New Coinage (Twenty Pence) Order, 1986: Motion.

Wednesday, 12 March 1986

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 111 No. 13

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Mr. Ferris: Information on Michael Ferris  Zoom on Michael Ferris  I move:

That Seanad Éireann confirms the following Order, as made by the Minister for Finance on 5th February, 1986:

New Coinage (Twenty Pence) Order, 1986,

a copy of which Order was laid before Seanad Éireann on 11th February, 1986.

Minister for Finance (Mr. J. Bruton): Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  This order made under section 3 (5) (a) and section 4 (2) (a) of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969, provides the necessary statutory basis for the issue of a 20p coin. The order was made on 5 February 1986 by my predecessor, Deputy Alan Dukes but it will not come into effect until it has been confirmed by resolution of each House of the Oireachtas.

At present the coinage consists of three coins in bronze (½p, 1p, 2p) and three silver-coloured cupro-nickel coins (5p, 10p, 50p). By modern international standards [1195] all are quite big and heavy, particularly in the higher denominations. With the decline in the value of money since 1969 more of the high denomination coins are required for many transactions. Since 1975 the number of 10p pieces in circulation has gone up 135 per cent and the number of 50p pieces by 218 per cent. At the end of 1985 there were approximately 40 million 50p coins, over 186 million 10p pieces and nearly 150 million 5p coins in circulation.

The cost to the Central Bank of providing these coins has risen appreciably and generally the volume and weight of coins in circulation is causing considerable inconvenience to traders, to business institutions and to the public in general. This is contrary to the purpose of coinage which is intended to facilitate the public as means of exchange in the many small transactions that are an essential part of daily life.

The provision of a comparatively small and light coin between the 10p and 50p denominations would ease matters by reducing the number of heavy coins in circulation. The possible introduction of a 20p or a 25p coin was mentioned in this House in 1982 by the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Ray MacSharry. In August 1984 a public announcement was issued to the effect that the Government had decided in principle on the introduction of a 20p coin.

The final choice of a 20p rather than a 25p coin was based on research carried out by my Department and the Central Bank. A survey of Government Departments and Offices as well as interest groups, both private and commercial, had already been undertaken in 1982. This revealed overwhelming support for a 20p coin as opposed to a 25p coin. Other technical studies showed that a 20p piece would take more 10p coins out of circulation.

Consideration was also given to which denomination would best fit into the decimal series. This is largely a matter of opinion and, internationally, practice varies. Amongst our EC partners only three member states (Denmark, the [1196] Netherlands and Spain) use a 25 unit coin.

Under the terms of section 3 (5) (a) and section 4 (2) (a) of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969, the Minister for Finance may provide coins in any denomination, in addition to those already specified in the First Schedule to the Act. He may also provide coins in metals other than cupro-nickel. The Coinage Order which is before the House at present provides for the issue of a 20p coin, to be 8.47 grams in weight and composed of a metal alloy containing 79 per cent copper, 20 per cent zinc and 1 per cent nickel. The order also determines the remedy, which is the maximum variation from the standard weight and standard composition which may be allowed in respect of the coin.

The copper-zinc-nickel alloy will give the coin a distinctive yellow colour. The use of this alloy instead of cupro-nickel will also reduce the cost of production by about 25 per cent. The edge will be finished in alternating arcs of plain and milled surface. This edging is not used on any Irish or UK coins at present and should, therefore facilitate identification of the new coin by the blind and handicapped.

Traditionally the size and weight of a coin are related to its value. It is directly proportional in the case of the bronze coins and between the 5p and 10p. Proportionality could not be maintained in the case of the 50p but it is the largest and heaviest coin in the series. It is, however, so close to the 10p in size and weight that it would not be feasible to introduce a coin of intermediate value with the traditional value to size and weight relationship. It has been decided, therefore, to make a start towards a lighter coinage by making the 20p coin comparatively small and light. It is proposed that the coin should be round, 27 millimetres in diameter and 2 millimetres thick. It will, therefore, be larger than the present bronze 2p coin and heavier than both the 2p and the 5p, while being almost 3 grams lighter than the 10p piece.

