Thursday, 23 June 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
The motion relates to proposed additions to the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011. I thank the Opposition spokespersons for their co-operation in this matter. The additional provisions provide, first, for members of staff of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, assigned to the Department of Finance to be deemed officers of the Minister for Finance for certain purposes and, second, for the independence of the Revenue Commissioners in the performance of certain of their functions.
The purpose of the amendment is to clarify the legal status of staff of the NTMA who will shortly be assigned on loan to the Department of Finance. As these staff remain employees of the agency and will not be civil servants during the period of their assignment, there is a need to ensure there will be no legal ambiguity about their ability to perform functions on behalf of the Minister.
The NTMA has played a key role in developing and managing the Government’s proposals in tackling the banking crisis. In March 2010 the previous Government delegated a number of important banking system functions of the Minister for Finance to the NTMA. This led to the establishment of the NTMA banking unit to deal with the very significant banking sector challenges facing the State. It has now been decided that the NTMA banking unit should be assigned on loan to the Department of Finance to work more closely with the Minister for Finance, departmental staff, etc. in developing policies and measures to deal with the ongoing banking crisis. A memorandum of understanding to this effect between the Department and the NTMA is being finalised.
In his statement on banking made to this House on 31 March the Minister for Finance outlined a major restructuring of the banking system. He also announced a major reorganisation of the way the Government formulated its banking policy and how it interacted with the banks. The statement specifically provided for the creation of a more integrated decision-making structure among all relevant Departments and agencies with banking responsibilities. It also provided for the enhancement of the capacity of the Department of Finance in the area of banking policy and for ensuring the Department had appropriate policy responsibilities and financial market and banking expertise to advise the Government on potential systemic threats and measures to address them.
The Government is committed to creating a more integrated, streamlined decision-making structure among all relevant Departments and State agencies in dealing with the financial crisis. The assignment of the NTMA banking unit to the Department of Finance forms a central part of this process. The NTMA banking unit contains highly skilled and capable people. It is responsible for a range of matters such as, for example, leading discussions on behalf of the Minister for Finance with senior management of the covered credit institutions on issues related to capital requirements and the restructuring of the banking system; project managing the capital injections into the covered institutions, including the appropriate timing and structures for any capital injections; overseeing the day-to-day legal, regulatory and corporate finance issues that arise in each of the institutions related to the ongoing restructuring of the system, and participating in negotiations with the European Union and the IMF on the terms of the programme of financial support for Ireland. The staff concerned will continue to perform these functions while with the Department but will now have a much closer involvement in the ongoing development of policy and decisions on banking and much closer interaction with the Minister and, where appropriate, the Central Bank. These NTMA staff will be required to carry out various functions on behalf of the Minister.
Deputies will appreciate the importance of addressing legal uncertainty or ambiguity regarding the status of the NTMA staff and their authority to act on behalf of the Minister for Finance. All Members will be aware that the restructuring of the banking system involves complex legal issues and already has led to a number of challenges in the courts. Accordingly, while the proposed amendment is outside the scope of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011 which deals exclusively with the establishment of the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Government considers it to be appropriate and essential that these amendments be now included in the legislation. I was asked by the Minister to include them because they are regarded as urgent and this was the most suitable vehicle to ensure their early enactment.
The motion also seeks to introduce an amendment to the Bill on Committee Stage to place on a statutory basis the independence of the Revenue Commissioners in the exercise of their statutory functions under the various taxation and customs enactments. The amendment will give effect to the recommendations made in the report of the Tribunal into Payments to Politicians and Related Matters, better known as the Moriarty tribunal, which recommends that the principle or convention of the independence of the Revenue Commissioners be placed on the more robust status of a legislative provision. The Government has accepted and intends to enact this recommendation.
The proposed provision consists of two elements. First, it consists of a clear and unambiguous statement to the effect that the Revenue Commissioners are independent in the performance of their functions under the various taxation and customs enactments. Second, the provision will ensure that neither article 9 of the Revenue Commissioners Order 1923 nor section 9(3) of the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 can apply to the Revenue Commissioners in the performance of their functions under the various taxation and customs enactments. Currently, both provisions require the commissioners to obey all orders and instructions given to them by the Minister for Finance. The proposed provision will do no more that place on a statutory basis what is, in fact, the current long-standing practice in this area stretching back to the establishment of the Revenue Commissioners. Moreover, the changes will not apply to Civil Service regulation issues such as pay, conditions of service and other similar matters. Obviously, given my function, I was anxious to ensure no agency would be independent in determining its pay rates and that such determination would be supervised.
