrecy and it must be adhered to. In the same way, the core strategy of new development plans must be consistent with regional planning guidelines. The greater Dublin area includes Wicklow, which is subject to two authorities; the greater Dublin region and the mid-east region. It has now been determined that a joint decision will clear the development plan in Wicklow on which submissions closed on 23 December and a manager’s report is currently being prepared. It seems to me that local input is being diluted, which totally contradicts what is stated at the outset.

The attempt to drive lobbying behind closed doors and to direct it more at officials rather than elected members gives rise to many questions. It puts officials in an awkward position. One can sack elected members but one cannot sack those who are appointed. People can make up their minds on the behaviour of local elected representatives every five years. They do not have the opportunity with paid, full-time officials. I do not see how this change will make [78]the planning system more transparent. The Minister seems to be intent on treating public representatives as if they were schoolchildren who cannot be trusted. They are allowed to make decisions but in the same way as the Chinese version of democracy, “as long as you do it our way”. The effect will be to turn councils into talking shops——

Deputy Simon Coveney:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  ——as opposed to being places where real decisions can be made. We are always talking about local government reform, devolving power, giving money, authority and responsibility to local authorities. I met the deputation to which Deputy Aylward referred because a little part of Carlow is part of my constituency. The issues raised were pertinent. Target figures were set for hubs, gateways and towns with populations greater than 2,000. Over the course of a five-year plan, fewer than 50 houses can be built in a county. Of late, one would come to the conclusion that dispersed rural communities were responsible for climate change, road infrastructure being shot to pieces, and a burden on all infrastructure. However, when one considers the crime figures and social cohesion it is difficult to sustain the argument that the social fabric in dispersed rural communities is not as good if not better than any big urban settlements where people live on top of each other and need public transport. It is fine for people to make a choice to live in whichever type of community but to restrict settlements of fewer than 2,000 to no more than 60 houses in a five-year period is tunnel vision. It is not practical. I cannot see it being supported.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I am pleased to have an opportunity to try to impress some views on the Minister and his team on the further amendments required to be made to the Bill.

I will speak about the need to link energy policy with planning and development policy given that we are currently in the process of planning and starting to deliver a transformative agenda in terms of this country’s energy marketplace that we hope will by 2020 have constructed up to 6,000 MW of capacity from wind. That will require somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 turbines, each one as tall as the spire in Dublin. Those huge construction projects will impact on communities across the country. We are also planning an ambitious roll-out of ocean energy and wave energy projects.

The Bill in its current construct gives rise to concern that we have not integrated energy policy with planning policy to the extent that is required. That is surprising, considering that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government come from the same party and have a similar ideology, which is trying to take this country down a route of renewable energy sources, which I support. We need to ensure that from a practical implementation point of view, which is why I am somewhat pleased at the presence of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Finneran. I see him as a practical Minister in terms of putting a practical roadmap and viable plan in place that is cost effective for the massive infrastructural construct that is required. It should not cost energy users an absolute fortune. The biggest impediment to the energy revolution that is envisaged here is the construction of the grid infrastructure to deliver that. For example, we need to connect up the wind farms and beef up the electricity infrastructure to a level that is able to take the kind of power that will come from the west, north-west and south-west from big wind energy projects. We need to take another look at the way in which we approach the issue.

The Gate 3 process is deeply flawed in that what we are essentially doing is choosing the areas of the country where we are going to build dozens of wind farms on the basis of how long the developers have been waiting for a decision on grid connection. All over the country [79]we have speculators in this marketplace who have no intention of ever building a wind farm, but they have applied for planning permission and grid connection so that they can sell on those rights when they get them to some big player such as Bord Gáis, Airtricity or Viridian. I am hugely supportive of what the Government parties are trying to do in terms of dramatically increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources, in particular from wind, to meet the targets it has set but they are not planning in the correct way. Parts of the country where infrastructure will be built should be zoned. Those parts should be selected on the basis of wind speed, aesthetic amenity and wind consistency. During the planning stage, we should choose the parts of the country that are most suited to this dramatic construction project with huge towers being built to carry turbines, which will drive the country’s power in the future.

We, as policymakers, working with planners, should design the zones in the State that are most suited and then we should approach ESB Networks and EirGrid to connect these zones. Billions of euro will be spent on grid infrastructure over the next number of years, including on 410 kV lines, 220 kV lines and 110 kV lines, which will link large wind farms. The problems, objections, community concerns, costs and challenges, which may involve putting some of the infrastructure underground, should not be addressed in an uncoordinated fashion, as is happening with Gate 3 currently. Will the Minister seriously consider this issue? I am trying to raise it in as constructive a way as I can.

I refer to the microgeneration industry. If farmers are permitted to build turbines on their farms to produce their own power, first, an export tariff scheme must be in place to encourage them to do this from a financial perspective and, second, it must also be ensured that, from a planning perspective, they can do so easily and cost effectively.

Planning issues arise in the development of wind farms. Granting planning permission for five years for such a farm is an issue, given the time it takes to secure grid connection is between eight and ten years. The permission, therefore, will expire before the vast majority of applicants are connected to the grid. The Bill makes provision for applications to the local authority for a five-year extension to planning permissions but the conditions for doing so are not defined. Developers are being asked to spend vast sums on these projects and they must be given certainty about extensions for planning permission. This is an important issue. If an extension is secured, the legislation provides that an applicant cannot ask for a second extension. If a developer has an awkward site for which it may take more then ten years to secure grid roll-out and grid connection, it is insane for us as policymakers to say he or she cannot apply for a second extension. He or she should be able to and the application should be judged on its merits. Perhaps it should not be as easy to be approved for another extension but we cannot prohibit that in law.

Another issue is the use of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 for large wind projects. The Minister proposes that the qualifying criteria be reduced. It was suggested that a wind farm project would have to comprise at least 50 turbines before going down the strategic infrastructure route but the number has been reduced to 25. I could understand the thinking behind that if the legislation was working but it is not quicker for a developer to go down this route and it is much more costly. Developers need to come up with €100,000 upfront. If this legislation is used to streamline the planning system, deadlines will have to be set for An Bord Pleanála to deliver. We should consider waiving the €100,000 application fee for the development of wind farms if we are to positively discriminate in favour of this industry to allow those involved to build as quickly as we hope they will build.

Joined up thinking is needed between the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, EirGrid and the other arms of the State responsible for delivering the roll-out of infrastructure that can facilitate the private sector to build wind farms. It also needs to [80]be ensured that the public are protected and their interests and concerns are taken into account regarding this significant construction project. Should we, for example, introduce guidelines regarding the distance between a tower carrying a turbine and a residential property? Addressing such issues will encourage people to develop appropriate sites in isolated areas that do not have scenic amenity problems. This will be welcomed by communities living nearby and it will not result in turbines being built on top of houses and residential communities.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Planning is almost always a contentious issue for politicians, particularly for those of us who live and do business in rural areas. We spent a great deal of time over the past 18 months discussing the financial and banking crisis and the state of our economy and the two issues are intrinsically linked because there is little doubt that planning was an inherent part of the boom that facilitated growth in the property sector. Much of the discussion about planning for the previous five years had been concentrated on preventing local people from building houses in rural areas, suggesting that the focus was on strengthening urban areas and encouraging people to migrate in that way. In our haste as legislator to protect rural areas and prevent people building one-off houses, we took our eye off the ball and there was too much zoning of lands around our towns and villages. We are seeing the impact of that in the banking crisis. I do not suggest that too much zoning of residential land was the cause of the banking crisis but it was a cog in the wheel and the focus from a planning perspective was on the wrong issue.

I was always confused, in trying to understand various local area plans, by why national guidelines on residential density had to apply to rural villages. If five or six acres were due to be rezoned in a village, the housing density had to be eight to ten dwellings per acre. There was clearly no requirement for that. This was followed by an initiative to increase the number of units such as apartments in villages and towns but this was not appropriate to the demands or the needs of the local people. I have always believed that if we had provided for the building of appropriately sized houses on appropriately sized and serviced sites, there would not have been the same demand for the building of one-off rural houses. However, we did not provide anything in the middle. We suggested to people that they should live in a large town or a village but the housing density would be the same. We did not try to resolve that problem and that led to the focus on one-off housing while the real planning crisis was the proliferation of residential zonings in small rural towns, which was a contributing to the banking crisis with which we are now attempting to deal.

Planning is contentious. From the perspective of the individual it is about trying to get the balance right. It is also about consistency. Many people feel there is a lack of consistency, perhaps among individual planners but certainly among different counties. The system must have equality of treatment and equality of outcome regardless of which county one lives in or which planning authority deals with one’s case.

From a societal point of view, planning must respect heritage, and it must also take into account the protection of the environment through sustainable development. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that today’s development will be the heritage of the future. There is little doubt that some planning authorities are overly restrictive in trying to ensure the development of today is an extension of that of the past. They do not recognise that each period of history has had its own architectural style. We need to see a greater understanding of contemporary design. There has been some inconsistency across larger counties in some areas, but particularly from county to county. It is important to ensure this is not the case in the future.

[81]We are all having a fine discussion here about planning although, in effect, the horse has already bolted. We have gone so far through our property boom that the bubble has burst, and the level of demand for development over the next number of years will be minimal. Notwithstanding that, it is necessary to set a policy framework for the future, while recognising that it will probably be eight to ten years before there is any appreciable level of development.

In order to resolve the issue of consistency, we need to confer more powers of co-ordination to the regional authority. I do not mean to suggest that we take power away from elected members — far from it. We should empower the elected members to a greater extent, but do so in a framework that includes people from a wider area than just the county planning authority. By using regional authority structures we will ensure we get consistency. I would like to see the process develop in a way that ensures consistency with the co-operation of elected members in neighbouring jurisdictions.

We are all aware of the subjective nature of planning. There is an old adage, “Doctors differ and patients die”. Planners also differ, and the repercussions of this create much concern, particularly in rural areas where for no apparent reason two people will end up with different outcomes. This causes much annoyance and we must try, where possible, to ensure it does not happen. National guidelines and legislation are important in this regard.

Planners are often maligned and abused in an unfair way. Those involved in the local authority with which I am most familiar, in County Clare, work extremely hard and provide a good service, although it is not always to the liking of those who receive a negative result. Notwithstanding this, all planners and their senior staff go about their jobs, from their perspective, in a fair and equitable way. Of course there are subjective differences between one case and another, but their motives are right. They are only implementing the law as defined by us as legislators and by local authority members through the creation of development plans. It is unfair that some representatives seek to blame the planners rather than taking on the difficult and contentious issues that are part of the planning process and attempting to explain to their constituents the reasons certain decisions are taken in the formulation of plans and national guidelines. Planners should not always be blamed for decisions that were ultimately not theirs. We must be careful in this regard.

We must be aware of issues such as flooding, particularly in view of what the country went through before Christmas. There is little doubt that this country has experienced the worst flooding in its history. This is particularly true in County Clare, our neighbouring county of Galway and a considerable portion of the mid-west and the western regions in general. The human tragedy endured by many of my constituents and others around the country is impossible to describe. Lives have been destroyed and the dreams of many people have been shattered as a result of the destruction of their homes. They are now living with that burden. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran, is more than familiar with the issues that have arisen in his own constituency. We have seen the dreams of many people evaporate with the receding floods — people whose houses can no longer be considered homes but are instead burdens. It is in that context that I am discussing this important Bill.

I support in principle the aims and content of the Bill. However, I have a number of observations to make in this regard. We must accept that our weather patterns are changing and that climate change is here to stay. In this context, we must be prudent and properly informed in how we plan and zone land for future development. In other words, we must ensure we plan in an evidence-based way while learning from our mistakes and developing our land in a more strategic and sustainable way for our benefit and that of our children and grandchildren.

Strategic and sustainable land use planning is a prerequisite for avoiding the human tragedy we have experienced in recent months. This means that before our legislation allows for any [82]future zoning of land, any land at risk of flooding must be assessed by experts to determine the level of risk involved. If there is a high risk of flooding and no proper mitigation measures can be provided to protect it from flood waters, the land should not be zoned for development. The planning process needs to be informed by proper evidence and expertise.

In the past, mitigation measures have been provided as a reason for zoning certain lands. However, we must now consider this in the context of value for money. There is a desire to allow towns to develop in a particular strategic way, to some extent over-riding the natural lie of the land, which can include lower-lying areas. We must address the necessity of having more symmetrical development in our towns and accept from the outset that there are some areas that we clearly should not attempt to develop because of the flood risk. It is not a good use of money at the moment to construct flood mitigation measures for the sake of developing certain lands. While Ireland is a relatively small country, the density of our population in comparison to those of many of our neighbours is not overly burdensome. Although no more land is being made, and there is no suggestion that we will be recovering any from the sea, there is enough there to meet our needs for the foreseeable future. It is not necessary to drain shallow lakes for the purpose of allowing towns to develop in a so-called orderly way. We must take this into consideration as we proceed.

Our primary legislation must provide for flood risk assessment because water respects no boundaries, be they local authority or otherwise. We must also consider the management of such areas, again through the regional authorities. There is a need to streamline our transport and recreational planning, from a strategic point of view, through the co-operation of regional authorities. Where common boundaries fall outside the jurisdiction of a regional authority, it is also important that we develop links between local authorities to ensure there is a coherent approach for future planning.

From the perspective of business and investment, it is important that we support the Government’s policy in the national spatial strategy by focusing on the consolidation of population in a number of centres. It is important that this policy be reflected at regional government level. We cannot walk away from smaller villages, however, suggesting that they do not get the chance to develop. I am concerned about how section 5 of the Bill talks about the promotion of sustainable settlements and transportation strategies in urban and rural areas, including the promotion of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the necessity of adaptation to climate change. I can understand the thrust of that but, without a balancing element in the Bill, we must be assured that we can maintain the viability of rural communities. There is a danger the section could be used to block development in rural areas on the grounds that development would add to climate change.

In all of this we must focus on our society. We cannot overlay the model that has developed over centuries in other countries, where farmers live in a hamlet and travel to their farms every day. That might happen in other countries but it is not part of our culture; we have a dispersed nature. There are historic reasons for that and it would be wrong to suggest we will change that overnight. There are other things we can do about climate change, sustainable development and transportation without trying to do them in half a generational cycle. I would not support that in any way.

Section 6 indicates the submissions or observations referred to in paragraph (b) shall not relate to a request or proposal for the zoning of specific land for any purpose and section 6(bb) states that they cannot refer to a submission or observation relating to a request or proposal for the zoning of specific lands for any purpose where such a submission or observation is made, notwithstanding the subsection. There is some concern about that. If a community group [83]requests that a particular area be zoned as open space, it could prevent that from happening. It could prevent an environmental organisation from requesting that a particular area be zoned as a conservation area or an individual requesting that a particular area be zoned as a village centre. It is excessive so perhaps the Minister might address it at a later stage. I understand the intention but it might be overly restrictive.

Other speakers have mentioned An Bord Pleanála. Many of us give out about An Bord Pleanála when it delivers a result we are not happy with and laud it when it delivers the result we wanted, but I am concerned about the reduction in the quorum from three to two. There will often be stalemate between two people so there will either be no decision or the process will take much longer. A third person has the capacity to generate a majority. It might allow for more work to be reviewed but it is not the answer. Perhaps there is a need for more staff. I am not advocating that we lift the moratorium, but with the reduced level of activity and planning applications, delays in An Bord Pleanála should be automatically resolved without resorting to the creation of a democratic deficit.

The Minister has the capacity to intervene in local government draft plans. A consultation role is specifically identified between officials and council members. I would hope that includes the Minister meeting with elected members. They are the ones who must stand over the plan when it comes into play. They will have voted on it and it would be appropriate that the elected representative in this House would act with elected local members to ensure such dialogue and understanding exists.

The Bill discusses the wider distribution of development levies. It would be helpful if we were back in 2005 or 2006 but there will be lean pickings for the next ten years. I doubt the Minister for Finance will be in a position to give less money to the Department of Education and Science because local government will be able to provide sites for schools. It is the right way to go, however, and sets the foundation for future development. School sites, broadband provision and flood relief are all good and proper uses for development levies. Some of those levies were not used to the extent they should have been for the provision of playgrounds and other social amenities.

I give a guarded welcome to the Bill. Some clarification is needed and monitoring is necessary. It is difficult that we are doing this while we are on an out cycle in development of the country but it is a useful time to plan the next phase of our growth.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Tá sé go maith go bhfuil an deis agam labhairt ar an mBille seo. Is Bille tábhachtach é agus tá sé ríthráthúil go bhfuil sé os ár gcomhair inniu, go háirithe go bhfuil an deis againn tosú athuair ag féachaint ar phleanáil agus ar fhorbairt sa tír seo mar rinne muid an oiread sin botún le 20 nó 30 bliain anuas.

Ní gá dúinn ach féachaint timpeall ar chathair Bhaile Átha Cliath chun féachaint ar na mórbhotúin a bhí déanta agus ní gá dúinn ach féachaint ar an fhiosrúchán poiblí a bhí ann le tamall maith de bhlianta anois mar gheall ar an chaimiléireacht a bhí ar siúl i mBaile Átha Cliath, i gceantar na comhairle contae go háirithe, in áiteanna cosúil le Leamhcán, Tamhlacht, Blanchardstown agus a leithéid, áiteanna a bhí athzónáil déanta ar cheantair mhóra fhairsinge in ainneoin go raibh na daoine sa chomhairle contae ag an am ag rá nár chóir don phleanáil seo dul ar aghaidh. Ainneoin sin, agus de thairbhe breabanna a tugadh do pholaiteoirí, roinnt acu a bhí sa Teach seo, cuidíodh le daoine a bhí ag triail le forbairt a dhéanamh agus dá bharr sin táimid thíos leis mar chathair. Tá an sochaí ina iomlán thíos leis.

Tá sé tábhachtach anois go gcuirfimid an bunús ceart le déanamh cinnte nach bhfillfimid ar na botúin sin. Mar sin, tacaím leis an mBille seo, ach go háirithe an chuid sin de, mar a deir an meamram a fuair muid, atá ag cur le daonlathas áitiúil mar cheann de bhunphrionsabail an [84]Bhille. Is é mo thuairim féin nach dtéann an Bille fada go leor agus tá ceisteanna agam, cosúil le roinnt de na Teachtaí eile, le freagairt ag an Aire. Seans nuair a bheimid ag plé Chéim an Choiste, beidh sé in ann sin a dhéanamh agus athruithe a dhéanamh.

Ní gá ach féachaint ar an oiread sin eastát tithíochta atá go hiomlán folamh nó leath-fholamh timpeall na tíre le feiceáil cá raibh muid mícheart. Is sampla an-soiléir é sin den dóigh a theip ar an phleanáil. Ní phleanáil tí amháin atá i gceist, ach pleanáil agus forbairt amach anseo. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuil sé tábhachtach go bhfuil na pleananna áitiúla tábhachtach sa Bhille seo agus go bhfuil beagáinín daingniú maidir le pleananna forbartha ó na comhairlí contae sa Bhille, agus maidir le pleananna réigiúnacha.

Sampla eile den teip iomlán ó thaobh pleanála de ná na tuilte a tharla i mbailte timpeall na tíre. Theip ar an chóras pleanála go huile agus go hiomlán a fheiceáil go raibh botún á dhéanamh nuair a tógadh tithe i gceantair a bhí i mbaol tuile. Ní bhainfidh an Bille seo leis sin, déanfaidh na comhairlíáitiúla agus na pleananna áitiúla sin agus foghlaimeoimid ón bhotún a rinneadh toisc go raibh forbairt níos tábhachtaí ná pleanáil cheart le tamall maith de bhlianta.

In my contribution on the opening Stage of this important Bill, I want to concentrate on ensuring that the consequences of bad planning are addressed. I am referring to flooding, a lack of services and empty offices and homes across the country. As has been blatantly evident for the past year, we failed as a society to plan properly. Some of this owed to bad advice, some of it owed to the planning process corruption in which many elected officials and some council officeholders were involved. This corruption was not just confined to the Dublin area.

We need to ensure that, through the mechanisms imposed by the Bill, we do not repeat those mistakes. We must also not repeat the mistake of relying overly on a certain building type or height, as suggested recently. In Dublin at least, the property boom seemed to concentrate overly on apartment blocks, high rises and the rezoning of industrial estates to facilitate them. Proper planning takes account of the need for people to be close to their workplaces. The rezoning of industrial estates in Dublin forced many businesses further and further out of the city centre and the near suburbs. This is not sustainable if we are to be environmentally friendly, as more people need to commute to and from work. Local area plans not only take account of the residential and service needs of local areas, but also of their employment needs. Each local area plan ensures that space is set aside to encourage employment whenever it is created and facilitated by a future Government, as this Government has no action plan in that regard.

Concerning local area plans, communities need to be better facilitated so as that they can have the technical aid they need to play a full role. A mechanism by which communities were given extra help, resources and abilities to challenge planning applications detrimental to their societies and communities and Government plans on large developments such as roads and so on was the community development project system. Included in the list produced on Friday of community development projects that were not granted a reprieve was Community Technical Aid, CTA, one of this city’s organisations that have helped communities to acquire and utilise the skills they require to play a full role in the planning system. In particular, it helped inner city communities that were trying to be regenerated to set their own demands. It allowed community members, from the youngest child to the oldest resident, to understand their role in future planning. Even at this late stage, will serious consideration be given to allowing a role for those community development projects and partnership that still exist so as that communities can be facilitated in trying to get to grips with major planning proposals and with playing a full role in local area planning?

[85]We are addressing planning and development. The Minister will table amendments to section 22 that are designed to remove any legal blockage to e-planning. What of planning notices? Not only will they be erected at the dwelling in question, but notice should also be served on other dwellings in the vicinity, for example, all homes within a radius of 500 m in an urban area and a radius of 1 mile in a rural area. Not everyone reads newspapers or has access to e-mail. Planning permissions and applications have gone ahead without neighbours being aware of them or their own roles in that regard. This mechanism is available in other countries and should be encouraged, as it allows people to understand that they have a role in objecting if they wish.

Will the Minister of State remove the €20 fee on planning objections? A recent European Court of Justice judgment means that VAT is to be applied on goods and services supplied by the State. Will the Minister of State give a commitment that VAT will not be charged on the fee, as doing so would make objecting more expensive for communities? Knowing the Government, it would charge VAT at the 21% rate because it believes that objecting to a planning application is a luxury. If it believed otherwise, it would remove the fee.

This legislation does not deal with a problem in my area fully, namely, the ability of the likes of the Railway Procurement Agency to ride roughshod over local communities. In some cases, it seems to be a law unto itself. It produces plans, but only then consults communities instead of consulting them in the first instance. I am referring to the Inchicore area where CIE operates. The intention is to place a portal — an exit — of the DART extension in the middle of a community. It would be like putting a portal in the heart of this Chamber. That would be the effect on people living around the site of the portal of the DART extension tunnel.

There was no consultation prior to the plan although there seems to be a bit of movement from the RPA after the fact. With proposals on that scale, there should be consultations with the community before the fact. Options should be outlined and the public should be asked for opinions, as alternatives have been proposed by various people in the community which would be less detrimental and probably more effective than what the RPA intends to do in that case.

Ugly and inappropriate buildings are also relevant to planning regulations. Some buildings overshadow older and established community buildings, and most councils are now in the middle of drawing up draft development plans. As elected Members, we know how to use this process and we understand its consequences, although others do not. Sometimes there are inappropriate buildings that may be in line with development plans but do not sit well with the area, sticking out like a sore thumb.

One of the recent examples is the proposal which will destroy and overshadow a national monument. There is a proposal to develop the area around Moore Street, the Carlton cinema and on to O’Connell Street and make it look like some type of fancy shopping centre with a ski resort. The plans look as if there is a ski resort on the top of the building heading towards the GPO. People could ski down the building, take off and land on the roof of the GPO.

This is inappropriate given that this is the historic heart of Dublin. This site was in the hands of the authorities but it has now reverted to private ownership, with the owners feeling they can do with it what they want. This site should be preserved and this is the type of proposal where a local area plan should be built up. This type of proposal should not get to the planning stage and should be ruled out as inappropriate and out of kilter with other buildings, the future planning for that area and the common good.

Much more imaginative proposals could be made for that site, particularly the side of Moore Street from No. 10 to No. 21. This would not only facilitate the preservation of the national [86]monument but bring about significant tourist development for the future. It is the Acting Chairman’s area and he would welcome more tourism for the north inner city in particular.

That is not the only affected area. There has been municipal destruction of historic sites elsewhere and I see nothing in the Bill that could prevent that other than to be aware of them in advance. The latest site was discovered in Smithfield. It is a Viking site showing that Viking Dublin was on both sides of the river, and this can be preserved intact. What has become common of late is for archaeologists to work under severe pressure to locate and excavate sites before covering them with concrete because they cannot preserve them in situ or else take them from the location, which defeats the science of archaeology.

When we come across sites like this with no development proposal, the State must step in quickly to preserve the site. Ireland has relied on tourism in the past and can rely on it more in future. That involves promoting our heritage and history, of which we have much. Not every site is as valuable as what I have outlined and not every site can be preserved. Key sites like the one on Wood Quay, which was destroyed by Dublin City Council, the site in Smithfield and the likes of the GPO and Moore Street should be saved. We can also go across the country taking in the likes of Tara and the Viking town outside Waterford.

Many sites must be preserved intact in their own environment to show the world. There are 60 million people in America who believe they are of Irish descent. Many of them would love to return to Ireland and see for themselves the parts of our history which are intact. There has been much done in the past and the likes of Newgrange, etc., have been well preserved, with interpretive centres built to ensure the site is not damaged with a significant influx of tourists. There are other plans which could destroy the environment and landscape of such sites. This ties in with the regional planning we spoke about.

A regional planning authority and regional plans have been mentioned. In the case of the Dublin and east coast region, will the new directly-elected mayor be in charge of this? That position will only come into being if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, manages to get his act together and produce that legislation.

I do not have time to address the problem of multi-unit development. I do not know if section 31 of the Bill is anomalous but if it is passed into law, the council will ask itself to take property in charge in some cases because the council would be the owner of many dwellings, including affordable and social housing in some complexes. The council would have a vested interest in taking in charge some of the properties, which might cause a problem in future.

Deputy Thomas Byrne:  I am delighted to speak on the Bill, which in general is quite progressive legislation. I come from a part of the world where over the past 15 years or so there has been a history of bad planning, much of which relates to too much residential land being zoned without having regard to other requirements in an area, such as education and industry. The biggest problem we had in my constituency is not having a dearth of land zoned for industry, education or community purposes but rather that the land was not available for such purposes.

In fairness to Meath County Council, it has got much better at this, although it is probably 15 years too late. Its local area and development plans prohibit one type of development until necessary and complementary development is also put in place. I know that is part of any of the local area plans which it has completed in the couple of years since we had the famous Laytown schools crisis. In that case, thousands of houses were built and although a substantial amount of land was zoned for schools and education, it simply was not available to the parish or Department. Things have changed since then.

  [87]5 o’clock

This Bill will not change such circumstances but it will serve to highlight the importance of proper planning and development and the need to get issues right. Local area plans have formed a key part of local authority planning and it seems that, until recently, local authorities probably did not realise the significance of local area plans or the requirements for such plans to coincide with development plans. The fact that they did not always match has caused many problems in one part of my constituency, where land zoned for a green area was, in effect, dezoned back to being residential. The local area plan was amended to dezone residential land for green space but the county development plan had not been amended in that fashion. I disagreed with the decision, but An Bord Pleanála saw fit to allow residential development where the wishes of the locally elected members and the public would have been for this to remain a green area. In fact, developers would have presumed that to be the case at the time. While we are improving in these areas, we are slightly too late.

I have no difficulty with the intervention of the Minister in local area plans. I know that many local authority members have been to the Dáil complaining about it, but I have no difficulty. He should intervene. This was first done by Deputy Dick Roche as Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, when he overturned zoning in County Laois and it has been carried on by the current Minister. Up to now, it has only been possible in respect of a county development plan, but this Bill will allow the Minister to intervene in local area plans. That will keep the pressure on local authorities to make sure that they are carried out properly, with due regard to proper planning and development. There are new requirements in the Bill to have regard to the regional guidelines in the national spatial strategy. That was always there, but it was not complied with by local authorities.

The public consultation for development plans is very good in theory. The council must advertise the fact that a development plan is being made or changed. However, the public does not generally respond. In cases where I circulated information to housing estates, notifying people that there was a change in the local area plan and asking them if they wished to put forward submissions, most residents did not make submissions, even if a few make very good ones. It is only when a planning application goes in that the people living in the area become concerned about it. I would encourage local residents to take a full part in making local development plans. Members of the public should play an intrinsic part in making development plans, so it is very important that they take up that right. It is incumbent on public representatives to do that. I remember circulating information to all the houses in Stamullen when the Stamullen framework plan was launched, and the public are glad to know that. The council has a role because Deputies are not part of the planning process, even if we might make submissions as members of the public. However, it is our role to highlight what is going on in our local areas.

The Minister might look at the provision under law for Deputies to make submissions on planning applications and to An Bord Pleanála, because it is not that clear on what we can and cannot do. We are sometimes asked to make submissions and I find that if I write it in a certain way, An Bord Pleanála will send it back demanding a formal submission, while at the same time stating that Deputies do not have to make formal submissions. It all seems to depend on what is written in the submission. There is an opportunity in this Bill, or in secondary legislation, to outline exactly what Deputies can or cannot do in respect of submissions. Some local authorities will allow a submission to be made after a deadline if it is in support of an application for a one-off house. An Bord Pleanála allow this if it is written in a certain way. This needs clarity because we are asked regularly to make submissions and sometimes these are made at the last minute. I do not like objecting to developments. If there is a real proposal [88]that can be delivered in the current economic climate, it is incumbent on us as Deputies to look at such a plan seriously and to take a lead in what might be good for the community.

There is a positive provision in the Bill where a local authority can now refuse planning permission where an applicant has carried out a substantial unauthorised development, or is being convicted of an offence under the Planning Acts. This is associated with large scale developers not finishing estates properly, so it is correct that this provision is introduced. Some of our rogue developers would not have got planning permission if such a provision were in place. However, there are other people outside that bracket who operate illegally and when the crunch comes, they look for planning permission. They might have been forced to do so due to financial circumstances, but it has to be said that many people who are operating premises properly and with planning permission begrudge the fact that such people can get planning permission. The councils accept rates from many of these unauthorised developments by unauthorised commercial operators, and this gives it a certain status. Even if it does not officially count for anything on a planning application, it must count for something that the rates have been accepted from the unauthorised commercial operator.

I was speaking to a constituent at the weekend. He applied for planning permission, paid the planning levies and was paying rates, yet somebody down the road did not get planning permission and did not pay levies but is paying rates. That is a smaller amount than the levies, and my constituent begrudges the fact that one side of the local authority is treating this unauthorised development officially. This needs to be examined, and perhaps a penalty should be placed on the rates for unauthorised commercial operations.

The issue of the Brú na Bóinne world heritage site is dear to the hearts of my constituents, and there are no better people than my constituents to protect and defend Brú na Bóinne and the heritage site that we have in Meath. However, it must be said that the Department is taking too restrictive a view on planning applications, not only within the world heritage site and the buffer zone, but also in areas further out from that. The Department has gone too hard on people in recent months, with a much tougher approach. The Meath county development plan already has a very strict provision on the construction of one-off housing in the buffer zone and the core area of the world heritage site at Brú na Bóinne, where planning permission is only allowed for full-time farmers in the area whose land is entirely in the buffer zone. That is very strict and many of the local people are annoyed with the provision because locals who are not farming cannot continue to live in their own parish. These are local people who are very proud of their heritage and the link with prehistory in County Meath. However, we will end up in a situation where there are no young people left in the area. It will be a museum and will be full of older people whose families have had to move away.

The full-time farmer issue is too strict, but that is a matter for the council in conjunction with the Department. However, I have encountered three cases of farmers in the area who qualified under the development plan criteria, yet the Department saw fit to object to their housing on other grounds. That is very difficult and frustrating for people. They do not feel that they have a level playing field on which to operate. Some planning permissions were granted over the last few years within the heritage site for people who were not from the area.

I am also concerned to see that Department officials are asking for expensive environmental impact assessments on Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth for any applications within two miles of the world heritage site, including townlands like Kellystown and Mellifont, which are closer to Cullen and Tullyallen in County Louth. It is not fair on young couples who want to live in their area to supply information to the Department on the impact their property might have on the world heritage site, when their property is far from the site and not affected by the [89]restrictive provisions under the development plan. The Department is going too far and is changing the goalposts again. There is nothing in writing to suggest that this is what these people have to do. The Minister might respond and claim that the planning permission is a matter for the council, but surely there is always a threat of the Department going to An Bord Pleanála because it did not like the planning application.

It seems that there is a creeping involvement by the Department in planning in County Meath. I am sure it will spread countrywide. Local people, intrinsic to an area, are entitled to live in the area and the area is entitled to have them. People are not allowed to live in their areas and not allowed to build houses. It is simply not fair that the Department keeps changing the goalposts on the spurious grounds that a house far outside the Newgrange buffer zone has something to do with Newgrange, Knowth or Dowth when it is in the parish of Tullyallen and Cullen. What is not included in the county development plan has been pursued by the Department. The county council must take a tougher line with the Department. What is in the development plan is too strict and we should not go beyond what is included in it. That has happened in the Newgrange area. I must say that on behalf of my constituents, who will be the protectors of the heritage in County Meath. They know Newgrange, Knowth or Dowth better than anyone. I know the area better than anyone because every Sunday morning I was brought out there for a walk with my brothers, sister, father and mother. When I went back to canvas, people in the area were kind enough to say they remembered that. I am proud of heritage but I do not want to turn our county into a museum. Our county must be living and breathing, protecting our heritage but moving on to allow people live in the area. I am not talking about large-scale development. I am passionate about this point and plead with the Minister to examine the submissions made by the Department. Are they too strict? Is there any reality to the threats the Department sees in planning permission within the world heritage site?

I am concerned about the Slane bypass. It is proposed to build this 500 m outside the buffer zone to protect a world heritage site. The website of the Save Newgrange campaign shows a picture of Newgrange against the Slane bypass. It is disappointing that members of Opposition parties are trying to have it both ways when a little heat comes on. This party, my colleagues and councillor Wayne Harding in Slane fully back the Slane bypass. I will not participate in public meetings against the Slane bypass. It would be hypocritical to do so. Having said that, I have met people who have concerns about the bypass and I am willing to meet anyone else who has concerns about it. Unlike some Opposition politicians, I will not attend public meetings against the Slane bypass. It is particularly hypocritical of Opposition politicians to do this. I am still trying to find out which Opposition politicians attended these meetings. I have a number of names. They have been criticising the Government for holding up the Slane bypass over the years. We want to see progress as quickly as possible. These politicians have been criticising the Government yet the first time there is a meeting expressing concerns about the bypass they attend to see what is going on and to act as Tadhg an dá thaoibh. These planning difficulties are intrinsic to my constituency. It is important that I raise them in this House.

I welcome the progress this Bill represents and I welcome the tightening of planning regulations. Some of the focus on one-off housing is incorrect. A local rural community needs young people for its schools, football teams, to create employment and to keep people in the community. That has been denied in the world heritage site and beyond it because of the Department’s involvement in planning permission.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  This is an important debate that raises many serious issues. Politics and planning do not go together, certainly not when it comes to corruption, because the two seem to have been interlinked in this country for many years. Tribunals have sat for many years but we still do not know the outcome. Suffice it to say serious questions have been raised [90]about the connection between members of different political parties, predominantly Fianna Fáil, and builders and developers and the rotten core of Irish life that was corrupt planning politics. Hopefully it is over and this legislation will go some way towards bringing that to finality. We must reflect on the role of politicians setting policy and intervening in planning applications. I do not know why Deputies, as opposed to any other member of the public, should have special powers in respect of planning objections. People approach Deputies asking them to support the objection as part of the community. The Deputy then has the right to sign off on that and send an individual letter or make an observation. One does not have to go through the formal objection process at present. The present system is rotten to the core. It is rotten because we have so many people living in negative equity and so many estates built with no services, no schools, no shopping and no public transport. It happens because the planning process was totally inadequate and in many cases corrupt. I say this because it is true and we all know it.

The result was the so-called building boom, where thousands of houses were built at highly inflated prices, driven and facilitated by the Government. The current Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, is the only Taoiseach to go on the record in this House to say things will be worse rather than better for the children of the future. He said that as a result of the collapse in property prices and our economic difficulties. He and his Government are accountable for this. The change that must be made to planning cannot ignore the vast profits made from the rezoning of land by developers and landowners. The people who facilitated this transfer in illegal ways made a great deal of money. I am not talking about the legitimate planning process but backdoor deals, calls in the dark and the brown paper envelopes in a folded copy of The Irish Times in the Dáil bar. This has happened and we must get rid of it.

As a society, the fundamental decision we must make is that we can no longer allow situations where land is rezoned to endow a significant benefit to those who own the land. The Kenny report on building land referred to adding 25% to the commercial valuation of land. This happens in particular with agricultural land. A fair amount of money should be given but should be limited in order that this can never happen again. We can talk about a change of Government or a change of planning laws but until we make sure the planning process is fundamentally altered in this respect, we cannot face our young people in the future. As a result of this our young people are disadvantaged. Those who purchased houses at inflated prices are left with negative equity and without jobs. It is a disgrace and is primarily because of the economic policy of this Government and Governments in the past, particularly of the Fianna Fáil variety.

We are all paying for the relationship between the boom and the bust. Taxpayers will pay for it for an unknown period. In attempts to deal with this issue, aspects of the Bill refer to local development plans, county development plans, spatial strategies and new regional bodies. Regional bodies do not make sense because they involve people travelling from one side of the country to the other to meet officials who do not belong to the council and whom they will not see again. It is supposed to be based on the spatial strategy. Politics is at the heart of the national spatial strategy for which the Government is responsible. That is a fact. When areas were designated for growth under the current spatial strategy, one can consider the towns of Drogheda and Dundalk. Under freedom of information legislation I was able to find out little other than the fact that a document went to Cabinet, which will take eight to ten years to be released, presenting a choice between Drogheda and Dundalk for development and designation under the spatial strategy. The problem was that the accompanying documentation underestimated the population of Drogheda so that it was not included. I do not know what happened at a Cabinet meeting but clearly, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who would have been [91]present, did not bang the drum for his home county when it came to Drogheda. However, another Minister banged the drum for his political party, the current Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith. The record shows that when both Cavan and Monaghan towns were not included in the draft spatial strategy, he said: “You better include the two of them.” The planning reason for this decision was a political planning reason; if Monaghan was not included, then Sinn Féin would win a seat in Cavan-Monaghan and how terrible that would be. This is on the record if the Ministers would care to look at it. Let us get the facts right about the spatial strategy; in some cases, the spatial strategy was a con. Not only was it a con but whatever good might have been in it, the former Minister for Finance, Mr. McCreevy, decided that the places not chosen as spatial strategy hub centres would be given Government Departments and there was one for every county and a smaller one for every little town. It was an absolute joke. They destroyed the good concept of a proper spatial strategy, free from political interference, based on good planning principles but flexible.

Look at what has happened in the greater Dublin area in the context of the current national spatial strategy. If the phenomenal growth around the greater Dublin area is superimposed upon a map of Ireland, it shows that this growth is totally disproportionate in terms of size. The shift of population to the east has had a very adverse impact on the environment, the type of estates built, lack of planning and lack of facilities. I refer to the time spent commuting by those living in the greater Dublin area. The quality of life they were living as a result of bad planning is a disgrace. It reflects very badly on county councils and on Government. What is needed in order to change the situation and how can it be made work? This Government is not making things work.

The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, brought in the Dublin Transport Authority and then the National Transport Authority and here is the planning problem. Deputy Thomas Byrne represents Meath East which is part of the greater Dublin area so from the national transport point of view, any new planning permission in County Meath, right up to the border with Drogheda, is part of the National Transport Authority and therefore there must be a transport plan involved in the planning application. Anyone wishing to build 500 houses in County Meath must have a transport plan but on the other side of the River Boyne in County Louth, a transport plan is not required and a developer can continue to build the sort of estates he built for other people. A developer is not required to have a proper transport plan. This does not make sense. It does not make sense that the imposition of boundaries which are not practical and do not make sense, is continuing. I cannot understand why the county of Louth was not included in the greater Dublin area and it makes no sense from any point of view. The only people who can gain from lack of proper planning are the developers and the gombeen developers and gombeen men who will continue to do what they always did, fleece the poor people of the country and leave them as they have left them.

The situation is very bad and although this proposed Bill may make certain improvements, unless we have absolute and total change and change forever, we will be coming back here in five and ten years time with the same appalling, shameful, disgraceful situation of negative equity and the madness to buy bricks and mortar totally out of kilter with prices and land values and the people are sick of it.

The Green Party is now part of this wonderful Government. A few years ago, when Deputy Paul Gogarty was a member of the Opposition he went over to the other side of the House, to a seat in the third row, during a debate on planning and said he wanted to sit over in the Fianna Fáil seats to know what it was like to sit on the corrupt side of the House. Those were his words, more or less.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  He learned a lot over there.

[92]Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  He learned how to say “expletive deleted” anyway. My point is there is an incompatibility between the aims and the credibility of the Green Party which is now lumped in with the Fianna Fáil builders and developers and so on.

I wish to address some points of local interest and the question of archaeology. When a developer knocked down a listed building in Drogheda in 1987 in the middle of the night, I went to the High Court along with a colleague of mine, the late Eddie Doherty, because the local authority members sat on their backsides and would do nothing about it. We made sure that the wonderful people who knocked down the listed building in the middle of the night would sift and sort by hand through that rubble and take out every possible brick and piece of wood and anything else that could used in the restoration of that building. This case was a marker to show that people could never again do what those people did. They faced a fine of £10,000, the maximum fine at the time and the case was tried in the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin. The law changed so that the maximum fine is now €1 million.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  I advise the Deputy that individuals should not be identifiable.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  What individual did I identify? I ask the Acting Chairman to tell me.

Acting Chairman:  I am just reminding the Deputy.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Acting Chairman should tell me. Is he telling me the people who knocked the building down were good people?

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy is divulging details of the case in question.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Would the Acting Chairman defend them, because I would not?