These dimensions, which I have outlined, as well as the design of the new coin, which I will describe shortly, are [1197] to be prescribed by Regulations under sections 3 (6) and 4 (5) of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969. As soon as the Coinage Order how before the Seanad has been confirmed by both Houses, I propose to make these regulations.

The design proposed for the obverse of the coin is the same as that on the obverse of all our existing coins, that is the harp with the inscription Éire and the date of the year. The design proposed for the reverse side is a horse and the inscription 20p. The horse is the Irish hunter which figured on the pre-decimal half-crown designed by the late Percy Metcalfe, a coin some of us will remember as being particularly attractive.

It was decided that the reverse motif should be taken from one of the coins withdrawn on decimalisation, so as not to introduce a third design theme into our coinage. It was also considered that the expense and delay of a design competition would not be justified for one coin. The Metcalfe designs have been generally popular and acclaimed both at home and abroad. The designs withdrawn on decimalisation were the pig, the hen, the hare, the hound and the horse. The Arts Council were consulted on the selection and adaptation of one of these for the new coin and recommended the horse. This recommendation was accepted by the Government. The council have had an opportunity to examine samples of the coin and have expressed a unanimity of view on the excellence of the design.

The coins will be manufactured and issued by the Central Bank who will bear the costs. The Bank plan to mint between 30 and 50 million pieces initially and have indicated that this will take about six months from the completion of the statutory procedures. I expect that the coin will be ready for issue in October. This will allow the public to become familar with the coin before the busy Christmas shopping season.

I would like to take this opportunity to make known to you my intention, in the near future, to make an order under section 12 (1) of the Decimal Currency Act, 1969, calling in the halfpenny. Because of the decline in the value of [1198] money since this coin was introduced, its purchasing power is now virtually insignificant. Indeed, the ½p coin now costs more money to produce than its face value. Much of the latest point-of-sale equipment, such as cash registers, makes no provision for this denomination of coin and manufacturers of such equipment as well as traders have expressed their dissatisfaction with the continued circulation of the ½p. The National Prices Commission was consulted and saw no objection to the demonetisation of the coin on the basis of a survey the commission itself had carried out.

The proposed order will call in ½p coins from 1 January 1987. The coins will then cease to have legal tender status and will be progressively withdrawn from circulation. The Central Bank will continue, of course, to give value for quantities of the coin after the effective date of the order.

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss some other points in relation to the coinage. The survey of Government Departments and Offices and representative groups undertaken in 1982, which I mentioned earlier showed some support in the country for the issue of a £1 coin and serious consideration will be given to that matter following the issue of the 20p coin. A £1 coin would require amending legislation. At the moment the £1 can only be issued as a legal tender note.

Another question that arises is that of providing smaller, lighter coins in the long run. The dimensions of many of our coins could be reduced. It might be desirable to produce 10p and 5p coins in the same alloy as the 20p and to reintroduce the old value to size and weight relationship by a reduction in size. The bronze coins need not necessarily be altered from their present shape or form. Consideration could be given, however, to varying their metallic composition so as to reduce the cost of their production.

Obviously such changes need careful consideration and planning before final decisions are taken. If they are pursued consideration would need to be given to changing the design motifs on the coins. The Metcalfe designs have served us well for many years and I think the reappearance [1199] of a horse on the 20p coin is a fresh reminder of their enduring quality. A complete redesign, however, which would reintroduce a consistent design theme throughout the series, may merit further consideration. It would be necessary to consult with the Arts Council about whether a design committee should be set up, as in 1928, or a design competition held or indeed both. Our main concern, if we were to embark on such an operation, must be to maintain the very high standards set in 1928 by Senator Yeats and his colleagues.