At this stage it might be useful to provide some background information on this issue. The Board of Commissioners known as the Revenue Commissioners was established by the Revenue Commissioners Order 1923 to exercise in the State all the functions which were on 6 December 1921 exercisable in the State by the United Kingdom Commissioners of Inland Revenue and the United Kingdom Commissioners of Customs and Excise. The order was made by the Executive Council of Saorstát Éireann under section 7 of the Adaptation of Enactments Act 1922. Article 9 of the Revenue Commissioners Order 1923 provides:
This provision, on the face of it, appears to firmly place the Revenue Commissioners under the authority of the Minister for Finance as respects all their functions, including the application of taxation legislation by the commissioners to individual taxpayers. However, it was never intended that the provision should extend to giving authority to the Minister to interfere in individual cases. The then President of the Executive Council, Mr. W. T. Cosgrave, spoke in Dáil Éireann in the course of the debate on the Revenue Commissioners Order. On 20 February 1923 he stated at col. 1487, vol. 2 of the Official Report:
On the basis of this and other statements made during the years reaffirming the principle of the independence of the Revenue Commissioners in their dealings with the tax affairs of any individual, that principle has acquired the status of a long-standing convention and practice.
Section 9 of the Ministers and Secretaries Act 1924 contains, in subsection (3), a provision that replicates in large measure Article 9 of the Revenue Commissioners Order 1923 and also places the Revenue Commissioners under the direction and control of the Minister for Finance. As the provision largely replicates the provisions of Article 9 of the Revenue Commissioners Order 1923, the relationship between the two provisions is somewhat unclear. However, to provide certainty, it is proposed to modify this provision, as well as Article 9 of the Revenue Commissioners Order 1923, to avoid any doubt as to extent of the independence of the commissioners, as intended by the Government, in their dealings with individual taxpayers.
The Moriarty tribunal’s terms of reference, in subparagraph (m), referred to a possible recommendation “for maintaining the independence of the Revenue Commissioners in the performance of their functions while at the same time ensuring the greatest degree of openness and accountability in that regard that is consistent with the right to privacy of compliant taxpayers”. In his report Mr. Justice Moriarty acknowledges that the principle of the independence of the Revenue Commissioners in the exercise of their statutory functions regarding the application of taxation and customs legislation has been recognised and observed by all Governments since the establishment of the commissioners and that it now has the status of a long-standing convention. However, Mr. Justice Moriarty went on to make the point that the independence of the Revenue Commissioners is critical to maintaining the integrity of the taxation system and that there should not be any room for doubt in relation to the equal treatment of all taxpayers, or the freedom of the Revenue Commissioners from any political influence or interference in the discharge of their taxation functions. On this basis Mr. Justice Moriarty recommended, “that an amending statutory provision would be appropriate in order to elevate the principle or convention of the independence of the Revenue Commissioners to the more robust status of legislative provision”.
As I have stated, the amendment will only apply as respects the Revenue Commissioners performing their functions under the various taxation and customs enactments. The provision has no impact on the relationship of the Revenue Commissioners to Ministers in terms of Civil Service regulation, pay, conditions of employment or other similar matters. The Revenue Commissioners will also remain responsible to the Minister for Finance as respects the overall administration of the taxation and customs systems and will continue to provide advice and support on budgetary and tax and customs legislative matters.
Having regard to the importance placed on this issue by Mr. Justice Moriarty and his recommendation that the long-standing convention be placed on a statutory basis, the Government believes that while the proposed amendment is outside the scope of the Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Bill 2011, it is appropriate and essential that the amendment be now included in the Bill. The reasons for this are, first, that the Ministers and Secretaries Act is the appropriate legislative home in which to include a high level statement setting out the relationship of the Revenue Commissioners with the Government; second, given the importance placed on this issue by Mr. Justice Moriarty in terms of the integrity of our taxation systems, the equal treatment of all taxpayers, and the freedom of the Revenue Commissioners from political influence or interference in the discharge of their functions, it is essential that the matter be dealt with at the earliest possible time. For those reasons I hope the House will support the inclusion of these two amendments on Committee Stage to be dealt with later in the day.
Deputy Sean Fleming: Before I deal with the specific issues, I wish to discuss the circumstances that led to this issue being dealt with today. The two parties which form the Government could not agree on who would be the Minister for Finance so it had to be divided between both parties. This resulted in the decision to split the Department of Finance into two Departments and consequent legislation. I note this legislation has been quite rushed. I do not object to the Government decision as it is has a right, as the democratically elected Government, to set up a new Department if it wishes. However, it has moved with haste which may result in it tripping up. This motion is a good example of how this legislation is being progressed through the House in an unplanned and disorganised manner. The Minister, Deputy Howlin states the Minister for Finance has asked him to include the amendments in this Bill as being the most appropriate vehicle. The House yesterday completed consideration of the Finance (No. 3) Bill which primarily deals with civil partnerships but if the Minister was of the view that these amendments are important and these issues are directly within the remit of the Minister for Finance, he could have included those amendments in that Bill——
I note there will be a guillotine tonight. However, the manner in which this legislation has been brought forward is not fair to the Members of the House. Deputy Howlin is a Minister and a former Leas-Cheann Comhairle and as such he will understand my point better than most and he will sympathise with the Opposition viewpoint. I note that a raft of amendments were tabled last week, including the two amendments being dealt with in this motion. At the last count, there are 130 amendments, at least 120 of which are in the name of the Minister and they cover 32 pages. The original Bill, as initiated, is only 24 pages long.