Acting Chairman:  Certainly not. I am just pointing out to the Deputy that it is not allowed for allegations to be made where people——

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  What allegations?

Acting Chairman:  ——could be identifiable.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  They were identified in court. They were brought before the Circuit Criminal Court in Dublin and they were convicted, that is the point. Who is the Acting Chairman afraid of? We have to change the way we do things. People who break the law like that must never get away with it. I have not mentioned their names here but they are on the record of the court and on the record of the affidavits we swore about them.

Acting Chairman:  The Deputy’s argument is not with the Chair, so I ask him to proceed.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  My argument is that there is too much corruption in politics. There has been too much corruption in politics and too much corruption in the Acting Chairman’s party, under some of its leaders.

Acting Chairman:  I am sorry, Deputy——

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I am fed up to the teeth with this pussyfooting about.

Acting Chairman:  ——but your argument is not with the Chair.

[93]Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I ask the Acting Chairman to please tell me when I am in breach of the rules but when I want to tell the truth there is one place to say it and that is here and nowhere else. I repeat we must fundamentally change our planning process and we must make that change now because if we do not do so, this will continue on for generations. The only way to do it is to expose the rank corruption that exists in public life and to draw a line between what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. The only way to do this is by discussing the issue here in this House and taking up the good points made by all Members.

On the question of archaeology, I was referring to the case involving the Drogheda Grammar School which was demolished in the middle of the night. The law was changed as a result of my action and that of my friend. We put our own money into it. We had no choice because we believed in what we were doing as we believe in what we are doing today.

Brú na Bóinne is a national heritage site and, if not a unique world site, is certainly unique in western Europe. I do not have a problem with protecting every bit of it. If local people want to build on that site, I do not have a problem if the criteria and protocols are laid down. If a local authority decides a person can build a house in a particular location it should apply criteria to the permission and site impact and lay down guidelines so that people know what will be permitted. The National Roads Authority seems to have a death wish to involve communities in strife over where roads are to be built. This was evident at the Tara site and it will now happen over Brú na Bóinne and this does not make sense. Roads should be built as far away as possible from a national heritage site, whatever the cost. In the case of the controversy over Tara, I do not understand why the National Roads Authority did not opt for a route that avoided the site. It might have been the most expensive option and it might have necessitated building an additional bridge because of the contours of the road, but it should have been done because it was the option with the least impact on the archaeological heritage of the area.

There are positive and negative aspects of the Bill. I have been seriously critical in the past of the national spatial strategy, mainly because a coach and four was put through it, with certain areas that were not designated growth centres seeing massive expansion and areas that were designated for growth undergoing no development. The Government must review the strategy without delay. For example, the greater Drogheda area, as I call it, should be taken out of the Border, midland and western, BMW, region and incorporated into the greater Dublin area. We must look realistically at where development has taken place; it will not do simply to impose the footprint of the existing strategy on the realities of modern Ireland and hope the two will fit together. I am not confident that the provisions regarding regional plans based on the spatial strategy will be effective. They have not been effective in the past because the national strategy was entirely ignored. We must begin all over if we are to get it right. Above all there must be transparency and accountability in the planning process.

I thank the Minister of State for listening to my contribution. There must be fundamental and absolute change. More of the same is not acceptable.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill. I am deeply disappointed that so few Members are in the Chamber to discuss issues pertaining to planning which should be of great interest to us all. The planning discourse in this State is in chaos. I listened with great care to the debate that has taken place thus far on this legislation. There should be broad public support for effective planning and politicians should support effective planning.

I entered politics in 1974 when I was elected to two local authorities, Galway County Council and Galway City Council. The latter rarely used what was called the section 4 process for overturning the opinion of planning officials on the council. On the other hand, because many [94]of the members of Galway County Council were teachers, there was a convention that no vote should be taken on a section 4 proposal until 4.30 p.m. This ensured all the teachers were present for the section 4 vote and then there would be a rash of them.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  The teachers were not the problem.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  The average number of such votes was probably 15, although it reached 30 on occasion. It was almost like a system of carbon credits with people owing each other support on section 4 votes. Members from one side of the county would vote for something on the basis that they had credit from another councillor in another part of the county. That was disgraceful. I do not have time today to go into why the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963 was originally introduced. At the time of its introduction there was a fundamental confusion in the Irish psyche as to the absolute rights of ownership. If one owed something the assumption was that one did what one liked with it. After all, there had been hundreds of years of foreign landlordism and so on. The 1963 Act sought to address that. During the irresponsible section 4 period in the mid-1970s to which I referred, I was, together with Michael Bannon, also a member of the Regional Studies Association which was trying to make the case for regional planning. I am in favour of effective regional planning rather than the cosmetic regionalism which stands today as a substitute for it.

As we discuss planning in 2010, we must acknowledge the growing acceptance internationally that we should be concerned about inter-generational justice. If there is one development that is taking place at a general level it is that the thinking in regard to the morality of politics is such, be it in terms of climate change, war and peace, world poverty, the elimination of disease and so on, that those of us who have the benefit of being elected politically should be interested in the consequences of our actions past an election period. Moreover, the Executive should be concerned, whether in respect of heritage, planning and so on, about the consequences of taking an irreversible decision. A failure to consider the consequences of such decisions is evident in the case of the Corrib gas field, the development at Tara and many other areas. The consequences have been quite disastrous.

That failure to consider the consequences of our actions is the reason we have a broken discourse on planning issues. What we have instead are pools of suspicion. I and colleagues in the Dáil received letters urging us to come together to express our support for the Shell development in Mayo. That was outrageous. It is entirely inappropriate that we seek to influence that type of planning decision. The particular way in which planning was handled in that case was in itself scandalous. The developers, having had their application refused, took part in a meeting with the then Taoiseach and other members of the Government which in turn led to the presentation to An Bord Pleanála on 19 September 2003 of what was referred to as the “case for indigenous gas”. The chairman of that meeting pointed out that there could not be a presentation on the basis of a particular application, so we had a presentation on the case for indigenous gas.

It was remarkably similar to the letter I received pointing out how essential this development was and why all politicians should come out in favour of it before the decision was made. At a meeting attended by 800 people, including some who are still Members of the House on the Fianna Fáil side, it was proposed that a fresh application be submitted. And on it went. On 17 December 2003 Shell resubmitted its planning application to Mayo County Council and new submissions were made. On 30 April 2004 the council granted planning permission in response to which residents appealed to the Planning Appeals Board. However, on 23 October 2004, the board delivered a unanimous decision to approve planning permission.

[95]I was a Member of the Seanad when Justin Keating announced there would be three guiding principles in respect of any such development: first, the State acting for the people as owners of the resources should be paid for those resources; second, companies engaging in offshore development on the Irish continental shelf should be subject to Irish taxation and, third, since the resources are public property, the State must have the right to participate in their exploitation.

Those principles were later overthrown. Irrespective of whether one agreed with them, at least they addressed the public interest. I will remind the House of the alternative that was introduced after the principles were reversed in the case I have mentioned. When the initial application was refused, representatives of the main developing company met the Taoiseach and a Minister. A letter was sent to public representatives in the region inviting us to a public meeting, but I refused to attend. A new decision was reached and we have had chaos since then. Regardless of whether one was for or against the proposal in question, it was not the best way to develop resources.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  The politicians involved contaminated the process. I will come back to this matter because a price is continuing to be paid in terms of community conflict and distress. Agencies of the State got involved on the side of the developer, rather than on the side of the community. Given that alternative models were available in other countries, it was scandalous that we proceeded as we did. It reveals the mindset of certain people. I am reminded of the woman who was sent to jail in New York, who said that taxes are for small people. In this case, it seems that planning is not for big people. There is a suggestion that if a project is of sufficient importance, one can proceed with it regardless of whether others like it. That is what happened in this instance. The full scandalous facts of these secret meetings should be put into the public realm.

Why has Ireland not fully ratified and implemented the Aarhus Convention, which allows public participation in planning discourse? When the Minister replies at the end of this debate, perhaps he can explain how much progress has been made with the implementation of the convention. One could give a rather old and gentrified response, to the effect that we are doing so much under our existing legislative arrangements that we almost do not need the convention. It is as if we think we are a cut above the other European countries that have decided to implement the EU directive. In his response, can the Minister say how many cases have been initiated by the Commission at the European Court of Justice? To what matters do those cases relate? Will the matters in question be resolved?

I would like to mention another notion, which involves a kind of sideways political approach to planning. When I was the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, I was responsible for the implementation of certain directives at different times. When I dealt with candidate sites for designation as special areas of conservation or national heritage areas, it became useful for Fianna Fáil, and sometimes Fine Gael, to say that Michael D. was just doing his thing and all the rest of it. In fact, when Deputy Treacy had preceded me as Minister of State in this area, he had concluded the negotiations in Brussels. Different things might have been done at those discussions. It was my duty as the member of the Cabinet with responsibility for heritage to legislate for the directives in question, and I did so.

I would like to make a statement which anyone can refute if they wish. In the Rossport case, which I mentioned earlier, the EU birds directive has been flagrantly and publicly broken. There has been interference with special areas of conservation. Work has taken place in the full knowledge that the relevant area was protected and without any consequences being invoked. I [96]refer again to the notion that some projects are too big for public accountability and transparency in planning. I am not making accusations that I cannot support. I am certainly not attacking planners because I am in favour of planning. It is hypocrisy of the first rank for a Minister with responsibility for the environment to ask local authority planning sections to come up with compliance, while not providing those sections with the staff to enable them to do so.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  I am well aware that there can be petty jealousies in the engineering profession at times. I have been proposing since 1974 that a city architect be appointed in Galway city. I nearly secured such an appointment at one time, until someone said that a senior engineering post would have to be lost. One could have an architect buried in the planning department. I know what an architect is and I know what an engineer is. One could have an architect in the planning department who is responsible to someone else, but one could not have a city architect who is responsible for examining the shape of the city. The proposals in this Bill relate to similar forms of planning. I would like attention to be paid to An Bord Pleanála’s new and accelerated powers in the response that is made at the end of this debate. For example, some of the powers of the former harbour authorities are to be divested through the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to An Bord Pleanála.

The many references to regional planning in this Bill are very laudable. The legislation makes interesting reference to transport. CIE is the statutory authority with responsibility for public transport in the Galway area. It has made a proposal in respect of a major site that it owns. It is one of the largest sites in a European city, proportionately, in terms of acres. CIE has not carried out any study of current or future transport needs in the region. In effect, it has gone out to tender for the development of the site, less than 15% of which will be retained for public transport uses. It proposes to sweat the site for the cost of making a few minor amendments to public transport. Not one penny of the cost of this development in Galway city will be met from Transport 21. The local newspapers, which are too lazy to investigate the matter properly, have referred to CIE’s €1 billion plan for a high-rise residential and retail development. As CIE could not get permission to knock a little stone building, it now regards it as a community shed to be used for artistic purposes.

The next large development in Galway is likely to take place at Galway Port, which is down by the side of the major CIE site. The local authority will wait for the details of the two development projects to come in from the developers before asking them to bear in mind the strategic elements of its city development plan. The point is that this Bill refers to local area plans — I know what they are — but does not make the local authority responsible for producing a master plan when development areas are adjacent to each other. Very fine proposals have been made in respect of Galway Port, for example, involving the reclamation of a considerable portion of land from the sea. In his concluding response, perhaps the Minister will tell the House who owns that land. I understand the port company proposes to dispose of its inner land to finance this proposal, as it is entitled to do. In fairness, it has shown its proposals, which involve the arrival of cruise liners, etc., to Galway City Council. That is in contrast with CIE, which has received three invitations to come to the city council. The manager has said that CIE has not refused to come — it just simply has not come.

That might all seem very particular, but it relates to the fundamental points I am making. Where is the commitment to the Aarhus Convention? Why do we have to offer deposits if we wish to offer an opinion on, or make an objection to, a particular plan? Where is the connection [97]between the different projects that have come in together? A strategic master plan is required in such circumstances. What was the record of An Bord Pleanála when it came under political pressure at the very top? The other point I have made relates to quiet compliance. It is scandalous that so many elected representatives do it. I have spoken about the suggestion that all this stuff about birds and snails is a pain in the neck, and that real people just get on with it.

They did get on with it by building tens of thousands of houses. They built townhouses in villages in counties Roscommon and Leitrim and similar places. As one drives past them, one can see the place for the crèche. Outside tubs were to be constructed in Ballydehob. What caused all this and which parties facilitated it? Some Members of this House have been weeping tears for the recent floods but who themselves wrote in favour of planning permissions for houses to be built on flood plains. I distinctly remember, for example, having opposed the building of houses on a flood plain in Oranmore, County Galway, being accused of being against development. I refer to the thick, ignorant, red-necked “do not hold me back” culture of which the construction industry, in fairness to it, was not part. I know many people in the construction industry and I respect those who build and design houses and who put block upon block. They were not the people who brought us to our present position. That was done by the people who speculated on the land, which went from 15% of the price of the finished product 15 years ago to 50% in the so-called boom times. Such people did not dirty their hands, handle a trowel or lift a hod. They were a small number of chancers who could run the little gambling club that was Anglo Irish Bank. I suppose everyone now is supposed to grieve for them in case they are obliged to run abroad. What a group they were and what a legacy they have left behind.

As Members go through this legislation, I wish to be entirely fair to it. I agree with some aspects of it, including, for example, some of the adjustments of local plans to regional strategies. I also welcome what must be done in respect of anticipating the future consequences of climate change. The last point I wish to make pertains to the new intellectual drift in respect of planning that Ireland needs a new North-South corridor, that is, a second eastern corridor. This view has been proposed by the Dublin Institute of Technology, for example, and is in complete contradiction of the Atlantic way proposals that have obtained heretofore. This constitutes poor planning, poor scholarship and bad methodology in the manner in which it was put together. I refer to the urban diseconomies that were experienced in the cities and which drove people out into counties Kildare, Meath and so forth and note that such people must now commute back from their houses in negative equity with all the consequences of being on the road and so forth. On the other side of such urban diseconomies lay the neglected infrastructure in all the towns and rural areas in which development could have taken place. Schools were closing for the lack of pupils while at the same time, there were shortages of schools in the areas in which urban diseconomies had been allowed.

It is time for all Members to make a commitment to planning and to staffing properly planning officers. This should be done instead of reducing An Bord Pleanála’s planning quorum from three people to two in an effort to speed up its throughput. Were anyone in Europe or elsewhere in the world to read this, they would be laughing for a month. One must staff and resource planning properly and while politicians can become involved in planning if they so wish, they should not contaminate it in the manner I have just outlined.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I am pleased to have the opportunity to make my contribution to the debate on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009, some aspects of which are important and with which I agree and others that I believe could go a little further. I will begin with the issue of development plans and will outline my experiences in this regard as both a town councillor and a county councillor. I have been involved in the drafting of development [98]plans in both spheres and have found such plans to be highly complex documents. At the time, I thought the local authorities’ internal expertise was insufficient and perhaps the councillors’ background did not provide the correct mix of individuals in terms of feeding information from the various sectors such as the retail, farming, social and sporting sectors. I also thought that while some individuals within the local authorities were particularly interested in development plans, others did not have as much interest in their development.

Personally, I loved my involvement in drawing up such plans and I believe there has been much unfair criticism of councillors and their roles with regard to overzoning. As I noted earlier, development plans are highly complex and involve attempts to look into the future, in most cases for five years, although one does not know what will happen within five or ten years. Over the past ten years, councillors faced difficulties caused by the movement of people into their towns and a considerable amount of development around them. The councillors came under pressure to provide extra land for the development of their towns and areas and to do what was in their areas’ best interests. In addition, they had an obligation to ensure the provision of balanced and proper planning. I believe that in our contributions, both I and the people with whom I worked did our best to achieve this at all times. It is easy to look back in hindsight and assert that councillors ran riot. I accept that mistakes undoubtedly were made in certain parts of the country.

However, I also believe that a complex set of proposals are put in place that deal with all aspects of the future development of one’s town or locality. Much more expertise should be provided by the planning officials, engineers and architects from both the private and public sectors. The planning authorities must engage much more and at a higher level with such people before presenting plans. The system in the country as it was set out was one in which people would lobby their local councillors and Deputies to try to influence change, which is understandable. Another difficulty faced by councillors was that if not enough land was zoned, the five people who owned all the land around a small town were being given the opportunity to sell that lands onto developers at the time. However, were enough land zoned to have 20 such owners, it might have the effect of bringing down the price of land. Consequently, one was obliged to take into consideration many issues when putting plans in place.

I have seen both good plans and bad plans put in place. Some plans became unworkable on foot of pressure arising from the major public consultation meetings and a consequential paralysis between the planning officials, the councillors and the people who were living in the various villages. It has been necessary to revisit and reconsider such plans in certain cases because they have become unworkable. This was the outcome of pressure caused from both sides and not simply from the elected representatives. While I was a member of Wexford County Council, it produced a wind strategy plan for Wexford. At that time, I considered it to be an anti-wind, rather than a wind strategy because three years ago it was taboo to have turbines and people did not want them in their areas. Now however, they appear to be fashionable and turbines are being mooted nationwide. The council produced a wind strategy that now is perceived to be highly restrictive for a coastline and county that has enormous potential for wind development.

As for flood plains, developments in that regard were incredible. I operated in New Ross, where my late father and I had property on the riverbank there. It was a flood plain and I lost eight to ten nights’ business every year because of flooding. At one stage I was obliged to know the contents of the book of tides one month in advance because it was my business to so do. My business was wiped out during a hurricane on 16 December 1989 due to severe flooding at the time and the only solution was to raise one’s building out of being at risk. While this was done in respect of new developments in New Ross, this was based on local knowledge. In many [99]recent cases pertaining to development on flood plains, local people were not consulted with regard to what happens with rivers and I fail to understand the reason for that. All sorts of engineering solutions have been proposed which would cost a fortune. However, were one to speak to the people on the ground who encounter such flood threats, they probably could solve the problem for a fraction of the cost. In my own case, two local publicans and I came up with a solution, which cost £15,000 at the time, to ramp the local boat club in New Ross, thereby preventing the water from flooding through it. Although this measure solved the problem, we were up against a project that would have cost a couple of hundred thousand euro from an engineering perspective and which proposed the building of walls all around the lower part of the village of Rosbercon. My point is that local knowledge in respect of flood plains and in respect of difficult areas for development always should be used.

I agree with Deputy Higgins in respect of city planners. This is a highly important initiative and every city should have its own planner. Moreover, rather than running for five years, city plans should run for ten or 20 years. Consideration should be given to engaging the professional sector to work with the local authorities in the various cities and counties to put in place such projects and plans for the next ten to 20 years.

I would welcome proper planning. Elected representatives should have no role in planning. It should be straightforward but because it is complicated we do not have the luxury of not being involved and we must engage. One can deal with a planner who will advise one of the particular style of window or house he or she favours; one then goes through the pre-planning process and put the plan into the system where it is dealt with by somebody else who does not like the style of window or house produced. Meanwhile the citizen who paid the planning fee is caught in the middle of the mix. I have serious concerns about this; planning should be much more straightforward and there should be no issues.

  6 o’clock

I learned a great lesson as a county councillor when friends in the New Ross area approached me about planning. At the time, I did my best for them but the planning application was refused. I brought them to meet a senior planner in the county council where I was told that unfortunately there was no way the people would be granted planning permission and that they would have to choose a new site. Approximately six months later when I was checking the planning lists I noticed that planning had been granted to the people on the original site. When I checked I noticed a party colleague who was a Member of the Dáil had secured planning permission for them whereas I was hung out to dry. The lesson I learned is that there is no such thing as “No”; one must be persistent and keep going back until one gets the planning permission. I have found the people I have dealt with over the years to be of the highest integrity and I have had no difficulties with them but the system works against them. For that reason they need assistance in the form of legislation to help them have clear guidelines and directives on planning.

My nephew is doing a thesis on regional authorities and regional assemblies and their role in the overall political system in the country. I was a member of a regional authority and those involved carry out great work. However, there is a huge disconnect between the work of the regional authorities and the role of a Member of the Dáil or town councillors. I met with the regional authority on only one occasion during my two and a half years in the Dáil. We should meet on a quarterly basis at least. I would love to see the role of regional authorities strengthened and I welcome that aspect of the Bill. They have a huge part to play.

For argument’s sake on my next point, I will give the example of the new 25 m swimming pool being built in New Ross. A 50 m pool would be a far more welcome development in the south east region and New Ross is ideally located for this type of development. It should be part of an overall co-ordinated approach and plan whereby a 50 m pool is built and funded in [100]one area, such as in the south-east region, and no similar development is allowed in the same area. This makes the one developed sustainable. We should do the same in the western area, there is one in Limerick, and the same in the north west. This would make the developments viable. What tends to happen is that we build a pool here and another there and nobody considers their ongoing viability. From a competitive and sports point of view 50 m pools are very important. There should also be a co-ordinated approach to other major projects of which we feel the country can sustain only one or two. I welcome the Bill if it will co-ordinate and improve a proper planning system and will link up local authority development plans with the national spatial strategy and the regional guidelines.

I am not sure about ministerial directives as I am a little concerned about ministerial intervention in the overall planning system. If the guidelines are set out strictly and in a straightforward manner initially there should be no need for ministerial directives. I question this aspect of the Bill. Overall consistency is the key to the success of the planning guidelines and I ask that these are examined to ensure the legislation is strong enough to ensure consistency in granting planning permission and how we deal with planning.

The jury is out on the requirement for a two thirds majority of councillors to pass plans. I remember being involved in plans as a county councillor and the difficulty in trying to get a majority to agree a plan because of the different backgrounds and philosophies of people. Someone might want a Tesco in a particular place and someone else might believe there should not be a Tesco there. This would be held up and argued out, perhaps not on a financial factual basis but because someone had a gripe against a particular company, whether it be Tesco, Dunnes or whoever. It will be interesting to see what way voting on plans goes and how the two thirds majority of councillors will operate.

I would take issue with the section of the Bill dealing with making amendments to development plans and minor adjustments. Nobody knows in what type of economy or environment we will operate in two to three years time. A major and very attractive development, such as a hotel or golf club, may want to locate on a particular site perhaps on the outskirts of a town not included in zoning. Councillors may be in favour of it but the directives in the spatial strategy and the national guidelines may be against it. I would question the strictness of allowances to make amendments to development plans. It may have an impact on future job creation potential which also concerns me.

I welcome the section on rogue developers. We need something to put serious pressure on developers who in recent years built housing estates in certain areas which are of very poor standard. I welcome this if it means we will have a much higher quality finish on our estates and proper finishing of apartments and public buildings. Not all developers short-changed the customer and were in it for profit, and some very fine buildings were developed. People were committed to building to a very high standard. I welcome this aspect of the Bill and I hope it is enforced with vigour in the coming years. We have much to learn from recent years about substandard properties and finishes. I hope we will see much improvement in this area in the next five to ten years.

I also welcome the provisions on planning permission extension. I am aware of many projects, as I am sure are other Members of the Dáil and councillors in the area, which have had planning permission for two or three years but finance is tight and people are unsure about investing in them. The Bill might provide certainty to a market that is concerned about going ahead with projects. I hope this will be examined fairly and that each project will be evaluated on its merit.

[101]While I welcome the flexibility of the Bill with regard to levies and where they can be spent, a huge issue arises with regard to their collection and levels. People are applying for planning permission in small towns, villages or major cities where they are hit with huge car parking costs, albeit that someone may have made contributions two to three years earlier but did not survive in business. The levies are a real impediment to people starting up new businesses. Phased payment schemes over a longer period should be considered by local authorities. Most local authorities provide for phased payments over 12 months or two years. I suggest a built-in ten year phasing of levies because of their scale and size. The alternative is to reduce them to what is an acceptable level now. In good times people could probably just about reach them but they have gone out of control and are far too high. They are a disincentive to people creating and opening their own businesses.

As I am discussing levies I will mention the windfall tax of 80% with which I have a huge issue. This is unworkable. If it is meant to be punitive it should be reduced to a 40% tax. The reason we are not getting much hassle about it at present is that not much land is changing hands. However, people will decide against selling if they are hit by a windfall tax of 80% on their family land or land which has been zoned and this could pose a problem in the future.

I am not a great fan of An Bord Pleanála. It takes too long to decide on planning applications and makes it too easy to raise objections. It fails to consider the possibility of mischief makers obstructing young families from building on family land, personal vendettas or family feuds which extend back 50 years, even where the advice of a neutral person could be made available. The consequences of such interference is usually costly for the planning applicant. State agencies and An Taisce are also likely to raise objections through An Bord Pleanála. It is crazy that State agencies can appeal a planning permission granted by local authorities. It is probably preferable that I say no more about the matter other than that it annoys me to the nth degree.

The New Ross bypass project, which when complete will comprise a 14 km dual carriageway and the longest and highest bridge in the country, has been under way for the past 12 years. In the good times, it was costed at €300 million. A certain individual and An Taisce have decided to challenge the project in the High Court. The individual concerned is involved in a number of other high profile cases around the country and in my opinion is a mischief maker who is trying to disrupt the development of Ireland’s infrastructure. The New Ross bypass is of great importance to the south east and the people of Wexford, south Kilkenny and Waterford. The project has already successfully completed a rigorous planning process. I understand a High Court challenge will be heard on 23 February but notice has been given that the case will be pursued in the Supreme Court and in Europe. The bypass will be the last element of infrastructure linking Waterford with Dublin through the N11 and the N25 to Rosslare. An Taisce and this individual, who does not come from anywhere near the south east, have decided to go against the system and stop the project. An Bord Pleanála has a lot to answer for in regard to how it allows individuals to interfere with major infrastructure projects. We in Government also have a responsibility for legislating to address this problem.

Although the Bill does not deal with disabled access, I wish to briefly address the issue. Local authorities are investing significant efforts in producing disability strategies and a number of towns and villages have ramped footpaths and installed wheelchair accessible toilets. Last week, I parked in the Jurys Custom House Inn and pushed down the quays to the O2 arena to attend the musical, “We Will Rock You”. I had to negotiate a phenomenal number of intersections and obstacles just along that short stretch of footpath. Dublin still has some work to do in regard to that issue and these conditions are mirrored throughout the country. I travelled along the bicycle lane on my way back to my car and found it a joy to use.

[102]I love attending the cinema and in recent times, planning permission has been granted for several cinemas, including a Storm Cinemas complex in Waterford. Along with my nephew, I visited Storm Cinemas Waterford, which is the cinema closest to New Ross. However, I discovered that the theatre which was playing the film I wanted to watch contained tiered seating and the wheelchair space was at the front of the theatre, only six feet away from the screen. When I objected to sitting in this area, the cleaning staff lifted the front row of seats onto their shoulders and carried it to the side of the screen. I had to park my wheelchair in a way that obstructed the view of the rest of the audience. I have not returned to that cinema, although I have contacted the company about my experience. I do not blame Storm Cinemas for my experience because it was the result of a planning issue which should have been addressed at the outset of the project. It is a similar issue to hotels which go the distance in terms of constructing wheelchair accessible dressing rooms, which in many cases are used to store cleaning equipment, but fail to install a hoist to lift people from their wheelchairs into the pool.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Johnny Brady):  The Deputy should conclude.

Deputy Mary Hanafin:  It is a pity to cut him off because we do not often hear this perspective.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I will conclude with some brief remarks, if Opposition Deputies do not object. A small amount of extra effort would be of great assistance. The Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is considering my proposals regarding sports and community centres. Public facilities at council offices can be made accessible through simple improvements such as doors opening into toilet cubicles rather than opening out. Architects should be on top of these matters but, as they are not, access awareness training is crucial. The legislation in this area should also be strengthened.

We are spending millions annually on social housing and extensions for people with mobility problems. I have long advocated lifestyle housing because every social house should have a bedroom and a bathroom downstairs. People will need to use them at some stage in their lives. Last year, €2 million was spent in Wexford on housing grants for people with disabilities. The total value of the applications received was €6 million.

I welcome the Bill as a positive development and hope we can improve on certain aspects of it during our deliberations on Committee Stage. I thank the Acting Chairman for his latitude in allowing me to conclude.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on Second Stage of this Bill. I welcome some aspects of the legislation as it stands, although I would suggest a review is needed of certain provisions. There are a number of inconsistencies between what the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is advocating and what is contained in the Bill. The cutbacks and embargoes imposed by this Government on local authorities are responsible for the termination of contracts for a significant number of excellent planners. The Minister should have ensured those who deliver services can remain in their positions.

The Bill proposes to extend the time permitted for planning permission in certain instances. Will this include an extension to the length of time for permission on projects which will be taken over by NAMA? The Minister has been highly critical of the decisions that permitted many of these projects to proceed, yet he intends that the time allowed for them can be extended automatically. I ask him to review this issue as a matter of urgency.

[103]I regret that he is interfering in the planning process at local level. It would be a retrograde step were he to continue that practice. I say that because when the first Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 1963 came into operation on 1 October 1964 it became a mandatory function of local government to deal with planning applications. Prior to that the process was discretionary for towns and urban areas. Much has changed since then.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins referred to many bad decisions being taken by local authority members in County Galway. I was a member of Galway County Council with Deputy Higgins for many years. He was not totally accurate in some of what he said, because as a Minister he had responsibility for European directives. I know for a fact that he opposed the granting of a road licence to relieve flooding in south Galway in the 1990s. The whole world saw the recent impact of flooding on people as well as the flora and fauna in that area. He referred to people giving out about the importance of snails, birds and bees, but at the same time he was responsible for maintaining and retaining a flood plain in south Galway which affected people as well. I do not know how he can reconcile that and be at peace with himself.

I accept that at that time there was an abuse of the provision known as “section 4”. I am delighted that mechanism has ceased to operate in County Galway because councillors have now found a different way of dealing with the issue. I wish to put on record that we had a Minister of State with responsibility for local government who during the 1970s vehemently supported section 4s and put his name to them. Many other Members of the House would have done that subsequently. The system was abused but I accept there was a necessity for it in some cases.

Planning is an executive function of the local authority and the majority of planners were excellent and honest and they delivered the service in a good way. Others fell foul of the system whether it was through greed or otherwise. A serious situation had developed in the past ten years and I hope that is over and done with. In effect, we have 88 planning authorities in this country. We have 29 local authorities, 49 town councils and ten borough corporations, whether they be city or county. As a result, it is inevitable that we would have inconsistencies in the delivery of the service and contradictions on city and county boundaries.

If one were to look from east Galway into Tipperary one would see positive integrated planning of local development in County Tipperary but the east Galway area remains stagnant because we cannot develop due to the fact that more than two thirds of the county has a designation of one kind or another, for example, natural heritage area, special protection area or whatever else. In addition, we have another designation, usually following a decision by the local authority in conjunction with the Galway transportation study. That started and had an effect on an area within five or six miles of Galway city but it gradually extended and now there are restrictions half way up the Slieve Aughty mountains some 30 miles away. That area was already designated but now another layer of restriction has been added. The Minister must come to terms with the situation. It is difficult for professional planners who advise and decide on planning applications to manoeuvre between those restrictions and at the same time to be fair to the applicant.

I welcomed the initiative by local authorities, on foot of a ministerial decision, to have local area plans. Local area plans might provide an opportunity to allow people to enhance their incomes in areas that are currently restricted. Due to restrictions, European directives and Government interference of one kind or another, farmers must resort to some other way of making a living in order to remain in Connemara, Portumna, Slieve Aughty or wherever else in the county. Galway is a county of immense contrast between east and west and north and south. It is important that those local area plans would present an opportunity to allow people to enhance their income. I refer, for example, to tourism in east Galway. When one speaks of [104]tourism in County Galway one thinks of Galway city and Connemara and the rest is forgotten. Local area plans, properly put in place and directed, can present opportunities that will work.

I am on record in this House as having said that Shannon Development was a shining example of where people could provide opportunities along the Shannon as far up as Lough Derg. Unfortunately, Shannon Development remained in Munster. It operated in counties Clare and Tipperary. In east Galway we looked with envious eyes across the Shannon at the type of developments that were taking place and that through good planning fitted hand in glove into the environment into which they were placed. We could not do that in Galway until now. Thank God, due to a more co-ordinated regional strategy, some positive development has been allowed to take place.

Bad decisions were taken that resulted in flooding in south Galway in particular, in east Galway along the Shannon banks and in Ballinasloe. I accept that some of the flooding was not due to bad planning. When people are flooded insurance companies do not allow them to insure their properties any longer. In such cases it is important for the Government to consider a relocation plan. I do not refer to urban areas but to rural areas such as south Galway. Following the 1964 and 1965 flooding, three families were successfully relocated. That did not cost much. Five families now require to be relocated. Will the Minister and his colleagues who have responsibility for water management investigate the possibility of relocating these few houses? Four families need relocation because of the likely recurrence of flooding.

The Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works visited County Galway on two occasions. He saw what happened and he discussed the issues with the people. He was readily available and for that we thank him but, despite €1.6 million being spent on studies on flooding in south Galway, no work has been done because of the demands of environmentalists and Government agencies such as the national parks and wildlife service, formerly Dúchas. Unless there is agreement between agencies before we start, the ideas of, and the resources made available, by the Government will come to nought again.

Reference was made to one-off housing, which has been described with catchphrases such as “bungalow blitz” and “a blight”. However, many people had to return to their homes and acquire a site from a parent or a sibling to provide themselves with housing in rural areas because of the explosion in the cost of housing during the boom. They were criticised by a number of groups, including An Taisce. The Minister’s intention is to increase the number of agencies that have to be consulted about a planning application. Standard agencies such as An Taisce will still be consulted. People say local authority members and public representatives at large are the enemies of An Taisce but its officials have made many fine recommendations in various places and it was necessary for them to intervene where cowboys were at work. The Minister stated, “Specifically, the programme for Government 2007-2012 states that the Government will ensure that the Citizens Information Board has the necessary resources to assist and inform the public on planning procedures”. When he replies, will he indicate what resources he will provide to the board? Is he satisfied its staff have the capacity to make reasonable contributions and observations on individual planning applications or in a community context? I agree consultation before decisions are taken is always good but under this legislation another agency will be engaged in the planning process on top of An Taisce, the national parks and wildlife service and the National Roads Authority, NRA.

The provision of infrastructure is important and in the past NRA decisions were imposed on the local planning authorities who were told some of their planning applications were premature because of the possibility of alternative routes being used by the authority. We were plagued with these decisions in County Galway. The new M6 motorway between Galway and [105]Dublin is welcome but another national road runs between Ennis and Tuam and passes through Gort and Oranmore. Serious restrictions have been placed on development along these routes. I do not refer to merchants and builders who are in for the quick kill but necessary development could take place near these routes. The NRA, therefore, has had a serious impact on planning. I do not know whether this was ever envisaged. When the authority was first involved in the planning process, it restricted the number of slip roads on national primary routes. This was a great decision in the interest of safety and many lives may have been saved as a result but, at the same time, is it necessary for this agency to be involved?

Ireland is unique in Europe, as it provides for a third appeal in its planning system but it is regrettable that, in many instances, the advice and decisions of planners who report on appeals to An Bord Pleanála are overturned and disregarded by the board. The Minister needs to investigate this issue because when local elected representatives ignored planning advice from local authorities under the old section 4 provision, they were criticised heavily. Nobody knew anything about it until somebody read the file and found a planner’s report had been rejected and disregarded and a different decision taken. Something needs to be done to tighten that up.

I am delighted the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is present. Many areas in County Galway have been designated for wind energy development but there are major difficulties. The first is physical because they are in designated areas. A group of farmers in a community effort to provide a windmill in the Slieve Aughty mountains had to bring in experts from Scotland to provide a report on the possibility of hen harriers migrating to the area. As a result, the mountains were designated as a restricted area for development because of the potential for hen harriers to migrate in the area, even though none has never been seen in the area. However, the terrain is similar to the habitat of these birds.

I refer to the cost of the projects and the number of people involved who have gone far down the line but who cannot access the national grid. Who will be taken in under the Gate 3 directive? Will the Minister intervene with EirGrid to ensure projects are connected? What would it mean to a Green Party Minister if the country could produce more renewable energy?

Last Monday night I attended a community meeting in Clonfert, outside Eyrecourt, County Galway, on the banks of the River Shannon. The Government gave out a contract for the provision of broadband internet access under the national broadband strategy. However, certain areas have been left without broadband provision, despite the fact that this was one of the black spots at national level. A total of 111 district electoral divisions in County Galway alone will be officially without broadband. I ask the Minister to ensure that the entire area covered by the contract with 3 to which I referred — from Portumna along the banks of the Shannon, through Ballinasloe and as far as Ballygar — is provided with broadband because there is no sign of it currently in certain areas. I was told today by the Minister’s Department that it will certainly be 2011 before these areas will be provided with broadband. There are no broadband facilities available; one cannot, under the present system, obtain access to any at all.

I ask the Minister to review the situation as a matter of urgency and extend the marginal area by the River Shannon and in the east Galway area. All of the Galway East constituency is in the area covered by the contract. I remind the Minister that my colleague, Deputy Michael Kitt, was with me at that meeting and he said he would attempt to arrange a meeting between the Minister and the four Oireachtas Members from Galway East to discuss this matter. I would greatly appreciate it if the Minister could facilitate this.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I would be happy to give way to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, for one minute if he would like to answer the question asked by Deputy Burke.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I thank the Deputy and appreciate his offer.

[106]Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I remind the Minister not to take too long.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  One of the main restrictions in the development of the wind turbines mentioned by the Deputy has been opposition from Fine Gael to the development of the national grid.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  Wrong.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The other side has a responsibility to start playing its part in assisting this important economic development. Fine Gael is not following a new-era policy but an old-era policy. I would appreciate the co-operation and assistance of the Deputies opposite in this major project.

There is a clear commitment to establishing universal access to broadband through the national broadband scheme. We are now going back to Europe under a further European stimulus fund support scheme to make sure that every house, even if it is not covered under the national broadband scheme, is supplied with the best possible technological solution. I am happy that we can work on this if Fianna Fáil — Fine Gael, rather — will play its part——

Deputy Ulick Burke:  The Minister has hit the nail on the head there.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  ——and support the development of the national grid, which will help the very farmers to which the Deputy refers. I thank Deputy Varadkar for giving up his time.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I will make a few general comments about the Bill but I will stick mostly to specific comments.

We have talked a lot about the current economic crisis. In many ways, part of the unwritten history of the crisis is bad planning — the extent to which land was inappropriately zoned and to which planners, who are supposed to be professionals, granted planning permission that conferred land with values that were not sustainable, while permitting unsustainable development all over the country. There was a good article by Kathleen Barrington in the The Sunday Business Post some weeks ago which pointed to the neglected role of planners — by which I mean planning officials in local authorities — alongside bankers, developers and others in destroying the country’s economy.

Many of the provisions in the Bill are welcome. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, is a reforming Minister and, although he may have had to pollute himself by going into power with Fianna Fáil, he is at least trying to make some reforms in his Department that may result in a few positive words in the obituary of the Green Party when the time comes. We do need reform of planning in Ireland, but it is important not to say simply that something must be done and therefore doing anything is the right thing. We must always make sure, when bringing about change, that it is not just change for the sake of change but actual measures that will improve the situation.

Having considered section 5, I have concluded that the core strategy is a good idea. When I initially read it in the Bill I thought it was probably just another bureaucratic mechanism, with officials in planning authorities simply ticking the boxes and then proceeding to ignore it. Having been in contact with planning officials, however, I do not think that is the case; they will take it seriously. Development plans should have a core strategy. I do not think we can have a proper planning system on the basis that every one of the 40 local authorities can do whatever it likes. The core plans should fit in with the national spatial strategy and with figures and targets set by the Department.

[107]I have some concerns about the two thirds voting majority mentioned in section 7, but I have trouble getting my head around exactly what it means. It seems to mean that a two thirds majority will be required only at the last phase of a development plan but not for the initial manager’s amendments or the amendments after the first display. It will only be required at the very end for amendments that did not go on display at all. If that is the case, I agree with it; it is appropriate, because amendments should not be made to development plans at the very end of the process. I would not like to see the manager being given excessive power over the elected members, whereby he or she can essentially bring in amendments which can be overturned only by a two-thirds majority of the councillors; however, if I understand it correctly, that is not the case. Amendments will occur in the normal fashion after the first display; they will come back on the second display, and only at the end of the process will a two thirds majority be required, in which case it is a reasonable provision. However, the provision should mean two thirds of those who participate in the vote, not two-thirds of all the members. People may be absent for good reasons and, on local authorities, people often absent themselves for various reasons, deliberately not turning up for votes. Even so, it should be two thirds of those present. I am not familiar with any precedent in any assembly in Ireland whereby an absolute majority is required. The only thing I can think of that is similar in operation is a plebiscite for changing the name of a road, in which case more than half of all eligible voters must approve the proposition. I do not know of any other examples. Certainly, in this House we never expect an absolute majority. Even when we are electing a Government the majority required is 50% of those present, not 84 votes. That should be changed.

The threshold above which a local area plan is required is being changed from 2,000 to 5,000. I do not agree with this. A residential development of 2,000 houses is large, possibly containing 6,000 or 7,000 people, which should merit an area plan. Changing the threshold to 5,000 means the number of people living in the area would be 12,000 to 15,000, which is very large. It would be a whole new town the size of Malahide. A local area plan should be required for developments of 2,000 units — that is, if the number refers to units and not population. Having said that, I now think it may refer to the number of people, in which case the provision is reasonable.

There is some question about the ten-year timeframe for local area plans, with some business interests suggesting this is too long. What is important is flexibility. In certain local authorities it may be appropriate to have a long local area plan. For example, the plan for Donabate in north County Dublin is more or less a 20-year plan, which may be appropriate. We are also considering a 20-year local area plan for Tyrellstown in my constituency. There has been some suggestion that the length of the development plan should be five or six years, or even nine, including head room. However, it is important to have some flexibility.

