Bretton Woods Agreements (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2011: Second Stage (Resumed)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 750 No. 3

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

[574]Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me an opportunity to continue to discuss the important role of the IMF in what is going on in this country. This debate is taking place in the context of the international economic crisis and, particularly in recent weeks, the euro crisis across the European Union. Many people in the IMF share our concerns and our differences of opinion with the ECB on the debt issue. The discussion on this matter should be developed further.

International economic commentators constantly remind us that if we are going to resolve our financial crisis, we still have the debt issue hanging around our necks and austerity programmes will not work. It is important when the Minister goes on the international and European stage that he raises this issue about our debt before it screws the country and wipes us all out. We need to get away from the myth that austerity will solve our economic crisis. Job creation and assisting small businesses, principles supported by most international economic commentators, are what will solve the crisis.

  11 o’clock

The Bretton Woods Agreement was first drawn up in 1944 during the Second World War between 44 countries and named after the US town in which it was signed. Its aim was to create stability between countries by creating an international basis for exchanging one currency for another. It also led to the creation of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In an effort to free international trade and fund post-war reconstruction, the Bretton Woods Agreement member states agreed to fix their exchange rates by tying their currencies to the US dollar which was linked to gold at that time. Nations also agreed to buy and sell US dollars to keep their currencies within 1% of the fixed rate. The architects of the system wanted a set of monetary arrangements that would combine the advantage of the classical fixed-exchange rate gold standard with the advantage of floating exchange rates while avoiding their defects.

The terms “reconstruction”, “stability” and “development” are now apt in any debate about our economy. To reconstruct our economy, we cannot penalise the poorer sections of society. Every Member must face up to the fact that those with the most money and most resources must take the most hits.

During my earlier contribution yesterday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, agreed with me about the recent well-costed and thought-out proposals for regenerating the sugar industry which could create up to 5,000 jobs. This country needs to restructure and reorganise itself.

The 2010 reform package of the Bretton Woods Agreement builds on the 2008 reform package. The 2008 reforms strengthened the representation of growing economies, many of which are emerging market countries, and enhanced the voice and participation of low-income countries through a near-tripling of basic votes. The 2010 reform also means an increase in Ireland’s quota. It is about making the IMF more democratic and open.

It is important the views of all Members are listened to when discussing the governance of the IMF. Many want it to be more democratic and inclusive. While we are faced with an international economic crisis, we need to end the policy of austerity and start creating jobs and developing the economy.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  From listening to some of the contributions from the Government side and this side, one would believe the IMF was some kind of charitable Good Samaritan organisation helping out countries in economic trouble for the good of its health. It is very far from that. The IMF has created havoc across the world and has never acted with fairness. It is not even a democratic organisation. The claim this Bill will change the governance structures [575]of the IMF to be more democratic is a fig leaf and laughable. Five or six big countries will control this organisation. For instance, China's voting strength will rise from 3.66 to the larger quota of 3.81.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Yet that is more socialism.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  The fiction that this amending legislation will make the IMF more democratic has no foundation.

It is suggested this organisation is neutral which, again, could not be further from the truth. It is certainly not neutral in the policies which it pursues which discriminate against middle and lower income people and poor countries while supporting wealthy nations and sectors of society such as bondholders, speculators, developers and their like.

The IMF, with its partnership with the former Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and the current Labour-Fine Gael coalition Government, pursues an austerity programme in Ireland. This austerity programme has led to almost 500,000 people unemployed. This Government came to power on the promise of job creation. Everyone now agrees it was elected on a falsehood and is now implementing the same programme as its predecessor’s. Central Statistics Office figures from this week show this Government’s policies, in partnership with the IMF and the EU, are destroying jobs. In the first quarter of the Government’s tenure, 4,100 jobs were destroyed; in the second quarter, 20,000 jobs. Up to the third quarter of this year, we had the horrendous situation where 25,000 jobs were destroyed by the policies pursued by the Government.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  I am sorry to interrupt but the Deputy is obliged to stick to the content of the Bill, which is purely technical.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  I do not agree that it is technical.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  Whether the Deputy agrees or not, it is technical.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  I do not agree and previous speakers have ranged widely in their contributions.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Bill deals with a technical matter regarding the appointment of directors to the IMF.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  It is more than a technical matter; it is a matter of the policy being pursued by the IMF and the Government. Speakers on both sides ranged far and wide in their contributions to the debate yesterday.