If I might depart from my script briefly, my own personal preference would be to revert to the Metcalfe designs. I feel that they were a particularly distinctive series of designs that were memorable and more memorable than the designs that we have substituted for them in respect of the halfpenny, the penny and twopenny coins at the moment, which are rather complicated Celtic. Admittedly, they may be extracts from the Book of Kells, which should make me reluctant to suggest their disappearance. I am not sure about that, but I feel that the Metcalfe coins in particular were ones that people could easily remember and would be recognised internationally as being Irish coins. That is my preference. It is no harm that I should express it at this point in the debate so that others can express either support or otherwise for what I have said.

Finally, I would like to touch, briefly on the matter of numismatic coins — coins designed for the collectors' market. The only commemorative coin issued to date was the Pearse ten shilling piece struck in silver in 1966. Other suitable opportunities may arise in the future. Indeed, if capacity should become available in the Central Bank Mint it could be put to the production of special coins, either specimens of the circulating coinage of numismatic quality or commemorative coins in respect of appropriate occasions or figures. The matter is one for longer term consideration. We would all wish to see such coins produced [1200] at home rather than abroad and the Central Bank Mint will be working to capacity for some time to come.

To return to the order which is before the House, I believe the 20p coin is a handsome one, is worthy of the national coinage and I hope all Senators will welcome its arrival. I therefore commend the order to the House.

Mr. Lynch: Information on Michael Lynch  Zoom on Michael Lynch  I am glad to see that the Minister is abolishing the halfpenny, which is still officially in use. There is a point he did not mention; the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Small Businesses recommended its abolition in a report in 1985. I am alarmed that since 1975 the number of 10p pieces in circulation has gone up by 135 per cent and the number of 50p pieces by 218 per cent. Being in the bar business myself, I know there is a significant rise in the use of 10p coins. When I see the Minister for Justice in the House, I want to suggest that one of the reasons for the huge increase in the usage of 10p coins and 50p coins is the simple fact — and a sad fact — that they are being used in poker machines right across the country, most of them are operating illegally. In most pubs — not in mine, I can assure you — these poker machines are being packed with 10p coins and 50p coins, money that should be used to support the household in many cases. I take the opportunity to mention, when I see the Minister for Justice here, that I hope there will be some legislation so that he can curtail this illegal activity. The fact that we have to introduce a 20p coin does bring home to us the stark reality of the high cost of living we are experiencing at present.

The Minister mentioned the old half-crown, which had a lovely design. Sometimes it was referred to as the half dollar and was at one time equal in value to the half dollar — five shillings would equal a dollar. Since decimalisation came into operation the value of money seems to have become less and less. The 20p coin the Minister mentioned will just buy three boxes of matches. At the time of decimalisation, when the halfpenny was introduced, it would buy a box of matches [1201]— a box of matches was a penny halfpenny or tuppence at that particular time. If we want to go back and mention the price of the pint today, I would say the average pint costs £1.30p.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  A pint in Oldcastle?

Mr. Lynch: Information on Michael Lynch  Zoom on Michael Lynch  Yes, there is good value there. If you told somebody the price was £1.65, you would hear of the number of people who would say that they worked for a week for the price of a pint today. It certainly depicts the rising cost of living.

I welcome the fact that the Minister did take into consideration the type of edging the coins should have for easy identification by blind people and the handicapped.

The Government are considering a one pound coin. I would have a word of warning on that. There was a one pound coin introduced in England and many people coming home during the summer season spent these coins in pubs, etc. I never lodged any of them; I do not know where they went to. If we are going to have people's pockets weighted down with coins of every description — 1p which will probably go; 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p — we should think very deeply before we mint a one pound coin.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  You do not favour it?