I am sceptical about the role of regional planning guidelines and regional authorities. I was on the Dublin Regional Authority and I may have been on the Mid-East Regional Authority also. They really are talk shops. They are not genuinely democratic. People get onto them as a consequence of being on a local council and, by and large, do not take it much more seriously than any other committee they may be put on as a consequence of being a member of the council. I do not think they should exist, although I know they must exist under European law. The time has come for radical reform, if we do not just get rid of them altogether. I do not think they have any democratic legitimacy.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Let us democratically elect them and make them work.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I have an open mind on that. There may be a case for having elected members and making them work, but we cannot do these things piecemeal. It is similar to the situation with the Lord Mayor of Dublin. If we are to establish an elected mayor it must be as [108]part of an overall reform of local government in Dublin. If it were up to me, I would establish an elected Dublin mayor with executive power over all of Dublin, combine all the local authorities, and then have any number of smaller authorities dealing with neighbourhood issues. If we are to do something like that on a national level, we should have regional authorities but the local government structures must be reformed as well. Making the current ones elected would not solve the problem, we must start again from scratch.

Section 20 provides for the power to refuse permission to rogue developers, something I welcome. It is a disgrace that developers who have not finished estates and who have behaved appallingly, treating residents with absolute contempt, have been allowed planning permission by local authorities, including by those where they have left developments incomplete. Provision was made for this in the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, or perhaps in the 2007 Act, which allowed local authorities to refuse permission on that basis but it has never been used. I tried to get my local authority to use it on a number of occasions against the worst developers and it would not because it did not want to go to the High Court or be the first local authority to use that power. Planners have every excuse not to refuse planning permission to rogue developers. That is not acceptable and I hope this section removes those excuses for refusing permission to developers who do not honour their permissions.

Section 23 relates to the extension of planning permission. I am cautious about that given the collapse of the construction sector and the economy. I can see the sense in it and I understand why we would extend permissions when no building is happening or is likely to start. My only concern is that many recent permissions should not have been granted or, as Deputy Burke pointed out, were granted under the old guidelines allowing for shoe box apartments and building on flood plains. The section should be amended to permit local authorities more discretion to refuse planning permissions where they were granted for the sort of development we do not want to happen anymore. It could be amended to permit permissions to be extended while allowing local authorities to refuse to extend permissions for developments we do not want to see.

Section 28 allows for a quorum of two on An Bord Pleanála. I am totally opposed to that idea, it is an appalling provision. I have had some very bad experiences with An Bord Pleanála. It is a lottery that is completely dependent on which three people a person gets. I do not know how many cases arose where decisions made by the council have been appealed to An Bord Pleanála and An Board Pleanála has made all the wrong decisions, usually where it rules against its own inspector. It did this in the White’s Road development near Farmleigh, that was initially refused by the council and that the inspector did not support. An Bord Pleanála, for various reasons, not only decided to grant permission but to allow the developer not to put in place any open space so he did not have to pay an open space levy.

Similar things happened on the Phoenix Park Racecourse and with very high rise developments in inappropriate areas in Blanchardstown. Even recently, a major development in Castleknock that is not viable, that will never be built, that was opposed by the Green Party representative in the area and where the planning inspector from An Bord Pleanála agreed that permission should not be granted, was approved by An Bord Pleanála for spurious reasons, lopping off a storey here and a storey off there. It is totally dependent on who makes the decision and it is obvious whom one would want to get when an application for permission is being adjudicated. That will get worse if the number for a quorum is reduced to two. If the application is adjudicated by the two who grant anything, it will be granted.

I do not like the idea that three is enough for a quorum, never mind reducing the number. That would not happen in the Supreme Court, we could not break it up and say and any old [109]pair of judges would be enough, and if they agree the case is settled. It is a bad idea. If anything, An Bord Pleanála should be broken up into regional boards rather than having a quorum of two.

Section 18 refers to the changes a Minister can make when development plans are submitted to him. There is only a two week period for consultation, and that is much too short. By the time additional information is sought, and notice is served, the two weeks are past. Four weeks would be reasonable. It is only done once every five or six years so making that change would be reasonable.

On section 127, IBEC put forward a proposal on third party appeals whereby someone making such an appeal should have to sign a document stating he is not being vexatious and the appeal is not spurious. It is a valid point. We are all familiar with people who make planning appeals to An Bord Pleanála to be paid off to withdraw the appeal, because they know it will hold the development up by 18 to 20 weeks. There are people around the country who do that, seeking Gogarty money. I will support an amendment that prevents such behaviour.

Development plans should not be five, six or nine years in length, there should be 20 year development plans. Helsinki, for instance, has a 99 year plan. If a community is to be properly planned, five or six years is too short. It would make much more sense to have 20 year plans that identify land that will be developed over the next five, ten and 20 years. That would make it much easier to plan for transport, roads and other development. I am disappointed the Greens, who would instinctively support such an idea, have not put it into legislation. The plans could be revised every five years and future development land could be identified during that process.

Strategic development zones should be the norm. I was involved in drawing one up in Hansfield in Dublin 15. Perhaps over a certain threshold of 5,000 or 10,000 units they should apply.

The Bill does nothing about retention planning permission. It is widely abused and rewards those who break the law. Some architects even advise people to build things because they have a better chance of getting retention planning permission. The Bill should be amended to put a stop to such nonsense. It is fine if we are talking about a bay window but often this involves extra storeys and units.

The seven year rule should also be abolished and councillors should be involved in preplanning discussions; that they are not currently gives developers an advantage over the community. Also, public representatives should be exempt from the €20 and €50 fees.

  7 o’clock

There should also be provision for taking in charge. That has not been addressed in the Bill, particularly the slow transfer of open spaces. There is provision in the Roads Act to allow the community to petition the council to take in charge a road if it has not been taken in charge over time but that cannot be done with open spaces. The only way to get an open space taken in charge is to leave it derelict for a period and then apply for a vesting order. I was successful in securing such an order once in my constituency but to get it I had to convince the local community not to cut the grass on the open space for an entire year so it could be declared derelict and then be vested. That is nonsense and the same provision that exists in the Roads Act should exist in the Planning and Development Bill to allow communities to petition for an open space to be taken in charge.

There should also be provision for the transfer of school and community sites free of charge from developers to the council. At the moment if a large area is being developed, developers are expected to provide the roads and the open spaces and hand them over free of charge. If the development is large enough, why should they not be expected to hand over the land for [110]the school and community site free of charge? Think of the millions we would have saved in the last ten years if that had been done.

The Bill makes some progress but many changes and additions are needed.

Debate adjourned.

The following motion was moved by Deputy Charles Flanagan on Tuesday, 2 February 2010:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes with grave concern:

the fact that five gangland gun murders have taken place in the first three weeks of 2010;

the fact that criminal gangs are gaining a greater foothold in communities throughout the State;

the drug abuse afflicting communities throughout the State;

the involvement of criminal gangs in people trafficking and prostitution;

the fact that a large number of vacancies have emerged in the senior ranks of the Garda Síochána but replacements are not being appointed;

the fact that community gardaí make up only 6% of the force;

the pathetically low conviction rate for gangland gun murders;

the absence of any convictions to date under anti-gangland legislation introduced in 2009;

that in situations where gangsters are incarcerated they continue to direct their operations from within our prisons through use of mobile phones;

the wholly inadequate measures in place at ports, airports and along the coastline to prevent massive quantities of illegal drugs from flowing into the jurisdiction; and

the consequent fear and anxiety of communities where gangland violence is commonplace and the havoc that drugs are wreaking on our communities;

calls on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to:

immediately fill senior Garda vacancies;

introduce a mandatory minimum life sentence of 25 years for gangland gun murders;

introduce measures in prisons such as full body scanners for visitors to prevent gangsters from operating from within prisons;

increase community policing by implementing Fine Gael’s policies on quotas and incentives; and

calls on the Minister for Finance to significantly enhance the Customs and Excise presence at ports and airports, and in particular at small and private airports.

[111]Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“—condemns all unlawful killings and the criminal disregard for human life they demonstrate and expresses its sympathy to the families of the victims of all such killings;

strongly supports the work of An Garda Síochána and its specialist units such as the Organised Crime Unit in their determined fight against gangland crime and notes the significant successes they have had in this regard;

notes that Garda numbers stand at historically high levels, with the force numbering over 14,500 members at the end of 2009, compared with 14,412 at the end of 2008 and 13,755 at the end of 2007;

commends the record provision of new prison places in recent years and the provision of over €29 million for further capital works in 2010 including an extension to the Midlands Prison, in contrast to the failure of the last Fine Gael and Labour Government which failed to provide any additional prison places during its term;

commends the decision to maintain record funding levels for the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and Operation Anvil despite the economic downturn;

notes that the recently published crime statistics for 2009 show decreases in nine of the fourteen crime groups;

wholeheartedly supports the Government in its ongoing determination to confront criminal gangs head-on by introducing tough legislative measures to make significant new powers available to An Garda Síochána to detect criminal behaviour and to make its prosecution more efficient and effective before the courts;

notes in this regard the extensive legislation introduced by this Government in recent years to target those involved in serious and organised crime, including in 2009 the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act, the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act;

notes that An Garda Síochána has been making full use of this legislation since it has been enacted to build up criminal cases against gangland figures and that a number of investigation files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions;

notes further proposals by the Government to strengthen the criminal law, including the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010 and the Criminal Procedure Bill 2009;

notes the difficulties for An Garda Síochána in obtaining evidence in shootings which are the result of gangland activities;

notes that the mandatory penalty for murder is life imprisonment and for manslaughter the penalty is up to life;

notes that existing policies mean that those convicted of gangland gun murders serve their full sentences in accordance with the law;

notes that no prisoner convicted of such murders has been released early by the current Minister or his immediate predecessors;

rejects the implication that such prisoners should have an expectation of release after serving 25 years in prison;

[112]

commends the Government’s commitment to enhancing security measures in our prisons and places of detention through the introduction of a wide range of additional security measures which are showing significant results;

commends the Government’s continued commitment to the modernisation of the prison estate and the continued development and roll out of a wide range of therapeutic services for prisoners;

welcomes the recent approval by the Government of a significant number of promotions across all ranks of An Garda Síochána;

notes that the service provided by all members of An Garda Síochána is driven by a community policing ethos;

welcomes the increase of 67% between 2007 and 2009 in the number of Gardaí specifically assigned to community policing;

welcomes the decision by Government to develop a White Paper on Crime;

welcomes the success of CAB in seizing nearly €7.5 million of the proceeds of crime and collecting just over €6 million in taxes and interest in 2008;

welcomes the continuing focus of CAB on the assets of both the leaders of criminal gangs and their middle ranking members;

acknowledges the ongoing development within An Garda Síochána of the Asset Profiler Network which is providing vital local knowledge to CAB;

recognises that the global problem of drug misuse as experienced in Ireland must continue to be tackled in an integrated manner across the different pillar headings of the National Drugs Strategy through a co-operative partnership approach involving the statutory, community and voluntary treatment sectors;

wholeheartedly supports the Government on their implementation of the Interim National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 and their development of a new National Substance Misuse Strategy from 2010, which will incorporate drugs and alcohol into the one Strategy;

notes that the Customs Service is continuously engaged in the analysis and evaluation of drug seizure trends, routes and smuggling risks, international trends and best practice with a view to targeted operations against those involved in such activities;

congratulates the Customs Service on the success of Operation Samhna in making the largest seizure of smuggled cigarettes recorded in the EU to date and welcomes the international co-operation that supported the operation;

warmly commends the co-ordinated efforts of the Irish Drugs Joint Task Force and the Lisbon-based Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) to interdict drugs destined for Ireland and for the EU;

recognises the importance of international multi agency co-operation in the fight against drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime;

welcomes the establishment of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit as an Executive Agency of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the publication of the National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Human Beings; and

[113]

welcomes the commitment of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that the criminals involved in trafficking of human beings will be brought to justice.”

— (Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform).

Deputy Mary Upton:  I would like to share time with Deputy Costello.

Acting Chairman:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Mary Upton:  What we have seen in 2010 is the continuation of gangland murders as criminals continue to fight over the incredibly lucrative drug market and other black market economies. These gangsters are willing to kill and are ready to die for control of their lucrative markets and profits. While I fully support the work the Garda is doing to combat gangland crime and drug dealing, it seems that as soon as it convicts a major figure, another crop springs up to fill the gap. Unfortunately, we are living in an environment where certain sectors of society have lost all regard for people’s lives, never mind their property or right to security and a peaceful existence. What the citizens of this State demand from the Government is not the self-serving, self-congratulating counter-motion we have seen, but some concrete and realistic actions.

It is accepted that the drug plague spans all sectors of the socioeconomic classes and ethnicities, yet it seems those who end up in the coroner’s office or in Mountjoy Prison almost invariably come from economically deprived areas. Why is this? This relates to the fundamental question of why we have a drug problem and gangland crime. Without trying to over-simplify the issue, it is because people from these areas have fewer opportunities in society. Why does society always respect someone who is successful and has pulled himself or herself up by the bootstraps? It is because that person has triumphed over an adversity with which the majority of people need not contend.

When the rest of the country was living through the rich economic times, there were parts of this city in particular where the largesse that was available to many did not connect. Unfortunately, my constituency of Dublin South-Central contains some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas in the country. It also houses the largest addiction centre in Ireland, which provides a service for addicts and recovering addicts from across the country. It is in these areas that the reductions in social welfare benefits will hit hard. It is these areas that will suffer most if the Government succeeds, for example, in driving its agenda of cutting the minimum wage. It is these areas that continue to wait in vain for regeneration of run down social housing schemes. A number are awaiting development, but there is no light on the horizon for them. The people involved are crying out for services and facilities that are taken for granted in other communities while the State pays developers’ debts on buildings in Chicago, London and Bulgaria.

Everyone in the House is aware of the TV show “The Wire” and its stark presentation of the war on drugs and the intergenerational nature of drug dealing and drug addiction. I have spoken to teachers who tell me that they can make a pretty accurate prediction as to which of the children they teach in senior infants will end up in trouble with the Garda. Ingrained deprivation and a lack of economic opportunity result in poverty becoming intergenerational and thus creating an environment where criminality can flourish.

I fully support the Opposition party motion and would urge the Government to support it as well. Simply getting tough on criminals will not solve the underlying problems. We should be front-loading our educational supports to the youngest and most vulnerable children. We should ensure that children who are at risk are offered the same opportunities that the rest of the country takes for granted. We must offer a different economic narrative for these areas in [114]order that criminality is not looked upon as a glamorous career choice or the only choice. We must provide regeneration to communities that have been neglected for decades to prove to people that the State considers them equal members of society that cannot be allowed to continue to live in deplorable conditions. We must address the deficiencies in the Garda Síochána structures as identified by the Garda Inspectorate, such as the lack of IT equipment in stations, the fact that civilianisation has not been achieved as proposed and that staffing levels have not been adapted to take account of the peaks and troughs in garda levels. We must end the easy availability of mobile telephones in jails that allows crime lords to continue running their operations from behind bars. More people seem to come out of jail as drug addicts than go in.

The sophisticated technology of gangland crime is a serious challenge. The brutality of the gangsters is also a major threat to civilised society. The Garda must be given the resources to match the ingenuity and the high-tech facilities of the gangs. The culture of the mindless gangsters must also be tackled through early intervention and family support. Unless we take a wider, more holistic view in tackling the issue of gangland crime and criminality, I fear the House will be discussing this issue in the years to come as one generation of criminals is replaced by another and the cycle continues. We need action sooner rather than later.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I thank Deputy Upton for sharing her time with me. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows, these motions arise on a regular basis. The situation seems to be deteriorating constantly. This year opened with a spate of gangland murders, as did 2009. It is no longer strange. It is par for the course, something we have come to expect. Only six years ago the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, told the House after one such murder that he had gangland killings well under control and that the murder in question was “the sting of a dying wasp”. Presumably, he intended it to be the last murder, but we now see where we have been led.

The present Minister’s response to the motion is more or less the same, in that it is self-serving and self-congratulatory. There is little else in it. Meanwhile, gangland crime is going from strength to strength and spreading its tentacles across the country. The former Minister did not face up to reality and the current Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, does not seem to be able to face up to it either.

Gun crime and drugs are the hallmarks of the modern gangland criminal. The proliferation of illegal drugs in every county started 30 years ago and has laid the groundwork for an industry valued at €1 billion, one of the most lucrative in these times of economic recession. It is constantly growing. The fact that we are an island nation with endless points of entry and inadequate checks and surveillance makes Ireland a smuggler’s paradise. Smugglers are enjoying it. That ruthless drug barons can police their illegal operations with illegal weapons and murder whoever gets in their way with virtual impunity and no fear of conviction is bringing law and order into disrepute. The fact that drug barons can control their illegal businesses from prisons and abroad and even order hits is almost beyond belief in a democratic and civilised society.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Irish law enforcement is not keeping up with Irish criminal innovation. This is a major part of the problem. While the Garda is devising and implementing micromanagement through its annual policing plans, there does not appear to be any long-term planning to devise strategies for dealing with drugs and gun crimes, the hallmarks of serious criminal activity. Consequently, the 1980s saw a heroin epidemic. It became an epidemic of cocaine in the 1990s and crack cocaine and tablets in the 2000s, with heroin remaining on and spreading throughout the country. In 2010, we have another dreadful epidemic, this time of head shops, which sell products containing lethal ingredients that mimic [115]illegal drug substances such as cocaine and LSD. Head shops are spreading like wildfire, but the Government is doing nothing about them. Every few years, mind-altering substances appear on the market or black market and enjoy the space to flourish before law enforcement kicks in. This is a serious part of the problem.

All of these guns and drugs are imported from abroad. Clearly, cross-Border security and police co-operation are ineffective. We must take certain actions. For example, we must put together a package of proposals to comprise the issues referred to by Deputy Upton, including urban blight, regeneration, education, training, housing and employment. That last issue would form a major part of the package and emphasis should be placed on it, but the Government is not doing so. A comprehensive strategy to deal with existing drug crime is also required. Surveillance and scanning equipment are needed at airports and sea ports. The equipment should be upgraded and personnel increased to deal with it. Maritime and cross-Border co-operation between the EU and Ireland is not up to scratch. The Lisbon treaty makes new provisions for such co-operation and I would like them to be implemented immediately.

More than anything else, a special task force to monitor and tackle any new drugs that arrive on the scene before they have time to become established and spread widely is required. For the past 12 months, we have seen the inevitable onset of head shop-type drugs, but nothing has been done. Overnight, we could use a statutory instrument to declare the worst of the ingredients — methadrone — illegal, which would mean that many of the shops would need to close. We could work on enforcing consumer legislation. We could ban sales to minors before moving on to licensing and planning.

Gangland crime has carved out a niche in Irish life and is here to stay unless radical measures are taken.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I wish to share time with Deputies Michael McGrath, Ciarán Cuffe, Mattie McGrath, Darragh O’Brien and Niall Collins.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I pay tribute to our colleague, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, as it is traditional for me to do so on these occasions. By having this business before us, he is giving an opportunity to debate what for all of us is a very important issue. I am no different on the Fianna Fáil benches in that regard.

Much attention has focused on Tallaght this week because of the body found at the location known as the viewing point in Rathfarnham on Sunday. Everybody in the country was aware of this and I received calls from Dublin and beyond which focused on the Irish Independent story yesterday morning featuring an amazing picture of two women in the mountains supporting gardaí and waiting for news on the body. Their respective sons, two Tallaght men, had been missing. As the story developed, it transpired that the body was that of Ken Fetherston, a young man from Ailesbury in Tallaght, who went missing on 22 September last year and whose car was subsequently found in Gorey, Wexford. His body has now been positively identified.

I will speak on this if I may because it is pertinent to the motion. I sympathise with the family of Ken Fetherston because I know them very well and worked with his mother some years ago. They are very distressed, as one can imagine. The family of Paul Byrne, the other young man from my parish in Fettercairn in Tallaght who has been missing since last July, is also upset. Both of these men were fathers and their families have really suffered in an enormous nightmare over the past while.

I want to be positive about my attitude to the Garda in respect of these two cases and I have great sympathy for both families. I have much sympathy for all the other families of missing people who were affected by the news over the past couple of days. I know from other sources [116]that contact was made by Garda liaison personnel with families whose relations may have been in the mountains.

I hope everybody shares my view that we should strongly support the efforts of the Garda Síochána, particularly the efforts of gardaí in Tallaght under Superintendent Eamon Dolan, who are now not only looking for the killers of Ken Fetherston, but also trying to solve the mystery of Paul Byrne. It is important that we give them support and I have no hesitation, as a resident of the area and local Fianna Fáil Deputy, in doing so. I hope I have the support of all colleagues in this respect as it is very important for the Garda to know we are behind its efforts. Any resources required should be made available. I hope the public in Tallaght, Dublin South-West and in the wider areas of Dublin and beyond share this view. The victim’s car was taken from the Dublin area and moved to the south east so there is potential for people to help gardaí in that regard. I want to be associated with such action.

I will not stand here and say things are perfect as far as crime is concerned but I support the efforts of the current Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern. He has a very difficult task, as his predecessors have had and his successors will have. Law and order is very important and I spent some time on the joint policing board on South Dublin County Council with other colleagues. I take every opportunity to support the work of the Garda in that respect.

I have heard other colleagues speak about the drugs business. I do not have time to develop that idea except to say that, along with colleagues such as Deputies Pat Rabbitte, Brian Hayes and other local public representatives, I am a member of the Tallaght drugs task force. We are very much aware of the issues and very anxious to support the gardaí who sit with us on that task force. Colleagues will take this opportunity to make points — including political points — and this is not a difficulty but, ultimately, it is about the community response to law and order. We must support the State and the Garda.

Deputy Michael McGrath:  I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate in the House. On Wednesday, 20 January this year, the quiet suburb of Wilton in Cork city, near Cork University Hospital, was rocked by a vicious gangland-style murder. It is widely regarded as the fifth gangland murder in Cork city since 1995, and as we know it is already the fifth in this State in 2010.

It is quite clear that the members of these criminal gangs have no regard for human life or the consequences of their actions on society. They are fearless about being caught and are not afraid of going before any court in this jurisdiction or being convicted. If they are convicted, they have no fear of being in prison.

The statistics point to the root cause of gangland-style murders being the drugs industry. According to the CSO, between 2005 and 2009 there was a 51% increase in recorded drug offences relating to possession of drugs for sale or supply and a 67% increase in recording of possession of drugs for personal use between 2005 and 2009. When the economy boomed, the drugs industry boomed as well, and the level of recorded offences is testament to that.

The people involved in vicious killings and the drugs industry are a threat to our civilised society and must be met head-on. We must work on the long-term solutions of education, tackling social disadvantage and investing in the national drugs strategy. We also need severe short-term solutions that will have an immediate impact. In introducing a range of legislative measures recently, the Minister has taken important steps in that regard. I particularly welcome legislation on surveillance, as it is essential for gardaí to have the power to use whatever technological tool is available in the fight against organised crime.

[117]I welcome the publication of the Bill dealing with forensic evidence and DNA databases. I hold no truck for civil libertarians who believe this is a threat to our civil liberties. My own view is that if a person has nothing to hide, he or she will have nothing to fear. The Bill does not pose a threat to any individual in the State other than those who have just cause to feel threatened.

I also welcome the legislation facilitating the use of the Special Criminal Court to get around the problem of witnesses and jurors being targeted for intimidation. I despair at times of the sentencing policy that I witness in the court system every day and which is reported in the media. The rot sets in with lesser crimes than murder, where people hauled before the courts day in and day out with multiple previous convictions — sometimes as many as 20 or 30 — get off with a suspended sentence. It is very difficult to understand a system which perpetuates that kind of sentencing policy.

It is clear that judges do not like mandatory sentencing and their response to the legislation concerning mandatory sentencing for drug offences is quite clear. If the Legislature gives the Judiciary any wiggle room whatever to opt out of mandatory sentencing, it will avail of it. The question has to be asked that while there is a mandatory life sentence for murder in this country, what does a life sentence mean? Perhaps it is time for a life sentence in Ireland for murder to mean life, with those convicted serving a full life sentence. That would be a strong deterrent and perhaps it is time for us to consider measures as draconian — as some may describe them — as that. There is a real fear among witnesses about testifying in court cases involving gangland crimes, which is understandable.

Another of our starting points must be to resolve issues in our prisons. As I said earlier, these gangsters have no fear whatsoever of prisons and the statistics for last year show over 1,100 drug seizures in the 11 main prisons in Ireland, with 505 in Mountjoy alone. There is much illegal activity in the very institutions set up to deal with such issues. Over 2,100 mobile telephones were seized in the same time, which shows that we should sort out our prisons before we can win the battle on the streets.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has finally received sanction for 170 Garda promotions. Cork, as well as the rest of the country, has been affected by the large number of retirements in the force at a senior level in 2009. At the end of 2009, there were 19 fewer senior gardaí across the three Cork divisions at sergeant level and above. I ask the Minister to address that issue and to ensure that the Garda Síochána has every possible tool to defeat the scourge of drugs on our streets and to win the fight once and for all against these gangsters.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  The Fine Gael Party motion is timely. There are serious concerns about gangland crime that demand a full response. In fairness to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, much good work is being done. The number of gardaí is at an historic high of 14,500, which is good. A total of €29 million has been invested in prison places and there is record funding for the Criminal Assets Bureau and for Operation Anvil.

The mandatory penalty for murder is life imprisonment, and for manslaughter the penalty is up to life. The existing policies mean that those convicted of gangland gun murders are serving their full sentences in accordance with the law. No prisoner convicted of such murders has been released early by the current Minister or his immediate predecessors.

There has been a two thirds increase in funding between 2007 and 2009 for gardaí specifically assigned to community policing. The Criminal Assets Bureau has had some outstanding successes in seizing nearly €7.5 million of the proceeds of crime and collecting just over €6 million in taxes and interest in 2008. For a return on investment, the CAB is doing great work in [118]tackling these thugs. The ongoing development within the Garda Síochána of the asset profile network is providing vital local knowledge to the CAB.

I share in the condemnation of gangland crime and I agree with the Minister’s proposal to target seriously criminal gangs over the next year, such as hijackings and warehouse robberies. His proposal makes sense. There are areas in which we need improvement and I pay tribute to Kathleen O’Toole’s recent report that highlighted the need to up our game substantially in respect of the use of information technology by the Garda. I am not a great fan of the former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s fiscal policies, but I admire the extent to which he used information technology to target crime. He used crime mapping and real-time information. He allocated police on the basis of where crimes were likely to occur and had occurred in the past. Given the slow development of the Garda computer network, people are reluctant to invest more, but I would urge that we spend much more on information technology. It will reap results. Kathleen O’Toole’s report called for a national computer aided despatch system, and it would make sense to gather data better and plan resources. It will free up members of the force and get them out on the beat, which makes sense.

There are more gardaí walking the streets at the moment, and the best asset of the force is its eyes and ears. I know that in Dún Laoghaire this approach is not only solving crime, it is also preventing crime from happening and long may that continue. However, we need a belt and braces approach. We need community policing, eyes and ears, and state-of-the-art computer technology. That will happen and Kathleen O’Toole’s report makes it much easier.

I have one small criticism of the Fine Gael Party motion. I am very critical of mandatory sentencing. The Judiciary is very experienced when deciding on what is appropriate. We are tying its hands with mandatory prison sentences. It does not make sense to me, but the intent behind the motion is commendable and it provides all of us with a common cause in fighting crime.

Deputy Niall Collins:  I welcome the opportunity to take part in this timely debate. Next to economic matters, justice and law and order are very high on our agenda. We live in an era where crime is very much part of society. As Members of the Oireachtas, we have to respond and move with the dynamic nature in which the criminals carry out their evil acts. We have to keep ahead of them and implement laws that bring them to account.

We have to acknowledge the fine work that is done by the vast majority of our State agencies who are involved in law enforcement. That is not just the Garda Síochána, but agencies such as the Revenue Commissioners, the Customs Service, the Probation Service and so on.

Gangland activity is not exclusive to the capital and we have experienced it in my part of the country. Unfortunately and for all the wrong reasons, we know too much about it. However, it is fair to acknowledge that we have responded to the activities of the gangland people by bringing a number of amendments to our criminal justice legislation. It is positive to note that there are several files before the DPP on these activities, so hopefully we will see positive results flowing from that.

Every citizen in this country has such an important part to play. All too often people say that the law enforcement agencies are not doing enough and there are not enough gardaí and community police. We know that there are 14,500 gardaí and we can argue about statistics and numbers, but we cannot have people at every crossroads or every street corner. There is an obligation on every citizen to play their part. Unfortunately, there are members of society who do not do so. They fail to pass on information or assist our law enforcement agencies. It behoves all of us to encourage those people to get involved.

[119]I am a member of the joint policing committee in Limerick. It is a very useful forum and the interaction it brings to bear between Oireachtas Members, local representatives and the Garda Síochána is very good. We need to drill down further in this kind of local forum where people can interact and bring in more outside people. At our last meeting on the Limerick division, most of the headline areas experienced reductions in the levels of crime for 2009. The number of homicide offences was down by 17%. Assault causing harm was down by 17% as well. Minor assaults decreased by 8%. Harassment and related offences had a decrease of 23%. Burglary bucked the trend with an increase of 7%.

I represent a rural community in County Limerick. If a person commits a crime such as a burglary and is sentenced in court for that crime, we should look at taking that person’s driving licence away after serving the prison term, if that is what the court decides, because burglars use transport as part of the crime, so when they are released from prison they should lose their right to travel the roads. These roaming gangs that commit the burglaries are terrorising our local communities.

Returning to the crime levels in Limerick, theft was up by 2%, while controlled drug offences was also up. Discharge of firearms was down by 21%, criminal damage was down by 9% and public order had a slight increase of 2%. I acknowledge the work done by members of the Garda Síochána in the Limerick Garda division, which covers three districts in the county and two in the city. As public representatives we tried to assist them and they have been very helpful to us. I acknowledge their input.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  I am pleased to speak in support of the Government amendment to this Private Members’ motion. Like all Members, I wish to express my revulsion at the recent spate of gangland killings, many of which have been on the northside of Dublin close to my constituency. This includes one family that is very well known to me. It is a terrible indictment of some areas of society that life seems to have become so cheap to many of the callous criminals who operate in our country. They seem to have no regard for human life, nor for the suffering they leave behind for mothers, fathers, sons and daughters of the people they murder and shoot like dogs on the street. Condemnation is one thing; action is another. This Government is tackling crime at every stage but particularly serious organised gangland crime. Words are not important in this context; action is important and it is the only thing that will tackle the issue.

The motion tabled by Fine Gael fails to take note of the progress made in this area. It seems to be a stunt. Since 2007 the Government has been engaged in a number of key achievements in legislative terms and real terms in order to make this country a safer place. As other speakers have mentioned, the number of gardaí has steadily increased year on year, even since 2007. We have come through with a promise to increase Garda numbers to historically high levels. There were 14,500 gardaí at the end of 2009, compared to 13,755 at the end of 2007. Even in these difficult economic times, the Government sees tackling crime and supporting law enforcement agencies as crucial. Record numbers of new prison places have been provided by the Government and further capital investment of €30 million, including an extension to the Midlands Prison, is planned. The Government has maintained the funding of the Criminal Assets Bureau, which is doing a fantastic job and seized €7.5 million in 2008 from the proceeds of crime. This is tackling criminal gangs where it hurts. There is a 70% increase in the number of gardaí assigned to community policing. The list goes on. I refer in particular to the introduction of crucial legislation to tackle gangland crime, including the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act.

[120]This evening I hope the Labour Party carefully assesses how it will vote. It has consistently called for stronger measures to tackle gangland crime. Every Member agrees with this call but when the Labour Party had an opportunity to do something about this, it voted against the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act, which proposed significant extra powers to law enforcement agencies to tackle criminal gangs. The notable exception on that occasion was Deputy Tommy Broughan. Before Labour Party Members cast their votes, I hope they take the opportunity to rectify a clear mistake when they were talking out of both sides of their mouth. They put the civil rights of criminal gangs ahead of the civil rights of the law-abiding citizen.

I and this Government represent the community and the law-abiding citizen, not the criminals. The battle against crime is never-ending and we will never win it. We are committed to using the full power and support of State agencies against people who have no regard for human life. I commend the Garda Síochána for the work it does on behalf of the citizens of the State in keeping the streets safe. The force has a tough job to do. Members recognise how well gardaí do their jobs. This Government remains committed to doing everything it can in real terms and in legislative terms to support the fight against crime. I hope other parties will do something in real terms instead of coming out with fine statements. They could support legislation on the basis of what it will do for the citizen rather than the cheap political stunts of the Labour Party last year.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I support the motion that condemns all unlawful killings and the criminal disregard for human life these demonstrate. I express sympathy to the families of all victims of such killings. I strongly support the work of the Garda Síochána and its specialist units, such as the organised crime unit, in its determined fight against gangland crime. I note the significant success of the Garda Síochána.

I have unequivocal and 100% support for the Garda Síochána at every level, on behalf of those who elected me in Tipperary South, for the work it does to combat all kinds of crime. The motion refers to a particularly heinous crime but from a community relations point of view, we must ensure that crime is dealt with from the most minor offence up. We must invest more in community gardaí because their work has paid off. They operate in Tipperary and their work has paid dividends because of the interaction with the community and the fact that they are regaining the respect for the Garda Síochána that should and must exist. I compliment the Garda Síochána on working closely with Muintir na Tíre and the national community alert organisations, of which I am a board member. By doing this, the Garda Síochána fosters a great degree of support from the public for its actions and hard work, which is often covert. No police force in any part of the world can work without the strong support of the public. Community alert organisations and neighbourhood watch groups working in conjunction with the Garda Síochána and Muintir na Tíre do an excellent job and foster this through school visits, Christmas card competitions, regional organisers and interaction with superintendents and sergeants. I compliment the groups on this aspect, which is vital. The Garda Síochána has an excellent detection rate. Let nobody say otherwise. It works tirelessly. All of kinds of crime are dealt with by the Garda Síochána, including more serious crime.

However, this work is sometimes without much success at court level because the Courts Service is in abysmal shape. I do not refer to the decisions but the delays in getting to court for the Garda Síochána. How frustrating the revolving door system must be for the Garda Síochána. How frustrating it must be when they bring in those who are charged to get hearings in court. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Some time ago I was before the courts and I would have waited ten years but for the fact I pushed and pushed to get a special sitting of the Circuit Court. Justice delayed is justice denied. Gardaí may have moved on, been transferred or may have retired before cases are resolved. People are entitled to have their day in court so [121]that they can be cleared of the suspected activities and have their good name restored or dealt with fairly by the court system. It must be frustrating for the Garda Síochána when they bring in people charged with crimes. They must prove this without a shadow of a doubt so they must be supported. We must have modern day respect and understanding for the courts system. It must be shaken up and the Judiciary needs refresher courses. The Courts Service systems must be examined so that it can provide support to the Garda Síochána when the latter has completed its detection of cases. In this way cases can be taken to court sooner rather than later and justice can be done.

Deputy Joe Carey:  I wish to share time with Deputies Michael Noonan, Lucinda Creighton, John O’Mahony, Terence Flanagan and Pat Breen.

I commend Deputy Charles Flanagan for tabling this Private Members’ motion on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. In bringing various elements of gangland legislation before the Dáil last year, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform stated he could not stand by and allow our criminal justice system to be undermined. A previous Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform described gangland activity in Ireland as the last sting of a dying wasp. All this is fine rhetoric but in the rush to say the right things, this and the previous Government remain more concerned with perception than with substance. The criminal underworld in this State is not suffering from a recession. The drug-fuelled economy in which the gangsters operate is booming. Criminal gangs roam our streets and seem untouchable by the laws of the land. Five so-called gangland murders have taken place in this country in 2010. Far too often, innocent people have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and have tragically lost their lives.

There is no silver bullet or instant solution to solving gangland crime and it needs to be addressed in a number of different ways. Community policing is a vital, under-utilised tool in the fight against crime and in particular, gangland crime. Community policing should be at the heart of policing in Ireland. Communities throughout the country are demanding a more visible Garda presence, a more effective response to gun, gang and drug crime. At the moment, gardaí do not regard community policing as a career option or an area in which they can reasonably expect advancement. This must change. Garda organisational structures must be amended to reflect the focus on community-based policing. A special Garda rank should be created in order to encourage and incentivise the role of community gardaí. All the evidence shows that community policing works. I welcome the fact that the number of gardaí engaged in community policing is supposed to increase. We have been given a pledge by the Minister that the numbers will increase from 600 to 1,200. Additional community gardaí will garner more intelligence about criminals through closer relationships with the public. However, the extra community gardaí need to be appointed and put in place immediately and the creation of a special rank would be an incentive.

Another area requiring immediate action by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is with regard to the significant numbers of gardaí who have left the force in the past year in particular. Due to the number of members leaving, a total of 32% of the force is now under the age of 30 and approximately 47% have less than ten years’ experience. These statistics show that it is a very young and vibrant force offering much potential. However, allied to this is an exodus of experienced members which equates to a brain drain. Last year alone, three Assistant Commissioners, 12 chief superindents, 26 superintendents, 31 inspectors, 166 sergeants along with 466 gardaí, left the force. This has created a very serious situation. If these positions are not filled immediately, we run the risk of having a force with a serious deficit of leadership and experience. This has ramifications in the immediate term as to how serious crime and gangland crime are to be fought and it will provide an advantage to the criminals if the situation is left like this. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that all senior ranking vacancies in the Garda Síochána are filled immediately.

[122]I wish to raise the issue of youth justice. Criminal gangs are drawing children as young as ten years into their criminal web. I have brought to the attention of the Minister on previous occasions reports of criminal gangs grooming children to hold guns and transport drugs. There have been repeated reports of teenagers pleading guilty to possessing guns, going around in bullet-proof jackets and possessing drugs, including crack cocaine and heroin. Last year, I brought this matter to the attention of the Minister, when I raised it in the House. He replied that to his knowledge, this did not appear to be an issue but that he would keep the matter under review. Just two weeks’ ago, chief superintendent Gerry Phillips of the Dublin Garda division, spoke of a 14-year old holding guns and drugs for gang members in the hope of earning his stripes within his criminal gang.

Week after week, frightening court cases emerge involving gangs grooming children to run guns and drugs for criminal gangs. It is high time the Government acted. The crime of grooming children for the purposes of criminal activity should be introduced. Strict penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences, should be handed down to those crime bosses. Any gang members prepared to hide behind and use children, should be treated more severely by the courts using specific legislation. If the Minister does not do this, then the good work carried out in the area of juvenile justice runs the risk of being exploited and ultimately weakened. There will be no grand gesture or flashing lights solution to gangland crime.

It is interesting to note the parallels with our juvenile justice system. For the first time since 2003, youth crime is reported to have fallen and this did not happen by accident; it happened because of a combination of factors, including the introduction of the Children Act, the establishment of the Irish Youth Justice Service, together with a focus towards steering young offenders away from prosecution and towards rehabilitation instead. I also wish to acknowledge the work of juvenile liaison officers and the role of Garda youth diversion projects.

A long-term view is required. I ask the Minister to accept the Fine Gael Party motion.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  We have had many debates such as this in the House and this debate is timely. I thank Deputy Charles Flanagan for the opportunity to speak. On occasions like this it is useful to go back to first principles. The principle on which our criminal justice system is founded is in the personal rights of the Constitution. Article 40.3.20 states: “The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen”. In our system, the responsibility is on the shoulders of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to ensure that this constitutional provision is provided to the citizens. We have to measure the Minister against how he has fulfilled this constitutional role.

When somebody’s life is taken through murder, it is the responsibility of the criminal justice system to vindicate the rights of the victim through the work of the Garda Síochána arresting and charging the perpetrator, convicting that person and keeping him or her in prison for sufficient time to pay for the crime. That is the system under which we live but the responsibility is on the shoulders of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and he has failed in this.

Last night, Deputy Charles Flanagan named 19 individual victims who got no vindication because nobody has been convicted for their murders. There has been no conviction on gun murders in gangland Ireland in 2007, 2008 and 2009. That is not a vindication under the Constitution of the lives of citizens.

The Minister is not protecting the lives of citizens when he will not replace with equally efficient managers the senior gardaí who have retired. The Minister is not protecting the lives of citizens when the present system is still porous and 2,000 mobile telephones were recovered in Irish prisons last year and gangs continue to be directed from inside prison walls. The Mini[123]ster is not doing his job when private airports all around the country still have no customs presence and when drugs, the underlying cause of the gangland murders, are freely available by all classes in society and in all communities, down to the remotest country villages.

The Minister is simply not doing his job in this regard. His response is the same as that of his predecessor, Mr. Michael McDowell, in introducing new legislation in reaction to every gangland murder, with each Bill promising to be the panacea. Before the summer recess the Minister introduced two legislative proposals, the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 and the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. My party and I supported him in the House and in the media in bringing through that legislation and made our case against those who opposed the proposals. Yet not a single conviction has taken place and not a single case has been brought before the courts under the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. This was the legislation that made membership of a gang and conspiracy to act with criminals criminal offences. Yet nothing has happened. I do not know whether authorisation has been provided to senior gardaí under sections 4 and 6 of the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Act 2009. If so, the results have not been produced in evidence in any court case in the seven months since the legislation was enacted. Will the Minister of State indicate how many authorisations have been issued under sections 4 and 6 of that Act?

Surveillance is the way to go. What community gardaí glean as they move through estates, even though they are very welcome and efficient, will not help to meet the challenge of gangland crime. Surveillance is vital in order that it is not just the users and minor traffickers who are themselves drug addicts who are amenable to the law. Instead we must target the criminal bosses. Unfortunately, the Minister has thus far failed pathetically in that regard. I conclude by complimenting the efforts of the Garda Síochána, particularly in my own city where they have been effective. Almost all gangland murders in Limerick have been solved and the perpetrators are in prison.

Deputy Lucinda Creighton:  I join my colleagues in thanking Deputy Charles Flanagan for bringing this timely motion to the House. I agree with Deputy Noonan that we must go back to first principles. When I listen to debates in this Chamber on gangland and other violent crime, particularly drug-related crime, they always call to mind the then Fianna Fáil Opposition spokesman on justice, Deputy O’Donoghue, between 1994 and 1997 and his catch cry of “zero tolerance”. His consistent haranguing of the then Government over that period played no small part in Fianna Fáil’s election victory in 1997.

