Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Micheál Martin: Yesterday the Dáil unanimously passed a resolution asserting our belief that the European Commission’s proposals on the common consolidated corporate tax base infringes the core principle of subsidiarity. It did this on the basis of an all-party committee report, which is a credit to the various Deputies who participated on it. One of the serious points that arose during the debate was the manner in which the position of the Minister for Finance changed because of the committee’s work. His opening position was that the CCCTB did not infringe subsidiarity and he changed this only in the light of the work and the unanimous findings of the committee members. However, many people are confused as to what the Government’s position is on CCCTB. It has gone from the clear outright opposition of last year to something described by Ministers and the Taoiseach as sceptical negotiation to constructive engagement. We would all agree that this is essentially having no impact on the negotiating position and has given the impression to others, including France and Germany, that we are open to trading on a fundamental issue such as the harmonised consolidated tax base.
Because it threatens to destroy more than €4 billion in national income, the corporate tax base is as much a threat as a higher rate. We know the Government’s policy on one but we do not know its policy on the other. Every other government is clearly tabling its position on the tax base across Europe. The Dáil has taken a clear position on the tax base. Will the Taoiseach now go beyond the general ambivalent stance and the ambivalent generalities in which he has engaged up to now on the issue and tell us exactly the Government’s position, what it is prepared to put on the table and what it offers to accept?
The Taoiseach: I will. The position as far as the Government is concerned about CCCTB is very clear; there is no ambiguity here. The CCCTB is a method of tax harmonisation by the back door. It is bad for Ireland and bad for Europe. I will not sit at the table of leadership at European Council meetings and not say anything when a paper tabled by the Commission on CCCTB is being discussed. It is its right, legal duty and responsibility to publish papers or legislation, but I will not sit at the table and say nothing about this. What I will say is what I have just said to the Deputy. I do not believe in CCCTB and I do not support it. I have a very healthy scepticism about it. I hope I make myself clear in that regard.
Deputy Micheál Martin: Does that mean in essence that the Government will veto any attempt to introduce CCCTB across Europe? The Government has ranged from scepticism to engagement to constructive engagement and so on.
Deputy Micheál Martin: We all know the financial support programme is important to the country. It is agreed across Europe that these financial frameworks and support programmes should be sustainable. The communiqué on 11 March was very clear on the matter, but nothing has happened on the Irish programme. Nothing has moved towards a conclusion on the Irish programme. The evidence coming back every day is that either Germany or France in particular has been encouraged to keep pushing Ireland for unreasonable concessions on the issue of not just the tax rate but the base because of what appears to be a changed negotiating stance on the part of the Government. The bottom line from Europe seems to be that either it wants Ireland to recover in a way which helps everyone or it does not.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy and I campaigned on the Lisbon treaty. We gave the people specific assurances about tax competency being a national issue. The Government does not support the introduction of CCCTB on the basis that the Government believes it is tax harmonisation by the back door. The Government believes that CCCTB is bad for Ireland and bad for Europe. I will articulate that very clearly when it comes before the Heads of Government meeting at Council level. The governments of other countries share this view very strongly. The Deputy is aware that under the euro-plus pact it is possible for other countries to move to an enhanced co-operation position. I will not say here in the Dáil that I do not support CCCTB and then go and articulate a different position at the Heads of Government meeting.
The Taoiseach: In so far as the conclusion to the question of a reduction of interest rate is concerned, there has been quite a deal of speculation about every meeting that this will bring it to a conclusion — I have never said that. The point is that the authority was given to the ministers for finance to continue negotiations on this. I would like to see it brought to a conclusion and I would like to see an interest rate reduction applied to Ireland, but I cannot give the Deputy a date as to when that will finally be concluded. As the Deputy is aware, the Heads of Government agreed in principle that countries within the EFSF bailout system should have and could have an interest rate reduction applied to them. Ireland is in that position and authority has been devolved to the Ministers for Finance to continue negotiations in that regard. I recognise the Deputy has been supportive of this process. However, I am not in a position to give the House a definitive date as to when the matter will be finally concluded.
The conditions for the bailout scheme were put together by the Troika, namely, the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank, and also by the Government. Elements of it have been changed in respect of the minimum rate and also by the Government by way of the jobs initiative. Other countries may wish to impose conditions on Ireland that are not being imposed on any other country, which is not helpful.