I refer to the previous Dáil when the leader of the Minister’s party highlighted correspondence I had with the then Ceann Comhairle when I was Chairman of the environment committee. The then Minister tabled a great number of amendments. During the course of Committee Stage I could see that nobody in the room had any idea what we were discussing because there were so many amendments and no explanatory memorandum was available. I wrote a trenchant letter to the Ceann Comhairle because I viewed it as unacceptable that so many amendments were tabled because it compromised proper consideration of that Bill. A bad job was done by the Oireachtas because of those procedures. The then Ceann Comhairle and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges immediately saw the merit of my argument and Standing Orders were amended as a result. In the case of this Bill before us, when on Monday morning I saw the scale of the amendments I immediately contacted the Ceann Comhairle’s office and asked for an explanatory memorandum to the Bill. I was pleased when he immediately saw the wisdom of my request. He agreed we could not have a proper debate without the benefit of an explanatory memorandum and he requested that it be provided. I have not raised this matter in the House because it was all done properly through the procedures of the House. I intend no criticism of the staff of the Houses because I am sure they worked all the hours that God gave them in recent weeks in dealing with these amendments but it was 9 p.m. last night when the explanatory memorandum, 109 pages long, was provided to Members. I am not criticising the staff. It is a large document because it deals with each of the amendments which accounts for 30 pages and it includes 17 pages of new material and this was available to us last night. I can cope with that on Committee Stage and I suggest we can muddle through with Committee Stage today.
However, we have now just received notice of 120 Government amendments which dramatically change a large part of the Bill and the Opposition has had no opportunity under the rules of the House to make any amendments to the Minister’s proposals in his amendments. The major portion of what is in front of us has only been seen for the first time and the Opposition has had no opportunity to put down amendments. The explanatory memorandum was only available last night and it is making it impossible for us to table amendments in advance of Committee Stage because this could not be done at 9 o’clock this morning. I could cope with this if Report Stage were taken next week and we would have the weekend in which to table amendments. My problem is not to do with the timetable for Committee Stage — we will get over the fact of the guillotine — but with so many Committee Stage amendments to deal with there will not be an opportunity for a separate Report Stage and Final Stage as these will all be rammed through on a vote at 5 p.m. We will then be left wondering in years to come why mistakes were made. We should have been given time over the weekend to draft amendments. We have waited three months for this legislation and another week would have been valuable to get everything right on Report Stage. I am sure that if given the opportunity over the coming days to review the Government amendments carefully, Fianna Fáil and the other parties in opposition would have tabled amendments on Report Stage. However, this is being denied to us by the House. I know the Minister agrees with me but that is how the system works. I thought Dáil reform might have taken some of those matters into account.
I thank the Minister for providing a briefing session for the Opposition on this significant legislation in the limited time available to us. We asked for information on the number of Acts to be amended by this legislation. We were informed by e-mail after 8 p.m. last night — I thank the officials for working so late — that the quantity of legislation amended was estimated at approximately 200 statutes by the Bill as initiated and by the amendments. We are now beginning Committee Stage with tabled amendments which will affect 200 statutes. This, in my opinion, is the largest amount of amendments to statutes we have ever dealt with. No Finance Bill amends 200 statutes but this is what is happening by way of amendments and the Opposition has not an opportunity to table an amendment in respect of any of those amendments involving 200 statutes because Report Stage is being taken this evening. I do not know if it is in order.
Perhaps the Minister can contact his Whip to agree that we will finish Committee Stage here and get a revised order from the Whip in the early afternoon to take Report and Final Stages next week. I understand that we should receive four days notice of amendments. It would give us the opportunity to complete the Bill in an orderly manner. The Minister may say the Dáil has discussed it openly, fully and thoroughly. I know he cannot be happy that we are not being given any opportunity to discuss the Bill.
That is the background to why we are where we are. A great deal of business is being rushed. We could have waited one more week to finalise the Bill. I received a document comprising 105 pages at 9 p.m. last night and then received another two pages of substitute amendments which refer to typographical errors and different things. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle had to give special permission to table substitute amendments. It is an example of the rush we have today. We have to make that point going into this debate. The two items specifically referred to are included in the amendments, which are very much in order.
On the two issues we are discussing, I have made my comments and will not have to repeat myself on Committee Stage. The NTMA was originally set up to manage the scale of the national debt many years ago. It was a good idea at the time.