Mr. Lynch: Information on Michael Lynch  Zoom on Michael Lynch  It is not that I do not favour it, but I would think about it. It can be very awkward for people in business. Any change in the ordinary system of handling money is very difficult from a businessman's point of view to cope with. There is a fast turnover of money in confectionery shops and pubs and it is very hard to adapt. To introduce the coin on the eve of Christmas would be serious and mistakes would occur. Therefore, it is good to introduce it much earlier on. It is hard to adapt to changes in currency. It is very handy to put a one pound note in your wallet, even though it may not be worth a lot today. I do not know how the Exchequer manages with regard to replacements. I suppose it does not cost very much. The last legal tender seemed [1202] to be made out of poor quality paper and there is a lot of damaged legal tender about. The British five pound note seems to be made out of better quality paper than the Irish one, so there is a problem there. For the business community to adapt to any change in coinage or currency takes some time. I merely sound a warning note about being too hasty in introducing a one pound coin.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  May I start by congratulating the Minister on his appointment as Minister for Finance and also by wishing his immediate predecessor well. I would suggest to Minister Bruton to take a trip to Cahir. There is a man with a shop in Cahir who refused to join the new decimalisation system and all of his produce is marked in old money. I pass that shop twice a week on average, and the more I see it the more I am convinced that the greatest rip-off of all time resulted from changing the coinage, and I think the Minister is about to do it again. Going back to Senator Lynch's comments, if, for instance, you went to a greengrocer in the era before decimalisation and the greengrocer said “I will give you an apple for ten bob”, or “I will give you a bar of chocolate for 12 shillings”, you would think he was “nuts”. But the reality is that decimalisation has ripped off thousands of people. Under the guise of changing currency people were subjected to fairly vicious price increases. That was the reality immediately after decimalisation. The Minister is going to call in the halfpenny. I think he will be calling in the 10p in about two year's time. What will happen is that people with machines will start changing the 5p. I can see the telephone people already rubbing their hands with glee, dropping the 15p and going for the easy 20p coin, thereby securing quite a massive increase in their fees. It will all be done on the basis that it is much easier, handier and that the coin is lighter.

I am not so sure that the need to facilitate business and the people's handling of such business is the criterion here. The Minister spoke about the cost to the Central [1203] Bank of providing these coins. Is it a cost-saving exercise? Will it be done at the expense of the ordinary punter? While 20p is not a lot of money, it is quite significant to people on social welfare, such as pensioners. I am very concerned, unless this particular introduction is monitored first on the semi-State sector, that it will inevitably lead to price increases. I would like to hear from the Minister whether he has any plans to ensure that neither State companies nor private companies will be allowed to take advantage of the rationale of it being easier to manage by raising their prices to suit the 20p coin.

I welcome the idea of making it easy for blind people to identify the coin. The throw-away remark about the £1 coin is a real flier, because that is really going to take people on a train ride to inflation. My experience of the £1 coin in an English restaurant is that you are inclined to leave it on the plate because it has no value. If you are leaving a tip of some description it takes quite a while to realise that you had better check the coinage. It is illegal for people using the changing coinage to increase prices substantially. Once we bring in a £1 coin then the next unit of currency that has any real value is the £5 note. It is a problem that people will reach the stage of feeling that £1 is valueless. I honestly believe that the decimalisation of coinage certainly led to people being ripped off in lots of areas. The same thing will happen with the £1. I would caution the Minister about consultation, because if he consults business he is unlikely to get a favourable reply. If we held a referendum on it we would probably get a very different reply. I would not welcome the introduction of a £1 coin. I do not know what the experience has been in England but my instinct tells me that the next unit of currency on which people would automatically place value would be the £5.

I, obviously, am going to vote for the new coinage because I am on the right side of the House. I have grave reservations about it. I suspect, as I said, that the third paragraph of the Minister's [1204] speech is the real reason why we are bringing in this coin and why he wants to bring back the horse. I just hope that the horse is the only thing that is going to be ridden in this transaction.

Mrs. McGuinness: Information on Catherine McGuinness  Zoom on Catherine McGuinness  Follow that, as you may say after Senator Magner's speech. In a sense with regard to the introduction of the 20p coin, some of what I might have been going to say has been said by the Minister. I was coming into this House to say what a good idea it would be to restore the horse. Now I find that we are going to restore the horse and also to praise the Metcalfe designs. I find that the Minister is in agreement with me in thinking that the Metcalfe designs were extremely good designs and that we would do no harm to go back to them.

