Business of Seanad
Order of Business
Fifteenth Report of the Committee of Selection: Motion
European Directives: Motion
Economic Situation: Statements
Appointment of Taoiseach, Members of Government and Ministers of State and Alteration of Names of Departments and Titles of Ministers
Olympic Games Report
Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 2.30 p.m.
An Cathaoirleach: I have received notice from Senator Diarmuid Wilson that, on the motion for the Adjournment of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:
I have also received notice from Senator Cecelia Keaveney of the following matter:
I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion on the Adjournment and they will be taken at the conclusion of business.
Senator Maurice Cummins: The Order of Business is No. 1, report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the use of passenger name record data, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude no later than 4.15 p.m, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, statements on the economy, to be taken at 4.15 p.m and to conclude no later than 6.15 p.m., with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, with the Minister to be called upon no later than 6.05 p.m. to conclude the debate in which Senators may share time.
Senator Donie Cassidy: The Order of Business is agreed.
I call on the Leader to give an undertaking to the House that within the first two weeks of the return of the Seanad the report of the review group on State assets and liabilities will become a priority of the House to be discussed in the 24th Seanad. It is of the utmost importance that the report is discussed and debated in depth in the House to allow new Members make their views known to the Minister to assist the Department and the Government in their deliberations.
Recognising that 18.5% of our population experiences some level of disability, Fianna Fáil has always demonstrated a strong commitment to providing support and services to enable people with a disability to take all opportunities. I call on the Leader to impress on the Minister for Social Protection the need to remain committed on all of these very important matters to those who are in need of them.
I wish to avail of this opportunity to congratulate the Cathaoirleach and wish him well. As this is the last sitting day of the House, I congratulate him on all he has done for Seanad Éireann to uphold its values and enhance the House as the Upper House, and for his years of service during which he has been totally committed to being the Senator that everyone has respected as an outstanding Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paddy Burke, for all the kindness he has shown to us and all Members of the House. I congratulate the Clerk of the House, Deirdre Lane, and her assistant, Jody Blake, for all of their help and assistance. It has been outstanding to say the least and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I say to all retiring today from the House after very many years of service as Members of Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann that we wish them well and wish them happiness and also that we want to hold their friendship near and dear to us for very many years to come. I offer my best wishes to all Senators standing in the forthcoming Seanad elections and wish them well and every success. On my behalf, as former Leader of the House and as leader of the Fianna Fáil group, I thank the Superintendent, the Captain of the Guard, Jimmy Walsh of the press and everyone associated with the running of the 23rd Seanad for everything they have done. We are extremely grateful.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I fully support the points made by Senator Cassidy. I do not know whether this is the time to go into all of it.
An Cathaoirleach: It was all said on the previous occasion.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I thought that; “Ditto to that”.
I thank the Leader of the House as I spoke to him on a number of occasions over the weekend with regard to including the extra debate today on the economic situation. I appreciate its inclusion and on this basis I will support the Order of Business today.
The Nyberg report was presented to us yesterday, but we will not have the opportunity to discuss it in the House. Will the Leader give some consideration to the outcomes and how we respond to it? It has more or less stated that we were all part of it. Let somebody stand up and deny it and we can listen to it. I am absolutely taken aback by the response of the Government, which is to establish a committee or committees of the House to further investigate what happened in the past four, five or six years. This is not what democracy is about. This is an example of the spoils going to the victors; it is now in charge after winning the election and will wheel these people in to get to the bottom of it. There is no getting to the bottom of it. We have the facts in front of us and, unlike the Bourbons, perhaps we will learn something from them. Perhaps we will forget some of it also, it if that is what is required of us. Let us not move into a situation in which we wonder if this is the inquisitions of the middle ages or the show trials of Stalin, where people were wheeled in from the gate and put up for questioning with no appreciable objective being found at the end of the day. It is not part of our function to do this. We need to refocus our democracy and recast our community. We need to refocus on what our objective might be, on a fairer society, and we need to redesign our society in favour of the common good. Let us not get distracted into five years of idle chatter in committee rooms where we have blame-shifting and a tortuous talking shop on what happened, who caused what and when, and when Ireland was invaded. There is no answer to the questions we want answered. It is like a truth commission. Let us take it as a truth commission. He has told us the truth about ourselves. We might not like it but it is there. It is the function of democracy to move on from there, to improve society on the basis of what he has told us, not to direct us for five more years to try to find out more. What more is there to know? We have seen it all. It is all there for us. We have a democratic responsibility to represent our people and help them to progress. Spending five more years looking at that is not the way forward.