Deputy Gerry Adams: It is interesting that while Greece and Portugal are having issues associated with their economic distress dealt with at European level, the Government has not even managed to get Irish issues on the agenda.
Tá ceist agam faoi ard-bhaincéirí. An bhliain seo caite, dúirt urlabhraí Fhine Gael, an Teachta Richard Bruton, nár chóir dos na hard-bhaincéirí an méid airgid a mhol Rialtas Fhianna Fáil mar uas-theorainn, a fháil. Dúirt Páirtí an Lucht Oibre an rud céanna. I understand that in recent days AIB has made a request to the Department of Finance, contending that the cap on chief executives’ salaries, at €500,000, should be breached and salaries increased as the bank is experiencing difficulties in recruiting to fill the top jobs. As I said as Gaeilge, Fine Gael poured cold water on Fianna Fáil when it introduced the cap initially, as did the Labour Party. It is inconceivable that the Taoiseach would countenance such an increase at a time of considerable distress and when people are scandalised by the pensions paid to some bankers. Will he rule out firmly any increase in the salaries of chief executives?
The Taoiseach: Tá a fhios ag an Teachta go bhfuil caighdeán leagtha síos ag an Rialtas faoi seo, is é sin nar cheart níos mó ná€500,000 a íoc le baincéir, cibé cé chomh sinsearach is atá sé nó sí. There is no formal request before the Government from AIB for any particular level of remuneration. I have rarely seen people so frustrated as they are at the carry-on of some bankers during the years.
The Taoiseach: It is fair to say those who work in banks at the lower level have taken the brunt of the stick for those who exemplified greed and rank bad behaviour in their reckless lending practices, which practices brought the banks and, as a consequence, the country to their current position. The Government would need to see an exceptionally compelling case made by any bank to breach the ceiling. The Minister for Finance has requested an overall survey of the remuneration packages of bankers. As I said, there is no formal request before the Government in that regard. As the Deputy is well aware, it is fair to say banks threw money at people left, right and centre. It is also fair to say people borrowed money they knew they would not be able to pay back and that banks lent money they knew would not be paid back. The more bankers at the top level lent, the more they received in bonuses. That is why the Government wants to put a stop to that practice.
Deputy Gerry Adams: I again voice my frustration. I did not use the words “a formal request” but “a request”. I agree entirely that ordinary staff in the banks are taking the brunt of public anger, although they do not deserve it. However, the Taoiseach has not ruled out a breach of the cap. The problem is not just that people are angry with the bankers, but that they are also angry at the failure of the Government to intervene. The Government famously stated it could not intervene when a man walked off with a pension of €3 million. I refer to new contracts which are not the fault of Fianna Fáil but the responsibility of the Government. Any contract would have to be cleared by the Government. It cannot blame Brian Cowen, Deputy Micheál Martin or anybody else.
Deputy Gerry Adams: I am asking the Taoiseach directly whether he will rule out increases. He said — I do not want to put words into his mouth, although he often puts them into mine — he would need to be persuaded or convinced. He needs to say “No,” that he will not countenance any increase that would bring a salary above €500,000, a huge salary for anybody to take home. It is regarded as indecent by those on the minimum wage or who are suffering because of the universal social charge. Most people would regard €500,000 as a EuroMillions prize. I, therefore, ask the Taoiseach to use unequivocally a little English word: “No”.
The Taoiseach: The elected First Minister in the new Assembly in Northern Ireland regretted this morning that the Deputy was not present to send a signal of hope and confidence and point to where we are headed in a time of peace.
The Taoiseach: I am sure the Minister for Finance and I will want to see what exactly the banks are talking about when they say they need to breach the ceiling. From my experience, there are competent Irish people around the world with considerable experience in banking who would be delighted to do the job for €500,000 or less in the national interest.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Gerry Adams referred to a payment to an individual of €3 million which was paid out last year. The case in respect of which the previous Minister for Finance was unable to prevent persons from inside the banks being appointed is slightly different from the problem that arises in that the people concerned are now in charge of the bank. There are contracts, or potential contracts, that have not come before the Government. I said I would need to see an exceptionally compelling case before any consideration would be given to a breach of the ceiling.