It is interesting that it is almost exactly 60 years ago to the day that Senator Yeats was speaking on this matter in the Seanad. It was 3 March 1926 when he made his first contribution on the Second Stage of the Coinage Bill. He pointed out when the Government of the day was setting out to appoint a committee to design the coinage, that the design of stamps, coins and so on might be described as the silent ambassadors of national taste. This was a very good phrase to describe them. The Senator praised the idea of introducing a committee to design the coinage. He hoped that the coinage to be designed would be such that even the most humble citizen would be proud of it. The coinage that emerged in the period between 1926 and 1928, when the committee sat and when the coinage was designed, was, indeed, such that the most humble citizen could be proud of it.

It was good to see at the time that the Master of the Royal Mint in London referred to the scheme of setting up a commission to design the coinage as being a scheme so admirable that it might serve as a model for any government embarking on the difficult task of obtaining designs for a new coinage. I do think Senator Yeats then and the Minister now are right in feeling that the design of our coinage is an important thing and that it is an ambassador of national taste. Our [1205] coinage should be distinctive, beautiful and something that everyone will recognise as being Irish. I am delighted to hear that the horse, which was once on the half-crown, is coming back, although I suppose a whole generation of people who have grown up, like my own children, can scarcely remember the half-crown and the horse. It will be no harm to bring it back to them.

With regard to whether we should have these coins, I, because of commuting to a certain extent between Northern Ireland and here, have become accustomed to the idea of having 20p coins and £1 coins. I share to a certain extent Senator Magner's feelings about the £1 coin. Once a sum of money becomes a coin you begin to think, this is small change, and whereas we all know that single pounds disappear very rapidly, they seem to disappear even more rapidly when they are seen as small change. We should take a little bit of thought before changing from having the £1 note to the £1 coin. There is a psychological gap between what you pay out in coinage and what you pay out in notes. Certainly, the idea of having the £5 note as the bottom level of notes seems to me to recognise the ravages of inflation even more than we already have. I would hesitate before bringing in this one pound coin. I find that the one pound coins that I use in Belfast tend to be assumed in my purse, with pennies and half-pennies, as of very little value. With regard to the 20p coin, it probably will serve a useful function. Certainly, the withdrawal of the halfpenny will do no harm as it seems to be of no value. In many ways it is quite inconvenient.

Something that I think should be recognised as praiseworthy in this country and in certain other countries is that we have change in coinage available all the time. I am sure many other Senators, like myself, have had the experience of being in countries where when you come to a check-out in a supermarket or whatever, they do not have the change but give little packages of matches or some other token instead of coins in change. It is admirable that in this country in all our retail outlets we do have proper change. This is something [1206] that our retailers should be praised for. They keep their system going in the proper way. They use proper coinage rather than offering a small token instead of change. The 20p coin will probably serve a useful purpose.

I am delighted to welcome the horse back again. I would certainly support the Minister in his praise of the Metcalfe designs and his wish to see them coming back again.

Mrs. Rogers: Information on Brid Rodgers  Zoom on Brid Rodgers  I wish to make just a few remarks about the changes in coinage. We in the North have been living with these changes for some time, and therefore, I speak from experience. With regard to the proposed design of the new 20p, I am glad to note that it is going to be bigger than the 2p because the 20p English coin we use in the North is smaller than the 5p and, therefore, has caused a lot of confusion, particularly for old people. It seems such a small silver coin that they confuse it with the 5p and also it is quite easy to lose because it gives the impression of being of little value in comparison to the 5p.

I would welcome also the idea of a lighter coinage. Senator Magner talked about inflation and I could not not agree with him more when he talks about what decimalisation did. I speak as someone who goes out and does the weekly shopping. We have to face the reality that inflation has been with us since I was a child and having been reared in a public house I remember my grandfather talking about the time when a glass of whiskey was only 4p in old money. I can remember when one could get a half glass of whiskey for 1s. 10d. which is probably less than 10p at the moment. Inflation is a fact of life. If we do not allow for it in the coinage, we will end up bringing barrels of coins with us. It is better to change the coinage and make it lighter. Incidentally, I heard on the radio today that inflation may be down to zero per cent in the next year. Of course, I would welcome that. However, the reality is that people do not want a lot of heavy coins in their purses or in their pockets.