I met Dr. Michael Somers at the Committee of Public Accounts on several occasions. I was impressed by the quality of his contributions and his ability and have no argument with that. Not disclosing his pay scale is a bone of contention. We will discuss pay scales in a moment. The former Minister, the late Mr. Brian Lenihan, wanted to set up a banking unit in the NTMA and the new Minister wants to bring it into the Department of Finance.
Now is the time to bring the NTMA back into the Department of Finance. That is my main point. Sometimes I wonder what the NTMA is doing because we are not in the bond markets and are not issuing Government bonds. Bonds are being redeemed but the IMF and EU agreement helps us to refinance them. The level of activity on the open commercial market means the NTMA has built up a tremendous level of expertise. We are locked out of it for the foreseeable future. With the financial crisis and the euro, some of the events are so large they are beyond the control of the staff of the NTMA.
The NTMA should be brought back into the Department of Finance. During the banking crisis Dr. Somers pointed out that it was suggested to him that he put some money on deposit in Anglo Irish Bank and he put in a minimal amount, €40 million out of the billions he had. Why did he do that? He had no hard evidence; he had the same evidence as everyone else. His gut instinct told him something was not good about the bank.
People have asked if nobody knew on the night of the bank guarantee scheme that Anglo Irish Bank was a rogue and bankrupt bank. The Regulator, the Governor of the Central Bank and the Department of Finance did not seem to know that, yet the gut instinct of a man in a stand-alone agency told him that. I do not know if he was in the loop during the discussions because he was head of a separate agency.
Deputy Sean Fleming: I do not know, but the Minister’s officials will be able to tell him about it. He was a man who probably had a better global view because he was dealing with the national debt and issuing bonds and knew the vibes about Anglo Irish bank globally. He was not part of the loop. He was isolated and insulated in his agency. It needed highly paid executives at the time to do a particular job and recruited him from financial services and the banking industry. He was paid high rates to take the job.
There is now a good case for bringing the NTMA back into the Department of Finance which would bring him into its pay scales. It is wrong that the pay scales are exorbitant. It is difficult to get figures on them. Some people are probably receiving bonuses as well. I am not being small-minded. Due to the scale of the crisis and the fact that the Department of Finance is divesting itself substantially from public expenditure issues it should now be in a position to focus more closely on banking, Government and national debt and treasury management issues than it was in the past.
It is something the Minister could usefully consider over a period. The Minister will always be asked why agencies are exempt, outside the system and have undisclosed pay scales. It is not good for the public service. I do not believe for a minute that the calibre of a person in the agency is better than that of a person in the Department of Finance or the Central Bank. I do not see why a person should be singled out for special pay rates.
On the Revenue Commissioners, I asked a question during the briefing session yesterday. I was worried about its independence. It has operated very well. The Minister gave us an outstanding history going back to 1923 and 1924. The convention applies consistently, something which Moriarty acknowledged in his report. There is never any interference in a case with Revenue.
We all get queries from people who want to know if they have received their mortgage interest relief or how they claim tax relief in a med form. There is not a person in the country who has not had to deal with Revenue. It would be wrong if its independence was such that the normal avenues of communications would be cut off. I am pleased that will not now happen.
The Bill is a sop to Moriarty and PR. We are not changing the substance of anything. Everyone has accepted there had been no interference. It might look good to put it on a statutory footing but it will not make any real change. Agencies will continue to be independent as they always have been. There will be room to table parliamentary questions and bring people before Oireachtas committees.
People will also be able to contact the tax office on behalf of a constituent who is not able to talk to an official, the same way people need assistance to contact a health board or the Department of Social Protection. People may say that is not what Deputies are elected to do but with 300,000 public servants not every one of them is perfect. The system is not perfect in that many of the people working in it and those in most need of help often require someone to help them to deal with organisations.
I am happy that will not change. I welcome the fact that the Bill is being introduced but I seriously regret and object to the fact that we are being asked to complete Report and Final Stages today and are not being given an opportunity to challenge any of the amendments the Minister has tabled which affect 200 statutes. We needed a week.
If Deputy Fleming could cope with the unorthodox process of this, he should spare a thought for a Deputy like me for whom this is the first experience of this process. It has been something of a baptism of fire. I am sure it pales to nothing in comparison with the officials who had to comb through such a vast number of statutes for what is undoubtedly a very complex and perhaps dubious escapade in terms of setting up the two Departments. That is the track we are on and so be it. I share to some degree Deputy Fleming’s misgivings about the process, but as the saying goes “we are where we are”.
On the substance of the motion before us, I welcome placing of the independence of the Revenue Commissioners on a statutory basis. The Moriarty report and previous experience underline how absolutely critical it is that not alone do we have long-standing conventions or understandings, but as a matter of law independence is explicitly expressed and legally protected.