Austerity is destroying jobs and the policies being pursued into the first quarter of next year are horrendous. Increasing VAT by 2% will take more money out of the economy and will result in the closure of more small businesses and the destruction of more jobs while even more people will be made unemployed or will emigrate.

The Bill has nothing to do with being fair, neutral, democratic or charitable. It will put in place a structure in the IMF that will continue its current policies, which are leading to huge difficulties for the country. These policies should be reversed.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  According to the ESRI report, one of the great untold stories of the Government is the creation of jobs. It has created approximately 125,000 jobs in the past year.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  A total of 25,000 have been lost.

[576]Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  I look forward to the Deputy consulting the report and returning to the House to commend the Government on its approach.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  I referred to independent statistics from the CSO.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  I agree with the Deputy that latitude has been given to refer to other issues in this debate, notwithstanding the fact that the Ceann Comhairle rightly pointed out that this is a technical Bill amending the IMF articles of agreement to adjust the quota shares of fund members to better reflect their economic weight in the global economy. The fund will give approximately €23 billion to Ireland under the EU-IMF programme of assistance. So far, we have received €13 billion and today €3.9 billion will be released. The IMF contribution represents more than one third of our external funding. Total funding of €63 billion will go to the recapitalisation of the banks, with €21 billion being provided by the National Pensions Reserve Fund.

Deputy Healy referred to austerity, which nobody likes.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  The Deputy should stick to the technical aspects of the Bill.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  It is a political Bill, not a technical Bill.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  However, I am weary of Members, including Deputies Healy and Boyd Barrett, coming forward with spending proposals but without proposals to generate money to pay for them.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  We have.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  We have hamstrung ourselves and the issue of personal taxation needs to be examined in the new year. When we had high rates of personal taxation in the late 1990s and early noughties, jobs were created and we lived in a progressive society. The tax system was not deemed to be regressive at the time. We do not need to hamstring ourselves with commitments to previous policies if, in the common good, alternative policies can be shown to improve things. The same applies to the Croke Park agreement and welfare rates.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett  Zoom on Seán Barrett  The Deputy should not stray.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  I take on board the Ceann Comhairle’s point and I will be subservient and compliant. I will move on to banking.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  From Croke Park to Wall Street.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  When I contributed on this issue in the past, I used the term “misaligned interests in banking”. That is what got us into this difficulty. People were intrinsically motivated by greed and all that mattered was their bonus and their turnover, not whether they were operating for the common good. The function of banks is to assist the economy and to assist in the creation of a better society. They are not there to create profit for themselves or their shareholders. That is what we need to examine.

We can think of all the errors of the past. My main concern, on the basis of confidential information I have received from a trader in Dublin, is that there is an increasing concern that Anglo Irish Bank and AIB, in particular, may be selling off loans books for lower prices than they should be getting. I would like the Minister for Finance to carry out an investigation into whether an incentive scheme is still in place for traders, particularly in those two banks, to sell off their loan books. My understanding is the motivation is to sell them off and they are not [577]obtaining value for money. Some of the organisations and banks buying the loans books have buyers lined up and they sell them on at a higher price the next day.