Any objective analysis, however, of the Government’s commitment to and ability to deal with crime since that time points to failure. Gangland crime has increased substantially, becoming more dangerous and vicious and impacting more lives than it did ten or 15 years ago. In 2009 there were 20 gun murders in the State and eight since the beginning of 2010, one quarter of which occurred in my constituency. There is almost a sense that both the public and the political system have washed their hands of the situation, a view that just as these gangs interact with each other and trade in drugs with each other, we should let them get on with ultimately killing each other. This view, however, fails to take account of the innocent bystanders affected by gangland crime, several of whom have been named in the course of this debate. One such innocent person has died in my constituency since the beginning of the year. Whatever about the criminals and murderers, we have a duty and responsibility as the State Legislature to protect those who are embroiled in this violence through no fault of their own. The Minister and his colleagues have the same duty as the Executive to ensure these people are protected.

What we have seen, however, is an abdication of duty on the part of the Government. That no convictions were secured in 2007, 2008 and 2009 for gun murders points not to a policy of zero tolerance but to a zero success rate. The Government, for a series of reasons, is losing miserably in the war against gangland crime. Deputy Noonan referred to the natural instinct [124]of Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform simply to legislate in response to high-profile murders or incidents about which there is great public and media fuss. However, legislation is futile and worthless without enforcement. We have seen through the many Bills that were brought through this House during the lifetime of the last Government — we saw again with the recent legislation, which Fine Gael supported — that legislation does not necessarily lead to convictions. Without enforcement, all those legislative provisions come to nil. The other problem is the Government’s apparent policy of not replacing gardaí. In spite of the 2002 promise to recruit an additional 2,000 gardaí, retiring members of the force are not being replaced.

It is time to go a step further. We must not only introduce legislation but enforce it. I wholeheartedly support Fine Gael’s proposal for a 25-year minimum life sentence for perpetrators of these crimes. If it is to be ignored by the Judiciary, however, any such measure is pointless. Likewise, any legislative measure is pointless if it does not result in convictions. I hope the Government will bring into play measures that will strengthen the hand of the Garda Síochána in tackling gangland crime.

Deputy John O’Mahony:  I thank Deputy Charles Flanagan for bringing forward this motion on behalf of the Fine Gael Party. Two issues are currently dominating people’s minds in this State. One is the economy and the other is law and order, and both of these are a source of fear and insecurity for many. The hundreds of thousands of people coping with mortgage arrears and job losses see the small contingent of criminal thugs holding the country to ransom and wreaking havoc throughout the State. The response of these criminal gangs to the recession has been to increase their murder rate.

The Garda Síochána is coping as best it can with the onslaught. At a local level I welcome the imminent deployment of the rapid response unit in Claremorris to assist in curbing gangland crime in the region. More must be done. The achievements of the Criminal Assets Bureau show what can be done when proper structures and resources are in place, as was done in this case by a Fine Gael-led Government. The Garda has shown again and again that it is capable of great success provided adequate resources and structures are in place.

  8 o’clock

The reality in regard to gangland crime, however, is that the Government and the Minister are losing the battle, as evidenced by the increase of 18% in robberies of banks and post offices, of 80% in kidnappings and abductions and of 12% in aggravated burglaries. The bottom line is that these criminals have no respect for human life. Eight murders have been committed by these criminals so far in January. The conviction rate is low. Even when they are put in prison, they seem to use it as a headquarters from which to direct their operations on the outside. There was a time when crimes of this nature were confined to urban areas. They are now found in all parts of the country. There were two stabbings and a murder in County Mayo on a single weekend last August. I was shocked last week to read a report which stated that the Garda does not have the technology it needs, including computers and fax machines.

I will conclude by mentioning some other measures that need the immediate attention of the Minister and the Government. Senior and middle ranking positions in the Garda have not been filled. Over 30 rank and file gardaí in County Mayo retired last year and many have not been replaced. The net effect is that many rural Garda stations in my constituency have been closed by default. The Garda authorities do not have the numbers to deploy because of retirements and the shortage of recruits coming out at the other end. The force is losing people with vast experience who would offer a guiding hand to younger members of the force. The net effect is that many rural Garda stations are unmanned and have to be serviced from local Garda district headquarters. The situation needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I could give the [125]House a list of Garda stations in County Mayo, including those in Knock, Ballindine, Claremorris and Hollymount, that are unmanned at present. Rural gardaí used to live in the communities they served — they are now present in those communities during working hours only.

Deputy Joe Carey:  Hear, hear.

Deputy John O’Mahony:  Fine Gael, in power, would give such gardaí the incentives they need to live in they areas they serve. I commend this motion to the House.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  I thank Deputy Charles Flanagan for bringing this important and crucial motion before the House this evening. The Fine Gael motion highlights the ongoing crisis caused by the drug-fuelled gangland crime that has sadly taken over our streets. It is constructive because it outlines the measures that need to be adopted by the Government if it is to tackle this serious problem head-on. Gangland violence is rapidly increasing in this country, sadly. It is outrageous that there were five gangland-related murders in the first three weeks of 2010. It highlights the fact that our streets are controlled by gangs, rather than by the Garda. The force urgently needs more resources and manpower to tackle this gangland crisis. Sadly, two of the recent murders took place in my own constituency of Dublin North-East. An innocent man lost his life when he asked the occupants of an apartment in Grattan Wood, Donaghmede, to reduce the volume of their music. Another man was gunned down as he walked to his girlfriend’s home at Macroom Road in Coolock. It is evident from such killings that these criminals place no value on life. They know they will get away with such crimes, or will not be caught in the first instance.

Real people in real communities are living in fear of what is going on. They are annoyed with the Minister and the Government for not doing enough to tackle these criminals and ensure these murders do not happen. It is blatantly clear that the Garda is not being properly resourced and senior gardaí are not being replaced. The failure of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to impose proper sentencing for murder has increased the number of such crimes in this country. A life sentence should mean life. There is an urgent need for a discussion with the Judiciary on the sentences being handed down, which often do not accord with what they should be.

Fine Gael proposes that certain measures should be implemented to deal with gangland crime. We want a minimum mandatory life sentence of 25 years to be imposed on gang members. We want 24-hour surveillance to be implemented in all our airports and ports. It is a scandal that there is a proper X-ray machine in just one of Ireland’s ports. Such facilities are needed to locate the drugs that are coming in, which are obviously fuelling the crisis in this country. Drugs are the real scourge of this society. The sooner this issue is dealt with, the better. Community policing should be the centre of all policing, as previous speakers have said. Sadly, just 6% of the members of the Garda are involved in community policing. That percentage has to be increased as a matter of urgency. I hope the Minister will listen to what Fine Gael has been saying. As a party, we have traditionally been strong on law and order. I commend my colleague, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for introducing this motion.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate, which is important, as other speakers have said. That there were 53 murders, or one a week, in Ireland last year is a very serious matter. As well as the increase in gangland crime, there has been a marked increase in aggravated robberies and assaults. We all know that such crime is being fed by the drug problem that is causing havoc in many of our communities. A young man from my parish, Mr. Brian Casey, lost his life as a result of an callous and senseless assault in the county town of Ennis over the Christmas period. We share the grief of his family and other families that have been through similar nightmares.

[126]There has been a 28% increase in the number of drug detections in County Clare over the past 12 months. The figures speak for themselves. That 88 people were picked up for a drug offences in County Clare last year shows the extent of the problem in the county and in the country as a whole. On local radio today, I heard a psychiatrist from County Clare warning that lives will be lost if head shops are not regulated. I welcome the fact that the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, has said that regulations will be put in place before next June.

No community is immune from the impact of the growing problem of drug-fuelled crime. There have been many robberies in Shannon, including aggravated robberies in businesses, over recent times. They are all fuelled by drugs. Shannon is not alone. Elderly people in isolated rural areas are being preyed on as well. Many of these criminals dress up as council workers or gardaí to take advantage of elderly people. They wear disguises and tell elderly people they can help to fix broken pipes or check to see if they are safe. Some 20 personal robberies were recorded in the Clare Garda division in 2009, compared to just six in 2008. The reality is that robberies are on the increase.

I wish to commend the Garda on the excellent work its does. I wish to give an example that shows it will do the job if it gets the resources it needs. The number of public order offences in Ennis used to be approximately 19 per week; last year, following the introduction of CCTV in the town, it fell to just four per week. The gardaí are able to monitor the situation in the town from the Garda station. As soon as trouble is noticed, they can deploy patrol cars to the affected areas. If the resources are put in place, the Garda can do its job.

The best way to police communities is to put gardaí back on the beat on the streets. As other speakers have said, the recruitment freeze has had a huge effect on Garda numbers. In the past 12 months, some 800 gardaí have retired from the force. It was anticipated that just 400 would retire. We do not have a chief superintendent in the Clare division at the moment. I hope that position will be filled in the near future. As I do not have the time to say everything else I would like to say, I will finish by pointing out the need to address the fact that many crimes are committed by people who are out on bail. The rule of law must be implemented. A woman in Sixmilebridge was murdered a few years ago by somebody who was out on bail. These issues must be addressed. I urge the Government to take Deputy Charles Flanagan’s proposals on board. We need to work together to solve the huge crime problem that exists at the moment, which is partly fuelled by the recession.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  I ask the Chair to excuse my croak. This useful debate has given the House an opportunity to address the important topic of gangland crime. It is right that the State’s response to these crimes is discussed here and elsewhere. We should reflect on the further action that is needed in response to an evolving situation.

In so doing, however, one must not lose sight of a most important fact which is that the people responsible for these crimes are those who commit them. Gun crime, organised crime and drug-related crime are inextricably linked. The Minister has reiterated that he attaches the highest priority to tackling these types of crime and bringing those involved in such activities to justice and this is reflected in the priorities he has set for the Garda Síochána.

I wish to say a few words, as promised, about customs controls. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that these controls are risk-based and a permanent customs presence is in place at major ports and airports. Controls at smaller ports and airports are carried out by mobile customs enforcement staff, whose attendance is selective and targeted, based on analysis and evaluation of national and international seizure trends, traffic frequency, routes and other risk indicators. Attendance can also be as a result of specific intelligence. Traffic with origins and destinations with a high-risk rating attracts particular interest. The approach is to balance the [127]principle of freedom of movement within the EU of people and goods with the need to control smuggling and enforce prohibitions and restrictions.

I have been assured by the Revenue Commissioners that while the situation is kept under review, they are satisfied with the current level of customs controls at these locations. In particular, they are satisfied that the risk-based approach remains valid and that the controls applied are on a par with and may even exceed those of many other EU member states. While Revenue’s customs service has primary responsibility for the detection and seizure of controlled drugs at importation, there is a high degree of co-operation between all of the enforcement agencies of the State in the fight against the importation of illicit drugs. In particular, Revenue has good working relationships with the Garda Síochána and the Naval Service and a joint task force arrangement is in place to enhance and support these relationships with regular contact and co-operation between the agencies.

Regarding the smaller aerodromes, it should be noted that some are licensed by the Irish Aviation Authority but there are a number where, because of the limited nature of the activity at the aerodrome, a licensing requirement does not arise. Irrespective of the licensing situation, both Revenue’s customs service and the Garda Síochána are conscious of the need to monitor activity at such smaller aerodromes. Whereas both agencies have distinct operational protocols and priorities, they adopt a collaborative and complementary approach to areas of common interest. For example, during 2008 they held a series of joint regional meetings with the smaller airport operators, aimed specifically at increasing the operators’ awareness that their facilities could be used by drug traffickers and offering advice on minimising risk.

Revenue continues to upgrade its equipment and technology in the fight against illicit imports. Last year saw the delivery of a second purpose-built customs cutter, RCC Faire, which is being introduced as a further development of Revenue’s response to the problem of drugs importations and other smuggling via the Irish coastline. The RCC Faire’s sister vessel is RCC Suirbhéir, which was the first customs cutter in the State and was launched in Cork in June 2004. The main function of the Revenue cutters is to monitor the coastline and search suspicious vessels. The arrival of RCC Faire now ensures that our maritime presence will be much more visible than heretofore. It will enable more effective coastal patrols and increase our capacity to contribute to international operations

A further important development in 2009 was the delivery of a second X-ray container scanner to complement the original scanner first deployed in 2006. The original machine has proved its worth as a drug interdiction resource, and has contributed to the seizure of significant quantities of drugs and other contraband. The deployment of a second scanner is seen as a significant increase in resources for Irish customs and should serve to strengthen our national controls. The customs service has 13 detector dog teams in the Dublin, east-south east, south west and Border-midlands-west regions. The dogs are used for the detection of drugs, tobacco and cash. The dogs teams are also used in Garda drugs searches, if requested. The Garda dog units in the Dublin metropolitan and southern regions are an integral part of policing. The dogs are trained to detect heroin, cocaine, cannabis and other drugs in indoor and outdoor situations, as well as firearms and explosives. The Irish Prison Service utilises a drug detection dog service at all closed prisons as part of the screening process for persons entering the prisons. This serves to underline the value and protection provided by animals that deserve in many contexts their title of man’s best friend.

Internationally, Irish customs participates in the fight against drug smuggling through its involvement with Europol in The Hague and the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre — Narcotics, MAOC-N, in Lisbon. Irish customs officers are based in these locations and contribute their expertise to the international response to the threat posed by illicit drugs. The assignment of staff to these international agencies is seen as an important and necessary response to [128]the drugs menace. In 2008, the role played by MAOC-N in support of Operation Sea Bight, in which cocaine with an estimated street value of €105 million was intercepted on the high seas on board the yacht Dances with Waves, served to underline the value of participation in these international agencies.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  I wish to share time with Deputy Charles Flanagan.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Michael D’Arcy:  It is clear that Government platitudes and promises made to date have had no effect in dealing with this grave threat to our society. The Government policies that have led to an absence of gardaí on the ground to interact with citizens in their communities have created a vacuum that has been filled by thugs who have no regard for authority or for their fellow citizens. The Government’s response has been to effect some changes to the law but this has had little or no effect as clearly, gangland murders are on the increase as society breaks down in parts of the country. These thugs believe themselves to be above the law because so many of them have got away with murder. Even when caught, they are made into macabre celebrities who make headline news and tabloid front pages. Court appearances now are used to enhance their street credibility. The Government has presided over the degeneration of society to such an extent that thugs and murderers become heroes among their peers. This is a society in which the Garda Síochána has lost all respect in those communities in which gardaí cannot now enter to police unless they are armed and in large numbers and in which there appears to be an unending supply of unlicensed firearms and prohibited drugs available to whomsoever wants them.

There can be no doubt but that the Government and the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, have failed in this regard. However, I remember in particular another Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who spoke of the last sting of a dying wasp. Now however, we have a thriving swarm of sworn killers and pathological murderers who kill without remorse. This is not a situation the Government can blame on international events that are outside its control. It has presided and continues to preside over a society that is disintegrating in parts. Families grieve while Ministers wring their hands and propose platitudes. These thugs are terrorising the good people of Ireland and are getting away with it. The only group that has responsibility in this regard is the Fianna Fáil-led coalition and its policyless strategy.

As the laws have been passed and the judges and courts are in place, why is the Government unable to use them to good effect? The obvious answer is that the Government has so mismanaged the people’s Garda Síochána, which protects us as citizens, that the force has lost touch with the people on the ground of whose peace they are the guardians. The Garda is without that valuable local intelligence and its absence from areas in which large numbers of people reside has dislocated it from the very people it exists to protect. This is gangland warfare with criminal thugs on one side and armed members of the Garda emergency response units on the other. While life sentences already exist for serious crime, the Garda requires evidence to convict those thugs who are caught and to acquire such evidence, the force must regain the respect and support of the good people who live in the areas in which criminal gangs now are in control. The Garda must retake such estates by deploying on the ground and this will require numbers and resources. Had the Government not squandered billions of euro, it would be possible to take back such estates from the criminal gangs and win this war. Instead, experience and expertise are haemorrhaging from the force. Apparently, overtime has been banned and [129]days off in lieu are being offered in exchange. Instead, days on should be required to fight such subversion of law and order on behalf of the good people of Ireland. Moreover, the sentences should be increased by all means.

I wish to touch on two further aspects of this issue, the first of which pertains to the education of children in such areas and the provision of services, social workers and gardaí. There is an opportunity to provide extra pay to the civil and public servants who work in and can affect those areas. It is inconceivable that a garda of a particular rank in a sleepy area in the country gets the same pay as gardaí who take their life in their hands going into those areas. The same is true of teachers and social workers. The problem escalates and the Fianna Fáil Minister does not know what to do. How much longer do we have to witness this abject failure and hand-wringing while the young people of Ireland die on our streets and lives are destroyed by guns and drugs? It is a shame on this Government which should resign if it has any sense of moral responsible. Any Minister or Government which allows this to happen to such a level to a generation has no business being in office. Let us get on with it.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I thank and pay tribute to all those from all sides of the House who made a contribution to this important debate on gangland crime. Last evening, I highlighted a vast range of problems that I believe are nourishing and fuelling gangland criminality in this jurisdiction. The Minister, in his speech, accused me of being selective and then proceeded to give what I can only describe as a highly selective list of what he believes are his successes or achievements. For example, he patted himself on the back for not cutting the budget of the Criminal Assets Bureau, despite an economic downturn and then went on to note that the CAB recovered almost €7.5 million of proceeds of crime in 2008 and collected more than €6 million in taxes in the same period. The Criminal Assets Bureau is more than paying its way so deciding not to cut its budget is common sense and the very least that we might expect from the Government.

Whenever the Opposition raises the spectre of issues such as gangland crime in the House, the Minister’s automatic response is to complain that the Opposition is attacking the Garda. In the world of the Minister he is the noble defender of the Garda while those in the Opposition are mean-minded critics. This is typical Fianna Fáil spin doctoring. The facts speak for themselves when it comes to the Minister’s support for the Garda Síochána. He has styled himself as having done his bit when it comes to gangland by bringing in tough new laws, suggesting that the Garda has new laws at its disposal and that it is now up to it to sort out the problem. He raised expectations to huge effect in the aftermath and during the course of the earth-shattering — as he described it himself — package of legislation last year. However, he has remained silent on the gaping hole in the upper echelons of the Garda Síochána and on the Victorian resources that it has at its disposal.

It is not an invention of the Opposition that there are more 700 vacancies in the Garda force, a significant number of them at senior level, which I listed last night. Nor is it the fault of the Opposition or my fabrication that the Minister is moving at a snail’s pace to address the matter and, even at that, he is talking about filling 170 vacancies. What about the other 538?

It would be hard to find a more fair-minded and impartial commentator on the Garda Síochána than Kathleen O’Toole, chief inspector of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate. Her most recent report makes clear that gardaí operate at a significant disadvantage with severely outmoded resourcing issues. That is a fact and not an invention of the Opposition.

Deputy Joe Carey:  Hear, hear.

[130]Deputy Charles Flanagan:  It is a truism that if gardaí are to hope to have a fighting chance in tackling gangsters, they must, like their opponents, be equipped with top of the range technology.

Last night, the Minister congratulated himself on allocating resources to the State forensic laboratory. However, he did not mention how many of Professor Kopp’s recommendations have yet to be implemented. Professor Kopp was another professional from outside Ireland who was aghast at the prehistoric services that exist here, in this case in the field of forensics.

The Minister congratulated himself on the fact that mobile telephones were being seized in prisons under his watch. He made no mention of being concerned at the fact that more than 2,000 telephones got into Irish prisons without difficulty in the past 12 months. He further stated, “The pressure we are experiencing on our prison accommodation is in many cases a reflection of those Garda successes”. What about the 3,500 people imprisoned last year for failing to pay court-ordered fines, including more than 60 who ignored fines for not having a TV licence? Is it not more accurate to say that those guilty of minor offences are clogging up our prisons while murderers walk free on every street in this city and beyond?

The Minister discounted Fine Gael’s proposal for a 25 year minimum mandatory sentence for murder, boasting that no prisoner convicted of such murders has been released early by him or his immediate predecessors. Such a boast fails to recognise that gangland killers are being released without serving appropriate sentences. The Minister will have an opportunity to respond to my following point tomorrow during Question Time. This week, a prisoner — I am reluctant to name names but last night the Minister stated that sentences were being served for gangland convictions — Paul Coffey, the only man to be charged in connection with the murder in 2000 that ignited the vicious feud between the Keane and Ryan criminal gangs in Limerick, was freed from prison. He was sentenced to 15 years, seven of which were suspended. The murder for which Paul Coffey was convicted arose from a dispute about drug dealing and has resulted in 20 subsequent gangland murders in Limerick. Paul Coffey is out of prison after a pitifully short sentence which underlines what we stated last night and reflects the status quo that the Minister tried to defend.

Fine Gael does not claim to have all the solutions to the gangland crime crisis. Our role as the Opposition is to highlight Government failings and to propose solutions. That is what this debate is about. There are a number of steps which, if taken, would assist greatly in tipping the balance in favour of the State and victims and would recognise what the former Minister for Justice, Deputy Michael Noonan, rightly refers to as the constitutional provision which underscores that the fundamental duty of the Government, State and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is the protection of its citizens.

There are deficiencies which must be addressed, the most obvious of which relates to the point raised by the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, on the non-existent customs presence at many small airports throughout the State. They are unlicensed airstrips, which are not policed and do not have any form of customs presence, which receive international flights from other jurisdictions. The absence of a permanent container scanner at all sea ports and the absence of sufficient patrol boats to police the coast are other huge deficiencies that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

I believe a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years needs to attach to gangland killings. A few years behind bars having the good life with a flat screen plasma TV, a mobile telephone, a ready supply of drugs and, in one instance, even a pet budgie, is not a sufficient deterrent. [131] For criminal gangsters, life is cheap and the State is not disproving their theory by failing to attach sufficient sanctions to cold-blooded gangland murders.

We require a range of measures which address deficiencies at the point of entry to our prisons, including full body scanners. It is not acceptable that contraband, particularly mobile phones in a gangland context, can easily flow into prisons. I am reluctant to name names in the House but it is worth naming Brian Rattigan, a senior gang boss who was found with a mobile telephone in prison. This undermines the entire system.

All senior Garda vacancies need to be filled immediately. Criminals are not taking a sabbatical while the Minister fumbles to get his house in order.

A glance at the location of gangland killings shows consistent patterns which reflect the geographic areas in which gangs operate. Large numbers of community gardaí need to be allocated to these areas to gather intelligence and win the trust and confidence of the majority of law abiding people. Fine Gael has a policy on community policing which proposes a range of incentives to make it an attractive option for gardaí and a worthwhile proposition for the Garda Commissioner.

Contrary to the Minister’s contention, this motion is not opportunistic. What sort of parliamentarians would we be if five gangland murders in the first three weeks of the year did not ignite debate in this House? Quite simply, we would be failing in our duty as public representatives. Communities throughout the State are being ravaged by drugs. In some estates, there is constant fear of another killing. People in these communities are rightly fearful as the list of innocent victims of gangland crime lengthens. We in Fine Gael do not claim to have all the answers but we are willing to put our cards on the table and make proposals that we believe can form part of a solution to the horrific carnage inflicted by criminal gangs on communities in this State.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 81; Níl, 69.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Dermot.
 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Conlon, Margaret.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Flynn, Beverley.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Gormley, John.
 Grealish, Noel.  Hanafin, Mary.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Healy-Rae, Jackie.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kenneally, Brendan.  Kennedy, Michael.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kitt, Michael P.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  Lowry, Michael.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M. J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Brien, Darragh.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donoghue, John.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Hanlon, Rory.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 O’Sullivan, Maureen.  Power, Peter.
 Roche, Dick.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Scanlon, Eamon.
 Smith, Brendan.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Clune, Deirdre.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Coonan, Noel J.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Enright, Olwyn.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Lee, George.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McHugh, Joe.  McManus, Liz.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Mahony, John.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Penrose, Willie.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sherlock, Seán.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Upton, Mary.
 Varadkar, Leo.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

[133]The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 69.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Dermot.
 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Conlon, Margaret.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Flynn, Beverley.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  Lowry, Michael.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M.J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Brien, Darragh.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Dea, Willie.  O’Donoghue, John.
 O’Flynn, Noel.  O’Hanlon, Rory.
 O’Keeffe, Batt.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 O’Sullivan, Maureen.  Power, Peter.
 Roche, Dick.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Scanlon, Eamon.
 Smith, Brendan.  Treacy, Noel.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Clune, Deirdre.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Coonan, Noel J.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Enright, Olwyn.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Lee, George.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McHugh, Joe.  McManus, Liz.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Keeffe, Jim.
 O’Mahony, John.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Penrose, Willie.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sherlock, Seán.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Upton, Mary.
 Varadkar, Leo.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I raise this issue in the context of the recently launched mid-west task force because we have an historical task force institution in County Donegal. In 1999 the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, launched a task force for the county with great fanfare. Her successor, Deputy Martin, came up with a novel idea and launched an interdepartmental working group in 2002 to address unemployment in Donegal. The Government is very much in the business of buying time by setting up task forces. I would like a progress report on the work of the task force and the interdepartmental working group because the figures speak for themselves. More than 20,000 people in my county are unemployed and the stark reality is there does not seem to be a plan or a vision to address this issue.

The Minister needs to examine not only job retention in the north west but also to go a step further with job creation. A company from Houston, Texas, has a Donegal connection and it wants to set up in the county but the problem is there is competition from Invest Northern Ireland, which is offering better incentives to the company to set up in the North. I have highlighted the issue over the past six months. If banks are not lending and commerce is grinding to a halt, investment has to come from Government. In the past peripheral counties such as Donegal relied on capital spending and it maximised its allocation to build harbours and piers, roads and bridges but that investment is not happening. This year’s roads budget excludes viable projects such as the Letterkenny-Manorcunningham road and a link road and relief road for Letterkenny. The harbour development project in Greencastle, which has great potential, has ground to a halt. The reason the money was invested in the first place was that the harbour was a health and safety hazard. However, 20 jobs will be lost and this is another example of jobs being lost that could be retained through appropriate investment.

Marine Harvest Ireland engages in salmon production in Donegal. The company has an excellent sustainable and viable business along the west coast but time and time again it comes up against the problem of over regulation and a lack of proactivity in the area of licensing. The Government and Opposition must sit down and realise the company is afraid the 240 jobs it [135]provides will be lost if it does not secure licences. Licensing has been an issue for 15 years. Fallow sites are needed to maintain salmon production. The Minister of State is familiar with agricultural production. One does not set potatoes in the same field every year. The same principle applies to fishing. Salmon cages cannot be left on the same site all the time and they need to be moved.

Those involved in the industry are anxious to ensure fallow sites are secured in order that salmon can be moved in the interest of sustainability and environmental protection but this company is not being permitted to do that. The hands of management are tied. All they need is action from senior Ministers, including the Minister of State, to ensure regulation does not inhibit their progress and to make sure they are not only able to retain jobs but also to create jobs in the future.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  I am not a senior Minister but I assure the Deputy I am humble.

  9 o’clock

I thank the Deputy for raising the important matter of unemployment in the north west. IDA Ireland is actively encouraging new investment in Donegal in knowledge-based industries. This is part of a focused strategy to replace the traditional clothing and textile industries, which have declined in the region in recent years. During the past five years, IDA-supported companies in Donegal have created more than 663 new jobs. A total of 12 IDA Ireland-supported companies in Donegal trade internationally and they employ 1,683 full-time and 128 part-time people in software development, systems development and the medical technology industry. Donegal’s industry base is transforming from the clothing and textile industry to high-tech, high skill activity. Companies such as Pramerica and UnitedHealth, which have located in Donegal, are continually expanding and recruiting. The agency’s emphasis is on building up an international and financial services cluster and it is making strides in delivering on this, as shown by the quality of the existing companies and the recent announcement of an expansion by SITA Inc, creating 123 jobs. In addition, the IDA is actively promoting Donegal as a favourable location for high-end manufacturing, mainly to companies in the medical technology sector. This is proving successful. Companies locating in Donegal have included Medisize and Zeus Industrial Products Inc., the latter of which has opened a European operations centre for the production and distribution of precision medical tubing products.

Another primary focus for the IDA in Donegal is the designated linked gateway of Letterkenny and Derry, and significant investment has been undertaken in developing property solutions through the provision of a business and technology park, along with three advance buildings in Letterkenny. This focus involves developing stronger economic links with Invest Northern Ireland, which includes initiatives such as the north west business and technology zone. This is aimed at promoting the linked gateway of Letterkenny and Derry in line with the objectives of the National Spatial Strategy for Ireland 2002-2020 and the Regional Development Strategy for Northern Ireland 2025.

The delivery of physical, social and economic infrastructure is key to securing inward investment and IDA Ireland continues to be engaged in identifying and prioritising investment in these areas in association with local partners. In that context, the interdepartmental group report published previously by the former Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin — as mentioned by Deputy Joe McHugh — outlined the wide range of infrastructure projects under way and completed which support the environment in Donegal for job creation. Enterprise Ireland is also focused on the creation of new jobs by supporting entrepreneurs who set up new high-potential start-up companies, supporting the retention and creation of new jobs in existing [136]companies and enhancing the innovation capability of Ireland at a national and regional level through support of research in companies and third level institutions.

Enterprise Ireland provides a range of supports for high-potential start-up companies, including financial supports, business and marketing advice, mentoring and product development. Eight such units have been created in Donegal since 2005. Enterprise Ireland approved grant payments of some €5.3 million to companies in 2009. A total of 14 Donegal companies have been approved for €2.2 million under the employment subsidy scheme, with a further five companies being approved for €1.75 million under the enterprise stabilisation fund. A Colab incubation centre at Letterkenny IT, officially opened on 21 September last and was largely funded by Enterprise Ireland, is home to 12 start-up companies which are creating employment. Dedicated office space, business mentoring, access to specialist equipment and research teams for client companies are provided to each of the tenants.

The Deputy referred to salmon farming and Marine Harvest Ireland, which has a number of sites around the coast. The full use of its site at Lough Swilly is currently being examined in the context of full compliance with the requirements of EU directives on birds and habitats. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is working closely with the European Commission in conjunction with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Marine Institute to resolve this issue on a national basis. Discussions have taken place among the Department, IFA Aquaculture and Marine Harvest on a range of issues with regard to its licences. These discussions are ongoing at present. I assure the Deputy that every effort is being made to resolve these matters in a manner which is fully in accordance with the necessary legislation and also meets the needs of the company.

Greencastle Harbour is owned by Donegal County Council and the maintenance and development of the harbour is the responsibility of the council in the first instance. However, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has, in recent years, project-managed works on phase 1 of the Greencastle Harbour development project on behalf of Donegal County Council as well as providing funding. Due to the current budgetary situation, a limited amount of funding — sufficient to suspend the project in a safe and acceptable manner — is being provided under the 2010 fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure development programme. The Department is keeping the matter under review on an ongoing basis in the context of expenditure under the fishery harbours and coastal infrastructure capital programme.

Greencastle Harbour and its facilities continue to be available to fishermen. Concerns have been expressed about changed tidal current patterns in the Greencastle area and an appropriate marine notice has been issued warning all ship owners, agents, ship masters, fishermen, yachtsmen and seafarers in this regard.

It would not be appropriate to discuss any negotiations that may be taking place between Global Flexi Systems and the State development agencies, as the Deputy will understand, because they are sensitive. However, I assure the Deputy that we are fully conscious of the need to promote the north west and the Donegal region. At the same time, it is important that we do not undersell the opportunities that are out there, including Colab at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology, and all that Donegal has going for it in terms of attracting inward investment. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are out there all the time promoting the north west as a region for inward investment, while assisting companies in the area of trade and technology.

The Deputy mentioned difficulties with regard to Invest Northern Ireland. It is important to remember that we are trying to promote an all-Ireland economy. Cross-Border co-operation is paramount in the context of making the island of Ireland an attractive place for inward invest[137]ment. I understand what the Deputy is saying but it is equally important that we promote the island economy. It is a central plank of island policy to make sure that investment occurs across the island, thus encouraging the breaking down of barriers. It is difficult to move from this stated position of the Governments of the Republic of Ireland and the UK, especially in the context of the discussions that are ongoing as we speak.

I will consider the views of the Deputy but I assure him that, as Minister of State with responsibility for trade, whenever I am abroad — even though I come from Cork, which is a long way from Donegal — I promote the whole of Ireland and particularly the regional areas where we see niche opportunities for inward investment.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I thank the Minister for going off-script.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  And taking an extra two minutes, so I must move on to the next person.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  I thank the Acting Chairman for her indulgence.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  The Minister has not yet declared Cork an independent republic, so we are reassured.

I raise this matter to highlight the potential for exploitation within the work placement programme. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Mary Coughlan, to instigate a review of the programme to ensure this does not take place. I understand that many employers have signed up for this scheme, under which they can employ a full-time worker for free. It does not cost the employer a penny; the Department foots the bill by offering those who secure a place on the programme a weekly payment of approximately €200, which is considerably less than the minimum wage. The aim of the scheme is to allow graduates and other persons to learn a new skill and gain experience, which is important in the current climate. However, many of the job advertisements under the work placement programme specify that the candidate must be experienced and, in some cases, that he or she must be able to work unsupervised. This defeats the purpose of the programme.

There are currently over 800 work placement programme jobs listed in the FÁS jobs bank. Among these positions are sales representatives, receptionists, caretakers, laundry operatives and construction workers. There is a six- to nine-month training period for each of these jobs. The question arises of whether working in a laundry for six to nine months will offer any real progression and thus whether such jobs are of any real value for graduates. This is why I am seeking the review. It is evident to me that the work placement programme could be used as a means of exploiting well-qualified employees by providing work that offers no real opportunity for advancement.

For graduates who have no previous experience of their chosen field and who do not qualify for a social welfare payment, the work placement programme has its merits. For others, this programme offers absolutely no benefit but actually comes at a cost when travelling expenses are deducted from the already meagre payment of €200 per week. The only winner here is the employer, who gets a worker for up to nine months for nothing.

The Minister must revisit this scheme urgently, as FÁS is giving the green light to employ staff for work under the guise of a training scheme for which candidates are grossly overqualified. She should also consider requiring the employer to pay some salary or expenses so the person is at least earning a living wage while working a full week. We argue that they should at least be earning the minimum wage, if that is possible. A testimonial on the scheme was [138]posted on www.boards.ie: “I think the work placement programme is a good idea but a person would only be earning the €196 (paid by the social welfare) for a full week’s work. While I agree that any kind of work looks better on your CV this small amount of money has made the uptake of this programme very slow”.

In essence we are seeking to prevent the exploitation of workers. If the scheme is designed so that people can progress and use whatever skills they have to advance in the workplace, even if they are only retaining their social welfare benefits, it should be a real advance and should not be used by employers to advertise jobs that involve no real upskilling. I hope the Tánaiste will at least review this scheme

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  Earlier today the CSO published the live register figures for January which unfortunately showed a continued rise in the number of people signing on. However, there has been a marked slow-down in the number of people signing on to the live register compared to this time last year, indicating an improvement in the outlook on the employment front. This is of no comfort to those who have lost their jobs but 33,000 people lost their jobs in January 2009.

Our objective is to ensure that those who are unemployed are given a realistic pathway to employment. This will consist of providing the unemployed with access to quality guidance services and the opportunity to acquire new skills and experience which will assist them in securing employment in the future.

Over successive budgets, the Government has considerably expanded the education, training and work experience provision for the unemployed. This year the Department will provide approximately 147,000 training places, compared to the 66,000 that were delivered in 2008. The additional provision has been achieved through a combination of increased resources, providing a broad range of training and introducing new labour market activation initiatives such as the work placement programme.

The work placement programme is a joint initiative between the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Social and Family Affairs and was launched last May. The aim of the programme is to provide valuable work experience for up to nine months to individuals who are unemployed. It is relevant for young people seeking to gain valuable experience in the workplace and for others seeking either to stay active or to gain work experience in a new skills area or sector.

There are potentially 2,000 places on the programme. At present there is a total of 1,300 places offered by providers on the scheme and over 300 of these have been filled. While each placement is unpaid, participants who are in receipt of social welfare payments could retain these while on the programme, subject to the normal social welfare rules applying.

The programme was reviewed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in November, in conjunction with FÁS and other Departments, with revised criteria coming into operation from 1 December. The revised criteria considerably broaden the accessibility for participants and providers to the programme. The key changes relating to the programmes criteria include that recipients of most social welfare payments, including job seekers allowance and job seekers benefit, are now eligible to apply; the period for which participants must be in receipt of a social welfare payment to be eligible has been reduced from six months to three months; the programme is open to all sectors of the economy including the private, public and now the community and voluntary sectors; and the requirement for a firm to have at least ten employees has been removed.

[139]Previously firms could only participate if they did not have redundancies in the previous six months; this constraint has been reduced to three months. If, however, the level of redundancies in the last three months was less than 5% of the workforce, these firms will be eligible to participate. The duration of the work placement has also been increased to a maximum of nine months.

The design of the work placement programme contains a mechanism to ensure that participants on the programme have an opportunity to acquire new skills and crucially gain valuable work experience. That is critical, that people can gain valuable work experience in a period of unemployment and fill up their CVs. This is critically important to show a person has been on a placement and has gained experience, something that increases opportunities in the context of applying for jobs in general.

Within the first two months of the commencement of a placement the provider receives a formal monitoring visit from FÁS. The visit is conducted to ensure the placement is taking place as described in the work placement description. The monitor then completes a report, which could contain one of the following recommendations: that the placement continue; that the placement continue with a follow up monitoring visit scheduled; that the placement end; or that the provider should not be approved for future placements.

In addition to the formal application process and formal monitoring of the placement and the provider, at all times any staff member, participant or member of the public can raise issues or make known their concerns about a placement or a provider by contacting any FÁS office. FÁS will in all instances follow up on any complaints made about abuse of participants or of the spirit of the programme.

The Department continues to oversee the operation of the work placement programme and will if necessary conduct a further review to ensure that participants obtain maximum benefit from the programme. In the interim we will continue through FÁS to actively promote the programme across all sectors of the economy.

This is a valuable programme that offers opportunities. If there are any forms of abuse the Deputy can raise them with FÁS or personally with me, any other Minister of State or the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and we will follow up on them.

Deputy Deirdre Clune:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, to the House. I am raising the issue in response to the Minister of State’s launch of the draft catchment flood risk assessment management study for the River Lee in Cork.

This is the third time I have raised this issue on the Adjournment since September. Cork city is vulnerable to floods, as are many areas in County Cork that have been established and recognised in the report. I commend the report, it is extensive and surveys the River Lee, its catchments and tributaries. It covers an area of 2,000 sq. km. including the harbour and all rivers that drain into it, identifying areas that are prone to flooding.

Looking back, there has been flooding almost every two years. The river flooded in 1986, in November 2000 and in November 2002. There was tidal flooding in October 2004, the river flooded again in December 2006 and again in November 2009, an event that caused extreme concern. The damage has been well highlighted, with the effect it had on major structures in Cork, with homes, the university, a hotel, the headquarters of Cork County Council extensively damaged.

[140]This draft report recommends the implementation of protection schemes to ensure homes and businesses are protected. There should be flood forecasting systems combined with targeted flood awareness and education and optimisation of the Carrigadrohid and Inniscarra dams. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is seeking a review of the operation of the dams to see the impact their operation had on the flood of 19 November.

The construction of new flood defences and channel modification have been identified as measures to reduce the flood risk to critical infrastructure such as the Lee Road waterworks, the Jack Lynch tunnel and national routes. There must also be improvement of the network of rainfall and river gauges to enable effective flood forecasting. These mitigating measures will reduce the impact of floods.

The headline following the publication of the report was there is no funding available and funding in excess of €100 million would be needed to implement its recommendations. I look forward to the Minister of State’s response in the hope that he will be able to set the record straight and identify which measures can be implemented following the report to ensure that flood mitigation measures are introduced.

This is a draft publication and is undergoing public consultation. If the Minister of State is about to say that no funding will be available, what is the point in responding to the report at all? During the past week, it has often been stated that in excess of €100 million will be required. The known damage to UCC alone last November cost €30 million. Add to that the cost of the damage to the county hall, the Kingsley Hotel, which is still closed, and houses and properties in the area. The total bill has not been yet been totted up, but we are being told that the Government cannot find €100 million over a period to ensure that such damage is not inflicted again.

I read the editorial in today’s Irish Examiner. The Luas cost €3 billion. I am not criticising the Luas, as it was money well spent and has provided many advantages, but we are looking for €100 million to ensure that damage of the order experienced in Cork last November is not seen again. These are the types of measure we are trying to introduce. I hope the Minister of State will give us some hope and say that something will be done. What needs to be done has been identified. Indeed, Cork city, Carrigaline, Midleton, Macroom and Ballyvourney have been identified as high-risk areas. The Minister of State is well aware of this fact, so I look forward to his response.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  I am grateful to Deputy Clune for raising this matter and for her assistance in raising the profile of the draft Lee catchment flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, study, which I launched as a public consultation document in City Hall two days ago, which is a point worth emphasising. The plan remains in draft form at this time. For instance, the plan for the Lee catchment was substantially produced prior to the flooding of November 2009. The extent and severe impact of that flooding are currently being assessed in detail for incorporation into the final version of the plan, along with the substance of submissions received in the context of the public consultation. Nevertheless, the preliminary assessment of the flooding context of the Lee catchment indicates that the contents and proposals within this plan remain valid.

The purpose of issuing the plan now for public consultation is to foreshorten the timeline to the progression and implementation of the works proposed to reduce the risks of flooding set out in the plan. There will continue to be a full opportunity for the public and all stakeholders to review and make submissions on all aspects of the plan before it is finalised. The date in this respect is the end of April.

[141]Nonetheless, it is important to re-emphasise the appropriateness of following the CFRAM approach in the context of the Lee and all other catchments. Since 2004, the Government has adopted a new policy that has shifted the emphasis towards a catchment-based context for managing flood risk, with more proactive risk assessment and management and increased use of non-structural and flood impact mitigation measures. CFRAM studies and their product, catchment flood risk management plans, CFRMPs, are at the core of the new national policy for flood risk management and the strategy for its implementation. This policy is in line with international best practice and meets the requirements of the EU floods directive.

The Lee CFRAMS is the primary pilot project for the national CFRAM programme and among its stated objectives are to assess flood risk through the identification of flood hazard areas and the associated impacts of flooding, identify viable structural and non-structural measures and options for managing the flood risks for localised high-risk areas and within the catchment as a whole, and prepare a strategic CFRMP and associated strategic environmental assessment, SEA, that set out the measures and policies that should be pursued by local authorities. Also, the OPW is to achieve the most cost effective and sustainable management of flood risk within the Lee catchment.