I welcome that section of the motion. The Government is wise to take this action, notwithstanding that it arrived late on my desk as a matter for consideration. The Government is doing the right thing. I hope it changes matters. I do not wish to cast doubt on the procedures of the Revenue Commissioners but I hope it changes in terms of public confidence and understanding and the political climate. My difficulty with the motion relates more to the NTMA staff. The Minister said that staff seconded to the Department are critical in terms of expertise and skill, and I will not second guess that. I am not convinced by Deputy Fleming’s argument that the whole set-up should be taken back into the Department of Finance, although that is probably a discussion for another day.
The Minister said that a memorandum of understanding is being finalised between the Department of Finance and the NTMA in respect of these individuals, but he did not say how many staff we are talking about. What are their contractual arrangements and are they subject to the public sector pay ceiling the Minister announced yesterday? Do they have perks and privileges not enjoyed by others in the Department? I would have to object strongly to any move that creates two tiers of staff within the Department; I think that is wrong, particularly in a scenario where we have a public service recruitment embargo. The Minister is familiar with Sinn Féin’s position on remuneration for senior public servants. Deputy Fleming has already alluded to the fact that many are earning salaries that simply cannot be justified in any set of circumstances, much less now when we are in the economic doldrums. The Minister should clarify those matters.
If it is the case that these staff are on exorbitant salaries, and can thumb their noses at the Minister and society at large in respect of over-generous packages, and if their introduction to the Department will create a two-tier system, not alone do I object to it and wish to table an amendment to the Bill, but I will also object to the entire motion on that basis.
I understand the necessity to clarify the legal status of any individual officer acting on behalf of the Minister. There must be absolute legal clarity concerning that matter. I also understand the motivation for introducing this part of the motion and in that respect I support it. However, I would like answers to the specific questions I posed on those matters. We will have a chance to discuss various amendments to the Bill today.
As I said when we initially discussed the legislation here, it strikes me that the element of public sector reform is dwarfed by the emphasis on expenditure, cost control and — dare I say it — an agenda that is clearly about cutbacks. This is a lost opportunity.
Section 8 puts on a statutory footing matters concerning public sector reform, but the Bill’s calibration and emphasis are wrong. I hope the flaw in the legislation will not carry through and prove to be a flaw also in the outworking of the Department, as well as the Minister’s policy and political agenda. When the Minister replies, I hope he will answer those specific questions about the NTMA’s staff.
Deputy Mattie McGrath: I am delighted to be able to speak on this important Bill. I am concerned that a proper briefing was not given to our Technical Group. I do not believe any briefing was provided to us, unlike what was stated earlier when the question arose. I attempted to raise the matter on behalf of our group, but was told by the Ceann Comhairle that because I was not in a political party I could not take part in the debate this morning seeking more time, as Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have done. I know the Ceann Comhairle was right, but the system should be changed. We should be sitting late tonight to discuss this important legislation. Many such house-keeping matters need to be dealt with in line with the new Government’s pre-election commitments on transparency, as well as being fairer and more respectful to everybody who was elected to the House.
I have wished the Minister well in his new portfolio and I voted for his appointment. I sought him out last night to compliment him on his announcement yesterday concerning pay scales for some senior people in semi-State bodies and elsewhere in the public service. I welcome that measure and hope it happens, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I had many animated debates on this subject with the late Brian Lenihan, God rest him. At the time of the pension levy, he rolled back on it with regard to senior civil servants. When I tabled a motion before my parliamentary party at the time, I was informed there were only 100 people involved, but it turned out to be 700 or 800. We did not get the honest facts and while I am not carrying out a witch hunt, we do need honesty and openness from those sections.
I can see why this motion has to be dealt with. Earlier this morning, the Tánaiste said people were actively clamouring over when it would be done. It took time, but it should all have been done together. Surely we have the expertise to get it right, instead of rushing amendments through at this stage.
The NTMA was put in place some time ago and was a wise decision at the time. As a previous speaker said, it was headed up by Dr. Michael Somers and, despite the pay scales involved, it did good work. No one minds paying good money when they get good work done. I made the same point in my contribution to the debate on JLCs yesterday. Many employers have arrangements to pay good money for good work. It works that way when there is a good relationship and mutual respect, and it is the same at the top level. Like other speakers, however, I want to know what the NTMA staff are doing now because we are locked out of the markets and will be for some time. It is a problem of public perception to have such a body of well-paid people, although in fairness they did good work.
Were Dr. Somers and other senior people in the NTMA locked out of the discussions on that infamous night of the bank guarantee in 2008 and other infamous meetings that took place? We had to come in here and vote for a pig in a poke. We were obviously lied to, but these people were probably in a better position than anybody to understand what was happening in Anglo Irish Bank. I am wondering what happened there and whether Dr. Somers was consulted at all about that important item.