I would like to see a comparison of the sale of loan books between Bank of Ireland and the Anglo Irish Bank-AIB. My understanding is Bank of Ireland is undertaking this process in the correct manner and it is achieving value for money. When one is making a subjective argument, it is difficult to prove. It behoves the Minister to come into the House in the new year to outline the sale of loan books by Anglo Irish Bank and AIB and what percentage they are achieving and to give us a comparison with what Bank of Ireland has done. I do not know whether the Financial Regulator can track the resale of the loan books. It may be difficult to do so. This is a subjective argument and there will be a counterargument. It is difficult to prove this without empirical evidence. Our country is being ravaged by wolves that are treating us like a carcass. It is happening in front of our eyes and the banks are so happy to move these loan books on that we do not realise what is happening.

The same concern applies to NAMA. I spoke to a trader I know in the US and he referred to a common refrain he hears, which is “Let’s move to Ireland. There’s a killing to be had there”. Is there any way to analyse the sale of NAMA properties? Is value for money being achieved? I am not sure and my concern is the motivation is also to move the properties on and value for money is not being achieved. There is evidence that this is the case.

This comes down to the concept of a risks agency. Do we need to consider the establishment through the Financial Regulator of an agency that will examine the conduct of sales of loans books in our banks to ascertain whether they are being conducted in the correct manner? We do not have the expertise or knowledge and we may even not have access to the information, ultimately, to establish whether we are getting value for money. However, my clear understanding, on the basis of information I received confidentially, is that bank loan books are being undersold. Can it be established whether that is the case? If so, what system is in place in Anglo Irish Bank and AIB for the sale of loan books? Is a bonus, commission or merit system still in place for staff who move the loan books on? I cannot overemphasise the importance of this issue. If so, what does it entail? If not, is there a system in place to prove we are getting value for money from the sale of loan books? My information is no mechanism is in place and the motivation is to move the loan books on. That is really important. If I were to make only one point today, it would be that we must ensure the country is not being ravaged by ourselves internally. The motivation is to move loan books on. We are not getting value for money. Have we a mechanism to determine what happens to the loan book once it is sold on? I do not expect the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to be able to respond today on this. While Anglo Irish Bank and Allied Irish Banks can say they are getting value for money on the grounds that they are getting the market price, let us ascertain the percentage they are getting of the original loan book, and the percentage Bank of Ireland is getting from its original loan book. It is really important that we do so. It is not too late to stop the rot. I would like to see action in this regard on the part of the Minister for Finance.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  The Deputy is quite right.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  I will be quite satisfied if I have managed to convert a few heathens.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Brian Hayes): Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I thank Deputy Timmins for his observations. His fundamental question is on whether undervalued loan books are being sold on. It is a question of what constitutes market value at present. With regard to Anglo Irish Bank and Allied Irish Banks, which are in or close to full public ownership, these are matters that we can consider.

[578]The responsibility of NAMA is to ascertain the best possible market price for assets under its jurisdiction. NAMA representatives have appeared before committees of this House to answer questions from Deputies in this regard. I will raise the matter with the Minister for Finance to determine whether further information can be given to Deputy Timmins. He makes the point that this is a subjective view. People have obviously spoken to him about this.

The fundamental issue for banks in full private ownership is their responsibility to their shareholders. With regard to the two banks Deputy Timmins mentioned, which are effectively in public ownership, there are public interest directors whose responsibility is to safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. I will ascertain whether the Minister for Finance can make a statement in connection with the information just given to the House.

Deputy Seamus Healy: Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  To whom are they sold on and where do they end up?

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  I thank the Deputy for his most interesting contribution to this debate.

I thank Deputies for their contribution to and support for this Bill. I would like to address some of the points made. The Bill comprises short, technical enabling legislation the purpose of which is to allow Ireland accept an amendment to the articles of agreement of the IMF, agreed by the fund’s board of governors in December 2010 in conjunction with the then Minister for Finance. The amendment provides that, in future, the executive board of the IMF will be an all-elected body. At present, the five largest members are entitled to appoint their own executive directors. The removal of the category of appointed executive directors is intended to modernise the process of establishing the board. A relative shift in voting power in this direction is a key component of IMF reform and is designed to allow the fund better reflect global economic realities.