The methodology adopted for the Lee CFRAMS has been thorough and to a level of detail appropriate for the development of a flood risk management plan. It has included the collection of survey data and the assembly and analysis of meteorological, hydrological and tidal data, which have been used to develop a suite of hydraulic computer models. Flood maps are one of the main outputs of the study and are the way in which the model results are communicated to each of the end users. Where flood risks are significant, the study has identified a range of potential flood risk management options to manage them, including structural options such as flood walls and embankments and non-structural options such as flood forecasting and development control.

The CFRMP does not aim to provide solutions to all of the flooding problems that exist in the catchment. That would be neither feasible nor sustainable. Rather, it identifies viable structural and non-structural options for managing the flood risks within the catchment as a whole and for localised high-risk areas. There is a wide range of options laid out in the draft plan, many of which are interrelated or dependent on particular strategies being adopted. It is not possible at this early stage to indicate which set of options will be selected for implementation, nor would it be appropriate to do so in advance of the completion of the public consultation and stakeholder review of the draft plan.

The budgeted provision for the Office of Public Works, OPW, in terms of flood relief activities, capital works, drainage maintenance and hydrometric activities in 2010 has been raised to €68.3 million. This is a significant increase from the provision of recent years. In 2004, the provision for such services was €36.4 million. Accordingly, the annual provision for like for like services has been increased by the Government by 188% over a seven-year period.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister of State has just 30 seconds left, but his script is a bit longer than that.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Am I allowed to finish?

Acting Chairman:  With the consent of the House.

Deputy Michael Ring:  Agreed.

[142]Deputy Martin Mansergh:  During the six years to 2009, the OPW has invested €130 million in capital flood relief projects alone with a further €112 million being spent on drainage maintenance and hydrometric programmes.

Major flood relief schemes involve complex engineering and construction operations and invariably have lengthy lead-in times. Variations in the timelines and associated expenditures on such major engineering projects can arise for a variety of factors, including adverse weather conditions, archaeological finds, incidence of contamination or other local environmental or ecological issues. Accordingly, the scheduling of project profiling and expenditure profiling is, of necessity, an imprecise art. The OPW has already profiled expenditure in excess of €200 million on approximately 15 major capital schemes, including provision for works in the Lee catchment from now to 2014.

The draft plan sets out clearly a proposed phasing framework for the Lee catchment. At this early stage, one can anticipate that non-structural options, which are generally lower cost, are likely to be the first to be taken forward, followed by structural options over a longer timescale. All structural options will have a lead-in time for full scheme development and detailed design and a five to ten year programme or longer might be expected for some structural options.

At the launch of the draft plan this week, I highlighted some of the measures it sets out. They include works to increase the level of protection for Cork city against tidal flooding, works to protect the city and vulnerable properties upstream against river flooding — this will provide greater flexibility for the ESB to draw down levels in the Inniscarra and Carrigadrohid reservoirs in advance of a flood, reducing the need to discharge high flows necessary to ensure dam safety — flood protection schemes for Midleton, Baile Mhic Ire, Douglas and Togher, minor works funded by the OPW to reduce risk at Little Island and Crookstown, and the development and implementation of flood forecasting systems for river flooding as well as tidal flooding from the harbour. The OPW estimates that the capital cost of these measures will amount to approximately €30 million over the period 2010-15.

In addition to these schemes, the OPW is also progressing flood protection schemes at Mallow and Fermoy. In County Cork, we spent slightly under €10 million in 2009 and we will already be spending slightly over €10 million in 2010, without taking into account immediate measures arising from the CFRAM study and minor works approved. Some 20-25% of total OPW flood defence spending shows a high level of Government commitment to addressing flooding in the Cork area. The feasibility of schemes at Bandon, Skibbereen and Clonakilty will be explored, but my office and I have already committed in principle to a full flood defence scheme in Bandon.

In 2009, Cork County Council was allocated €31,500 under the OPW minor works scheme. We have recently written to the Cork city and county councils seeking their priorities for the 2010 scheme. I reiterate that work on several of these measures, including the protection of Cork city and Baile Mhic Ire, will begin this year. Some of these works will require more time for detailed design. I will work hard to ensure funding for these works is protected within the overall capital provision for my office. Naturally, successive governments will have to make their own financial dispositions. The Lee CFRAMS study will be a bible of the next Government, whatever its composition. Cost-benefit analysis and value for money will guide future governments as well as the current one.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter on the Adjournment tonight. I am disappointed the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is not here. Deputy Clune has raised the issue of flooding in Cork a few times and I have [143]raised this matter on many occasions. On the last occasion I mentioned correspondence between the Office of Public Works and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

This country is in an awful state when two agencies cannot come together to resolve a very small scheme like this. One agency is writing to the other and the process has been held up for over 12 months. We have had tragedies in Cork and other parts of this country over the past number of months and I am afraid that the bigger jobs will be done but the smaller jobs will be left behind.

The family in question suffered again at Christmas, with the water coming to its doorstep. Three years before that the house was flooded and washed away. Are animals and birds more important than people’s lives? The last time I raised the issue, the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, gave an answer with which I was very happy. He said that the Government would have to make a decision to put families, people and property before wildlife.

The OPW has done its job and sent the report to the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Has the service given permission for the works to be done? I know the family in question, as its members have land in the area. They love the wildlife, the land and their home but they want to be able to live in it. They cannot do so at present because every time it rains and we have a flood, the family is up all night wondering if the house will be flooded again. This can be resolved with a very small amount of money.

We had a similar issue in Kilmaine many years ago when the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the OPW said flood mitigation could not be carried out. Local developers and farmers said it could be done at a very low cost and eventually, after many years, we persuaded the OPW and the county council to give the process a chance. The spot in Kilmaine had been flooded for the past 50 years and when we experienced in October, November and December the worst flooding since the foundation of the State, not a drop of water came in. The people were delighted.

The same scenario is panning out in Roundfort. The land belonging to this family and its neighbours has been flooded and the scheme proposed by the OPW involves a small amount of money. I hope the Minister of State will not have to speak for long here because he has good news. I hope he will tell me that the National Parks and Wildlife Service has agreed, with the OPW, to allow the work to be done once and for all.

I raised the matter in November and we are now into February. We are coming into the spring and this work must be done between February and September, as it will be impossible after that. The people in question wanted to come to the Dáil this evening to hear me speaking and the Minister of State’s response. If we do not get a resolution, we will go to the offices of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and we will not leave until we get a satisfactory reply. It will not hold us up for another 12 months with some guy looking over these papers and making people’s lives hell.

The Minister of State can tell the people in the National Parks and Wildlife Service that we are coming. The last time we went to Agriculture House we brought the sheep and let them loose in the Department. This time we will flood the agency with people who have enough of their current problems. They would not mind if there was a genuine reason for the work not happening but we do not even know what is going on. One Department is writing to the other but we want the matter resolved. I hope the Minister of State has some good news for me tonight and that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, along with the OPW, has agreed to the works being done.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has received proposals from the OPW concerning its intention to undertake work to [144]alleviate flooding in the Roundfort-Hollymount area in County Mayo. I fully understand the anxiety felt by people from homes and farmsteads flooding. On a slightly lighter note, I know that area of Mayo reasonably well as I remember canvassing up there in a by-election. There was a very shy and retiring man by the name of Michael Ring standing for Fine Gael who was subsequently elected, continuing to fulfil his promise and commitment to represent the people of Mayo with distinction.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I thank the Minister of State.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  This area is part of the Kilglassan-Caheravoostia turlough complex special area of conservation which is protected under the EU Habitats Directive. Turloughs, or lakes which disappear for part of the year, are a unique feature of this country and are an important part of our natural heritage. They are among the most distinctive of our semi-natural landscapes and many are of international importance.

This complex in Mayo is one of the most important turloughs in the country as it is relatively large with considerable habitat diversity. Ireland is required under the directive to protect this unique complex. In the case of the OPW proposals, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s role is to advise on the assessment of the impacts of the proposed works as they relate to the habitats and species in the special area of conservation complex.

It is important, in order to protect the habitat and species in this special area of conservation, that the particular methods proposed by the OPW do not impair the normal hydrological regime in the turlough complex while addressing issues of public safety. The National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department has completed its assessment and will now forward it to the OPW. I understand representatives of the National Parks and Wildlife Service intend to meet with representatives of the OPW in order to arrive at an optimum solution to the flooding problem which will not adversely impact the turloughs. I hope that will address the issues and concerns raised by Deputy Ring tonight.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I thank the Minister of State.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 4 February 2010.

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The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

————————

Questions Nos. 1 to 20, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 21 to 85, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 86 to 94, inclusive, answered orally.

  95.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to any recent interest from foreign investors in taking strategic or controlling stakes in any of the credit institutions covered by the banking guarantee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5319/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I have informed the House previously that I have discussed the issue of private sector investment in the banks with senior executives of the credit institutions covered by the bank guarantee. I understand that some institutions have engaged in such discussions with representatives of potential investors. To date, none of these discussions have resulted in any detailed investment proposal. However, the Deputy will appreciate that much of this information is received in confidence and could be a market sensitive issue for the potential investors.

  96.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has instructed, or will instruct, the National Asset Management Agency board of directors to prepare a new, realistic and updated business plan for NAMA, taking into account all relevant information which has become available since the original draft business plan was prepared; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5314/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The NAMA draft business plan published in October 2009, was prepared by the interim NAMA team for the purpose of outlining the background to NAMA and the manner in which it will carry out its functions and duties. It is important to emphasise that much of the information regarding the prospective NAMA port[146]folio included in this draft Business Plan is based on aggregate data which had been provided by the various institutions.

The NAMA Board was appointed in December 2009 and they will consider the draft plan and how to update it or revise it. Any such revision will be based on detailed data which will be presented and analysed in the context of the acquisition by NAMA of eligible assets. It will not be possible to prepare a revised business plan based on an analysis of the actual data submitted to NAMA for some months yet.

The NAMA Act requires an annual statement by 1st July 2010 and a detailed quarterly report to be submitted by the 30th June 2010. I would expect that NAMA would also provide its revised business plan in or around that time.

  97.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Finance    if, in view of falling prices in most sectors of the economy, he envisages significant scope for savings to be made in the operation of National Assets Management Agency through minimising fees and expenses, for which an annual amount of €240 million was foreseen in the draft NAMA business plan; the instructions he has given to NAMA officials in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5321/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The National Treasury Management Agency has engaged various firms for advice in regard to the National Asset Management Agency. I have been advised by the NTMA that successful firms priced the work at a substantial discount to win the business. The costs to be borne in 2010 include detailed due diligence costs which are recoverable from the participating institutions as part of the valuation process.

NAMA’s mandate is a commercial one. The purpose of NAMA is to obtain the best achievable financial return for the State and cost containment is and will be a key objective of the Board. The NAMA draft business plan published in October 2009, is a draft Business Plan that was prepared by the interim NAMA team for the purpose of outlining the background to NAMA and the manner in which it will carry out its functions and duties. The draft contains estimates based on aggregate information then available to the interim NAMA team. I expect that the details published in relation to fees and expenses will be updated in a revised business plan to be prepared by the NAMA Board for publication around mid 2010.

  98.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    if applicants from outside the public sector are considered for the filling of top posts in his Department. [5257/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Applicants from outside the public sector are considered for the filling of top posts at Assistant Secretary and Second Secretary General level in the Department. Applicants from outside the public sector are not considered for the posts of Secretary General and Secretary General, Public Service Management and Development in the Department as these appointments are made by the Government without a TLAC competition.

  99.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Finance    the salaries which would be payable to members of the Judiciary if the legislation enacted to provide for the public sector pension deductions and the public sector wage deductions implemented pursuant to budgetary measures adopted in 2009, applied to judicial remuneration in the same manner as it applies to public [147]sector workers in receipt of comparable salaries; and the specific reductions which would have been effected in judicial remuneration in respect of judges appointed to the District, Circuit, High and Supreme Court. [5346/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In its report late last year, the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector concluded that the Constitution precluded them from recommending a reduction in judicial pay. Had they not been so precluded, they would have considered a downward adjustment. For the same reason the pension levy was not applied to the judiciary, though many judges have contributed an amount on a voluntary basis. As a consequence, members of the judiciary were exempted from the application of the pension related deduction and pay reduction legislation applied to public servants under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts 2009.

If the Constitution permitted the remuneration of judges to be reduced, and if the 2009 Acts therefore applied to them, the estimated effect of the application of the legislation to the pay rates of the judiciary is set out in the table below.

Position Current Salary Notional % Reduction Notional Pay Reduction Notional Revised 2010 rate Notional Pension Related Deduction
%
Judge, Supreme Court 257,872 15 38,681 219,191 20,965
Judge, High Court 243,080 15 36,462 206,618 19,645
Judge, Circuit Court 177,554 12 21,306 156,248 14,356
Judge, District Court 147,961 8 11,837 136,124 12,243

As I indicated in Budget 2010, the Chief Justice and the Presidents of the Courts have urged all Judges to make appropriate voluntary contributions from salary in respect of the levy and I will make provision in the Finance Bill to facilitate these payments.

  100.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has met with the board of Anglo Irish Bank regarding options for the development of the bank. [5195/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy may be aware, on 30 November last Anglo Irish Bank submitted its Restructuring Plan to the European Commission. This was a condition for State aid approval of the bank’s recapitalisation in 2009. The Restructuring Plan considers all options for the future of the bank.

The submission of the plan marked the beginning of a detailed and comprehensive evaluation process in advance of any final decision by the Commission on the plan. This ongoing process requires extensive consultation and dialogue between the Commission, the Irish authorities and the bank.

As I have stated previously, I am committed to working closely with the Commission and the bank on the assessment of the plan to achieve the best possible outcome for the State from this process. In this regard, I am in contact both directly and through my officials, with the board of Anglo Irish Bank.

  101.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has been approached [148]by interested parties with respect to taking shareholdings in the National Asset Management Agency special purpose vehicle; when these investments will be concluded; the terms of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5341/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I understand that a number of interested parties have indicated an interest in becoming shareholders in the NAMA Master SPV. This is an issue for the Board of NAMA who advise me that they are in advanced discussions with a number of interested parties.

  102.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Finance    the progress made to date with the putative merger of building societies (details supplied); the amount of financial support he expects the Exchequer to have to provide to these institutions, whether individually or as a merged entity; if he expects the State to hold a majority or controlling interest in any such merged entity; if such a merger, if it involved majority public ownership, would require new legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5318/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The two building societies referred to by the Deputy are independent financial institutions. Accordingly, subject to the requirements and conditions of the Building Societies Act, any question of a merger is a matter in the first instance for the two societies. In that regard, both societies have stated that they have commenced negotiations regarding a possible merger and which, I am informed, are ongoing.

As I indicated in my second stage speech on the NAMA Bill last September, it is likely that some covered institutions will require additional capital to absorb losses that will arise in connection with the transfer of loans to NAMA. I also indicated that, to the extent that sufficient capital cannot be raised independently or generated from internal sources, the Government is committed to providing appropriate capital to allow institutions to continue to meet their regulatory requirements. In the case of a building society, the NAMA Act amended the Building Societies Act to create a new type of share, called a “special investment share”, in a building society and which will provide a mechanism for the State to make a capital investment in a building society. The Act also provides that the Minister for Finance may specify the terms and conditions on which special investment shares shall be issued. These may include voting rights on resolutions and the appointment of directors. I do not consider that any further legislative change is required to enable the State make a capital investment in a building society or to assume appropriate control of a building society consequent upon any such investment.

It is still too early to be definitive on the scale of new capital likely to be required by the building societies referred to by the Deputy, either individually or jointly. Prior to Christmas, at their Special General Meetings to allow their Boards to issue “special investment shares”, the societies informed their members of their estimate of the capital shortfall. The eventual size of any capital injection by the State is a matter that is kept under constant review by the Boards of the institutions, their auditors, the Financial Regulator and my Department in consultation with its advisors, having regard to commercial performance, the level of future impairments and the price paid for NAMA eligible assets. It can be expected, however, that if the State invests capital in a building society, it will do so on appropriate terms and conditions and that it will seek to secure an appropriate stake in the society in order to ensure that the taxpayers’ investment is protected. However, the precise stake, together with the other commercial aspects of any such investment, will be a matter for negotiation and decision at the [149]time of the proposed investment having regard to all the relevant factors including the relative scale of the proposed capital investment.

  103.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding the establishment and operations of the credit review system on business lending, announced in budget 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5329/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The position is that under the NAMA Act I will shortly be issuing guidelines to ensure that SMEs, sole traders and farm enterprises will have recourse to an independent, external review of decisions of credit refusal by the NAMA participating banks. I hope that banks not participating in NAMA or covered by the Government guarantee will also decide to join the system. My aim is to have a simple, effective review process, run by people with experience and credibility. The banks must comply with the recommendations of the appeal process, or explain why they cannot do so.

In addition to dealing with individual cases, the credit review system will examine the credit policies and practices of the banks in respect of SMEs. This will help me to decide what further action might be necessary to secure the flow of credit. I intend to publish the analysis from the review process so that the performance of the banks participating in NAMA will be clear to all.

Mr John Trethowan, an experienced banker with a demonstrated commitment to public and social service, is overseeing the establishment of this credit review system with initial administrative support from Enterprise Ireland. Work has been ongoing since December on the logistical aspects of the review system and it is envisaged that Mr. Trethowan will be in a position to commence reviews shortly.

  104.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Finance    if and when he will convert the State’s preference shareholdings, through the National Pension Reserve Fund, in banks (details supplied) into ordinary equity; the effect this will have on the capital structures of the respective credit institutions; if the next coupon payment will be collected in the form of ordinary equity; if the preference shares are converted to ordinary equity in advance of the next coupon payment coming due, will a pro rata payment accrue to the NPRF in respect of the time for which the investment was held but no coupon was paid; if he will exercise the detachable warrants at the moment of conversion or if the NPRF will retain them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5339/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  There is no provision in the recapitalisation agreements for the conversion of the preference shares into ordinary shares. The bank can repurchase at par up to the fifth anniversary of the issue and thereafter at 125% of par. As I have indicated before, the Government is open to the possibility of further recapitalising the banks concerned, if this is required, and any conversion options would form part of that consideration.

With regard to the payment of the next coupon, my Department and the recapitalised banks are in continuing discussions with the Commission in respect of the banks’ restructuring plans and this issue is a part of that discussion.

  105.  Deputy Dinny McGinley    asked the Minister for Finance    if he is satisfied that bonus [150]pay linked to performances of public service managers should be regarded as part of core pay. [5251/10]

  160.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason, after the passage of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act, 2009, he chose to reduce the cuts in basic pay of certain senior public servants to the extent that their cuts in basic pay are a smaller proportion of basic pay than cuts endured by the lowest paid public servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5343/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 160 together.

The total remuneration package of Assistant Secretaries and Deputy Secretaries in the civil service, and of related grades in other parts of the public service, included a scheme of performance-related pay which gave an average payment of 10% of salary. In 2009, it was decided the scheme would be terminated subject to discussion on the implementation of the decision with the relevant staff association.

In applying the recent reductions in pay, I considered that account had to be taken of the reduction in remuneration for Assistant Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries and related grades arising from the termination of the scheme of performance-related pay. Otherwise, the total reduction in remuneration for these grades would have been greater than those for other public servants including higher paid groups at the level of Secretary General or above. I decided that the reductions should comprise both a reduction in the salary scale and the termination of the scheme of performance-related pay previously payable to the grades. The resulting adjustments, including the effect of the termination of the scheme of performance-related pay, produce significant reductions in remuneration of 14% in the case of the grade of Deputy Secretary and 11.8% in the case of the grade of Assistant Secretary. These reductions are higher than those applying to other groups at the lower salary levels and significantly higher than the minimum reduction provided for under the legislation of 5%.

  106.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on new sources of funding for infrastructural development; and his further views on disposing of certain State assets to provide seed capital for an infrastructural programme. [5180/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy is aware, future investment in critical infrastructure remains a Government priority. Despite the challenging budgetary position, we are committed to maintaining exchequer capital investment of €6.445bn in 2010 and €5.5bn for each year thereafter to 2016. This equates to 5% of GNP and is one of the highest ratios in the EU.

Nonetheless, the Government keeps under continuous review the potential for encouraging and facilitating private sector finance for public infrastructure. My Department has engaged intensively with various private sector parties over the past year to explore the potential for innovative funding mechanisms that could help deliver crucial public infrastructure within the framework of Public Private Partnerships. Obviously, this will only be done on the basis that the terms are right for the State and that any investment makes economic sense. In addition, we have to be mindful of the potential impact of any financing approach on the GGB. The financing of investment through Exchequer borrowing affects the GGB in the normal manner. For other funding options the impact can vary and the treatment is more complex.

[151]I would also note that the Government is committed to exploring and utilising the potential for EIB investment in PPP projects. The EIB has been a major investor in the PPP Roads programme. It may now be willing to consider making funds available for projects in other sectors. Indeed, I am happy to note that the EIB has agreed to invest in the second schools bundle which is currently in procurement.

The State owns significant assets of various types. Given the current economic conditions and the pressure on Exchequer spending, it is vital that this asset base is managed to optimum effect. Any Government consideration of future asset disposals would have to take account of overall policy in the Semi-State bodies, including policy on strategic assets. It could be that asset disposals have the potential to help future infrastructure investment. For example, I announced in Budget 2010 that a multi-annual investment programme in important mental health projects is to be funded from the sale of surplus HSE assets. Some €43 million of additional funding was allocated on this basis for 2010, and further funding for mental health projects will be provided as asset sales allow. The Government will keep an open mind on the potential for other asset disposals that might help infrastructure delivery.

  107.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if the proposed banking inquiry will have any constraints on its investigations and the publication of findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5188/10]

  146.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Finance    the terms of reference of the initial bank inquiry reports, those to be prepared both by the Central Bank Governor and by the hired external report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5308/10]

  157.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of input he will allow from Members and committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas into the establishment of the terms of reference for the commission of inquiry into the banking crisis; if he will allow a formal procedure of submission from the aforementioned following their review and debate of the two reports commissioned to be delivered by May 2010. [5099/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to answer Questions 107, 146 and 157 together.

The Government has decided to establish a framework for a comprehensive investigation into the causes of the systemic failures in the Irish banking sector which culminated in the need for the State intervention in the sector. The framework for investigation will have two stages. The first stage of the investigation will consist of the preparation of two separate preliminary reports from the Governor of the Central Bank and from Mr Klaus Regling, a recognised international expert. The second stage of the investigation will be the establishment of a statutory commission of investigation, which will be chaired by a recognised expert or experts of high standing and reputation. The terms of reference for this commission will be informed by the conclusions of the two preliminary reports.

As part of the preparatory stage, the Government has requested that the Governor of the Central Bank report to me on the performance of the respective functions of the Central Bank and Financial Regulator in the period since the establishment of the Financial Regulator up to September 2008 having regard to the statutory powers, roles and responsibilities of the Central Bank and Financial Regulator.

The Government has also agreed that a second report, to be commissioned from Mr Klaus Regling, a recognised international expert, should consist of an investigation into the back[152]ground to and causes of the recent crisis in Ireland’s banking system up to September 2008; and an assessment of the lessons that can be learned to inform the future management and regulation of the sector, both in relation to individual institutions and in relation to the management of risks and stability issues within the regulatory and Governmental systems.

The Government has agreed that these reports will consider also the international, social and macro-economic environment which provided the context for the recent crisis in the banking sector and that they should have regard as appropriate to existing reports on the banking system, such as the de Larosière and Turner Reports.

I have already announced that Mr Klaus Regling has agreed to the appointment as the independent ‘wise person’ to conduct a preliminary investigation into the crisis in our banking system. Mr Regling is a highly-experienced individual with long experience in private and public sector positions, including a period as Director General for Economic and Financial Affairs of the European Commission and Director General in the German Ministry of Finance. Mr Regling was also a member of the Issing Commission, appointed by Chancellor Merkel in 2008 to advise the German Government on the reform of financial regulation.

The formal stage of the inquiry, which is to be established following the completion of the preliminary investigations by Mr Regling and the Governor of the Central Bank, will be established pursuant to the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. I intend that the inquiry will operate pursuant to the powers set out in the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.

In relation to the input into the establishment of the terms of reference for the statutory Commission of Investigation by Members and Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas, I set out in the Dáil on 19 January 2010 the proposed involvement of the Oireachtas in each stage of the process as follows:

an appropriate Oireachtas Committee will meet both the Governor and the independent expert at the outset of their work to be briefed on the Members’ priorities for investigation;

the two preliminary reports, when completed, will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Oireachtas Committee will be invited to consider the findings of the reports;

the terms of reference and draft Government Order to establish the statutory Commission of Investigation will be laid before the Oireachtas; and

the report of the Commission of Investigation will, when completed, be laid before the Oireachtas for further consideration by the Committee. It will then be open to the Committee to hold public hearings on the Report.

On that occasion, I also underlined that it is essential that an Oireachtas Committee examines the reports from the preliminary investigations as it will have a vital function in assisting in the formulation of appropriate terms of reference with regard to the statutory stage of the inquiry.

  108.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether Anglo Irish Bank is an appropriate vehicle for expanding small medium enterprise lending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5340/10]

[153]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy will be aware, €4bn in capital was provided to Anglo in 2009, to protect the economy from the wider losses that would have occurred in the event of a failure of the bank, to protect the deposit base of the bank, and to prevent the bank becoming a systemic threat to the financial system.

A condition for EU approval of the capital provision to Anglo was that the bank would not engage in new lending for a period of one year, except to existing customers for current projects. This is in line with the objective of stabilising and deleveraging Anglo’s balance sheet.

On 30 November last, Anglo Irish Bank submitted its Restructuring Plan to the European Commission, as required under EU State aid rules. In line with EU Commission guidelines, the Restructuring Plan considers all options for the future of the bank, including its potential role in meeting unmet lending needs in the economy.

The submission of the plan marked the beginning of a detailed and comprehensive evaluation process in advance of any final decision by the Commission on the plan. This ongoing process requires extensive consultation and dialogue between the Commission, the Irish authorities and the bank.

The Deputy will understand that in view of the commercial sensitivities involved it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment on any detailed elements of the plan at this stage.

However, as I have stated previously, I am committed to working closely with the Commission and the bank on the assessment of the plan to achieve the best possible outcome for the State from this process.

  109.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Finance    the principles that will underlie his legislative proposals to deal with distressed financial institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5207/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In the course of the NAMA Bill debate, I indicated I would examine options for the introduction of a legislative regime to deal in a systematic way with distressed financial institutions. My objective is to ensure the State has in place a range of tools to address problem institutions effectively in the interests of maintaining financial stability, minimising reliance on public moneys and ensuring continuity of key banking activities. Normal corporate insolvency procedures are not adequate for failing financial institutions as they were not designed with the objective of protecting financial stability.

My deliberations in this area are assisted by the work ongoing in a number of international fora. At EU level, the Commission has been consulting on a EU framework for cross-border crisis management in the banking sector to allow the relevant authorities to manage financial crisis events at cross-border banks. Included in the Commission’s proposal for discussion are additional powers for supervisors to require the preparation by systemically important institutions of firm-specific contingency and resolution plans. These plans sometimes referred to as ‘living wills’ would detail how an institution and its business might be wound up rapidly and in an orderly fashion. Ireland is, of course, participating fully in the work at EU level to examine this and other possible elements of bank resolution tool-kits in a cross-border context.

Internationally, there is growing agreement on the common features that a resolution framework for the financial sector could include. These may involve, for example, permitting relevant authorities to take control of a financial institution at an early stage of its financial difficulties through some form of administration and providing authorities with a range of tools to deal [154]with a distressed institution. When I have completed my deliberations I will consider appropriate next steps having regard to the evolving EU and international discourse on this important area.

  110.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make a statement on the December 2009 Exchequer returns. [5309/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  At end-2009 the Exchequer deficit was €24.6 billion, some €619 million better than was expected in Budget 2010. The improvement in the 2009 position was largely due to a better than anticipated performance in tax revenue in the month of December and savings on debt servicing expenditure.

I believe that the 2009 Exchequer Returns demonstrate that the actions taken by Government in managing the public finances are working. The small improvement in the actual deficit for 2009 over that anticipated in the Budget means that we face 2010 with a greater sense of confidence.

The Exchequer Returns for end-January 2010 were published yesterday on my Department’s website. The Exchequer deficit was €780 million at end-January compared to €747 million for the same period last year. In overall terms these Returns are in line with expectations.

  111.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Finance    the details of the national solidarity bond, announced in budget 2010; if the intention is to ring-fence all money borrowed through this mechanism for capital investment; if these funds will be used to part-finance or to supplement the 2009 to 2014 capital expenditure programme envisaged in the latest stability programme update, published alongside Budget 2010 in December 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5328/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I announced in Budget 2010 that the Government intended to introduce a National Solidarity Bond.

This bond will effectively be a new form of our state savings products which are aimed at the retail investor. We already have savings bonds and savings certificates, which are three and five and a half year investment products managed by the National Treasury Management Agency. The new bond will be a longer-term product which will be attractive to people who wish to invest for up to 10 years. Where an investor wishes to encash their investment before the final maturity date of 10 years they will be able to do so.

The structure is quite innovative — there will be an annual interest payment and a final redemption bonus payable. The final investment bonus will be payable to investors who encash their bonds after five, seven or ten years.

Although this new bond will give ordinary citizens an alternative route to fund the State to help to stimulate economic recovery and create employment, it is important to note that the proceeds of the bond will not be used to fund additional expenditure over and above what has already been decided on by the Government in the context of the Budget.

An overall multi-annual capital investment programme of over €39 billion for the period 2010 to 2016 has been announced. In terms of 2010 the planned amount of capital funding by government is €6.445 billion as signalled in the December Budget. For each of the years from [155]2011 onwards a sum of €5.5 billion is being provided. These large amounts of overall government investment are deemed appropriate taking all factors into account.

The National Treasury Management Agency and my Department are working on the details of the bond and I look forward to it being available for subscription in the near future.

  112.  Deputy Michael Noonan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether changes in bank legislation are warranted. [5261/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Proposals for change in bank legislation are contained in the Renewed Programme for Government. Indeed, the Government has already made significant progress in this regard. The NAMA Act 2010 contains a number of important changes that will allow NAMA to assist in stabilising the banking sector and restore the flow of credit to business and consumers while minimising risks to taxpayers.

The Government has also decided to reform the institutional structures for financial regulation. The negative impact of the international financial crisis on the banking system and disclosures regarding corporate conduct highlighted structural and institutional weaknesses in existing regulatory structures and the performance of the regulatory system generally. These developments threatened Ireland’s reputation in international financial markets and financial stability.

A more appropriate — and where necessary intensive and hands-on — regulatory approach is needed for financial institutions which have the potential to pose systemic risks to the financial sector and the economy in general. As the Governor of the Central Bank indicated during his discussion with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs on 15 December 2009, “it is now a question of trusting less and verifying more”.

The weaknesses identified are being addressed. Very shortly, I will bring legislative proposals to Government to commence the reform of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland. The new organisational structure and other reforms will allow Ireland to eliminate weaknesses identified in the existing system and maintain domestic and international confidence in financial regulation here.

The Commission of Investigation into the banking crisis will complete its work by the end of this year. At that stage the Government will consider whether the Commission’s deliberations give rise to a need for further legislation.

I am also examining options for the introduction of a legislative regime to deal with distressed financial institutions. The objective is to ensure that the State has in place a range of tools to protect deposit holders and ensure financial stability and maintain international market confidence. My deliberations in this regard will be informed by the work underway at the international level on resolution regimes for the banking sector including in relation to recovery and resolution plans.

At international and EU levels, arising from the international financial crisis, a wide-ranging programme of reform of prudential regulation for the banking sector is underway. The G20 has approved a programme of reform to be implemented by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board encompassing:

reform of existing prudential rules to increase the level of regulatory capital in the financial system;

[156]expansion of the scope of regulation to include parts of the financial services industry not previously subject to direct supervision, such as derivatives, credit rating agencies and alternative investment funds;

strengthening the mandate of international bodies that have a key role to play in international coordination of financial supervision, such as the Financial Stability Board and International Monetary Fund; and

developing a new framework for resolution of large cross-border banks and agreeing specific measures for enhanced oversight of systemically important financial institutions.

Measures to enhance financial regulation adopted at the international level will require to be implemented in EU legislation. An ambitious legislative programme is under preparation by the European Commission for eventual adoption through co-decision in 2010 and 2011. This includes, inter alia, a series of amendments to existing legislation on prudential standards for financial institutions as well as the introduction of new legislation on credit rating agencies, alternative investment funds and derivatives. This legislation may need to be transposed at national level in due course.

  113.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of meetings which have taken place to date on the issue of developing policy on mortgage arrears and home repossessions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5236/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Government is conscious of the high value placed on home ownership in Ireland and of the efforts Irish people make to secure and retain their own home. The Government’s objective from both a social and an economic policy point of view is that home owners who lose their jobs should be assisted to retain their homes during their period of unemployment.

The Government has committed in the Renewed Programme for Government to introduce new measures to protect families having difficulties with their home mortgage payments.

There have been a number of developments in this area. I approved the setting up of an Inter-Departmental Mortgage Arrears Review Group, chaired by my Department, for the purpose of collecting information and examining options, including initiatives in other jurisdictions, in relation to the matter of mortgage arrears and repossessions. This Group has met on two occasions and work has commenced on bringing forward options for dealing with these matters. The Mortgage Arrears Review Group is examining options for improving State supports for home owners with mortgage arrears including schemes in operation in the USA and UK. These schemes are designed to address particular problems for particular groups of home owners and include options for refinancing mortgages, modifying the terms of existing loans, shared equity, and purchase of mortgages for the purpose of renting back to the home owner.

I have been discussing with my Cabinet colleagues the best way in which to proceed in this matter and I will be bringing proposals to Government.

I have spoken extensively in this House on the supports which are available to those homeowners who find themselves in difficulty. These supports include the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears, the Mortgage Interest Subsidy Scheme and the services provided by the Money Advice Budgeting Services. In addition I have written to the Financial Regulator [157]requesting that consideration be given to extending the moratorium on mortgage arrears from 6 months to 12 months for all mortgage lenders.

The Deputy will be aware that in my Budget speech in December the Government refocused mortgage interest relief on those who bought their homes at the peak of the market, many of whom find themselves in negative equity. Where a homeowner’s entitlement to mortgage interest relief would expire in 2010 or after, they will now continue to receive it up to the end of 2017.

Comprehensive statistics on mortgage repossessions have not been kept, but my Department has obtained reports from lenders covered by the State Guarantee. The total of legal repossessions of owner occupier homes to the end of September 2009 by those lenders is twenty. In all cases mortgages were in arrears for over 24 months at time of repossession. While the number of repossessions is a concern to the Government, it is extremely low when compared to the UK and other jurisdictions. It is important to say that repossession orders granted by the Courts do not necessarily lead to homes being repossessed. It is important to note that when a repossession order is granted, homeowners can still work with their lenders in exploring alternative repayment measures such as those outlined in the Mortgage Code.

In relation to the position of mortgage holders generally, the Irish Bankers Federation published a Statement of Intent in November 2009 which provides further reassurance to homeowners who find themselves genuinely unable to maintain repayments on their principal private residence. The Statement of Intent has been agreed and supported by all IBF members and is a welcome development. It is also welcome that the IBF Oversight Committee on the implementation of the Statement of Intent will also include a representation from the Money Advice Budgeting Service.

I am confident that the recent measures taken by the Government along with the ongoing work of the Inter-Departmental Group and the existing supports I referred to, will assist those who are in difficulty with mortgage arrears as a result of unemployment and the economic downturn.

  114.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has had discussions with the European Commission regarding the future structure of the banking sector here in view of State aid decisions and consolidation; and the policy that he is advocating to provide a stable competitive banking sector which does not expose the taxpayer to future risks. [5230/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I refer the Deputy to the comments I made in the course of my Second Stage Speech on the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) Bill 2009 on 16 September 2009, in particular my observation that while the banking system can revive and serve our economy in a proper manner, the existing structures cannot remain the same.

The three largest banks (Allied Irish Banks, Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland) have prepared restructuring plans to meet EU requirements arising from recapitalisation and these plans have been submitted to the EU Commission for consideration. Considerable discussion, dialogue and exchange of information is continuing as the Commission undertake their assessment of the restructuring plan in line with the applicable State aid rules. It is too early to speculate on how long this process will take and when final approval of the restructuring plan will be granted by the Commission, however, I am confident that this restructuring process will result in a reformed and reinvigorated banking system. The Government is committed to work[158]ing with the Commission and the bank to achieve the best possible outcome for the country as a whole and the taxpayer.

  115.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the fact that price inflation continued during 2009 in the sub-indices of education and miscellaneous goods and services at a time when the consumer price index decreased by 5% over the course of the year; his views on whether bringing down costs in these sectors are important for restoring competitiveness here; if he has proposals to encourage the moderation of price levels in these sectors, particularly in the provision of professional services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5331/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell by 4.5 per cent in 2009 while, as the Deputy notes, increases were recorded in the education and miscellaneous goods and services categories.

The Student Services Charge is levied by third level institutions to defray the costs of examinations, registration and students services. For the 2009/10 academic year, the Government indicated that it was willing to accept increases in the Student Services Charge to bring it to up to a limit of €1,500 (from €900) in individual higher education institutions and brought it more into line with the costs of the range of students services provided.

The miscellaneous goods and services contains a wide range of items including some professional services where the Competition Authority has made recommendations. As set out in the Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal document, Building Ireland’s Smart Economy, there is a commitment to publish a whole of Government response to recommendations contained in Competition Authority reports. This was reaffirmed in the October 2009 Review of the Programme for Government, Renewed Programme for Government.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has received the views of relevant Government Ministers as to how a list of competitiveness recommendations, insofar as they relate to their Departments, can be progressed and she intends to bring an update to Government shortly on the progress achieved to date. In line with the original commitment in the Smart Economy document, a whole of Government response to any recommendations contained in future reports drawn up by the Competition Authority will be published within nine months.

  116.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Finance    his forecast for net migration patterns here for 2010 and 2011; the way he expects these patterns to impact on tax revenues, welfare payments, demand for and cost of public service provision, the overall Exchequer position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5332/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  My Department expects 45,000 people to leave the labour force this year due to net outward migration. The equivalent figure for next year is a net outflow of the order 10,000 — 15,000 people.

Clearly this will have an impact on the public finances, with both the revenue and expenditure sides of the Government’s balance sheet being affected. The demand for public services will also be affected by lower population growth. All these impacts have been factored into the Budget day fiscal projections.

  117.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Finance    if he envisages any changes in the operation of the National Asset Management Agency in the context of EU approval; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5187/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The official EU State aid notification relating to NAMA was submitted in December 2009 following extensive discussions with the European Commission. My officials are continuing consultations with the Commission to ensure that the design and the implementation of the NAMA Scheme will be consistent with EU State aid requirements. It is anticipated that the necessary approval will be secured in time for the transfer of the first assets under the scheme.

  118.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Finance    the progress that is being made with respect to the viability and business plans for the credit institutions covered by the bank guarantee submitted to the EU Commission for consideration; when opinions will be issued by the Commission in relation to each of the credit institutions concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5312/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Under EU State aid requirements the financial institutions which were recapitalised by the State, (Allied Irish Banks, Anglo Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland) were obliged to submit a restructuring plan to the European Commission within six-months of receiving the Government injection of capital. The Bank of Ireland Plan was submitted to the Commission on 30 September 2009. The Allied Irish Banks Plan was submitted on 13 November 2009 and the Anglo Irish Bank Plan was submitted on 30 November 2009.

Considerable discussion, dialogue and exchange of information is continuing as the Commission undertake their assessment of the restructuring plan in line with the applicable State aid rules. It is too early to speculate on how long this process will take and when final approval of the restructuring plan will be granted by the Commission.

  119.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Finance    the way he plans to fund a recapitalisation programme for the banks during 2010. [5217/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I indicated last September that, following the transfer of eligible bank loans to NAMA, it is likely that institutions will require additional capital in order to absorb the losses that will arise and to maintain appropriate capital levels. Institutions should explore all available options, both internal and external, for raising such capital. However, I also stated that, to the extent that the institutions are not in a position to raise sufficient capital from such sources, the Government remains committed, consistent with EU rules, to providing relevant banks and building societies with an appropriate level of capital to enable them to continue to meet their regulatory requirements.

The level of additional capital that may be required for individual institutions in 2010 arising from NAMA and other commercial factors has yet to be determined, though the Financial Regulator and my officials and advisors continue to monitor the position. The nature and source of any such necessary capital support for any particular institution will fall for consideration and determination in due course on a case by case basis having regard to the above framework.

  120.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 115 of 13 May 2009, the amount allocated and expended each year over the period 2006 to 2009 under the multi-annual investment programme for disability services as reported to his Department by the other relevant Departments including the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5347/10]

  133.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 115 of 13 May 2009, the amount allocated and expended under the multi-annual investment programme 2006 and 2009 for disability services; if this reached the projected total €900 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5348/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 133 together.

As the Deputy will be aware from my reply to his previous question, development and implementation of the Multi-Annual Investment Programme for Disability 2006-2009 to support the development of high priority disability support services in each sector is a matter for the relevant departments and agencies.

The amount allocated and expended each year over the period 2006 to 2009 under the Multi-annual Investment Programme (MAIP) for high priority disability support services as reported to me by the relevant departments is as follows:

  121.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has had cause to revise any of the assumptions made in the draft National Asset Management Agency business plan, particularly with respect to the evolution of the property market, its likely low point and its expected uplift over the life of NAMA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5324/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The NAMA draft business plan published in October 2009, is a draft Business Plan that was prepared by the interim NAMA team for the purpose of outlining the background to NAMA and the manner in which it will carry out its functions and duties.

The figures included in the draft business plan are indicative figures. The NAMA Board was appointed in December 2009 and they will over the coming months analyse the real data in relation to eligible assets and valuation. Based on this analysis the Board will decide how best to update or revise the draft business plan, including in relation to the evolution of the property market.