In Cork recently, Mr. Frank Daly, the chairman of NAMA, made an interesting statement at a meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Body. I have come across major issues concerning NAMA in my constituency, but we were told that we had no role or function in that regard. NAMA is not simply about economics and the property sector, it must also take into consideration the impact it is having on a range of business sectors within its remit. I simply do not believe that NAMA can work against business growth; it must be proactive and supportive of viable businesses and maybe ones that are not so viable and are under the radar. NAMA should look at the history of such businesses, as well as the ebb and flow of the economic situation, to see if they could come up again. NAMA cannot just act clinically, going in to close down a place, because it has major repercussions for industry. In my county, for example, there is a family who own several businesses. Just because one of them got into NAMA, because of property and — I might as well admit it — because of a bit of greed, nonetheless they have other viable businesses providing hundreds of jobs. They cannot stop the cheques for every one of those and halt the cash flow.
I hope the Department of Finance will oversee the work of NAMA staff in terms of how NAMA properties are being packaged for sale. It is important to have trust, so they must do this. It is important to have the necessary staff in there and we will probably have to get staff from outside. I mean no disrespect whatsoever to the staff in the Department of Finance, but how could they understand pig farming or the retail, hotel and many other industries that are involved? It is too wide and diverse. No one person or team of people could understand all that. The Department needs people seconded from them. I am not talking about consultants who are anathema to me. The Department needs people who understand these businesses. I am concerned that the market is only interested in top level properties in desirable and strategic locations. The danger is that we would be left with the dross and money might be made from selling off the jewels in the crown for short-term gain but that would create more problems down the road. The Department must use its position to oversee the process and ensure that such packaging of properties is fully explored.
There are also a number of NAMA properties that would be valuable for social and public projects. I like the new Minister’s style so far. Many communities have suffered as a result of the so-called property boom. There are a great number of small properties on the web that would suit communities for a vast array of social good, and they must be examined. We cannot have a clinical approach to package off all these properties and make a profit from them. A review of the operations of NAMA, which was set up in a hurry, is overdue.
The jury is out and will be out on the splitting of the Department of Finance in terms of how it will work. It is a big department and it has veins, so to speak, going into all other Departments. I know the Minister is eager and anxious to make change and while it is needed in the Department we must be very careful how we go about that.
I was interested to hear the Minister cite what was said by W. T. Cosgrave in 1923. Everything has been tainted with the scandals that have happened in our country and people’s trust in all institutions has been damaged and undermined. We must ensure the Revenue Commissioners maintain their independence and are strengthened in their role. There must be no cosy deals because of NAMA in regard to revenue or anything else. Everything must be on the table. It will take a great deal of exploration, research and understanding — basically understanding is the big issue.
I wish the Minister well but I am disappointed in view of the commitments made that we face a guillotine on this debate and have a short time to contribute to it. The Tánaiste might have said this morning that we have sought this, which we have, but it is like training for a match. One might lose some. We are looking forward to this year again and we do not know about Kilkenny but one may have to make a few attempts to get it right.
Deputy Mattie McGrath: I hope we will be successful but none the less we are not confident. We are building slowly and we will take a step back here and there. It is important to get it right. This is a very serious issue. I am glad to have this opportunity to speak on it but I am disappointed that our group did not get any briefing. We are in here discussing this on the hind hoof and that is not fair. I thank the Leas Cheann-Comhairle for his time and forbearance.
Deputy Catherine Murphy: As I said during the debate on Second Stage, I do not have a problem with the Department being split. There is a good deal of merit in having a Minister with responsibility for public service reform at Cabinet level. I do not believe there is a person in this Dáil who does not believe that public service reform is required. That is understood and endorsed by people in the civil and public service. The people working in those services all know that they require reform but that should not be taken as a code for cuts. Such reform is about having a vision and rebuilding towards having a better public service in which people will be proud to work and from which citizens will consider they are getting a very good service.
The fact this debate is occurring tells us there are flaws. We would not be having this debate if matters were straightforward. It was disingenuous of the Tánaiste, for whom I have a good deal of time and have known for many years, to say we were trying to restrict the debate on the Bill and delay its implementation. It is our job on this side of the House, on which the Minister was for long enough, to hold the Government to account and to tease matters out. When there is not a gap between Committee and Report Stages, there is a major flaw and if there is a major flaw in the process, there is often a major flaw in the outcome. I believe the Minister would make that point if he was on this side.
The members of the Technical Group only learned this morning that there was a briefing yesterday for Opposition spokespersons. I fully understand that the Technical Group is not a nice neat package where there are spokespersons and where it is easy to do that. We did not decide to put ourselves in here, it was the citizens who decided that. The Technical Group forms almost 31% of the Opposition and I do not believe we should be excluded. I acknowledge that we have to do our part in making it easy for briefings to be made to one nominated person and we are very happy to do that, but the point I am making must be taken on board.