The Bill is also important because it assists the process of ratification of the 2010 quota and governance reforms at the IMF. As the Minister for Finance indicated in his introduction, when the requisite majority of IMF members, constituting 85% of the voting power, have accepted the amendment to the fund’s articles of agreement, it will come into force. The related increases in members’ quotas will also become effective. The target date is October 2012 in regard to the annual IMF meeting. Ireland has a direct interest in this because the increase in our quota will result in a reduction in the interest rate on our IMF borrowings.

A number of Deputies commented on the role of the IMF. Since the onset of the global financial crisis, the fund has played a key role in helping to restore global financial stability. We are particularly aware of this in the context of the EU-IMF programme for Ireland. The recent G20 summit emphasised the importance of the fund and its global symmetric role in helping to reboot the international economy, particularly the Irish economy.

Some Deputies raised the question of democratic representation in the IMF. The IMF is committed to a process of ongoing reform designed specifically to increase the representation of emerging-market and developing countries. The perception of the IMF as some kind of international financial bogeyman in the 1960s and 1970s changed dramatically in recent years because of the IMF’s involvement in programme countries and because of its very firm view that the way to surmount the difficulties countries face is not only through modernisation and regulatory reform in the relevant countries but also through the stimulation of growth therein to ensure they can get out of a very difficult financial bind.

Despite some commentators’ view of the IMF, this country is being held together not only by the funds that we can obtain through the European Union and European Central Bank but also by the funds that can be drawn down from the IMF. If we did not have these funds, the country would be facing an adjustment next year of approximately €14 billion or €15 billion [579]rather than €3.8 billion. The knock-on effect on our health service, education system and communities would introduce a kind of nuclear winter for the country that no one could even contemplate.

While people may like to be polemical and present the IMF and other international funders as malign forces, the truth is that Ireland is being held together by international agencies, not only on the structural deficit side but also in respect of the funding liquidity open to our banking system, which we are slowly bringing out of the accident and emergency ward. These are the facts regardless of how one presents the matter. Our objective, as stated by the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance repeatedly on entering government, is to get out of the programme as soon as we possibly can and to restore the country to full independence and sovereignty through being able to access funds on the international markets. It was interesting that voices in Europe alluded this week to the possibility that Ireland could “dip its toe” in the financial markets again later this year by obtaining some funds from external funders. This would be a sign of enormous confidence in the country considering its circumstances since the start of this crisis in late 2008.

The 2010 quota reforms, when effective, will result in important increases in the voting shares of certain parties, including China, India and Brazil, for example. The guiding principle is that the distribution of quota shares should reflect the relative weights of the fund’s members in the world economy. The adjusted quotas also aim to protect the voting share of the poorest countries. The quota and governance reforms go together as a package agreed by the board of governors. The interest rate savings which will increase for Ireland when the amendment has been accepted by the relevant threshold of IMF members are a function of existing fund arrangements under which, as a country’s quota increases, a larger portion of the IMF borrowing qualifies for a relatively lower rate of interest. In this regard, bearing in mind the effect of a reduction of the order of 100 basis points in anticipation of the cost of our IMF borrowing, when account is taken of both the 2008 and 2012 quota increases, the bulk of the improvement relates to the 2010 reforms, which will deliver by far the greatest part of the overall quota increase.

The Bill is particularly significant in this regard. It is necessary to enable the Government to support quota and governance reforms in the IMF. This is in the interest not only of Ireland, by virtue of the prospective reduction in the cost of our IMF loans, but also the wider membership of the IMF and that organisation’s remit for getting the world economy out of its current perilous condition. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 81; Níl, 12.

Information on Thomas P. Broughan  Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan  Broughan, Thomas P. Information on Richard Bruton  Zoom on Richard Bruton  Bruton, Richard.
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies Kevin Humphreys and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Seamus Healy.

Question declared carried.

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