  122.  Deputy George Lee    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether any of the events or actions of parties involved in the collapse of the banking and property sector, which occurred since September 2008, contain lessons for the future. [5244/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Deputy may wish to note that a number of important measures are already being implemented reflecting the lessons learned from the banking crisis since September 2008. The impact of the crisis on the banking system in Ireland has emphasised the importance to the wider economy of the framework for financial regulation as well as the links between financial regulation and functions of central banks. The reform of regulatory structures which I announced on 18 June 2009 will underpin a much more effective and efficient financial services regulatory system. In particular, the reforms will see the establishment of a single fully integrated institution, the Central Bank of Ireland Commission, with responsibility for both the supervision of individual firms and the stability of the financial system generally. The proposed new structure will address a number of the significant weaknesses disclosed in the current system, in particular the need for increased cooperation and coordination between those responsible for monitoring financial stability, and those charged with the prudential supervision of individual institutions, and the prioritisation of prudential supervision of institutions as a central objective of the regulation of the financial system.

At EU level, a comprehensive programme of reforms is currently underway building on the recommendations contained in the de Larosière report in particular (to strengthen risk management on both a micro- and macro-prudential levels, including improvements in risk management in individual firms; improved systemic shock absorbers; reductions in pro-cyclical [162]amplifiers; strengthening transparency; and improvements in the incentives in financial markets and in directors’ remuneration). The EU roadmaps on financial supervision, stability and regulation, which were agreed at ECOFIN Council in 2007, and subsequently updated in 2008 and 2009 to reflect the evolving nature of the financial crisis, deal specifically with strengthening EU arrangements for financial stability and actions taken in response to the financial turmoil.

Finally, in relation to the events or actions, since September 2008, of parties involved in the collapse of the banking and property sector, I have already set out in Dáil Éireann that any wrong-doing that has come to light since September 2008 and which was a continuation of previous practices should, in my view, be investigated by the Commission of Investigation.

  123.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Finance    his projections for the level of funding in the National Pension Reserve Fund over the next three years; if he will continue to divert funding from and payments to the NPRF; and if he envisages the NPRF meeting the demands made upon it at its end date in 2025. [5103/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The value of the National Pensions Reserve Fund (NPRF) was €22.3 billion at the end of 2009.

The National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000 provides, inter alia, for the annual payment into the Fund from the Exchequer of an amount equivalent to 1% of GNP as estimated at the time of the Budget. The amount payable to the Fund in respect of the 1% of GNP contribution for 2009 was €1.584 billion.

The Investment of the National Pensions Reserve Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2009 amended the 2000 legislation so as to allow the Minister for Finance to direct the NPRF Commission to invest in a listed credit institution and to make payments into the Fund for the purposes of such an investment, such additional contributions to be offset against the contribution liability in future years. These amendments reflected the Government decision, announced on 11 February 2009, that the recapitalisation of Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland through the purchase of preference shares by the NPRF would be funded by €4 billion of the Fund’s own resources and €3 billion from the Exchequer through the frontloading of the 2009 and 2010 Exchequer contributions to the Fund. Following the enactment of this legislation, the Minister for Finance made a total contribution of €3 billion to the Fund in 2009.

Furthermore, the Financial Measures (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 enables the assets of a number of the pension funds of certain non-commercial semi-state bodies and universities to be transferred to the NPRF and that the value of those assets is to be offset against future Exchequer contributions to the Fund. At end-2009, assets provisionally estimated by the National Treasury Management Agency at the time to be worth some €880 million were transferred to the Fund — the final value of these assets has yet to be determined. The value of the remaining assets, expected to be transferred this year and currently estimated to be worth about €980 million, will be determined when those assets are transferred to the Fund.

On this basis, taking account of the total of €3 billion paid into the Fund from the Exchequer in 2009 and the current estimate of the total value of the semi-state bodies and university pension funds’ assets being transferred into the Fund, it is estimated that no contribution will be required in respect of the statutory obligation to pay the equivalent of 1% of GNP into the Fund until 2012. This position was set out in Table 10 of the Stability Programme Update which was published as part of the Budget documentation on Budget Day last December.

[163]The objective of the National Pensions Reserve Fund is to meet as much as possible of the cost to the Exchequer of social welfare pensions and public service pensions to be paid from the year 2025 until at least 2055.

  124.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Finance    the expected annual cost to the Exchequer of administering and funding, where the double insolvency criterion is met, the pensions insolvency payment scheme for the next three years; the way these costs are to be met to ensure that the scheme is cost neutral in accordance with the relevant legislation; the position regarding the initial success and take up of the scheme; the way he expects it to evolve over the coming years; if further measures are foreseen to reinforce and protect company pension funds in deficit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5320/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Pensions Insolvency Payment Scheme (PIPS) is a three-year pilot scheme offering, as a special measure, payments in cases where a defined benefit pension scheme is winding up in deficit and the sponsoring employer becomes insolvent — the “double insolvency” criterion.

Under PIPS, trustees of a participating pension scheme must pay to the Minister a lump sum which equals the net present value of the future stream of PIPS payments for the lives of the pensioners concerned and the associated administration costs. The sum will be calculated by the National Treasury Management Agency on an actuarially cost-neutral basis.

PIPS will be administered to minimise start-up costs and facilitate orderly wind-up of the participating pension scheme. In this pilot phase, the existing payment administrator of participating schemes or an alternative payment administrator nominated by the trustees will be retained.

The cost of administering PIPS will be charged to participating schemes so that PIPS is cost neutral for the taxpayer, as required by the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2009. As part of the application process, trustees must state the administration costs for the pensioner payments into the future as agreed with their chosen payment administrator. NTMA will convert this to net present value and factor it into the PIPS lump sum described above.

PIPS is a demand-led scheme with participation levels largely contingent on the number of employer insolvencies among defined benefit pension schemes in deficit where the trustees decide that PIPS offers pensions which might not otherwise be available.

PIPS came into effect only two days ago and so it is too early to make an assessment of the likely take-up. PIPS is a pilot scheme which will be reviewed within three years.

Broader policy responsibility for private sector pension issues beyond PIPS rests with my colleague the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. The Deputy will be aware that the Minister has taken a number of initiatives to support pension schemes. As a result the Pensions Board has taken a number of significant actions, for instance:

granting additional time for the preparation of funding proposals, as a temporary measure;

dealing as flexibly as possible with applications for the approval of funding plans;

allowing longer periods for recovery plans (i.e., greater than ten years), in appropriate circumstances; and

taking into account voluntary employer guarantees in approving recovery plans.

[164]To ensure that these extensions will not weaken supervision, the Board will reject recovery plans which fail to demonstrate an appropriate investment approach. The operation of these proposed changes will be reviewed by the Pensions Board no later than 1 January 2011.

The Deputy may also wish to note that the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2009has amended the Pensions Acts to:

improve the affordability and viability of Defined Benefit pension schemes by allowing trustees to include the benefits of active and deferred pension scheme members, as well as post retirement increases, when considering the restructuring of a Defined Benefit pension scheme;

provide for a more equitable distribution of assets between those who are retired and current members of the pension scheme in the event of the wind-up of the scheme, by excluding post-retirement increases from the priority given to retired members;

strengthen the regulatory provisions in relation to the obligation on employers to submit pension contributions to the trustees of a pension scheme; and

provide the Courts with the power to relieve a trustee in whole or in part from liability for breach of trust where the Court is satisfied that the trustee has acted honestly and reasonably.

The Government will also be considering the National Pensions Framework prepared by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

  125.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Finance    the costs and the benefits of the proposed 33% tax relief on private pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5202/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The recently published Renewed Programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce a single 33% rate for tax relief on private pension provision. Tax relief on individual pension contributions is currently allowed at the taxpayer’s marginal income tax rate, that is, at the standard or higher rate of income tax as appropriate in each case. Tax relief at 33% would result in a reduction in the tax relief on pension contributions available to higher rate taxpayers and an additional incentive to pension savings for standard rate taxpayers. However, the full detail and timing of the introduction of this measure have yet to be decided.

A breakdown of the cost of tax relief on employee contributions to occupational pension schemes is not available by income tax rate, as tax returns by employers to the Revenue Commissioners of employee contributions to such schemes are aggregated at employer level. An historical breakdown is available by tax rate of the tax relief claimed on contributions to personal pension plans — Retirement Annuity Contracts (RACs) and Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) — by the self-employed and others, to the extent that the contributions have been included in the personal tax returns of those taxpayers. The latest data available in this regard are preliminary figures in respect of the tax year 2007.

There is, therefore, no statistical basis for providing definitive figures on the costs or benefits involved in moving to a 33% rate of relief. However, by making certain assumptions about the available information, it is estimated that the overall full year yield to the Exchequer from allowing tax relief at a flat rate of 33% in respect of individual contributions to occupational pension schemes, RACs and PRSAs would be about €135 million. It is assumed that tax relief [165]at the flat rate of 33% would also be available to claimants who are currently confined to tax relief at the standard rate of 20%.

The estimated Exchequer saving assumes no change in the current relief arrangements for PRSI and health levy on pension contributions and takes no account of the economic or behavioural impacts which would occur as a result of a change in tax treatment as envisaged in the question.

  126.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he envisages a role for the investment on a commercial basis of funds in the national pension reserve fund in infrastructure projects here; his views on whether this would require amending legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5336/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The National Pensions Reserve Fund (NPRF) was established in 2001 under the National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000. The purpose in establishing the NPRF was to meet as much as possible of the cost to the Exchequer of social welfare pensions and public service pensions to be paid from the year 2025 until at least 2055.

The Act provided for the establishment of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission. The Commission is solely responsible for the control, management and investment of the assets of the Fund (other than assets which the Minister for Finance has directed the Commission to invest in a listed credit institution under the provisions of the Investment of the National Pensions Reserve Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2009) and for determining the investment strategy for the Fund in accordance with Fund investment policy. The Commission is required to invest the assets of the Fund so as to secure the optimal total financial return, having regard to the purpose of the Fund and the eventual requirements on the Fund to make payments to the Exchequer, provided the level of risk to the moneys held or invested is acceptable to the Commission. It would be open to the Commission to invest in infrastructure projects by way of participation in a public-private partnership. The Commission would of course have to satisfy itself that the investment was in accordance with its investment mandate.

  127.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Finance    the way he expects the losses and loss provisions on the mortgage loan books of the credit institutions covered by the bank guarantee to evolve over the coming years; if he expects the Exchequer to have to provide capital to any of the covered institutions as a direct result of losses accruing on these mortgage loan books, above and beyond capital provided as a result of losses relating to loans transferred to the National Assets Management Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5313/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy will be aware, the covered institutions have made, and will no doubt continue to make as necessary provisions for impaired loans, including impairments on expected losses on their mortgage books. It is a matter for each institution’s own Board to decide as to the level of provisions to set aside for future write downs, it would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment or speculate on the mortgage books of individual institutions.

I stated in my Second Stage speech on the NAMA Bill that it is likely that some institutions will require additional capital in order to absorb the losses arising from the transfer of their impaired assets to NAMA and in order to maintain appropriate levels of capital. I also said that if sufficient capital cannot be raised independently or generated internally, that the Government is committed to providing such institutions with an appropriate level of capital to [166]continue to meet their requirements in a manner consistent with EU State aid rules and the credit needs of the Irish economy.

  128.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of money that has accrued to the State from the bank guarantee; the amount of this income now on deposit at the Central Bank; if income from the new eligible liabilities guarantee scheme will continue to be paid into the central bank deposit account; if any transfer is foreseen from this account to the central fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5315/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Each of the covered institutions covered by the Bank Guarantee Scheme pays a quarterly charge to the Exchequer for the guarantees under the Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme 2008 (CIFS) and the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee (ELG).

The amount of money paid under CIFS in the mandated Central Bank account, including interest accrued to date, is €718,360,000.

We intend to collect at least €1bn from the guaranteed institutions for institutions covered under CIFS and ELG guarantees for the period September 2008 to September 2010. After the expiration of the Covered Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme in September 2010, money collected will be transferred to the Central Fund. It is my intention that income from the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee will be paid into a separate Central Bank account which will be transferred into the Central Fund.

In addition to the charge for the Guarantee levied on the covered institutions, institutions under the Guarantee are obliged to recoup the administrative costs of the Guarantee to the Minister. To date payments of €2,495,459 have been made and received by my Department as an appropriation-in-aid, covering the period September 2008 to April 2009. There will be further charges made periodically between now and the end September 2010 when the Scheme is due to end.

  129.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 103 to 106 of 1 December 2009, the progress made in making the funding available in order that the INTERREG IVA programme will be fully implemented and that the funding allocated under this programme will be properly utilised in an orderly and realistic way rather than spent in a rushed mechanism towards the closing date; if the programme will be allowed to go forward in an orderly fashion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5049/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As outlined in the replies referred to by the Deputy, the INTERREG IVA Programme 2007-13 aims to support strategic cross-border co-operation and economic development. The Programme is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) and implementation is overseen by a Monitoring Committee which has representatives from the Irish and Northern Ireland accountable Departments, Local Authorities and community and voluntary sector representatives.

INTERREG IVA funding allocation is based on a comprehensive and robust application and approval process. The process involves full project appraisal and scoring which is based on specific criteria relating to the overall aims, priorities and themes of the programme as well as a number of non specific criteria such as value for money/value added, need and contribution [167]to a number of cross cutting themes. All funding applications are subject to this process which ensures that funding is allocated in an effective manner.

The SEUPB has advised that the programme is progressing well in terms of the assessment of applications, steering committee approval of projects and the issue of letters of offer and has met its key annual N+2 expenditure targets to date.

My Department, as co-sponsor of the SEUPB with the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland, continues to work with its counterparts to ensure a successful implementation of the programme.

  130.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Finance    if, in the interest of value for money for the taxpayer, he will alter the pre-qualification criteria in respect of tendering for public projects in view of that fact that existing criteria favour larger companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4961/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The establishment of a list of competent firms interested in tendering for a particular project is an essential part of a prequalification procedure. For transparency purposes, it is a requirement that the number of firms being short listed should be stated in the contract notice published on eTenders or, in the case of projects above the EU threshold, in the Official Journal of the European Union. The prequalification criteria in EU Directive 2004/18/EC and SI No 329 of 2006 and the underlying principles in the EU Treaty are there to give confidence to businesses who express an interest in a particular procurement opportunity that they will be treated equally and fairly.

There are two parts to prequalification. The first deals with minimum standards which a contracting authority must set out in a suitability questionnaire applicable in particular situations. Minimum standards can vary from project to project depending on size, nature and complexity. The overriding objective for all contracting authorities, when establishing minimum standards, is to adhere to the underlying principles in the EU Treaty of non-discrimination, proportionality, fairness and transparency. I should say that the establishment of minimum standards is a matter for the relevant contracting authorities to determine as they are nearest to the activity and therefore best placed to decide what is appropriate in particular situations. The minimum standards for suitability criteria in use by various Government Departments, Offices and Agencies, and which are in the public domain at present are published on my Department’s construction website www.constructionprocurement.gov.ie

The second part of prequalification is qualitative selection. This is used to assess firms that pass the minimum standards so that those with the best marks go forward to a tender list up to the maximum number stated in the contract notice.

I am conscious of the pressures facing SMEs and I have asked my Department to develop national guidelines for minimum standards for suitability criteria for construction-consultants and works contractors. However, I should say that, even with these guidelines in place, local input by contracting authorities will continue to be required in particular situations. When the work of developing national guidelines is complete, they will be published on the Department’s construction website.

  131.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will impose pay cuts on employees of commercial semi-State bodies and agencies during 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5344/10]

[168]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I have previously indicated my intention to carry out a review of the pay of the chief executives of the commercial semi-State companies and will be announcing proposals in this regard shortly.

  132.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will confirm comments (details supplied) that the National Asset Management Agency will rent properties for the purpose of social housing with a return in line with NAMA’s mandate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5335/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  NAMA has a commercial remit and generating a return for taxpayer’s is a key objective. However, within this context NAMA could seek to facilitate public bodies seeking the creation of desirable developments that encourage vibrant sustainable communities. I have previously indicated that such bodies could be given first option on NAMA properties for a limited period.

Where it can be shown that providing units for social and affordable housing needs can create a commercial proposition for NAMA, then NAMA may play a role in the provision of social and affordable housing. Indeed I am informed that the Department of Environment Heritage and Local Government has had initial contact with NAMA to explore such arrangements.

Question No. 133 answered with Question No. 120.

  134.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which he monitors developments in the insurance industry with particular reference to the level of premium increases in the past 12 months; the degree to which premiums in respect of various forms of insurance cover have fluctuated in the past five years to date in 2010; the grounds for these fluctuations; if an assessment has been carried out regarding the reason premises should increase while the value of property, motor vehicles and commercial values generally have fallen; the degree to which regulation is applied to the insurance industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5295/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Financial Regulator does not maintain statistics on insurance premium costs, so I am not in a position to comment specifically upon the level of such increases in the past 12 months nor on the fluctuation in the past five years. However, as mentioned in previous PQs (45220/22 of 2009) the Financial Regulator has provided some background as to why insurance prices have increased in recent times. It has advised me that while the non-life insurance market performed well up to the end of 2006, market sources indicate that much non-life business was written at a loss in 2007. This trend continued in 2008, but the companies were still willing to write business at a loss in order to maintain their market share. They were able to do this as a result of the reserves they had built up during profitable years. However, the situation could not go on indefinitely and indications are that firms have taken action on pricing to underpin their financial positions.

This position is supported by a report published in 2009 by Standard & Poor’s titled ‘A Testing 2009 for the Irish Non-Life Insurance Market, Despite Fundamental Strengths’. It provided an insight into the problems facing the industry in 2009. The report envisaged a difficult year for the non-life industry as a result of rising claims and continuing intense competition which they said was limiting price increases. They added that this combined with anticipated [169]lower investment returns was expected to hinder profitability. It should be noted that this outlook has if anything been compounded by the cost of claims as a result of the November flooding and the recent big freeze.

On the issue of regulation, the insurance industry as a whole is governed by the Insurance Acts 1909 to 2000 and regulations relating to insurance and reinsurance made under section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972. This body of legislation deals with a range of issues including authorisation provisions, prudential supervision and governance matters. The day to day responsibility for ensuring that the insurance industry complies with this legislation is a matter for the Financial Regulator which is statutorily independent in the exercise of its regulatory functions.

Consumer issues are covered by the Financial Regulator’s Consumer Protection Code which amongst other things sets out a series of general principles about how financial service firms (including all insurance companies) should interact with their customers. The Code however does not prohibit or restrict an insurance company which conducts insurance business from increasing its annual premium rates, as this is a commercial decision for the company in question and is generally determined by such issues as higher claims volumes, and the nature of the product.

  135.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide funding for a relocation grant to families severely affected by the recent flooding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5046/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I understand that the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not operate a home relocation scheme to assist households who wish to relocate in the aftermath of a flooding event. I have no plans to introduce such a grant.

However, in recognition of the problems faced by people in many areas of the country due to the recent flooding, the Government allocated an initial sum of €10m to fund a Humanitarian Assistance Scheme. The scheme is being administered by the Community Welfare Service of the Health Service Executive on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

The scheme, which is means tested, is intended to provide emergency financial assistance to households who are not in a position to meet costs for essential needs in the period immediately following flooding. The scheme covers emergency income support payments to those in need and damage to a person’s home and its basic essential contents, such as: carpets, flooring, furniture, household appliances and bedding. Structural damage may also be considered.

  136.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has adopted a set of measures drawn from the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes Report; the level of savings involved in the measures adopted; and the implementation strategy agreed. [5218/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes was published in July 2009 and outlined 271 recommendations with potential savings of up to €5.3 billion in a full year along with associated staffing reductions of over 17,300 in public service numbers. The Special Group’s Report is advisory in nature. The Special Group’s analysis and recommendations have been taken into [170]account in the 2010 Budget and the estimates of expenditure for the year ahead. The Government decided to implement 32 recommendations in full and 89 in part. These savings are estimated to yield some €1.7 billion in 2010 and €1.9 billion in a full year, with savings implemented by the Department of Social and Family Affairs accounting for an estimated €691 million in 2010 and €739 million in a full year.

The Report of the Special Group and its recommendations will continue to inform Government considerations of overall expenditure strategy as well as ongoing structural reform in the public service.

  137.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has sought funds under the European Union Solidarity Fund for victims of the recent flooding; if he has secured such funding; if he has sought any other form of funding from the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46828/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  My Department made an application to the EU Commission on 27th January 2010 for funding under the EU Solidarity Fund based on estimates of damage received from Departments and local authorities.

A regional application was made as the estimate of the extent of the damage does not meet the Solidarity Fund’s threshold of 0.6% of GNI or €935.5m for a national disaster. There are specific criteria which must be met to ensure a successful regional application to the EU Solidarity Fund. These criteria include the majority of the population of the region being affected by the disaster and serious and long lasting effects on the region’s economic stability and living conditions.

The EU Solidarity Fund does not fund full reconstruction. It funds emergency operations to allow a rapid return to normal living conditions.

My Department is continuing to work with the Commission on finalising the process.

  138.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has any plans to adjust the stamp duty regime to take account of the drop in house prices and the collapse in the property market. [5104/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Stamp duty net receipts for 2009 are in the region of €930 million. Of this amount, the yield from property is c. €329 million, of which residential property accounts for c. €150 million and non-residential property for c. €179 million.

I have no immediate plans to change the stamp duty regime but it should be noted that no stamp duty is payable by first time purchasers of new or second hand residential property or by owner-occupier purchasers of new residential property under 125 square metres in size.

Stamp duty on property will be reviewed in the context of potential changes to the taxation of property, such as the Commission on Taxation’s recommendation to introduce a residential property tax and the commitment in the renewed programme for Government to introduce a site valuation tax on non-agricultural land. If stamp duty on residential property was reduced or abolished, any shortfall in Exchequer receipts would have to made up by increases in other taxes.

  139.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    if the average discount to be paid on assets transferred to the National Asset Management Agency is expected to be less than the 30% initially envisaged; if there have been significant revelations in respect of satisfactory legal title and cross collateralisation of assets securing property, development and associated loan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5345/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The estimates I provided in September in relation to the prospective NAMA portfolio were based on aggregate information provided by the relevant financial institutions. At all times I stressed that information on the actual price to be paid for loans would only become clear following a loan by loan assessment once NAMA was established.

Preparatory work on the transfer of assets is now under way and it is envisaged that the first tranche of assets will be valued and transferred to NAMA in February. This will provide clearer information on the level of discount to be applied to loans purchased by NAMA in relation to the first tranche of the expected NAMA portfolio.

Valuation itself is a matter for NAMA in accordance with the NAMA Act and regulations made under it. Where any defects exist in relation to the security for a loan, this will be reflected in the lower price paid by NAMA for it.

  140.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has any plans to reform the criteria relating to the artists’ tax exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5334/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I assume the Deputy is referring to the qualification criteria for the awarding of the artists exemption in respect of particular works that are considered to be original and creative.

Section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides an exemption from tax for the profits or gains arising to a person from the publication, production or sale of an original and creative work which has artistic or cultural merit in any of the five categories set out in the legislation, namely, a book or other writing; a play; a musical composition; a painting or other like picture; or a sculpture.

Under the legislation, the Revenue Commissioners are required to make a determination as to whether or not a work has artistic or cultural merit before the exemption can be awarded. The commissioners are specifically required by the legislation to make their determination having regard to guidelines drawn up by the Arts Council and the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The guidelines set out definitions of the terms “original and creative”, “artistic merit” and “cultural merit”. They also set out specific criteria to be taken into account in making determinations relating to works of non-fiction and provide for exclusions from what is to be regarded as original and creative in respect of certain works (e.g. textbooks, works of journalism and functional or utilitarian works). The current guidelines are available on the Revenue website at www.revenue.ie.

I understand that these guidelines are currently being reviewed by the bodies mentioned in conjunction with the Revenue Commissioners and that considerable progress has been made.

  141.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding the proposed [172]merger of the Competition Authority, the National Consumer Agency and the consumer protection function of the Financial Regulator; if it is necessary to put the merged entity on a statutory footing through the enactment of new or amending legislation; when the merger will be completed and the new entity fully operational; the provisions he will make to ensure the new entity is fully accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas; the annual cost savings envisaged through the merger; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5338/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The proposed merger of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

However, as the Deputy may be aware, I intend to initiate legislation to reform the institutional structures for financial regulation early this year and, in this regard, I will bring proposals to Government shortly. Part of the process of reform will involve the transfer of certain statutory functions of the Consumer Director in the Financial Regulator to the National Consumer Agency. These functions relate to the provision of consumer information.

  142.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Finance    the month on month percentage transfer of toxic properties to National Asset Management Agency envisioned over the next six months. [5101/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  NAMA was established to purchase portfolios of impaired loan assets from relevant institutions. The draft NAMA business plan published in October set out a projected loan transfer schedule indicating how loans are expected to transfer to NAMA in tranches.

The initial transfer of the first tranche of loans is now envisaged to commence in February, subject to EU approval. NAMA has confirmed the timeline for the subsequent transfer process is expected to be broadly in line with that set out in the draft business plan, though clearly two months later than set out in the plan. The full process should be complete by the end of the third quarter of 2010.

  143.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the role he sees for Anglo Irish Bank in the future of Irish banking. [5098/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy may be aware, on 30 November last Anglo Irish Bank submitted its restructuring plan to the European Commission. This was a condition for State aid approval of the bank’s recapitalisation last year. In line with EU Commission guidelines, the restructuring plan considers all options for the future of the bank.

The submission of the plan marked the beginning of a detailed and comprehensive evaluation process in advance of any final decision by the Commission on the plan. This ongoing process requires extensive consultation and dialogue between the Commission, the Irish authorities and the bank.

The Deputy will understand that in view of the commercial sensitivities involved it would not be appropriate for me to make any comment on any detailed elements of the plan at this stage.

[173]However, as I have stated previously, I am committed to working closely with the Commission and the bank on the assessment of the plan to achieve the best possible outcome for the State from this process.

  144.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Finance    the progress made with the restructuring and consolidation of the banking system here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5317/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As independent bodies, it is a matter in the first instance for the financial institutions themselves, subject to regulatory, competition and other relevant requirements, to discuss and agree their strategic arrangements. In that regard, there have been a number of recent developments. For example, Irish Life and Permanent has taken steps to form a new group holding company to allow it maintain maximum flexibility in the group’s corporate structure. In addition to this, the two building societies have commenced negotiations, which are ongoing, regarding a possible merger. It can be expected that other financial institutions, as independent commercial institutions, will also keep their strategic options under consideration in the context of a changing financial services market.

Regarding the State’s role, its primary consideration continues to be to protect, in the public interest, the financial and economic system of the State. The public support that has so far been provided to individual institutions and to the system as a whole has been provided to achieve that objective. Where capital support has been provided to individual institutions, it has been necessary to submit a restructuring plan for the relevant institution to the EU Commission. So far, submissions have been made for Anglo Irish Bank, Bank of Ireland and AIB. These plans are currently being considered by the Commission and, in due course, the outcome of that process will have to be taken on board by the financial institutions and the State. Depending on final decisions, such an outcome may have some implications for the structure of banking in Ireland. Therefore, pending this, it would not be helpful to be very prescriptive on the future structure of banking in Ireland at this point. However, on a general level, I would indicate that the desirable objective of a future banking system should be one that delivers competitive financial services in a sustainable manner and also one that, if feasible, contains a mix of ownership structures.

  145.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the further details on measures announced in budget 2010 with respect to the treatment of non-residents for tax purposes; the revenue he expects these new measures to raise in 2010 and in a full year; the number of non-residents for tax purposes he expects these new measures to affect; if he expects these new measures to bring about behavioural changes or to induce such non-residents to take up Irish domicile for tax purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5330/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I assume that the measure to which the Deputy refers is the domicile levy which I announced in budget 2010, full details of which will be announced in the Finance Bill on Thursday. The levy of €200,000 will apply to Irish nationals and domiciled individuals whose worldwide income exceeds €1 million and whose Irish-located property is worth greater than €5 million.

I am informed by Revenue that for the 2007 tax year (the latest year for which figures are available), 7,228 non-resident individuals filed Irish tax returns in respect of their Irish-source income or income derived from working here. The total amount of tax paid by these persons was c €43 million. For the 2006 tax year, 5,993 non-resident individuals filed Irish tax returns [174]in respect of their Irish-source income or income derived from working here. The total amount of tax paid by these persons was €44.5 million.

The equivalent figures for 2008 are not yet available. Returns for 2008 were due by 31 October 2009 or, in the case of returns made on ROS (Revenue Online System), by 16 November 2009. The data capture of information of these returns is currently under way and when completed will facilitate the compilation of statistics for 2008.

Many of the individuals who declare on their tax return that they are non-resident in the State do not have an Irish address. Many of these non-residents are foreign nationals or have a foreign domicile; and many of the non-resident Irish citizens or Irish domiciled individuals included in this figure may have become non-resident for reasons unrelated to taxation, but have retained Irish investments (such as rental property). It is therefore not possible to estimate the number of non-residents that this measure will affect.

The policy objective behind this levy is to ensure that every wealthy Irish domiciled individual who pays little or no income tax, makes a contribution to the State, particularly during these difficult economic times. Behavioural change can occur for many reasons and it would be impossible to predict any such changes which may occur due to the implementation of this levy.

Domicile is a concept of general law which means, broadly speaking, the place an individual regards as her/his permanent home. Changing domicile is not a straightforward matter and I do not know whether individuals will attempt to acquire Irish domicile because of the introduction of the domicile levy.

Question No. 146 answered with Question No. 107.

Question No. 147 answered with Question No. 94.

  148.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the oft quoted assertion that the collapse of the economy was in some way attributable to low interest rates which were dictated by the European Central Bank and that corrective measures at national level were difficult in view of the current economic climate whereby interest rates as dictated by the ECB remain low but there seems to be no difficulty taking corrective measures to restrict borrowing even for vital business, domestic and commercial activity; the steps to be taken to ensure that the banking system here fully accepts its responsibilities in line with the supportive commitments given at cost to the taxpayer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5296/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Participation in Monetary Union led to a structural shift whereby interest rates in this economy which had been set by the Central Bank of Ireland were reduced to the lower levels pertaining in the euro area. While lower interest rates are clearly beneficial for an economy in the medium and longer term, clearly nominal interest rates over most of the last decade were lower than they would otherwise have been given the strength of domestic demand at the time.

With regard to the banking system and lending to the real economy, the second Mazars report on credit availability, published in December, confirmed that while some SMEs are facing significant challenges accessing credit, and the sector in general is more conservative in its borrowing, nevertheless new lending is still taking place. However, the proportion refused credit, especially in certain sectors, remains a concern for Government.

[175]The Deputy will be aware that under the NAMA Act I will shortly be issuing guidelines to ensure that SMEs, sole traders and farm enterprises will have recourse to an independent, external review of decisions of credit refusal by the NAMA participating banks. I hope that banks not participating in NAMA or covered by the Government guarantee will also decide to join the system. My aim is to have a simple, effective review process, run by people with experience and credibility. The banks must comply with the recommendations of the appeal process, or explain why they cannot do so.

In addition to dealing with individual cases, the credit review system will examine the credit policies and practices of the banks in respect of SMEs. This will help me to decide what further action might be necessary to secure the flow of credit. I intend to publish the analysis from the review process so that the performance of the banks participating in NAMA will be clear to all.

Mr John Trethowan, an experienced banker with a demonstrated commitment to public and social service, is overseeing the establishment of this credit review system with initial administrative support from Enterprise Ireland. Work has been ongoing since December on the logistical aspects of the review system and it is envisaged that Mr. Trethowan will be in a position to commence reviews shortly.

  149.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make a statement on the 2009 outturn for both consumer pricing index and harmonised index of companies’ prices measures of inflation; his views in respect of inflation for 2010; if, in particular, he is concerned that increased lending margins and an increase in European Central Bank reference rates could cause a spike in inflation as measured by HICP in late 2010 and into 2011; the proposals he has to cushion hard pressed homeowners from the full impact of rising home loan costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5325/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Prices as measured by the consumer price Index (CPI) fell by 4.5% in 2009 compared with the previous year while the harmonised European measure (HICP) fell by 1.7% over the same period.

ECB rates are now at historic lows and there is broad consensus that they will rise at some stage. When this happens there will be an impact on the CPI but not on the HICP as the latter excludes mortgage interest costs. Irrespective of changes in policy rates, some increase in market lending rates is occurring — again this will impact on the CPI but not on the HICP. My Department expects a second year of falling prices in 2010, with the CPI falling by 0.8% and the HICP falling by 1.2%. This is in line with consensus too. However we expect low, but positive inflation to resume in 2011 and subsequent years.

I am also aware of the broader impact of interest rate increases. The Stability Programme Update submitted to the European Commission with budget 2010 included an outline of the major risks to the forecasts underpinning the budget. This included a quantification of the impact on the macroeconomic outlook of a change in interest rates.

The Government is conscious of the high value Irish people place on home ownership and has committed under the renewed programme for Government to introduce new measures to protect families having difficulties with their home mortgage payments.

Since then the Government decided that all relevant material on the matter of indebtedness and mortgage arrears in Departments should be brought together in consideration of the debt problems faced by some householders. I approved the setting up of an interdepartmental mortgage arrears review group, chaired by my Department, for the purpose of collecting information and examining options, including initiatives in other jurisdictions, in relation to the matter of [176]mortgage arrears and repossessions. This group has met on a number of occasions. Consultations are being arranged with various interested bodies with expertise in the area of mortgage arrears and related matters. Once this has happened the group will be in a position to consider and bring forward feasible options for dealing with these matters.

This work will build on existing Government supported solutions for dealing with home owners with mortgage arrears including: application of the new code of conduct on mortgage arrears which applies to all mortgage lenders; support from the mortgage interest scheme under the supplementary welfare allowance system which is providing vital support for over 15,000 families with mortgage difficulties; and the provision of advice on debt management through the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS). A separate review under the control of my colleague the Minister for Social and Family Affairs of the mortgage interest scheme is near completion and it is expected that its recommendations will be taken into account by the interdepartmental mortgage arrears review group.

Since my budget speech, I have written to the Financial Regulator requesting that consideration be given to extending the moratorium on mortgage arrears from six months to 12 months for all mortgage lenders. Also in that speech I mentioned that the Government refocused mortgage interest relief on those who bought their homes at the peak of the market, many of whom find themselves in negative equity. Where homeowners entitlement to mortgage interest relief would expire in 2010 or after, they will now continue to receive it up to the end of 2017.

In relation to the position of mortgage holders generally, the Irish Bankers Federation published a statement of intent on 10 November which provides further reassurance to homeowners who find themselves genuinely unable to maintain mortgage repayments on their principal private residence. The statement of intent has been agreed and supported by all IBF members and is a welcome development. It is also welcome that the IBF oversight committee on the implementation of the statement of intent will include representation from MABS.

  150.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    the cost of nationalising Anglo Irish bank to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5097/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  To date in 2010, no funds have been provided to Anglo Irish Bank.

As the Deputy will be aware, €4 billion in capital was provided to Anglo in 2009, to protect the economy from the wider losses that would have occurred in the event of a failure of the bank, to protect the deposit base of the bank, and to prevent the bank becoming a systemic threat to the financial system.

As I stated in my Second Stage speech on the NAMA Bill on 16 September last, it is likely that some institutions will require additional capital in order to absorb the losses arising from the transfer of their impaired assets to NAMA and in order to maintain appropriate levels of capital. I also made clear in the speech to the extent that sufficient capital cannot be raised independently or generated internally that the Government remains committed to providing such institutions with an appropriate level of capital to continue to meet their requirements in a manner consistent with EU State aid rules and the credit needs of the Irish economy.

Based on the information provided by me in mid-September to this House, the scale of Anglo’s NAMA-eligible loans are such that they will give rise to a further capital requirement for the State. However, the specific requirement for capital for the bank will only become [177]evident following further progress in the implementation of the NAMA and finalisation of the bank’s end-year accounts.

I am currently assessing the scale of any further capital support for Anglo Irish bank in the light of the emerging end year financial position of the bank, and the likely impact of the NAMA transfers.

  151.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    the details of the 2009 to 2014 capital expenditure programme envisaged in the latest stability programme update, published alongside budget 2010; if he will be preparing a revised national development plan on the basis of the reduced levels of capital expenditure foreseen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5327/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The budget for 2010 gave details of capital expenditure allocations by Department for 2010. At 5% of gross national product, the 2010 allocation of €6.4 billion is proportionally very high in comparison to levels of capital investment across the EU. The budget also includes a commitment of Exchequer capital investment of over €39 billion for the period 2010-2016.

A review of capital expenditure has been undertaken by the Department of Finance at the request of Government. It takes full account of the severe economic challenges now facing us and the change in circumstances since the launch of the NDP in 2007. The review considers capital priorities for the period out to 2016 and how such expenditure could be prioritised to support economic recovery, sustainable job-creation, immediate employment support, and the Smart/Green economy. These recommendations fed into consideration of the capital allocations for 2010.

The Government is committed to publishing its investment priorities in due course.

  152.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Finance    if an estimate has been carried out by his Department into the amount of VAT and excise duty lost through cross-Border shopping; if he is satisfied that sufficient efforts are being made to minimise this loss; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5048/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy may be aware, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published on 4 December 2009 the results of a survey of cross-Border shopping as part of its quarterly national household survey (QNHS) Q2 2009. The results show that 16% of households in the Republic made a shopping trip to Northern Ireland in the 12 months to Q2 2009, with 41% in the Border area and 21% in Dublin so doing. The report estimates that the total expenditure between Q2 2008 and Q2 2009 on cross-Border shopping trips at €435 million. This is generally in line with the estimations published in March 2009 in the report on the implications of cross-Border shopping, which was undertaken on my behalf by the Revenue Commissioners and the CSO. The QNHS also showed that the majority of trips involved purchases of groceries (80%), with alcohol (44%) and clothing and durables (42%) being popular as well.

Based on the data contained in the CSO’s QNHS survey on cross-Border shopping, Revenue has estimated that the VAT and excise loss in 2008 due to cross-Border shopping, taking into account seasonal adjustments for the Christmas period, would be in the region of €90 million.

[178]The Irish standard VAT rate was reduced in the budget from 21.5% to 21% with effect from 1 January 2010. The UK standard VAT rate has reverted to 17.5% from 15% with effect from 1 January 2010. This means the standard VAT rate differential between Ireland and the UK has been reduced from 6.5 percentage points to 3.5 percentage points. In addition the excise duty rates on alcohol products were reduced with effect from 10 December 2009 and Sterling has appreciated slightly in recent months. These developments combined should provide less incentive for people to shop outside the State.

However, as previously stated, the main influence on cross-Border shopping and trade remains the significant depreciation of Sterling against the euro since mid 2007.

  153.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the impact on the general Government balance of the refusal by the European Commission to approve the payment of interest dividend on the preference shares issued in relation to the recapitalisation of the Irish banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5139/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  With regard to the payment of the next coupon, my Department and the recapitalised banks are in continuing discussions with the Commission in respect of the banks’ restructuring plans and this issue is a part of that discussion. In the normal course, if payments were permitted, the impact of the dividends payable on the preference shares in AIB and Bank of Ireland is estimated to improve the General Government Balance by €560 million in a full year.

  154.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the viability of a banking division at a bank (details supplied) as an independent going concern in view of its unsustainable loans to deposits ratio and dependence on the European Central Bank’s extraordinary liquidity measures and money market funding; if he has a preference for it to remain as an independent credit institution, to acquire a strategic partner from overseas or to merge with one or more of the other domestic credit institutions; if he will comment on recent reports that the bank rejected his proposal that they merge with another bank in the weeks after the bank guarantee was issued; if he envisages such a merger as a viable option. [5316/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Deputy will be aware that the named covered institution is not in receipt of state funding nor has it applied for participation in the NAMA programme. It operates as a commercial financial institution subject to relevant regulatory approval. It has indicated publicly that it is involved with other parties in discussing options for restructuring within the banking sector, which is an ongoing matter.

With effect from 18 January 2010, ILP restructured their organisation by way of a scheme of arrangement with shareholders to form a new group holding company the purpose of which is to maintain maximum flexibility in the group’s corporate structure and also to provide financial flexibility.

  155.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Finance    the parameters of the revised arrangements for the artists’ tax exemption as outlined in his recent budgetary statement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47571/09]

[179]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  No changes were made to the artists exemption scheme in Budget 2010. However, the exempt income of artists is one of the specified reliefs which are subject to the restriction of reliefs measure. I announced significant changes in the Budget to the operation of the restriction from the 2010 tax year.

The adjusted income level at which the restriction will now come into operation was reduced from €250,000 to €125,000 and the level at which the full restriction will apply was also reduced from €500,000 to €400,000. In addition, the effective rate of income tax payable by those subject to the full restriction was increased from 20% to 30%. This income tax liability will be in addition to PRSI, the health levy and the income levy. These changes will affect, inter alia, artists with exempt income, where their adjusted incomes exceed the relevant thresholds by limiting the amount of income that can be exempted from income tax in a particular tax year. Full details of the changes will be included in the forthcoming Finance Bill.

  156.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make a statement on the current small and medium enterprises lending environment; the proposals he has planned which would ameliorate this lending environment; if he has discussed with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment the possibility of implementing an SME working capital loan guarantee scheme; the level of funding that is to be allocated to any such scheme for 2010 and 2011. [5322/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The second Mazars report on credit availability, published in December, confirmed that while some SMEs are facing significant challenges accessing credit, and the sector in general is more conservative in its borrowing, nevertheless new lending is still taking place. However, the proportion refused credit, especially in certain sectors, remains a concern for Government.

Under the NAMA legislation I will shortly be issuing guidelines to all banks participating in NAMA who lend to SMEs, to ensure that SMEs, sole traders and farm enterprises will have recourse to an independent, external review of decisions of credit refusal by the banks. The purpose of this measure is to ensure that the benefits of NAMA lead to an improved flow of credit to viable businesses. I hope that banks not participating in NAMA or covered by the Government guarantee will also decide to participate. My aim is to have a simple, effective review process, run by people with experience and credibility. The banks must comply with the recommendations of the review process, or explain why they cannot do so.

In addition to dealing with individual cases, the credit review system will examine the credit policies and practices of the banks in respect of SMEs. This will help me to decide what further action might be necessary to secure the flow of credit. I intend to publish the analysis from the review process so that the performance of the banks participating in NAMA will be clear to all.