The Minister or anyone who visits the Gallery would say this is a very different Dáil. The sheer size of the Government puts an extra obligation on it to make sure the process is right and to engage with people, even if it means we have to do things differently. Given that we are such a big group, things must be done differently.
I had a discussion at the Whips meeting yesterday and I was told off because I was told they were sick of me and sick of the Technical Group. They will have to get used to being sick of us because we are not going to go away. We are here for the duration of this Dáil.
In terms of the decision of the citizens to shape the Dáil in the way they did, I was a party in a constitutional case in terms of the equality of membership. Therefore, I am very familiar with case law on equality. Equality must extend to how we do business in reshaping things in a very changed environment.
I wish to deal with some of the issues that are the subject of this debate. With regard to the Revenue Commissioners, I understand there requires to be scrutiny and supervision in regard to the number of staff. We all remember that there were two tax amnesties because there were deficiencies in the Revenue Commissioners over the years. I have serious concerns that while great pressure will be exerted to have supervision of the social welfare system, we will have inadequate supervision of the Revenue Commissioners, having regard to the embargo and the number of people there to make sure that people pay their taxes. If people do not pay their taxes, we will end up in the same situation that occurred in the past. One need only look around to know that the black economy is starting to function. It is obvious to anyone who cares to look. People with small businesses have pointed out to me that they believe that it is from the black economy that they are suffering unfair competition. In the Revenue Commissioners’ supervisory role, particular attention must be paid to ensure there are sufficient people to do that job because it is extremely important.
I am no fan of NAMA. The setting up of it was one of the greatest mistakes that was ever made. I agree with Deputy Sean Fleming that it should be returned to the Department. We have for too many years seen an outsourcing of responsibility. That was a particular pattern of politics that did not serve this country well. All the quangos are a case in point and I do not need to dwell on that. A person told me that a piece of land was acquired by NAMA and the person who owned it returned to buy an adjacent field and when the person selling the field said he had heard that the person’s assets had been acquired by NAMA and was surprised he had the money to purchase the field, he replied he had bought it back for a tiny fraction of what he originally paid for it.
Deputy Catherine Murphy: I agree with Deputy Sean Fleming that this should be returned to the Department of Finance. Rushed legislation is bad legislation. The process is wrong. It is essential that we voice our concern about this.
Minister without Portfolio (Deputy Brendan Howlin): I genuinely appreciate the difficulties of the Deputies opposite. In the course of normal legislation once the Department is established, we will take on board their views and concerns to ensure we have the fullest debate.
Deputy Sean Fleming is wrong about the Department’s genesis. The thought process entered both parties’ programmes separately. We were anxious to have fundamental political, constitutional and public service reform. As Labour Party spokesman on reform, I set up an ad hoc group that involved some of the most eminent public servants, past and present, in this country and abroad. Among their recommendations was that we would never have real reform unless it was led by someone of Cabinet rank who was in control of the money through the Estimates. This was our model and, amazingly, Fine Gael reached the same conclusion. Therefore, it was easy to match our policies and divide into two Departments. It will work well.
In the current financial situation, it is impossible for the Minister for Finance, who must focus on the macro-economic situation and deal with our external partners and the State’s funding issues, those being taxation and so on, to drive a reform agenda at the same time. Reform would always be a secondary issue. For this reason, I have been given my task and the leverages to achieve it through control of expenditure. That is the background.
The amendments under debate are to this Bill because it is the first available legislation that is not a money Bill. Had they been included in the Finance (No. 3) Bill, they would have robbed it of its status as a money Bill. Therefore, they needed to be made to this legislation. The Deputies opposite understand the situation.
If it was Deputy Sean Fleming’s suggestion that there be an explanatory memorandum in respect of amendments, it was a good one. An explanatory memorandum would save a great deal of time, as it would lay out the reasoning I have on paper before me for each amendment and people could go through it.
One could make too much of this Bill. It is literally an enabling Bill for the establishment of the Department of public expenditure and reform by dividing up the Department of Finance. While almost 200 statutes are to be amended, all of the amendments are technical. Where the function was with the Minister for Finance, it will now be with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The amendments are not creating new principles of law. They are simply creating a disaggregation of one Department into two. It took so long because the Minister for Finance is referenced in virtually every statute since the foundation of the State, as I instanced. For this reason, I must pay tribute to my staff and to the staff of the Department of Finance, who were so involved in creating this Bill. Their work meant fine-combing an enormous volume of legislation. Without the advent of computers, we would be waiting a further year for it to be done.
The amendments are primarily technical. We will be able to go through them quickly once they have been moved. There are so many fresh amendments following the Bill because we are taking a belt and braces approach. Since we are dealing with statutes dating back to the foundation of the State, the drafting style has changed over the generations. Our original intention was for a short Bill, one that simply stated, “That category of function shall be transferred”. However, I am afraid the Parliamentary Counsel and the Attorney General demand certainty in these matters. Individual amendments are required to address the phraseology used in original statutes.