Deputy Finian McGrath: With all the talk about building and developing relations between Ireland and England, does the Taoiseach agree that it was people on the ground who supported the peace process from its start with the Hume-Adams talks and that, in fact, it was the political elite and some media commentators in this country who initially attacked and did not support the Hume-Adams initiative? Also, has the Taoiseach heard of a grandmother named Joan Humphreys or a young soldier named Ben Griffin? Joan Humphreys, a British citizen who was in town last night, lost her grandson in Afghanistan and Ben Griffin is a former British soldier and veteran of Iraq——
Deputy Finian McGrath: Historically, it was politicians, governments and monarchs that started wars and conflicts, not ordinary people. Does the Taoiseach accept that there are elected Members of this House, and many more elected representatives in Scotland, England and Wales, who do not support monarchies or outdated institutions with inherited powers? Does he agree that such institutions are relics of feudal times and will the Taoiseach today stand by the Republic?
The Taoiseach: That was a Second Stage speech appropriate for the committee on foreign affairs, the committee on European affairs or perhaps for overview debate in the Dáil. The Deputy has been asking about debates being held on a range of issues. He asked why there is no debate about the visit of Her Majesty, the Queen of England, but he has not mentioned the forthcoming visit of the American President and other visits that will follow. The Deputy has been complaining about too many debates yet he also wants debates. He wants the arms issue and Afghanistan raised. I do not know Mrs. Humphreys but I am sure she speaks from conviction when speaking about her family’s involvement and the consequences of that.
The Deputy referred to the Hume-Adams talks. People across a broad spectrum have contributed to the peace process. The jigsaw that has been put together has not been confined to any group or individual. People in all parties have contributed to this, and some have obviously come further than others. We want that to continue. People now understand that in a democracy one can have a different point of view but through the secrecy and influence of the ballot box, communities can thrive, work and co-operate together in the interests of the people. In the most recent examination of this, the Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, not one of the 582 local authority seats and 108 Assembly seats went to any splinter dissident group. This speaks for the power of the judgment of the people of Northern Ireland in those elections.
If the Deputy wishes to hold a debate on this, he should raise it at the relevant Oireachtas committees after they have been set up next week or the Whip for the Technical Group could raise it in a general sense when the House is sitting for longer periods, including on Fridays.
Deputy Finian McGrath: I thank the Taoiseach for his response but I am a little concerned about his dismissive reaction. I am open to the idea of having a debate on the visit of President Barack Obama because many of us have differences of opinion on policy issues. Those two issues should be debated in this House as well as in the broader society.
I have a further question about two matters that arose today. First, would the Taoiseach agree that truth and reconciliation arise from openness and that we must have this in the debate here on the peace process? With regard to the Taoiseach’s meeting with Mr. Cameron this morning, did the Taoiseach raise the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and will Mr. Cameron open the files on the 1974 massacre? Second, when they were in Islandbridge this morning did the Taoiseach or anybody else think of the families in Greysteel and Loughinisland, when those five UDA brigadiers——
The Taoiseach: I do not treat this in a dismissive manner. Any issue raised in the House is worthy of debate, and I have outlined how the Deputy would have an opportunity to have a conclusive and constructive debate on the issues he raises.
The Taoiseach: However, I gave an undertaking in the House yesterday to raise the matter with him when he arrives here this evening and I will do that. I was not in Islandbridge this morning for the commemoration ceremony by the President and Her Majesty, the Queen. However, my thoughts were with the relatives of those who lost family members many generations ago. They had fought, in their belief, for king and country and the freedom of small nations. I think in particular of the gentleman from County Westmeath who was interviewed on the RTE news, who said that he attended the recent opening of a peace park in my native town which commemorates the loss of those men who fought in the armed forces not just in the Great War but in other wars around the world. Of course we think about them, which is why it is necessary not just to have words but also the symbolism and power of what it means for countries to join together to build continued peace in our world.
For that reason I was happy to see the response of the people to the visit of Her Majesty at the invitation of the President. It is not just talking about peace building but demonstrating that in 2011 the Queen of England is prepared to come here and respect and understand the different traditions on this island by laying wreaths both at the Garden of Remembrance and the memorial in Islandbridge. These two leaders, the President and Her Majesty, send out a statement of co-operation and mutual respect and understanding that is global in its impact and consequence.
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