Mr John Trethowan, an experienced banker with a demonstrated commitment to public and social service, is overseeing the establishment of this credit review system with initial administrative support from Enterprise Ireland. Work has been ongoing since December on the logistical aspects of the review system and it is envisaged that this will be completed shortly.

With regard to the possibility of implementing an SME loan guarantee scheme, arising from the Mazars recommendations, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment undertook to have a detailed study on the proposal carried out. I understand that this report is near completion.

Question No. 157 answered with Question No. 107.

  158.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Finance    if he envisions the National Asset Management Agency receiving some form of income from the State for the purposes of the provision of social housing. [5102/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  NAMA has a commercial remit and generating a return for taxpayer’s money is a key objective. However, within this context NAMA could seek to facilitate public bodies seeking the creation of desirable developments that encourage vibrant sustainable communities. I have previously indicated that such bodies could be given first option on NAMA properties for a limited period.

Where it can be shown that providing units for social and affordable housing needs can create a commercial proposition for NAMA, then NAMA may play a role in the provision of social and affordable housing. Indeed I am informed that the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government has had initial contact with NAMA to explore such arrangements. However, responsibility for social housing will remain with the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government and any money provided by the Government for this purpose will be done through the vote for the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  159.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    the steps he is taking to address the River Shannon catchment flooding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5047/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The Office of Public Works (OPW) had planned to, and is commissioning consultants to carry out a Flood Risk Assessment and Management (FRAM) Study of the River Shannon catchment. The study is expected to commence by mid-2010, and a draft long-term Flood Risk Management Plan will be produced by the end of 2014.

The OPW will lead the Shannon FRAM, but will undertake the study in partnership with the Local Authorities, and will involve all stakeholders in assessing the issues, constraints and objectives, and in developing solutions. The recent flooding in the Shannon catchment will provide extensive data, and assist in identifying the areas where the study will focus its attentions. Further public and stakeholder consultations will take place at all stages throughout the study.

Pending the carrying out of the FRAM study, the OPW is working with the relevant Local Authorities to bring forward interim measures to address localised flood problems in the Shannon region. The OPW has recently invited applications from Local Authorities for funding for minor flood mitigation works or studies that the Authorities propose to undertake in 2010, under a scheme initiated last year.

In view of the widespread flooding throughout County Galway in 2009, a Joint Working Group was set up by OPW and Galway County Council to assist in the identification and implementation of minor flood mitigation measures in the County, including the Shannon area. At its first meeting, the Working Group identified an initial list of specific locations that they will focus their attention on. They also agreed to review the findings of a previous report on flooding in South Galway in light of the recent flooding there.

[181]My Office will continue to work with the Local Authorities with a view to ensuring that viable proposals for minor flood mitigation works in the Shannon catchment will be progressed as quickly as possible, subject to overall availability of resources.

Question No. 160 answered with Question No. 105.

  161.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Finance    if the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009 will impact on any employees, such as employees at Health Service Executive grant funded agencies, who were not effected by the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No.1) Act 2009, other than those whose incomes fall below the threshold set out in the latter; if employees in the voluntary and charity sector were explicitly excluded from being affected by this Act; if he will provide a guarantee to public servants that their income will not be further reduced during 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5323/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The definition of a public servant in the legislation governing the pension levy and the pay reductions is the same. Therefore, in general the reductions in pay under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009 will apply to employees who are paying the pension related deduction. However, there are a small number of situations where the pay reductions could apply to a public servant who was not subject to the pensions levy. The pay reductions apply to employees of public service bodies, whether or not the public servant is a member of a public service pension scheme or receives a payment in lieu. Furthermore, the income exemption threshold that applies to the pensions levy does not apply to the pay reductions.

Sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act 2004 apply to HSE service providers and other bodies in receipt of funding assistance from the HSE. Organisations that are directly funded by the HSE under Section 38 of the 2004 Act are public service bodies, as defined in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009 which provided for the pension levy deduction and the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009, which provided for the reduction in public service pay. Employees in these bodies have access to public service pension schemes or, in a small number of cases, the state funds an employer contribution to a private pension scheme. The pension levy and the reduction in salary apply to all these employees. Accordingly, the pay reduction legislation applies to all members of the Nominated Health Agencies Superannuation Scheme.

Under Section 39 of the 2004 Act, the HSE provides a grant towards the overall costs of running certain organisations. Neither the pension levy nor the reduction in salary applies to such employees. I do not consider it appropriate to speculate on future measures that may impact on public servants’ income.

  162.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the creation of a European systemic risk board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46848/09]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The legislative proposal to create a European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) is designed to put a regime in place to monitor and assess risks to the stability of the financial system as a whole (what is called “macro-prudential supervision”). This proposal was one of the key recommendations contained in the Report of the High Level Group on Financial Supervision in the EU, which was published on the 25th [182]of February 2009 — the so-called “de Larosière Report”. The ESRB will provide early warning of systemic risks that may be building up in the financial system and, where necessary, issue recommendations for action to deal with these risks.

The creation of the ESRB is part of a suite of measures, which also includes the establishment of three new European Supervisory Authorities for the banking, investment services and insurance and pensions sectors. These new Authorities will play a key role in ensuring that there is better co-ordination between supervisors in situations where a financial institution might be operating on a cross-border basis within the EU. They will also be required to ensure that EU financial services legislation is being implemented in a more uniform manner across Member States and, in that regard, will develop a single rule-book to ensure a more harmonised approach by supervisors.

The establishment of the ESRB will address what has been identified as a major priority in the strengthening of financial regulation internationally by ensuring that there is a strong focus on the stability of the overall financial system alongside closely monitoring the soundness of individual financial institutions. The creation of the ESRB is in line with several international initiatives that have been put in place for this purpose, including the establishment of the Financial Stability Board. The heads of the European Central Bank, national central banks, the proposed new European Supervisory Authorities, as well as national regulatory bodies will participate in the European Systemic Risk Board.

To achieve its role the ESRB will have the power to issue non-binding recommendations and warnings to Member States (including the national supervisors) and to the European Supervisory Authorities, the response to which will be closely scrutinised by a ‘comply or explain’ mechanism. I have been a very strong supporter of these proposed reforms and I particularly welcome the closer involvement of the European Central Bank, especially with regard to monitoring possible instances of systemic risk.

The Deputy should be aware that these proposals have now been examined by three Joint Oireachtas Committees — the Joint Committee on European Affairs, the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny. A report of the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny was discussed in the Dáil on 28 January last. This examination by the Oireachtas Committees has helped contribute to Ireland’s participation in the negotiations carried out at Council level.

  163.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Taoiseach    the number of persons unemployed on 1 January to 31 December 2009 and 1 January to 31 January 2010 in each district office (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5503/10]

  164.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Taoiseach    the number of persons aged under 25 years unemployed each month from January 2009 to 31 January 2010 for each district social welfare office for counties (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5505/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Pat Carey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 163 and 164 together.

The Live Register series gives a monthly breakdown of the number of people claiming Jobseekers Benefit, Jobseekers Allowance and other registrants as registered with the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Figures are published for each county and local social welfare office.

[183]The following table contains monthly Live Register information for those aged under 25 and total persons in each local social welfare office in Counties Laois, Limerick and Wexford, from January to December 2009 inclusive. The December 2009 figures are the latest data available and were published on 12th January 2010. The January 2010 county and local office data are due to be published on 5th February 2010.

It should be noted that the Live Register is not a definitive measure of unemployment as it includes part-time workers, and seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseekers Benefit or Allowance.

Total persons and persons under 25 on the Live Register in Counties Laoighis, Limerick and Wexford by Local Office, January-December 2009

Month1 Total Persons Under 25 Total Persons
Laoighis County
Jan-09 1,453 6,142
Feb-09 1,548 6,569
Mar-09 1,606 6,750
Apr-09 1,648 7,000
May-09 1,710 7,181
Jun-09 1,777 7,459
Jul-09 1,824 7,689
Aug-09 1,808 7,741
Sep-09 1,750 7,562
Oct-09 1,671 7,455
Nov-09 1,658 7,504
Dec-09 1,663 7,679
Portarlington Jan-09 601 2,368
Feb-09 625 2,576
Mar-09 660 2,688
Apr-09 693 2,800
May-09 722 2,882
Jun-09 748 2,990
Jul-09 773 3,100
Aug-09 744 3,103
Sep-09 723 3,035
Oct-09 688 2,972
Nov-09 659 3,020
Dec-09 682 3,099
Portlaoise Jan-09 648 2,941
Feb-09 695 3,099
Mar-09 706 3,130
Apr-09 703 3,226
May-09 730 3,295
Jun-09 758 3,418
Jul-09 782 3,503
Aug-09 794 3,526
Sep-09 757 3,385
Oct-09 721 3,362
Nov-09 744 3,370
Dec-09 734 3,461
Rathdowney Jan-09 204 833
Feb-09 228 894
Mar-09 240 932
Apr-09 252 974
May-09 258 1,004
Jun-09 271 1,051
Jul-09 269 1,086
Aug-09 270 1,112
Sep-09 270 1,142
Oct-09 262 1,121
Nov-09 255 1,114
Dec-09 247 1,119
Limerick County Jan-09 3,632 15,786
Feb-09 3,910 17,223
Mar-09 4,076 18,043
Apr-09 4,072 18,504
May-09 4,344 19,810
Jun-09 4,738 21,000
Jul-09 4,856 21,791
Aug-09 4,924 22,159
Sep-09 4,616 21,188
Oct-09 4,349 20,326
Nov-09 4,313 20,700
Dec-09 4,329 21,375
Kilmallock Jan-09 469 1,956
Feb-09 486 2,130
Mar-09 526 2,262
Apr-09 533 2,291
May-09 568 2,336
Jun-09 619 2,487
Jul-09 654 2,607
Aug-09 658 2,675
Sep-09 586 2,534
Oct-09 548 2,577
Nov-09 553 2,628
Dec-09 591 2,762
Limerick City Jan-09 2,587 11,259
Feb-09 2,816 12,228
Mar-09 2,906 12,691
Apr-09 2,909 13,200
May-09 3,111 14,145
Jun-09 3,386 15,037
Jul-09 3,466 15,638
Aug-09 3,498 15,877
Sep-09 3,312 15,208
Oct-09 3,077 14,403
Nov-09 3,045 14,715
Dec-09 2,997 15,092
Newcastle West Jan-09 576 2,571
Feb-09 608 2,865
Mar-09 644 3,090
Apr-09 630 3,013
May-09 665 3,329
Jun-09 733 3,476
Jul-09 736 3,546
Aug-09 768 3,607
Sep-09 718 3,446
Oct-09 724 3,346
Nov-09 715 3,357
Dec-09 741 3,521
Wexford County Jan-09 3,242 14,511
Feb-09 3,439 15,293
Mar-09 3,576 15,790
Apr-09 3,557 16,009
May-09 3,787 16,519
Jun-09 4,118 17,410
Jul-09 4,121 17,817
Aug-09 4,117 17,951
Sep-09 3,955 17,465
Oct-09 3,750 17,431
Nov-09 3,758 17,783
Dec-09 3,800 18,156
Enniscorthy Jan-09 862 3,625
Feb-09 912 3,857
Mar-09 933 3,919
Apr-09 935 4,025
May-09 975 4,122
Jun-09 1,094 4,325
Jul-09 1,113 4,368
Aug-09 1,108 4,401
Sep-09 1,046 4,242
Oct-09 1,009 4,213
Nov-09 1,015 4,291
Dec-09 1,005 4,333
Gorey Jan-09 591 2,966
Feb-09 631 3,192
Mar-09 669 3,329
Apr-09 668 3,399
May-09 714 3,461
Jun-09 768 3,637
Jul-09 753 3,773
Aug-09 749 3,767
Sep-09 738 3,712
Oct-09 690 3,661
Nov-09 712 3,772
Dec-09 712 3,847
New Ross Jan-09 552 2,501
Feb-09 606 2,671
Mar-09 625 2,772
Apr-09 631 2,859
May-09 687 2,978
Jun-09 751 3,186
Jul-09 750 3,300
Aug-09 781 3,365
Sep-09 757 3,276
Oct-09 685 3,243
Nov-09 675 3,279
Dec-09 681 3,347
Wexford Jan-09 1,237 5,419
Feb-09 1,290 5,573
Mar-09 1,349 5,770
Apr-09 1,323 5,726
May-09 1,411 5,958
Jun-09 1,505 6,262
Jul-09 1,505 6,376
Aug-09 1,479 6,418
Sep-09 1,414 6,235
Oct-09 1,366 6,314
Nov-09 1,356 6,441
Dec-09 1,402 6,629

1 State figures for January to September 2009 have been revised but revisions have not yet been applied to data contained in this table.

  165.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Taoiseach    if she will state, in view of the decentralisation programme announced in December 2003, the properties rented or acquired as a consequence of the decentralisation programme in respect of her Department and of every State body for which it is responsible; the date of commencement of the rental or date of purchase of each property; the cost of each property purchased or the annual rental of each property rented; the number of staff transferred into each property as of 1 January of each year from the commencement of the rental or the date of the acquisition of each property in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5642/10]

The Taoiseach:  There are no proposals to decentralise my Department or any of the State bodies under its aegis and accordingly the information sought regarding rental or purchase of properties for the purpose of decentralisation does not apply.

  166.  Deputy George Lee    asked the Taoiseach    the names addresses of all nominees to bodies or agencies under the remit of his Department that were appointed since 26 June 1997, detailing by whom they were appointed; when they were appointed; the amount paid by the Exchequer to each nominee each year from 1997 to 2009 broken down into income, expenses, overtime and any other relevant category; the money paid by his Department each year from 1997 to 2009 to cover expenses or incidentals related to the nominees, such as accommodation, travel and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5667/10]

The Taoiseach:  The information requested by the Deputy will require a considerable amount of time and resources to compile. I have requested my officials to supply a response directly to you as soon as possible.

  167.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the action she has taken or proposes to take to bring competitiveness in the manufacturing, commercial and service sectors into a more competitive position in respect of adjoining or EU jurisdictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5554/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Competitiveness is a multi-stranded issue. As well as consumer prices, labour and other business costs, productivity-enhancing investment in key areas such as infrastructure is vital. Ireland has consistently been regarded amongst the most competitive economies in the world for supporting enterprise. Reports such as the ‘IBM Global Location Trends Annual Report 2009’, published in October of last year, ranked Ireland 1st for attracting FDI on a per capita basis. They listed our key strengths in services and R&D as the reason for topping the list. Similarly, the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business 2010’ ranks Ireland 7th out of 181 countries, unchanged from a year previously. Last week Ireland was ranked the third most globalised nation, according to an index published by Ernst & Young at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Macroeconomic forecasts included in December’s Budget indicate that prices will continue to fall in 2010. Labour costs have fallen in both the public and private sectors in recent months. In its recent report, “Ireland’s Competitiveness Challenge”, the National Competitiveness Council noted that “quarterly unit labour cost data from the OECD for Q2 2009 suggests that Ireland’s relative cost competitiveness improved driven by the industrial sector”. In recognition of these trends, the latest European Commission forecasts for Unit Labour Costs show Ireland’s competitiveness in this area is expected to improve considerably relative to the European average over the forecast period. Energy costs have also fallen over the past year. The drop in industrial energy prices in Ireland in the twelve-month period to June 2009 was the third largest in the EU. Elsewhere, 22 out of 27 EU countries experienced increases on industrial energy prices over the same period. In fact, the rate of decline in gas prices for industrial users fell by almost 16%, double the European average. A report by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) published on January 24th, showed that gas prices are now 7 per cent to 10 per cent below the EU average in the two main consumption bands for business.

These two elements will reduce the burden on enterprise in the coming year and improve competitiveness. Ireland continues to invest heavily in infrastructure, which is recognised as a key pillar in sustaining and improving competitiveness. At 5% of Gross National Product, the 2010 allocation of €6.4 billion is proportionally very high in comparison to levels of capital investment across the EU.

[188]In relation to other EU Member States, Ireland’s competitive position is improving. Releases from Eurostat (the EU’s statistical office) show that price levels (HICP) in Ireland are improving relative to the European average. Similarly, EU Commission macroeconomic forecasts show that key competitiveness indicators such as Unit Labour Costs see Ireland’s competitiveness improving in the medium-term.

  168.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the rules and regulations in relation to persons in receipt of jobseeker’s benefit taking up a FÁS course; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5400/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  Clients access FÁS training programmes through FÁS Employment Services offices and following a guidance interview with an Employment Services Officer. People who are in receipt of the Jobseeker’s Benefit (JB) receive a FÁS training allowance equivalent to the rate payable under JB.

FÁS has considerably expanded its range of training programmes and the number of places available through the introduction of a number of short-term courses and an increased provision of online, blended and evening programmes. Unemployed people from the following cohorts are accorded priority access:

People with low skills or education levels, i.e. unemployed people who do not have a Leaving Certificate qualification or equivalent;

People who are on the Live Register for long periods (over one year) — this includes people who are in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance/Benefit for one year or longer;

People who are under 35 years of age, with at least 30% of training places reserved for those aged under 25 years;

People who were previously employed in sectors that have been most affected by restructuring and where recovery to near previous levels is not in prospect in the short to medium term (mainly construction, manufacturing and wholesale/retail trade).

  169.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the rules and regulations in relation to persons in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance taking up a FÁS course; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5401/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  Clients access FÁS training programmes through FÁS Employment Services offices and following a guidance interview with an Employment Services Officer. People who are in receipt of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JA) receive a FÁS training allowance equivalent to the full rate payable under JA.

FÁS has considerably expanded its range of training programmes and the number of places available through the introduction of a number of short-term courses and an increased provision of online, blended and evening programmes. Unemployed people from the following cohorts are accorded priority access:

People with low skills or education levels, i.e. unemployed people who do not have a Leaving Certificate qualification or equivalent;

[189]People who are on the Live Register for long periods (over one year) — this includes people who are in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance/Benefit for one year or longer;

People who are under 35 years of age, with at least 30% of training places reserved for those aged under 25 years;

People who were previously employed in sectors that have been most affected by restructuring and where recovery to near previous levels is not in prospect in the short to medium term (mainly construction, manufacturing and wholesale/retail trade).

  170.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the rate of payment for an adult on a FÁS training course when that person has an underlying entitlement to a reduced rate of jobseeker’s allowance; and the way this has changed since 2009. [5420/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  FÁS allowances are payable to qualifying participants in full even if the social welfare payable prior to the commencement of the training course has been at a reduced rate. There has been no change in this procedure since 2009.

  171.  Deputy Thomas Byrne    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the redundancy payment a person (details supplied) in County Meath will be entitled to since they were made redundant in April 2009. [5432/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  My Department administers the Social Insurance Fund (SIF) in relation to redundancy matters on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. There are two types of payment made from the SIF — rebates to those employers who have paid statutory redundancy to eligible employees, and statutory lump sums to employees whose employers are insolvent and/or in receivership/liquidation.

I can confirm that my Department received a lump sum claim on 29 April, 2009 in respect of this individual. I understand that an enquiry raised by my Department in relation to this claim has now been resolved and that payment is expected to issue to the individual within the next two weeks.

  172.  Deputy Catherine Byrne    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the number of persons that have registered on-line for FÁS training courses in the past 12 months; the average length of time it takes to process an on-line application; the age profile of applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5455/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  At present FÁS only processes online applications for courses for fee paying clients. These are normally employed individuals. In the last 12 months a total of 632 participants have registered on line. Of these, a total of 616 stated their date of birth on the application. Taken together these applications give the average age of participants of 34.8 years. Accounts are created automatically upon validation of credit card payment and the processing of online applications takes a maximum of 5 minutes.

[190]

  173.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    her plans to address the situation that many FÁS apprentices find themselves in having completed their formal qualifications. [5466/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  FÁS has already put in place the following measures to assist redundant apprentices who have completed their formal off-the-job training, but require on-the-job work experience in order to complete their apprenticeships:

1. In 2009, FÁS introduced a temporary Employer Based Redundant Apprentice Rotation Scheme for apprentices made redundant in the Construction Industry. Over 460 redundant apprentices completed Phase 3, 5 and 7 on-the-job training and assessments with employers under this Scheme in 2009. A new scheme to assist redundant apprentices to complete the on-the-job training of their apprenticeship with a FÁS approved employer is currently under discussion between FÁS and my Department.

2. The ESB Networks have agreed a programme with FÁS to provide on-the-job training with ESB Networks to eligible redundant apprentices at Phases 5 and 7 of their apprenticeship. This programme will provide up to 400 places over a period of 18 months and is funded by ESB Networks. To date, 147 redundant apprentices have completed training, 92 are currently in training, and further placements will take place during 2010.

3. FÁS and the Institutes of Technology have agreed the PP5 programme for redundant apprentices who have successfully completed Phases 1 — 4 of their apprenticeship and where an on or off-the-job training opportunity is not currently available. The programme has both a Construction Stream and an Engineering Stream, with a number of core skills modules related to apprenticeship and a number of electives in specific skills. The programme provides apprentices with a Level 5 FETAC award and allows for access and transfer of credits to other post-apprenticeship programmes. The Institutes of Technology are currently issuing invitations to eligible redundant apprentices to participate in the programme commencing late January 2010.

4. FÁS has also developed Phase 7-equivalent assessments for redundant apprentices at the final phase of their apprenticeship in the trades of Carpentry & Joinery, Electrical, Plumbing, Brick & Stonelaying and Plastering. Eligible redundant apprentices will be scheduled by FÁS to these assessment events which will commence in February 2010.

5. Redundant apprentices registered for 4 years who have successfully completed all Phases 1-7 of their apprenticeship, but have not yet completed the required 4 years in employment as an apprentice in the specified trade, will be contacted by FÁS to submit a portfolio of evidence under Recognition of Prior Learning for consideration by the National Apprenticeship Advisory Sub-committee for the award of the Advanced Craft Certificate.

6. Redundant apprentices may also avail of existing trade-related specific skills training courses to enhance their employable skills. They may also avail of the range of trade-related evening courses available in FÁS Training Centres.

In addition, FÁS has put in place an interim measure whereby apprentices who are made redundant may progress to the next off-the-job training phase of their apprenticeship, in line with current scheduling criteria. In 2009, over 2,000 redundant apprentices were provided with off-the-job training and 1,041 redundant apprentices commenced off-the-job training in January 2010.

All of these various measures will support around 4,000 redundant apprentices.

  174.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the reason salaries have been linked to the national wage agreement for participants in job initiative schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5490/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  Job Initiative wages are not linked to any national wage agreement, however, they are linked to the Community Employment rates of pay, which are in turn linked to Social Welfare rates (with an additional participation top-up payment). Job Initiative scheme participant wages are double that of the Community Employment wages because JI participants are full-time (39 hours per week) whereas CE participants are part-time (average 19.5 hours per week).

As part of Budget 2010 a number of savings were identified in the area of training allowances that are linked to Social Welfare payments and certain FÁS Allowances that are provided in addition to the core training allowances. The FÁS training allowance for Community Employment and Job Initiative participants has been reduced from €24.40 and €48.80 per week to €20 and €40 per week respectively. These savings will allow for increased activation of the unemployed including an additional 500 CE places bringing the total number of places available to 23,300.

The following table contains details of JI allowances for the years 2009 and 2010.

JI Allowance Social Welfare element Training bonus element
2009 €454.70 €408.60 €48.80
2010 €432.00 €392.00 €40.00
Reduction 5.6% 4.1% 18.0%

  175.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if special attention will be given to the job creation needs of Tallaght, Dublin 24, where there has been an increase in unemployment figures over the past year; her views on the fact that Tallaght has a large youth population and has also lost important jobs over the past 12 months; the contacts she has made in that regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5619/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  FÁS is helping unemployed people in Tallaght, to consider their options and develop a meaningful career plan to take account of the opportunities in the current labour market and prepare themselves for the economic upturn when it comes. Important linkages are being maintained with employers in the Tallaght area to ensure that FÁS receives the maximum number of vacancies.

FÁS has reviewed many of its courses and is, consequently, providing additional training courses in its Training Centres to help people acquire new skills and be better equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. Where the training needs of the client cannot be met by FÁS directly or any other state provider, within a reasonable timeframe or at a location convenient to the jobseeker, then the training may be funded under the Technical Employment Support Grant.

[192]In 2009 FÁS Employment Services also hosted a pilot programme to support the many Managers and Executives in Tallaght who have been made redundant. This Executive Networking and Support Programme was very successful with a 45% placement rate. FÁS Employment Services is also promoting the Work Placement Programme in the area, with many employers availing of this programme. The Work Placement Programme assists unemployed people, including graduates, to gain valuable work experience and to establish or maintain links to the labour market in order to avail of new job opportunities when they arise.

While activation measures will assist individuals in securing employment and enhancing their skills, the key to addressing our unemployment problem is the creation of more jobs. My Department remains strongly focused on supporting and promoting enterprise development to create new jobs. In this regard the Enterprise Development Agencies of my Department, including IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, are working to ensure that we continue to grow the economy and jobs even in the current challenging climate.

Focusing on the youth population of Tallaght and their future education and employment opportunities, Enterprise Ireland works closely with the Institute of Technology. In June 2001 approved funding of €2.54m towards a new Campus Innovation Centre. The College has particular strengths in Mechanical and Electronic Engineering, Pharmaceuticals and Computing. In addition a Pharma Centre, costing in excess of €4m has been constructed on the campus. This is a key piece of infrastructure, which will feed into the major Biotechnology Developments of Pfizer Inc, formerly Wyeth, in Grange Castle Business Park.

Grange Castle Business Park, which lies adjacent to Clondalkin, is strategically located in the evolving technology crescent situated along the M50 orbital motorway. This Park is being developed by South Dublin County Council as a world class business park. Pfizer Inc is located there and has the world’s largest integrated biotechnology facility on the site. It is envisaged that Grange Castle Business Park will attract a cluster of pharmaceutical and biotechnology developments at the leading edge of technology. With a clustering of IT projects taking place at the National Digital Park, the South Dublin could become home to a number of projects at the top end of the value chain, providing employment for highly trained and highly qualified workers. TAKEDA, a pharmaceutical company from Japan, has also located there and employs c.70 people as has Microsoft and Cuisine de France. Planning Permission has also been approved for an Advance Integrated Circuit Manufacturing and Research facility at Grange Castle — this is the largest planning application to date in the State. This will be an invaluable tool for the future marketing of Grange Castle as a potential source of high quality and large scale employment for the population of the environs, including Tallaght.

A Centre of Excellence in Applied Research — Micro Sensors for Clinical Analysis has also been established in the Institute of Technology. This project involves development and fabrication of micro sensor devices for clinical analysis at ‘point-of-care’. This applied research base will act as a technological resource for local and national industry and will develop high-level multi-disciplinary research collaboration between ITT Dublin and the medical device/diagnostic industry. The project, which will run from 2006 to 2011, was approved €1,225,000 in support under the EI Applied Research Enhancement Programme.

The development of the Grangecastle Business Park by the Council and IDA Ireland, combined with the development of the City West Business Park (which includes the National Digital Park) will ensure that this area of South Dublin is an attractive location for high technology state of the art projects, both overseas and indigenous. IDA, in conjunction with South Dublin County Council, continues to market the County to new and existing client companies [193]in the future. Tallaght and South County Dublin are well equipped to compete with other areas for potential foreign direct investment. There are superb infrastructural facilities at Citywest and Grange Castle and educational opportunities at the Institute of Technology tailored to meet future employment opportunities in the area. This combination of factors provides high quality, future employment opportunities for a vibrant young population.

  176.  Deputy Michael Kennedy    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that redundant apprentices from a company (details supplied) are still awaiting further communication from FÁS in relation to the completion of their apprenticeships; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5623/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  SR Technics redundant apprentices can be categorised into 2 distinct groups of Aircraft Mechanics (Groups 1 & 2) and one group of Mechanical Automation & Maintenance Fitters.

23 redundant apprentice aircraft mechanics (Group 1) are scheduled to commence Phase 6 off-the-job training in Dublin Institute of Technology (D.I.T.) on 22 February 2010. 26 redundant apprentice aircraft mechanics (Group 2) completed a special Phase 4 off-the-job training programme in D.I.T. in September 2009. This group of redundant apprentices will be provided with Phase 6 training commencing in February 2011. The provision of on-the-job training opportunities for redundant Aircraft Mechanics Apprentices is currently under discussion between my Department and FÁS.

Of the 6 redundant apprentice Mechanical Automation & Maintenance fitters:

1 apprentice has secured employment and is currently on Phase 4 off-the-job training.

2 apprentices are currently on Phase 4 off-the-job training.

1 apprentice has been scheduled to do Phase 4 off-the-job training in April 2010.

1 apprentice completed Phase 6 off-the-job training in December 2009.

1 apprentice is currently referred and is required to re-sit outstanding assessments before he can progress in his apprenticeship.

All apprentices are instructed to keep in regular contact with their FÁS Training Advisor and to keep FÁS informed of all details relating to his/her apprenticeship.

  177.  Deputy George Lee    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the percentage of the labour market activation programme funding that is absorbed by community employment schemes; the number of unemployed persons catered for by community unemployment schemes; the way the rest of the labour market activation programme funding is allocated; the number of unemployed persons catered for by the rest of the labour market allocation programme funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5626/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  In 2009 the budget allocated to the Community Employment Scheme was €380.6 [194]million. This represents 51% of the 2009 FÁS budget of €742.4 million for training and work experience for the unemployed. Figures for the end of 2009 show that a total of 30,309 people were either participating in or had completed their Community Employment placement.

By the end of 2009, excluding Community Employment, a total of 107,731 people were either participating in or had completed FÁS training and work experience programmes for the unemployed. Finalised 2009 outturn figures for FÁS programmes are not yet available and will be completed in the near future.

  178.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo can remain on their FÁS scheme for an extended period. [5627/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  As Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment I do not have a role in the administration of individual cases. The administration of individual cases is a day-to-day matter for FÁS as part of its responsibility under the Labour Services Act 1987.

I have requested that FÁS contact the Deputy directly to outline the full range of supports which might be made available to assist the individuals concerned.

  179.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo can remain on their FÁS scheme for an extended period. [5628/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Dara Calleary):  As Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment I do not have a role in the administration of individual cases. The administration of individual cases is a day-to-day matter for FÁS as part of its responsibility under the Labour Services Act 1987.

I have requested that FAS contact the Deputy directly to outline the full range of supports which might be made available to assist the individuals concerned.

  180.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    if she will state, in view of the decentralisation programme announced in December 2003, the properties rented or acquired as a consequence of the decentralisation programme in respect of his Department and of every State body for which it is responsible; the date of commencement of the rental or date of purchase of each property; the cost of each property purchased or the annual rental of each property rented; the number of staff transferred into each property as of 1 January of each year from the commencement of the rental or the date of the acquisition of each property in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5635/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  It has not been possible to compile the information requested by the Deputy in the time available to me to answer the question. I will communicate again with the Deputy as soon as the exercise is complete.

  181.  Deputy George Lee    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment    the names addresses of all nominees to bodies or agencies under the remit of her Department that were appointed since 26 June 1997, detailing by whom they were appointed; when they were appointed; the amount paid by the Exchequer to each nominee each year from 1997 to 2009 broken down into income, expenses, overtime and any other relevant category; the money paid by her Department each year from 1997 to 2009 to cover expenses or incidentals related to the nominees, such as accommodation, travel and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5660/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  In the time available it has not been possible to provide the information requested. I will revert to the Deputy at a later date.

  182.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has met with the board of Anglo Irish Bank regarding the options for the development of the bank. [5684/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy may be aware, on 30 November last Anglo Irish Bank submitted its Restructuring Plan to the European Commission. This was a condition for State aid approval of the bank’s recapitalisation in 2009. The Restructuring Plan considers all options for the future of the bank.

The submission of the plan marked the beginning of a detailed and comprehensive evaluation process in advance of any final decision by the Commission on the plan. This ongoing process requires extensive consultation and dialogue between the Commission, the Irish authorities and the bank.

As I have stated previously, I am committed to working closely with the Commission and the bank on the assessment of the plan to achieve the best possible outcome for the State from this process. In this regard, I am in contact both directly and through my officials, with the board of Anglo Irish Bank.

  183.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 103 of 9 July 2008, the position regarding an application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5395/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I understand from the Chief State Solicitor’s office that advertising for next of kin has been undertaken. The Chief State Solicitor is in the process of applying to the High Court this week for a grant of Letters of Administration in this case. Following this, the applicant’s case for a waiver of the State’s interest in the estate under Section 73 of the Succession Act, 1965 will be considered by the Chief State Solicitor and by the Attorney General who will make a recomendation to me in the matter.

  184.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    her estimate of the added costs of the mortgage interest relief scheme to the Exchequer for every general and average 1% rise in interest rates. [5419/10]

[196]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The increased cost to the Exchequer of mortgage interest tax relief arising from an increase in interest rates would depend on a variety of factors, including the numbers of mortgages affected, the rate of relief applying to those mortgages and the extent to which additional relief would arise within the current ceilings. Accordingly, it is not possible to provide an accurate estimate of the potential cost.

The cost to the Exchequer of mortgage interest relief by way of tax relief at source for 2009 is estimated to be in the region of €485 million.

  185.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has utilised his powers under Section 6 of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No.2) Act 2009; if so, the details of his utilisation of those powers; the number of public servants in this class; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5421/10]

  186.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    if any individual, informal group, trade union or staff association has approached him seeking that he utilise his powers under Section 6 of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009; if so, the details of this representation; his views in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5422/10]

  187.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Finance    the way in which pay cuts will affect a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5436/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 185 to 187, inclusive, together.

I refer to my reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 4578/10, 5095/10 and 5137/10 of 2 February 2010.

  188.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on providing tax relief at 33% on buying a bicycle under his tax initiative which would be equal for all taxpayers instead of providing relief at a person's marginal tax rate. [5469/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  All tax reliefs and incentives are reviewed regularly, in line with the annual Budget and Finance Bill process, and I will bear the Deputy’s suggestion in mind in the context of such reviews. I note, however, that the Report of the Commission on Taxation, did not recommend any change to the scheme.

  189.  Deputy George Lee    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will exclude researcher officers at universities from the pension levy, in view of the fact that researchers rarely have full-time employment, are unlikely to ever benefit from a pension scheme, their employment is made possible by research funding from various bodies and they have no job security; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5483/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Public servants who are members of public service pension schemes are liable to pay the pension-related deduction legislated for in the [197]Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. On this basis, third-level researchers on fixed-term and temporary contracts must pay the deduction, since they are members of the relevant occupational pension schemes. Distinctions between public servants on the basis of whether they are permanent or temporary, and if temporary what contract duration applies, are irrelevant in so far as liability to pay the deduction is concerned.

Section 6 of the Act provides for a refund of the deduction in circumstances where the departing employee has accrued no benefits under any public service pension scheme, has not received a payment in lieu of scheme membership and has not transferred the service to another public service pension scheme. This provision should be of benefit to third-level researchers on short-term non-renewable contracts who have no prior public service employment history and who accrue no pension benefit at the expiry of their contract due to insufficient service.

Section 8 of the Act grants the Minister for Finance a limited special discretion to exempt groups of public servants from payment of the deduction. Specifically, where he is satisfied that due to exceptional circumstances, a particular class or group of public servants are materially distinguished from other classes or groups who are subject to the deduction, then the Minister may fully or partly exempt this group from paying some or all of the deduction, if he believes it would be fair and equitable to do so. A request for such an exemption has been received from a group of research workers and is under examination in my Department. When that examination is completed, I will be in a position to consider whether an exemption should be granted to that group.

  190.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Finance    the tax implications for a person who wants to swap land with a neighbouring person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5531/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a direct swap of land, in the circumstances outlined, would have implications for a number of taxes. I will look at each in turn.

Capital Gains Tax

The exchange of land is a chargeable occasion for both parties involved. Where the parties are connected or the bargain is not at arm's length the disposal proceeds are taken as the market value, at the date of exchange, of the land disposed of. Otherwise the disposal proceeds are the market value of the land received, also at the date of exchange.

The capital gains tax payable is calculated by reference to the difference between the disposal proceeds and the cost of acquisition of the land after allowable adjustments for inflation (prior to 2003) and the costs of acquisition and disposal. The first €1,270 of an individual’s annual gains is exempt. The balance is chargeable to capital gains tax at 25%.

The same CGT rules apply to a disposal by way of exchange as to a disposal for money.

If the land had been the subject of a rezoning on or after 30 October 2009, then any gain on disposal attributable to such rezoning would be chargeable at a rate of 80%.

Relief from capital gains tax is available where an individual, aged 55 years or over, disposes of all or part of his/her “qualifying assets”. For the purposes of this relief “qualifying assets” include land which have been owned by the individual for a period of not less than 10 years [198]ending on the date of the disposal and have been used by the individual for the purposes of farming throughout the 10-year period ending with the disposal.

Capital Acquisitions Tax

Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) includes both gift and inheritance tax. If a person swaps land with a neighbouring person and the swapped lands are of equal value, then neither party has made a gift to the other party and, accordingly, CAT does not arise.

If the swapped lands, however, were not of equal value, the person receiving the more valuable lands may be liable to CAT on the excess value he or she is receiving. For example, if the lands received were valued at €100,000 and the lands given away were valued at €40,000, then gift tax would be payable by the person receiving the more valuable lands on the excess of the value being received of €60,000.

The person receiving the gift would be entitled to their normal CAT tax-free Group Threshold based on their relationship to the person making the gift. There are three tax-free Group Thresholds as follows:

Group A: €414,799 — applies where the beneficiary is a child (including adopted child, step-child and certain foster children) or minor child of a deceased child of the person making the gift or inheritance.

Group B: €41,481 — applies where the beneficiary is a brother, sister, nephew, niece, or lineal ancestor or lineal descendant of the person making the gift or inheritance.

Group C: €20,740 — applies in all other cases.

CAT is charged at the rate of 25% on any amount in excess of the appropriate group threshold amount.

Separately, if, as well as giving rise to a liability to CAT, the swapping of the lands also gave rise to a liability for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) for the person making the gift, the CGT paid can be credited against the CAT liability arising provided the lands are not disposed of within 2 years of being swapped.

Stamp Duty

In the case of an exchange of lands, stamp duty is charged at progressive rates based on the value of the lands being exchanged.

However, section 81C of the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999 provides for a relief from stamp duty where a farmer sells land and purchases land in order to consolidate that farmer’s holding and both the sale and purchase occur within 18 months of each other. Where the relief applies stamp duty is only chargeable on the purchase to the extent that the value of the land purchased exceeds the value of the land sold.

Under section 81C, each farmer involved in a direct swap of lands would be entitled to claim the relief on the land transferred to him or her where, as a result of the transfer, the farmer’s holding has been consolidated and a consolidation certificate has been issued by Teagasc in respect of the transfer.

The main conditions which must be satisfied before the relief will be granted by the Revenue Commissioners are as follows:

[199]There must be a valid consolidation certificate issued by Teagasc in existence at the date of the exchange of the lands.

The farmers involved in the exchange of the lands must spend not less than 50% of their normal working time farming and must farm the lands exchanged for a period of at least 5 years from the date of the exchange.

Each farmer must retain ownership of the lands exchanged for at least 5 years from the date of the exchange. A clawback of the relief arises where the land or part of the land included in the exchange is disposed of or partly disposed of before the end of the 5 year holding period.

  191.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the economic situation in Greece, the pressure applied on it by the European Central Bank to close its fiscal deficit and the ECB warning that it may not continue to accept Greek sovereign bonds as collateral if their fiscal position and debt rating deteriorates further; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5543/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I have noted recent developments in Greece. I fully support the Greek Authorities in their efforts to redress a difficult economic and fiscal situation. I understand that they are being encouraged to implement swiftly the necessary measures to ensure that their targets for budgetary consolidation are achieved, and I am confident that they will succeed in overcoming the fiscal and macroeconomic challenges they face.

As regards Greek sovereign bonds, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on ECB policy.

  192.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the recent downgrade of bonds issued by Anglo Irish Bank; the way this is affecting the ability of the bank to raise liquidity or to plan future bond issues; his further views on whether the difference in ratings and yields between Anglo bonds and Irish sovereign bonds and the downgrade is a reflection of the sovereign’s ability to meet Anglo’s ongoing financial commitments in view of the fact that Anglo is a State owned entity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5544/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Deputy will appreciate that the ratings treatment of bonds, whether from commercial or sovereign issuers, is a matter for the ratings agencies concerned, based on their own assessment criteria.

I would also note that, by definition, a range of different elements feed into both the credit rating and yield values of commercial and sovereign debt and straight comparisons between the different values may therefore not be meaningful.

However, with regard to the position of Anglo Irish Bank, I have been clear that, based on the information provided by me in mid-September to the Dáil, the scale of Anglo’s NAMA-eligible loans are such that they will give rise to a further capital requirement from the State. The specific requirement for capital for the bank will only become evident following further progress in the implementation of the NAMA. While the assessment of Anglo’s further capital requirement is therefore ongoing, the Government is committed to providing such capital to enable the bank to continue to meet its requirements, in a manner consistent with EU State [200]aid rules and the credit needs of the Irish economy. In this context, there is no doubt regarding the Government’s commitment to meet the need for further capital support in the case of Anglo Irish Bank.

With regard to any potential impact of ratings treatment on Anglo’s ability to raise funding, I would note that Anglo Irish Bank joined the Eligible Liability Guarantee Scheme with effect from 28 January 2010, and this provides additional options for the bank to access funding on the markets with the benefit of a State guarantee. As with the other participating institutions, Anglo pays a quarterly charge in respect of the guarantee provided under the ELG Scheme and the earlier Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme which is also ongoing.

  193.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 201 of 27 January 2010, if he has made the application for emergency funding under the EU Solidarity Fund and if this application has been lodged; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5547/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  My Department made an application to the EU Commission on 27th January 2010 for funding under the EU Solidarity Fund based on estimates of damage received from Departments and local authorities.

A regional application was made as the estimate of the extent of the damage does not meet the Solidarity Fund’s threshold of 0.6% of GNI or €935.5m for a national disaster. There are specific criteria which must be met to ensure a successful regional application to the EU Solidarity Fund. These criteria include the majority of the population of the region being affected by the disaster and serious and long lasting effects on the region’s economic stability and living conditions.

The EU Solidarity Fund does not fund full reconstruction. It funds emergency operations to allow a rapid return to normal living conditions.