Deputy Brendan Howlin: I will leave some of my other comments for the debate on the amendments. I should address Deputy McDonald’s comments on the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA. I thank Deputy Mattie McGrath for his good wishes and I will address the issues he raised as we deal with other amendments.
The number of staff to be transferred is ten. They are recruited on a different basis to the public service and have a different pay rate. I am not entirely happy but, to be blunt, that is the situation. I would like transparency. The only reason I know some of their pay rates is because party colleagues asked about them on the Committee of Public Accounts. That is not a good way to have it. The pay rates of everyone on the public purse should be known. As to yesterday’s announcements concerning the exclusion of the NTMA, I intend to write to my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to determine whether we can at least have transparency. We all have a responsibility regarding burden sharing where pay is concerned. Perhaps I can address this issue specifically when we debate the amendments. I might also be able to discuss the specific functionality of the NTMA.
By and large, the two issues before the House will be agreed. The first will give legal certainty to the NTMA staff who will form part of the Department’s banking division. The Nyberg report recommended a substantial strengthening of the Department of Finance’s banking division. The second will give Revenue the independence recommended by Mr. Justice Moriarty. As Deputy Sean Fleming rightly stated, it may not change practice, but it is important to put the matter in law to ensure that, if anyone is minded to change practice at any time in the future, there will be a legal barrier to doing so.
|Bannon, James.||Barry, Tom.|
|Breen, Pat.||Broughan, Thomas P.|
|Bruton, Richard.||Buttimer, Jerry.|
|Byrne, Catherine.||Cannon, Ciarán.|
|Carey, Joe.||Coffey, Paudie.|
|Conaghan, Michael.||Connaughton, Paul J.|
|Conway, Ciara.||Coonan, Noel.|
|Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.||Costello, Joe.|
|Coveney, Simon.||Creed, Michael.|
|Daly, Jim.||Deasy, John.|
|Deering, Pat.||Doherty, Regina.|
|Donohoe, Paschal.||Dowds, Robert.|
|Doyle, Andrew.||Durkan, Bernard J.|
|Farrell, Alan.||Feighan, Frank.|
|Ferris, Anne.||Fitzgerald, Frances.|
|Fitzpatrick, Peter.||Flanagan, Terence.|
|Gilmore, Eamon.||Griffin, Brendan.|
|Hannigan, Dominic.||Harrington, Noel.|
|Harris, Simon.||Hayes, Brian.|
|Hayes, Tom.||Hogan, Phil.|
|Howlin, Brendan.||Humphreys, Kevin.|
|Keating, Derek.||Keaveney, Colm.|
|Kenny, Seán.||Kyne, Seán.|
|Lawlor, Anthony.||Lynch, Ciarán.|
|Lyons, John.||McCarthy, Michael.|
|McFadden, Nicky.||McHugh, Joe.|
|McLoughlin, Tony.||McNamara, Michael.|
|Maloney, Eamonn.||Mathews, Peter.|
|Mitchell, Olivia.||Mulherin, Michelle.|
|Murphy, Eoghan.||Nash, Gerald.|
|Naughten, Denis.||Neville, Dan.|
|Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.||O’Donnell, Kieran.|
|O’Mahony, John.||Perry, John.|
|Phelan, Ann.||Phelan, John Paul.|
|Rabbitte, Pat.||Ring, Michael.|
|Ryan, Brendan.||Shatter, Alan.|
|Shortall, Róisín.||Spring, Arthur.|
|Stagg, Emmet.||Timmins, Billy.|
|Tuffy, Joanna.||Twomey, Liam.|
|Varadkar, Leo.||Wall, Jack.|
|Walsh, Brian.||White, Alex.|
|Adams, Gerry.||Browne, John.|
|Calleary, Dara.||Colreavy, Michael.|
|Cowen, Barry.||Daly, Clare.|
|Doherty, Pearse.||Donnelly, Stephen.|
|Dooley, Timmy.||Ferris, Martin.|
|Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.||Fleming, Sean.|
|Fleming, Tom.||Healy, Seamus.|
|Higgins, Joe.||Kirk, Seamus.|
|Kitt, Michael P.||Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.|
|McConalogue, Charlie.||McDonald, Mary Lou.|
|McGrath, Finian.||McGrath, Mattie.|
|McGrath, Michael.||McGuinness, John.|
|McLellan, Sandra.||Martin, Micheál.|
|Moynihan, Michael.||Murphy, Catherine.|
|Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.||Ó Cuív, Éamon.|
|Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.||Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.|
|O’Brien, Jonathan.||O’Sullivan, Maureen.|
|Pringle, Thomas.||Ross, Shane.|
|Smith, Brendan.||Stanley, Brian.|
|Tóibín, Peadar.||Troy, Robert.|
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