[1207] It would be a good idea to change to lighter coinage.

I am delighted that the Minister has given consideration to the blind. With new coins coming in, it is confusing for old people but in particular blind people. It is useful to take into account the touching of the coin, thus allowing blind people to know what it is.

On the £1 coin, I would like to tell the Minister that the general impression is that it has been a disaster in the North. Firstly, people do not like it and it is not popular. I would agree with what Senator McGuinness has said that it almost becomes small change. It also creates problems in the purse or in the pocket. I note now that some enterprising manufacturers have brought out a £1 container for men which is flat and has holes in it. The idea, of course, was that men kept losing these little coins which were like buttons. It is a bad idea because it is small and heavy and easy to lose. It certainly makes a hole in the pocket in the physical sense. I think the paper pound was a much better idea. Perhaps it would be worth considering bringing in a two pound note which would be a halfway house. There is too large a gap between the one pound and the five pound note. Therefore, the smallest note one would have would be five pounds and one would end up with a collection of coins in change and very few paper notes.

In relation to the Metcalfe designs, I too am delighted to see the horse back. I remember as a child thinking that the coins were beautiful. They were very distinctive. I do not think any other country had that type of design with the animal on it. It was distinctively Irish. It was a simple design and meaningful to people. People relate to the animal on the coin. Whereas the more intricate Celtic design may be beautiful in its own way, I think the other was much more simple, attractive and distinctive. I would like to see it brought back in any new coins in the future. If the £1 coin eventually becomes a necessity, let it not be designed like the English £1 coin because it is a disaster.

[1208]Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  I have a few general remarks to make. The order, as the Minister has said, provides the necessary statutory basis for the issue of a 20p coin. I have no strong feelings one way or the other about that. I am sure most people would feel the same. I accept that the Minister believes there is a need for this coin.

The position with regard to coins shows the big change in the country from when I was a young boy. I can recall, at that time, that frugal and provident people trying to save usually used a small linen bag. In most cases it was a turnip seed bag. A small piece of string was attached at the top of the bag where they saved their coins. At that time, if I saw a person with a bag containing 20 or 30 coins I would think he was fairly wealthy. Now if that bag were full, it would not amount to very much.

With regard to design which the Minister has mentioned, I would like to compliment him on that. The design of a coin is very important, certainly in the national sense. The Book of Kells is very fitting book from which to get designs. I hope that the designs would not be copied directly but used as inspiration. If design is to mean anything it must be something on-going in which there is life.

With regard to the Book of Kells, I have appealed on many occasions that we should get a section of this book back in Kells for display. Indeed, it would solve our tourist problem. The Minister is in a very strong position to make a case for this.

Mr. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  The 10 per cent VAT will solve the tourist problem.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  Design is most important for coins and stamps. It would seem to me that the proper course to take would be to have a design competition so that a suitable, modern design could be chosen.

The Minister has mentioned the horse and the importance of the Irish hunter. I, too, congratulate the Minister on using this emblem. The horse which has meant so much to Ireland is not displayed as it should be. For example, in the UK the [1209] horse is used on ceremonial occasions and for policing work. This could be done here in the same way. Certainly, in the context of design it is very appropriate that the horse should be used.

I would again suggest to the Minister that he pick a horse from recent times. What better horse could he pick than Cairn Rouge?

Mrs. Bulbulia: Information on Katherine Bulbulia  Zoom on Katherine Bulbulia  What about Dawn Run?

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  In his own constituency and in my own town of Kells, one of the best horses of this century and all the other famous horses could be used as well. This is only a suggestion.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach:  They can put only one horse on the coin.