My Department is continuing to work with the Commission on finalising the process.

  194.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the action he has taken or proposes to take to improve the competitiveness in the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5555/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Ireland in recent years has lost competitiveness as our prices have grown ahead of other euro area countries and our wages have increased at rates above that justified by our productivity.

As I said in my recent Budget there is an urgent need to improve the competitiveness of the Irish economy, and in this regard there are already a number of positive developments. Consumer prices in Ireland are now declining at the fastest rate in the euro area and the European Commission now suggest that, uniquely in the euro area, our unit labour costs fell last year when all others rose somewhat. These developments will assist in going some way towards addressing our competitiveness problem.

As a small member of a currency union we have no control over the exchange rates we face so we must focus on improving competitiveness at home. While the falls in domestic prices, easing wage pressures and improvements in productivity are helpful we must not be complacent [201]as further improvements in our competitiveness are essential if we are to position ourselves to benefit as EU and global growth resumes. A highly educated workforce as well as the policies outlined in the Government’s Smart Economy document will also help. I want to assure the Deputy that improving the competitiveness of Ireland’s economy is a key priority for this Government.

  195.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which reduced costs in the public and the private sectors respectively has contributed to improved competitiveness in the economy in the past two and a half years to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5556/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Ireland in recent years has lost competitiveness as our prices have grown ahead of other euro area countries and our wages have increased at rates above that justified by our productivity.

Nonetheless there have been some improvements over the last year although more must be done if sustainable economic recovery is to be achieved. The Consumer Price Index fell by 4.5 per cent in 2009 and is now down 7 per cent from peak. As measured by the HICP — the harmonised European measure — consumer prices are falling at the fastest rate in the euro area. Many business input costs are down in Ireland while commercial rents have fallen substantially. The European Commission estimate that unit labour costs — wages adjusted for productivity — will fall by a cumulative 6 per cent between last year and this year. This compares to an estimated increase of 3 per cent for the euro area over the same period and implies an improvement in competitiveness.

Many sectors of the economy need to restore competitiveness and the Government’s pursuit of appropriate wage policies in the public service is providing an important demonstration effect at this time. A highly educated workforce as well as the policies outlined in the Government’s ‘Smart Economy’ document will also help. I want to assure the Deputy that improving competitiveness and therefore generating future economic activity is a key priority for the Government at this time.

  196.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has compared the cost of various forms of insurance cover here with that applicable in other EU member states; the extent to which the charges here have fluctuated in comparison to other jurisdictions in the past two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5557/10]

  197.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the basis on which insurance premiums have increased in the past two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5558/10]

  198.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which he has studied insurance premium reductions or increases over the past five years to date; the areas or categories subject to most frequent fluctuations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5559/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 196 to 198, inclusive, together.

[202]The Financial Regulator does not maintain statistics on insurance premium costs, so I am not in a position to comment specifically upon the level of such increases in the past 2 years nor on the fluctuation in the past five years. However, as mentioned in previous PQs (45220/22 of 2009) the Financial Regulator has provided some background as to why insurance prices have increased in recent times. It has advised me that while the non-life insurance market performed well up to the end of 2006, market sources indicate that much non-life business was written at a loss in 2007. This trend continued in 2008, but the companies were still willing to write business at a loss in order to maintain their market share. They were able to do this as a result of the reserves they had built up during profitable years. However, the situation could not go on indefinitely and indications are that firms have taken action on pricing to underpin their financial positions.

The Financial Regulator has informed me that no comparative exercise has been done on the cost of various forms of insurance cover here with that applicable in other EU member states. It should be noted that such an exercise might be difficult to conduct on a ‘like for like’ product basis because of the varying nature of the insurance market in other EU countries.

  199.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    if mortgage borrowers are likely to become the victims following the overuse of tracker mortgages by lending agencies; the action or actions he proposes to take to ensure that injudicious lending practices do not result in punitive rises in interest rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5560/10]

  200.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which he proposes to monitor mortgage interest charges with particular reference to recently announced increases; if it is intended or expected that such increases are likely to continue notwithstanding the low interest rates set by the European Central Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5561/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 199 and 200 together.

As Minister for Finance I have no function in interest rate decisions by commercial lending institutions. The level of mortgage interest rates reflect a broad range of factors including European Central Bank base rates, deposit rates, market funding costs, the competitive environment and an institution’s overall funding.

I have already made my views known on the decision by Permanent TSB to increase variable interest rates by 0.5% with effect from Monday 1st February. I repeat I am disappointed by this decision. Unfortunately this increase reflects commercial market realities including the increased cost of accessing funds. A balance must be maintained by Government between influencing private banks through the bank guarantee scheme and other financial support incentives while at the same time ensuring that the day-to-day running of these institutions recognise commercial realities.

The guarantee means that the covered institutions can raise funds more cheaply. This benefits all of their customers and such institutions are paying the State for the costs of the guarantee. The Government has decided to implement a significant programme of reform in the structures of financial regulation and I will be bringing proposals to Government in this regard in the near future.

  201.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent to which VAT, income tax, corporation tax and indirect taxation returns are so far in keeping with budgetary projections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5562/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Exchequer Returns for January, including tax revenue receipts, were published yesterday evening on my Department’s website. At end-January, €3,074 million had been collected in tax revenue. The amounts for each tax-head are set out in the following table.

€millions
Customs 16
Excise Duties 260
Capital Gains Tax 27
Capital Acquisitions Tax 16
Stamp Duties 30
Income Tax 1,051
Corporation Tax 41
VAT 1,616
Unallocated Tax Deposits 17
Total 3,074

At end-January, taxes were down 17.7 per cent on an annual basis. Taking into account the fact that the economy was relatively stronger during the first quarter of 2009 than at the end of the year, the amount of tax revenue collected in January of this year is in line with expectations.

Tax revenue profiles for each of the remaining months of this year were also published yesterday. The profiles show the anticipated trend of tax revenue receipts for each tax-head over the course of the year. Receipts are expected to show a large year-on-year decline in the initial months, before narrowing over the course of the year. A 6 per cent fall in tax revenue receipts is expected during 2010. While it is far too early to draw any conclusions about the likely end-year tax outturn, the January outturn was in line with my Department’s expectations.

  202.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    if a specific request has been made to the lending agencies to facilitate first-time home buyers; the response to such requests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5563/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As part of the recapitalisation package announced on 11 February 2009, Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland reconfirmed their December 2008 commitment to increase lending capacity to provide an additional 30% capacity for lending to first time buyers last year. AIB and Bank of Ireland have also committed to public campaigns to actively promote mortgage lending at competitive rates with increased transparency on the criteria to be met. The Financial Regulator has been monitoring compliance with this commitment and no issues have arisen requiring attention. I note from the most recent IBF/PWC mortgage market profile — providing data up to the third quarter of 2009 — that the number of loans issued to first time buyers increased for the second successive quarter.

[204]

  203.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    when it is expected that the traditional lending and borrowing criteria will again become operational with particular reference to the need for the banking system to reciprocate following the Government and taxpayers’ guarantee; the efforts he has made to bring about a restoration of such practices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5564/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The second Mazars report on credit availability, published in December, confirmed that while some SMEs are facing significant challenges accessing credit, and the sector in general is more conservative in its borrowing, nevertheless new lending is still taking place. However, the proportion refused credit, especially in certain sectors, remains a concern for Government.

With regard to mortgages, while the latest statistics from the Irish Banking Federation for the third quarter of 2009 shows little change from the previous quarter, the rate of decline in activity that has been evident over recent quarters now appears to be moderating. I would point out that many lenders are conducting extensive advertising campaigns, showing that competition is a real factor on the mortgage scene. The existence of that level of competition in the mortgage lending market is sufficient, I believe, to ensure that credit institutions will lend to suitable qualified customers in order to remain competitive and retain their share of the market.

The Government has taken a number of significant measures to help ensure access to credit for businesses and access to mortgages for homebuyers. Under the NAMA legislation I will shortly be issuing guidelines to all banks participating in NAMA who lend to SMEs, to ensure that SMEs, sole traders and farm enterprises will have recourse to an independent, external review of decisions of credit refusal by the banks. The purpose of this measure is to ensure that the benefits of NAMA lead to an improved flow of credit to viable businesses. I hope that banks not participating in NAMA or covered by the Government guarantee will also decide to participate. My aim is to have a simple, effective review process, run by people with experience and credibility. The banks must comply with the recommendations of the review process, or explain why they cannot do so.

In addition to dealing with individual cases, the credit review system will examine the credit policies and practices of the banks in respect of SMEs. This will help me to decide what further action might be necessary to secure the flow of credit. I intend to publish the analysis from the review process so that the performance of the banks participating in NAMA will be clear to all.

Mr John Trethowan, an experienced banker with a demonstrated commitment to public and social service, is overseeing the establishment of this credit review system with initial administrative support from Enterprise Ireland. Work has been ongoing since December on the logistical aspects of the review system and it is envisaged that this will be completed shortly.

A Code of Conduct for Business Lending to Small and Medium Enterprises took effect last March. This code applies to all regulated banks and building societies and will facilitate access to credit, promote fairness and transparency and ensure that banks will assist borrowers in meeting their obligations, or otherwise deal with an arrears situation in an orderly and appropriate manner. The business lending code includes a requirement for banks to offer their business customers annual review meetings, to inform customers of the basis for decisions made and to have written procedures for the proper handling of complaints. Where a customer gets into difficulty the banks will give the customer reasonable time and seek to agree an approach to resolve problems and to provide appropriate advice. This is a statutory code and banks will be required to demonstrate compliance.

In addition, as part of the recapitalisation package announced last February, Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland reconfirmed their December 2008 commitment to increase lending capacity to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by 10% and to provide an additional 30% capacity for lending to first time buyers in 2009. If the mortgage lending was not taken up, [205]then the extra capacity was to be made available to SMEs. AIB and Bank of Ireland have also committed to public campaigns to actively promote small business lending at competitive rates with increased transparency on the criteria to be met. Compliance with this commitment is being monitored by the Financial Regulator.

My colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, set up a Clearing Group including representatives from the main banks, business interests and state agencies, which is chaired by her Department. The purpose of the group is to identify specific patterns of events or cases where the flow of credit to viable businesses appears to be blocked and to seek to identify credit supply solutions.

  204.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will state, in view of the decentralisation programme announced in December 2003, the properties rented or acquired as a consequence of the decentralisation programme in respect of his Department and of every State body for which it is responsible; the date of commencement of the rental or date of purchase of each property; the cost of each property purchased or the annual rental of each property rented; the number of staff transferred into each property as of 1 January of each year from the commencement of the rental or the date of the acquisition of each property in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5637/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The numbers serving in my Department in Tullamore as of 1 January of each year is as follows:

Location Serving on 01/01/2007 Serving on 01/01/2008 Serving on 01/01/2009 Serving on 01/01/2010
Tullamore 110 124 125 117

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the numbers serving in their decentralised locations under the programme are as follows:

Location Serving on 01/01/2008 Serving on 01/01/2009 Serving on 01/01/2010
Kilrush 57 57 57
Listowel 52 52 52
Athy 48 74 73
Navan 100 100
Newcastle West 51
in Estuary House, Limerick
50
in Newcastle West
52

I am informed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) that the numbers serving in their decentralised locations under the programme are as follows:

Location Serving on 01/01/2008 Serving on 01/01/2009 Serving on 01/01/2010
Claremorris 29 31 29
Trim 220

I am further informed by the OPW that the following table contains the property costs for my Department and the bodies under the aegis of my Department to date associated with the decentralisation programme.

Location Occupier Date of Purchase Date of Lease Agreement Date of Rent Commencement Site Acquisition Cost Annual Rental Cost
Tullamore Department of Finance 18/07/2006 7,400,000
Kilrush Revenue Commissioners 05/04/2007 05/10/2008 85,050
Listowel Revenue Commissioners 01/08/2007 244,924
Athy Revenue Commissioners 01/11/2007 01/11/2007 231,554
Navan Revenue Commissioners 25/12/2007 25/01/2008 575,360
Newcastle West Revenue Commissioners 15/07/2005 325,000
Claremorris Temporary Accommodation Office of Public Works 01/01/2007 01/01/2007 68,712
*Scurlockstown Temporary Accommodation Office of Public Works 12/03/2007 12/03/2007 67,752
Claremorris Office of Public Works 21/01/2007 2,500,000
Trim Office of Public Works 12/01/2006 3,500,000

*Please note that the Scurlockstown office was occupied temporarily by 35 OPW staff up to October 2009 in advance of the OPW decentralisation to the new Trim HQ building in October 2009. This property is presently occupied by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

The decentralisation programme provided for 100 posts of the Public Appointments Service and 100 posts of the Valuation Office to decentralise to Youghal, Co Cork. The Government decided that expenditure on the acquisition of accommodation for decentralisation would be paused. No properties have been rented or purchased in Youghal and no staff from either body have relocated to Youghal as a consequence of this decision.

  205.  Deputy George Lee    asked the Minister for Finance    the names and addresses of all nominees to bodies or agencies under the remit of his Department that were appointed since 26 June 1997, detailing by whom they were appointed; when they were appointed; the amount paid by the Exchequer to each nominee each year from 1997 to 2009 broken down into income, expenses, overtime and any other relevant category; the money paid by his Department each year from 1997 to 2009 to cover expenses or incidentals related to the nominees, such as accommodation, travel and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5662/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The following are the details requested in relation to bodies or agencies under the remit of my Department:

Credit Union Advisory Committee

The following Committee Members were initially appointed for a three year term by the then Minister for Finance, Mr. Brian Cowen, T.D. in October 2004. The full Committee was re-appointed by the same Minister for a further two year term in October 2007. There is no Committee currently in place. Prior to 2004, the Committee was under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Mr. Pádraig Ó Cearbhaill (Chairman)

Ms Iris White

Ms Olive McCarthy

Mr. Donal Murphy

Mr. Ken Lillis

Mr. Donal Yourell

[207]Mr. Michael O’Conaill

Expenses relating to the period are set out in the following table.

2005 2006
Name Income Expenses Other Income Expenses Other
Padraigh Ó Cearbhaill 1,428.45 1,318.82 1,904.60 1,254.03
Michael O’Conaill 0.00 0.00 598.79
Ken Lillis 952.29 3,197.19 1,269.72 4,001.32
Donal Murphy 952.29 4,419.54 1,269.72 5,862.12
Olive McCarthy 952.29 3,727.10 1,269.72 1,833.91
Donal Yourell 952.29 1,216.86 135.78 1,269.72 1,641.09
Iris White 952.29 0.00 1,269.72 0.00
Dept of Finance Expenses 3,091.85 1,229.44

2007 2008
Name Income Expenses Other Income Expenses Other
Padraigh Ó Cearbhaill 3,401.15 3,548.58 3,900.00 3,480.20
Michael O’Conaill 0.00 579.03 0.00 438.59
Ken Lillis 2,267.43 2,023.40 2,600.00 1,749.64
Donal Murphy 2,267.43 6,492.39 2,600.00 4,778.02
Olive McCarthy 2,267.43 1,403.55 2,600.00 1,507.00
DonalYourell 2,267.43 15,24.02 2,600.00 1,668.39
Iris White 2,267.43 0.00 2,600.00 0.00
Dept of Finance Expenses 874.39

2009
Name Income Expenses Other
Padraigh Ó Cearbhaill 3,900.00 1,332.32
Michael O’Conaill 0.00 502.77
Ken Lillis 2,600.00 1,996.86
Donal Murphy 2,600.00 1,787.94
OliveMc Carthy 2,600.00 1,345.34

National Lottery

Year Name Date of Appointment Appointed by
1999 Paraic O’Rourke 2/2/99 Mr Charlie McCreevy
2006 Barbara Patton 24/3/06 Mr Brian Cowen
2008 Oliver Wilkinson 30/5/08 Mr Brian Lenihan

[208]There were no amounts paid to them from this Department.

Public Appointments Service

In line with The Public Service Management (Recruitment & Appointments) Act 2004 the following were appointed to the Board of the Public Appointments Service by the Minister for Finance in consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

19th October, 2004 — 18th October, 2007

Board Member Paid/Unpaid Gross Payment
Mr. Frank Murray (Chairperson) Former Civil Service commissioner and former Secretary to the Government 2004–2005 —€20,000
2005–2006 —€15,000
2006–2007 —€14,000
Mr. Bryan Andrews CEO Public Appointments Service Unpaid N/A
Mr. John O’Connell Assistant Secretary, Department of Finance Unpaid N/A
Ms Niamh O’Donoghue Assistant Secretary, Office of the Revenue Commissioners Unpaid N/A
Ms Geraldine Tallon Assistant Secretary, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government Unpaid N/A
Mr. Bernard Carey Director of Personnel Management and Development, Department of Health and Children Unpaid N/A
Ms Rosaleen Glackin Deputy General Secretary, Civil and Public Services Union Paid 2004–2005 —€6,350.00
2005–2006 —€8,500.00
2006–2007 —€9,000.00
Ms Maura McGrath Organisation Change and HR Consultant Paid 2004–2005 —€6,350.00
2005–2006 —€8,500.00
2006–2007 —€9,000.00
Ms Catherine Clancy Assistant Commissioner, Northern Region, An Garda Síochána Unpaid N/A

20th February, 2008–31st December, 2009

Board Member Paid/Unpaid Gross Payment
Mr. Eddie Sullivan Former Secretary General, Public Service management and Development, Department of Finance Paid 2008 —€12,000.00
2009 —€13,100.00
Mr. Bryan Andrews Chief Executive of the Public Appointments Service Unpaid N/A
Mr. Michael Errity Assistant Secretary, Department of Finance Unpaid N/A
Ms Breda Power, Assistant Secretary, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment Unpaid N/A
Mr. Des Dowling Assistant Secretary, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Unpaid N/A
Mr. Bernard Carey Assistant Secretary, Department of Health and Children Unpaid N/A
Mr. Dan Murphy General Secretary, Public Service Executive Union Paid 2008 —€7,700.00
2009 —€8,400.00
Ms Bernie Gray Independent HR Consultant Paid 2008 —€7,700.00
2009 —€8,400.00
Ms Michelle Shannon National Director, Irish Youth Justice Service Unpaid N/A

Outside Appointments Board

The Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour was drawn up and promulgated by the Minister for Finance in 2006.

According to the requirements of the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour (Section 21.1), the Outside Appointments Board was established by then Minister for Finance, Mr Brian Cowen.

The members of the Outside Appointments Board are:

Chairperson — Mr Hugh Mohan SC

Ms Breege O’Donoghue

Mr Peter Malone

the Secretary General (Public Service Management and Development, Department of Finance) and

the Secretary General to the Government.

The following fees have been paid to the Board (which do not include tax)

Board Member Amount and date paid in respect of work for 2006 Amount and date paid in respect of work for 2007 Amount and date paid in respect of work for 2008 Amount and date paid in respect of work for 2009
Hugh Mohan €5,000
5 October 2007
€5,000
30 January 2009
€5,000
11 December 2009
€4,600
31 Dec 2009
Breege O’Donoghue €2,500
5 October 2007
€2,500
30 January 2009
€2,500
11 December 2009
€2,300
31 Dec 2009

[210]Standards in Public Office Commission

Mr Justice Matthew Smith was appointed for a six year term as Chairman of the Standards in Public Office Commission on 12 December 2001 by the President on the advice of the Government upon resolutions passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas recommending his appointment. On appointment, he continued to receive his salary as a High Court Judge until the date of his retirement on 31 December 2004.

Subsequently, he received a fee of €420 per day, subject to an overall annual limit of €42,000. He was re-appointed by the President for a second term on 21 December 2007. Following his re-appointment, he has received a fee of €526 per day, subject to an overall limit of €52,600. Fee payments for the years in question are as follows:

2005: €42,000

2006: €39,480

2007: €39,900

2008: €52,600

2009: €52,600

Mr Liam Kavanagh was appointed for a six year term as Ordinary Member of the Standards in Public Office Commission on 11 December 2001 by the Government upon resolutions passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas recommending his appointment. He received a fixed fee of €12,697 per annum for the years 2002 to 2007.

Mr Michael Smith was appointed for a six year term as Ordinary Member of the Standards in Public Office Commission on 19 December 2007 by the Government upon resolutions passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas recommending his appointment. He has received a fixed fee of €17,500 per annum for the years 2008 and 2009.

Central Bank

Name of Nominee/ appointee since 26 June 1997 Date of first nomination/ appointment since 26 June 1997 Date of renomination/ reappointment where applicable
Central Bank — Official Appointments Patrick Honohan 26 Sep 2009
Tony Grimes 18 Aug 2007
Kevin Cardiff (all ex-officio) 1 Feb 2010
Central Bank — Nominated Appointments Dr. Brian Hillery 1 May 2008 1 May 2008
Dermot O’Brien 1 May 2008
David Begg 12 May 1995 1 May 2008
Appointed by virtue of Membership of Jim Farrell* 1 May 2003 1 May 2008
IFSRA Board John Dunne* 1 May 2003 1 May 2008
Deirdre Purcell* 1 May 2003 1 May 2008
Alan Gray* 21 Dec 2006 1 May 2008
Gerard Danaher* 15 Oct 1998 1 May 2008
Matthew Elderfield (ex-officio) 4 Jan 2010

Name of Retired Nominee/appointee since 26 June 1997 Date of first nomination/ appointment since 26 June 1997 Retired from CB Board
John Hurley 10 Mar 2002 25 Sep 2009
Tom Considine 11 Mar 2002 30 Jun 2006
David Doyle 1 Jul 2006 31 Jan 2010
Donal Byrne 15 Sep 2000 1 May 2003
Michael McBennett 22 Feb 2002 1 May 2003
Liam Barron 17 Aug 2007
J. Nugent 12 Feb 1998 11 Feb 2003
Martin O’Donoghue 1 Jul 1998 1 May 2003
Roy Donovan 1 Dec 1999 30 April 2008
Friedhelm Danz 1 Feb 2001 31 Oct 2006
Appointed by virtue of Membership of Brian Patterson 1 May 2003 30 Apr 2008
IFSRA Board Liam O’Reilly 1998 30 Apr 2006
Mary O’Dea 1 May 2003 31 Dec 2009
Patrick Neary 1 Feb 2006 Jan 2009

This body does not receive Exchequer Funds.

Financial Regulator (IFSRA)
Ashe, Alan 2003
Danaher, Gerard 2003
Danz, Friedhelm 2003
Dunne, John 2003
Elderfield, Matthew 2009
Farrell, Jim 2003
Gray, Alan 2006
Horan, Con 2003
Patterson, Brian 2003
Purcell, Deirdre 2003
Quigley, Dermot 2003

This body does not receive Exchequer Funds.

Financial Services Consultative Consumer Panel (Industry Panel)

Industry Panel
Bardon, Jim 2004
Carberry, Liam 2004
Culley, Tony 2004
Deeny, James 2004
Farrell, Pat 2004
Fitzgerald, Ann 2004
Goddard, Sarah 2004
Goold, Jonathan 2005
Healy, Tom 2004
Kelly, Brendan 2007
McArdle, Pat 2005
Moynihan, Robert 2004
Murphy, John 2004
O’Connor, Carmel 2004
O’Donoghue, Aileen 2004
O’Halloran, John 2004
O’Rourke, Eimer 2004
Palmer, Gary 2004
Panagiodis, Rachel 2004
Quirke, Sean 2004
Richardson, Robert 2005
Ryan, Mike 2004

This body does not receive Exchequer Funds.

Financial Services Consultative Consumer Panel (Consumer Panel)

Consumer Panel
Barrington, Kathleen 2005
Burgess, Brendan 2004
Byrne, Frances 2004
Byrne, Olive 2004
Byrne, Tommy 2005
Coen, Liam 2004
Connolly, Michael 2004
Culloty, Michael 2005
Doorley, James 2004
Hannon, Gráinne2005
Hobbs, Eddie 2004
Hogan, Ann 2004
Lynch, Eileen 2004
Maher, John 2004
Morrisson, Joan 2004
Mulcahy, Noel 2004
Mutwarasibo, Fidele 2005
O’Rourke, Raymond 2004
O’Sullivan, Sean 2004
Owens, Ann 2004
Power, Aileen 2004
Reynolds, Fiona 2004
Ryan, Peter 2004
Ryan, William 2004
Walsh, Eileen 2004

This body does not receive Exchequer Funds.

Name
Financial Services Ombudsman Council from October 04 (appointed by the Minister) Dr Con Power (Chairperson)
Mr John Colgan
Mr Dermott Jewell
Ms Caitíona Ní Charra
Mr Paddy Lyons
Mr Jim McMahon
Mr Paddy Leydon
Mr Paul Lynch
Mr Crozier Deane
Mr Paul Joyce
Financial Services Ombudsman Council from October 06 (appointed by the Minister) Dr Con Power (Chairperson)
Mr Dermott Jewell
Ms Caitíona Ní Charra
Mr Paddy Lyons
Mr Jim McMahon
Mr Paddy Leydon
Mr Paul Lynch
Mr Paul Joyce
Mr Frank Wynn
Financial Services Ombudsman Council from October 08 (appointed by the Minister) Mr Dermott Jewell (Chairperson)
Mr Paddy Leydon
Mr Frank Wynn
Ms Caitíona Ní Charra
Mr Paddy Lyons
Mr Michael Connolly
Mr Tony Kerr
Irish Financial Services Appeal Tribunal (IFSAT) from Feb 07 (appointed by the President) Mr Justice Francis D Murphy (Chair)
Ms Inge Clissman
Ms Paulyn Marrinan-Quinn
Ms Geraldine Clarke
Mr John Fish
Mr Liam Madden
Mr John Loughery

None of the bodies in the table above receive Exchequer Funds.

Investor Compensation Company Ltd

The Investor Compensation Company (ICCL) was incorporated on 1 August 1998.

Name Nominated by Date appointed Dates of Resignation
Daire Hogan 10/09/1998 6/10/1998
Patricia Lawless 10/09/1998 6/10/1998
Fidelma Macken Governor of Central Bank 6/10/1998 8/12/1998
Joseph Maher Governor of Central Bank 6/10/1998 28/4/2003
James Bardon Irish Banking Federation 6/10/1998 9/6/2004
Governor of the Central Bank 28/4/2006
Paul Carty Irish Broker’s Association 6/10/1998 8/11/2002
Geraldine Jones Irish Stock Exchange 6/10/1998 19/1/2001
Rady Redmond Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs 6/10/1998 12/11/1999
Tony McGrath Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs 12/11/1999 13/7/2001
Jack Thompson Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs 12/10/2001 31/7/2003
Gearoid Geraghty Minister for Finance 6/10/1998 31/7/2004
Geraldine Layden Professional Insurance Brokers Association 19/6/2002 31/7/2005
Ann O’Neill Minister for Finance 6/10/1998 31/7/2005
Jerry Shanahan Minister for Finance 6/10/ 1998 31/7/2005
Caitriona Murphy Governor of Central Bank 30/3/1999 28/4/2006
Ann Fitzgerald Irish Association of Investment Managers 6/10/1998 19/5/2006
Enda Twomey Irish Banking Federation 12/7/2004 15/1/2007
Paul Lynch Irish Brokers Association 17/2/2003 31/7/2009
Daniel Coveney Governor of Central Bank 5/9/2003
Gina Quin Minister for Finance 1/8/2005
Mark Redmond Minister for Finance 1/8/2005
Dermott Jewell Consumers Association of Ireland 19/6/2002
Inge Clissman Minister for Finance 18/10/2004
Paul O’Donovan National Consumer Agency 18/10/2004
Frank O’Dwyer Irish Association of Investment Managers 12/6/2006
Ciaran Phelan Irish Broker’s Association 1/8/2009
Brian Healy Irish Stock Exchange 15/1/2001
Terry Hardiman Professional Insurance Brokers Association 1/8/2005
Eimer O’Rourke Irish Banking Federation 15/1/2007

The ICCL is self funded. It collects contributions from investment firms and insurance intermediaries that fall within its scope.

Interdepartmental Year 2000 Monitoring Committee

On the instructions of the Government, the Department of Finance established an Interdepartmental Year 2000 Monitoring Committee in 1997. Four people from the private sector were appointed to the Committee by the Minister. The individuals were notified by the Minister on the 19th November 1997. They were:

Norman Ebbs, Bank of Ireland,

Tony Furlong, retired M.D. of IBM (Ireland) Ltd,

[215]John Daly, Centre for Dispute Resolution Ltd,

Maurice Healy, M.D. of ITG Group.

In addition, there were 8 civil servants on the committee, nominated by their respective Departments. These names were notified to the Minister on 13th November 1997. They were:

P.J. Breen, Department of Education and Science,

Eddie Mortimer, Department of Public Enterprise,

Peter Fisher, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment,

Sean O’Connell, Department of Finance — Chairman,

Andy McGarrigle, Department of Agriculture and Food,

Charlie Hardy, Department of Health and Children,

John Clohessy, Office of the Revenue Commissioners,

Colm O’Neill, Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs.

The Committee was disbanded in March 2000 following the completion of its work. No remuneration or expenses were paid to any member during the Committee’s tenure.

Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal

The Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal deals with appeals under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme. It constitutes a Chairperson and a panel of medical doctors. In addition to the Chairperson, two doctors from the panel attend each Appeal Board sitting. All appointments are made by the Minister for Finance on the nomination of the Minister for Health and Children and for a period of 4 years. The following table sets out the nominees appointed to the Medical Board of Appeal in the years indicated.

Nominees

1998 2002 2004 2005(a) 2006 2007
Dr. Angela McNamara Dr. Angela McNamara Dr. AustinO’Carroll Dr. Peter Sweeney Dr. Brian Barnes Dr. Jacinta Morgan
Dr. Paul Fahy Dr. Frank X Keane Dr. Muiris Houston Dr. Ida Delargy Dr. Jimmy Leitch Dr. Angela McNamara
Dr. Ray Murphy Dr. Austin O’Carroll Dr. Monica McWeeney Dr. Jacinta McElligot Dr. Manus McCaughey
Dr. Jim Fagan
Dr. Niall Mulvihill
Professor Peter Eustace
Dr. Jacques Noel
Dr. JohnO’Keeffe
Dr. Aine Carroll
Dr. Mark Delargy
Dr. Nicola Ryall
Mr. Martin Walsh FRCSI
Dr. Patrick Murray

(a)New Regulations in 2005 expanded membership of the Board.

The National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) hosts the Medical Board of Appeal on behalf of the Department of Finance and the cost of the Board has been recouped to the NRH since 2005 from the Department of Finance Vote. The Chairperson is a consultant who also works in the NRH and whose salary is recouped to the NRH.

[216]The two doctors who attend each Appeal Board sitting with the Chairperson receive a session rate of €470 per doctor per hearing, which was increased to €660 per doctor per hearing in November 2007. This rate has since been reduced by 8% with effect from 1 March 2009 to €607.20 in line with the Government Decision of 3 February 2009. The overall payments made to such doctors are small, for example in 2009 the total overall amount paid to all such doctors was €14,572 in fees, €3,978 in locum payments and €1,500 in travel and expenses.

[217]Valuation Tribunal 1997 to 2009

Fees paid to Members

(all figures expressed in Euro)
Members Position Date first appointed 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Paul Butler Deputy Chair 22/07/1988
Mary Devins Deputy Chair 22/07/1988 7,324.89
Hugh O’Flaherty Chairperson 22/07/1988
Brian O’Farrell Member 22/07/1988
Padraic Connellan Member/Deputy Chair 17/01/1990
Veronica Gates Member/Deputy Chair 28/01/1990 773.94 1985.25
Henry Abbott Chairperson 05/04/1990 720.09 7,528.06 2,712.15
Joseph Carey Member 15/02/1991 503.31
Paddy Farry Member 28/01/1993
Pat Riney Member 25/02/1994 2,227.45 1,521.68 5,321.16 3,607.10 3,311.24 6,045.72 3,898.97 4,398.18 5,493.12 2,744.10
Brid Mimnagh Member 29/07/1994 5,366.99 8,125.99
Fred Devlin Deputy Chair 07/10/1994 11,639.29 5,652.28 9,607.31 836.7 5,791.14 9,498.61 22,029.89 19,996.60 19,552.94 22,379.83 19,208.55
Con Guiney Member/Deputy Chair 16/10/1995 10,024.37 11,130.37 13,107.00 9,573.84
Marie Connellan Member 07/11/1995 3,019.87 2,390.69 1,611.20 1,623.93
Liam McKechnie Chairperson 11/12/1995 18,420.57 10,070.59 10,061.80 9,766.15
Barry Smyth Deputy Chair 30/01/1996 5,661.79 5,766.62 8,245.31 11,186.49 977.39
Rita Tynan Member 01/04/1996 5,052.94 2,894.00 3,034.76 3,087.09 760.73
Michael Coghlan Member 17/02/1997 3,187.64 4,936.58 4,044.88 7,675.36 3,644.91 1,432.62
Finian Brannigan Member 03/03/1997 4,026.49 4,693.00 4,477.87 3,998.33 2,933.48 257.13
Anita Geraghty Member 25/06/1997 503.31 1,919.92 1,414.41 1,130.97
Ann Hargaden Member 25/06/1997 1,006.62 3,019.99 3,931.59 2,330.91
George McDonnell Member 25/06/1997 4,203.02 3,054.30 2,330.91

[218]Valuation Tribunal 1997 to 2009

Fees paid to Members — continued

(all figures expressed in Euro)
Members Position Date first appointed 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Tim Cotter Member/Deputy Chair 04/01/2000 3,688.74 6,310.70 4,207.20
John Kerr Member/Deputy Chair 04/01/2000 2,961.35 4,561.19 2,737.98 7,378.67 13,432.72 9,532.44 5,467.78 11,838.76 12,426.08
Maurice Ahern Member/Deputy Chair 11/06/2001 1,782.36 3,479.22 1,850.13 4,629.57 5,797.24 8,487.54 7,272.74 9,709.61 11,026.22
Margaret Cordial Member 11/06/2001 55.61
Michael Lyng Member 11/06/2001 1,653.83 3,683.88 2,107.62 5,350.48 12,418.46 10,629.16 11,161.65 13,272.47 9,277.28
Frank Malone Deputy Chair 11/06/2001 2,374.85 3,944.25 4,694.35 7,574.11 906.64 1,191.82
Michael McWey Member 11/06/2001 873.58 2,456.12 9,449.60 9,771.58 2,836.18
Frank O’Donnell Member 11/06/2001 818.63 4,707.18 5,515.90 5,494.04 8,726.62 11,365.99 10,574.10 7,189.55 6,304.59
William Knowlan Member 17/04/2002 613.98 818.64
Brian Larkin Member 17/04/2002 1,023.30 3,601.26 3,138.32 7,554.92 8,648.41 12,479.71 14,713.26 10,691.88
Joseph Murray Member 17/04/2002 1,345.30 3,410.63 6,985.88 9,928.27 9,743.63 9,257.86 9,436.08 6,530.73
John O’Donnell Chairperson 17/04/2002 5,036.85 2,340.20 5,912.74 8,899.24 6,009.80 9,279.54 6,853.73 1,697.13
Mairéad Hughes Member 08/09/2003 5,365.82 7,569.18 8,238.86 7,258.72 5,417.58
Michael Connellan Deputy Chair 05/04/2005 10,264.84 20,962.71 12,652.55 16,480.36 10,537.85
Leonie Reynolds Member 05/04/2005 3,451.86 5,690.01 4,113.71 2,397.60 1,547.88
Damian Wallace Member 12/02/2006 5,085.14 8,455.11 5256.75
Aidan McNulty Member 17/04/2007 7,080.02 8,279.07 8965.62
Tony Taaffe Member 16/06/2008 6,622.16 3935.01
James Browne Member 28/07/2008 3,595.80 5143.68
Fiona Gallagher Member 28/07/2008 4,369.74 5256.75
Niall O’Hanlon Member 17/11/2008 3161.07
Frank Walsh Member 09/02/2009 1934.85
Michael Connellan Jnr Member 23/11/2009

[219]Valuation Tribunal 1997 to 2009

Travel and Subsistence payments to members — continued

(all figures expressed in Euro)
Members Position Date first appointed 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Paul Butler Deputy Chair 22/07/1988
Mary Devins Deputy Chair 22/07/1988 5,289.17
Hugh O’Flaherty Chairperson 22/07/1988
Brian O’Farrell Member 22/07/1988
Padraic Connellan Member/Deputy Chair 17/01/1990
Veronica Gates Member/Deputy Chair 28/01/1990 37.01
Henry Abbott Chairperson 05/04/1990 356.45 3,736.36 1,300.65
Joseph Carey Member 15/02/1991 717.68
Paddy Farry Member 28/01/1993
Pat Riney Member 25/02/1994 599.93 1,664.20 46.99 573.66 271.85
Brid Mimnagh Member 29/07/1994 5,114.57 509.32
Fred Devlin Deputy Chair 07/10/1994 3,192.20 2,510.22 3,584.89 1,460.77 1,718.45 682.83 725.63 2,760.29 3,151.85 3,613.46 2,461.89
Con Guiney Member/Deputy Chair 16/10/1995 370.71 704.53 1,476.81 510.10
Marie Connellan Member 07/11/1995 3,666.10 2,641.98 1,921.27 1,622.55
Liam McKechnie Chairperson 11/12/1995 3,776.12 2,320.45 1,338.09 1,230.82
Barry Smyth Deputy Chair 30/01/1996 1,922.22 2,059.16 3,362.65 2,752.45 164.47
Rita Tynan Member 01/04/1996 6,124.39 3,125.42 2,842.96 2,510.86 633.87
Michael Coghlan Member 17/02/1997 781.31 560.12 1,065.13 2,600.42 1,247.62
Finian Brannigan Member 03/03/1997 1,392.20 3,050.09 3,311.41 3,147.33 2,715.93 608.82
Anita Geraghty Member 25/06/1997 57.51 1,338.56 558.47 19.10
Ann Hargaden Member 25/06/1997 218.45 570.86 1,816.81
George McDonnell Member 25/06/1997 4,349.07 4,283.54 2,355.07
Tim Cotter Member/Deputy Chair 04/01/2000 1,277.90 1,399.11 1,569.70 875.32

[220]Valuation Tribunal 1997 to 2009

Travel and Subsistence payments to members

(all figures expressed in Euro)
Members Position Date first appointed 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
John Kerr Member/Deputy Chair 04/01/2000 4,954.77 7,331.68 6,337.30 5,576.90 3,365.95 451.67 11,192.01 7,841.23 12,450.14 12,377.46
Maurice Ahern Member/Deputy Chair 11/06/2001 2,085.35 6,883.33 3,808.43 2,605.43 2,908.48 10,843.07 8,693.17 12,115.91 9,736.51
Margaret Cordial Member 11/06/2001 89.59
Michael Lyng Member 11/06/2001 1,285.89 3,697.88 2,084.66 2,419.66 3,614.90 7,085.46 8,550.33 9,313.74 4,568.91
Frank Malone Deputy Chair 11/06/2001 98.46 2,138.55 3,465.43 378.54 16.32 69.15
Michael McWey Member 11/06/2001 442.71 2,499.44 2,541.26 830.16 1,602.32
Frank O’Donnell Member 11/06/2001 349.89 2,367.91 1,987.23 265.45 255.22 1,074.96 1,012.60 683.39 479.72
William Knowlan Member 17/04/2002 443.55 756.20
Brian Larkin Member 17/04/2002 985.71 2,677.31 1,247.31 2,869.71 4,612.49 7,661.14 9,260.44 5,730.52
Joseph Murray Member 17/04/2002 118.31 182.18
John O’Donnell Chairperson 17/04/2002
Mairéad Hughes Member 08/09/2003 1,580.99 1,547.40 9,787.06 7,253.46 5,463.35 3,309.36
Michael Connellan Deputy Chair 05/04/2005 3,114.48 13,758.14 9,497.60 11,339.41 6,411.28
Leonie Reynolds Member 05/04/2005
Damian Wallace Member 12/02/2006 7,940.62 10,326.49 7,449.93
Aidan McNulty Member 17/04/2007 780.36 931.38 789.61
Tony Taaffe Member 16/06/2008 466.34 236.24
James Browne Member 28/07/2008 3,437.97 3,909.10
Fiona Gallagher Member 28/07/2008 2,380.26 2,975.32
Niall O’Hanlon Member 17/11/2008 153.21
Frank Walsh Member 09/02/2009 1,697.69

Decentralisation Implementation Group

Costs of Decentralisation Implementation Group
2009-2004 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004
Fees to Members 376,177 23,792 55,295 42,115 56,610 106,267 92,098
Employers PRSI 35,379 2,558 5,944 4,271 4,804 9,057 8,745
Official Entertainment 1,403 421 367 234 380
TOTAL 412,959 26,771 61,239 46,753 61,648 115,704 100,843

Decentralisation Implementation Group Membership

Current Members Date of appointment Appointed by
From To
Finbarr Flood — Chairman Apr 05 Present Minster for Finance
Ultan Herr Nov 07 Present Minster for Finance
Dermot Quigley Dec 03 Present Minster for Finance
Jane Williams Dec 03 Present Minster for Finance

Former Members Date of appointment Appointed by
From To
Phil Flynn — Chairman Dec 03 Feb 05 Minster for Finance
Fred Devlin Dec 03 Nov 06 Minster for Finance

A further breakdown of the fees for each of the individual members of the DIG will be furnished to the Deputy in the coming days.

[222]NTMA

Board Name Comment Date Appointed Date Expires Appointed by 1997 1998 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
NTMA Advisory Joe Moran Chairman 03/12/1990 08/03/2002 Albert Reynolds TD 25,395 25,395 25,395 14,985 12,697 12,697 12,697 1,531
NTMA Advisory Joe Moran Ordinary Member 08/03/2002 13/02/2006 Charlie McCreevy TD
NTMA Advisory John F Daly Ordinary Member (1st) 03/12/1990 08/03/2002 Albert Reynolds TD
NTMA Advisory John F Daly Chairman 08/03/2002 31/12/2007 Charlie McCreevy TD 12,697 12,697 12,697 19,629 25,395 25,395 25,395 50,000 50,000
NTMA Advisory John F Daly Ordinary Member(2nd) 01/01/2008 31/12/2008 Brian Cowen TD 25,000
NTMA Advisory David Byrne Chairman 01/01/2008 31/12/2012 Brian Cowen TD