Mr. Fitzsimons: Information on Jack Fitzsimons  Zoom on Jack Fitzsimons  Maybe after this week Dawn Run would be suitable as well. One horse at a time certainly. I compliment the Minister in this area as well. With regard to the halfpenny coins, I agree fully that these should be withdrawn from circulation. I see even 1p coins thrown on the footpath and nobody bothers to pick them up. With the one pound coin I would possibly share the reservations of the other Members. However, in the UK the one pound coin is very popular. Of course, as other Members have said, we had the half-crown coin previously and we had the ten shilling note, and these have gone. I suppose we may reach a stage where coins will not be necessary. It may be hard to visualise that time, but I suppose in public telephone kiosks and in other areas some other provision will be made. I suppose this will also make obsolete the requirement of the side pocket on our slacks. This is something that many people would not cry about.

Lastly, I want to refer to the specification in the order — 79 per cent copper, 20 per cent zinc and 1 per cent nickel — with the standard weight of each coin 8.47 grammes. These are really very fine limits. There is another requirement of [1210] the maximum variation. While this is necessary, I can never envisage a situation where somebody will actually go to the trouble of seeing whether the coins comply with this requirement. I agree that it is necessary.

To conclude, I accept that the coin is necessary. I congratulate the Minister on the priority he has given to the design and to the emblems, which are of importance to Ireland. I would ask him to have a look again at the points I have raised.

Minister for Finance (Mr. J. Bruton): Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  I would like to thank the Seanad for their constructive and welcoming debate. References have been made to the ravages of inflation as far as our coinage is concerned. I would like to say to the House that it is my expectation that we would have inflation this year at around 3 per cent. Next year we could be down to 1 per cent inflation. That certainly means that we have eradicated to a great measure out of the system the problem of inflation. It is one of the great achievements of the Government and, in particular, of my predecessor, Deputy Alan Dukes, that he and the Government and the other actors in the economic sphere have been successful in bringing inflation down to this level. We can look forward to 3 per cent this year and 1 per cent in the following year. That is something which is quite unprecedented in our recent history and puts much of the debate that we have been having here about coinage into proper context.

It also has relevance for many of the current disputes which are going on in respect of pay and other matters. People should consider the rates on offer and compare them with the prospective, as distinct from the historic, rates of inflation. This may suggest that the offers that are being considered are a good deal more generous than perhaps people really understand. People have become used to rates of inflation a good deal higher than those in prospect in the immediate future in this country. I hope that people will bear what I said in mind in judging their reaction to the current [1211] events. I will not be more specific than that.

I am interested in a number of the points that were made about the difficulty in introducing a one pound coin. The problem is that the pound note has become itself small change; and paper is not suitable for small change, because paper has to be reused and reused, as does small change. Having small change in the form of paper, rather than in the form of metal, means that the pound has become rather grubby, because it is not being resubmitted to the bank in takings at the end of the week. It is being retained in circulation and it is deteriorating each time it is used. That is the reason people are thinking about a one pound coin. Senator Magner's point would make greater sense in a period of high inflation where decimalisation was introduced.

Mr. Magner: Information on Patrick Magner  Zoom on Patrick Magner  I want to anticipate the low cost of living coming back.

Mr. J. Bruton: Information on John Bruton  Zoom on John Bruton  That would be most foolhardy anticipation for you or anyone else to make. In current circumstances the problem is one that can be approached rationally on its merits rather in the fear of inflation, because we have virtually got inflation out of the system now.

Senator Rodgers referred to the need for a two pound note. Just as we are introducing a 20p coin, that would seem to make some sense. There is no decision about going over to a one pound coin. It is something to be looked at further. I hope I have not missed any of the other points that I should refer to.

The reasons for getting rid of the halfpenny are not just ones of cost, although admittedly it did cost more to produce than it was worth. The main reason was that it just was not being used. The consumer was deciding the position by simply not using the coin. That meant it did not make much sense to retain it. It was not being used.

Question put and agreed to.


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