I welcome the Nyberg report, even if I do not feel good about it. None of us can feel good about it. We all took some part in what happened in the past five or six years. When I say “all of us” I mean all of us in any position of authority, not every citizen. As public representatives, no matter what role we had, we played our part in it. It is a bit much to hear some of the people who were championing and giving full pages of newspapers to outline what great heros these leaders of the boom were, now in the same newspapers and perhaps on television telling us how bad these people really were. The reality is that there are lessons to be learned. Let us acknowledge that and move on democratically.
Senator Dan Boyle: I agree with much of what Senator O’Toole said in regard to where we should go in further debates on that issue. However, we need some time-limited parliamentary oversight. Some of it should have occurred already. I ask the Leader of the House, with the convening of the 24th Seanad, to ensure that there is a Seanad input to that, that it is the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service rather than the select committee. Members of this House, however it will be constituted, will have an important role to play in that.
Senator O’Toole is correct that the rezoning councillors and the pornography of property supplements in our national newspapers added to the mix that was the madness of the property boom and the Celtic tiger. While it is easy to hold debates on events such as the bank guarantee and the establishment of NAMA, we have yet to hold a national conversation about the endemic greed that brought about the crisis and how we will have to deal with it, regardless of who was in Government. As long as my party is represented in this House, we will co-operate with the Government in seeking the best way to do that. I concur with Senator O’Toole that we cannot conduct our investigation by way of star chamber but a number of questions remain to be addressed in this area. If we answer these questions honestly we will realise how diffuse is the blame for what happened.
I ask the Leader to arrange debates on key legislation which will impact on how we develop from here. For example, it would be a retrograde step in Irish politics to roll back the recent major revision of planning legislation. To do that would see the return of the bagman in Irish politics. That is the type of thinking which brought us to our current position and that is what we need to avoid in the future.
We need to commit ourselves in the future in terms of a representative assembly. I am conscious that those of us who are still candidates in the election that will be counted next week must be conscious of not biting the hand that feeds us. Regardless of whether the debate centres on whether there should be a Seanad in the future, I would like to see all Members of this House and everyone involved in public life saying that if the House is to continue it can never be elected in this form again. There must be a different form of election which has greater public involvement and accountability. I hope that is where the debate goes when the referendum is eventually held.
Senator Phil Prendergast: It is my last day and contribution here. I have been delighted to have been part of the 23rd Seanad and would like to wish everybody who is going forward for election the best.
On the Nyberg report, which cost €1.2 million to tell us what we knew, and the herding and group-think that were the key drivers of financial instability, there was no collective consciousness in that regard. People like Colm Doherty, Michael Fingleton, Seán FitzPatrick, Brian Goggin, Patrick Neary and others have retired with huge pensions. While I recognise that contracts are confidential, the parts which are deemed to be unbreakable, whether they are anonymous, should be put into the public arena and debated. It is very hard for people, when they are suffering in terms of trying to pay their bills and mortgages, to see people that have contributed in a huge way to the misfortune in which the country now finds itself receiving large amounts of money when they cannot make ends meet.
Senator John Carty: As we paid all the tributes the last time we sat, I will not go over them again. I ask the Leader, in light of the announcement yesterday that Mayo County Council is letting 150 members of staff go, to meet the Minister, with his colleague, Senator Burke. It is a great loss to Mayo and 150 jobs being lost there is like 1,000 jobs being lost in Dublin. I ask that a request be made to the Minister that extra employment be found through various agencies. I am sure he will have the assistance of four Government Deputies and I can assure him that he will also have the assistance of Deputy Calleary.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I would like to be associated with the tributes made on the last day and today. I am normally in total agreement with my erstwhile colleague——
Senator Joe O’Toole: That was when you were over here, Paul. It is all change now. We fully understand.
An Cathaoirleach: Questions to the Leader, please.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Senator O’Toole was a little harsh today. The Nyberg report was referred to. He is, no doubt, a cautious man and perhaps he felt that because so many files were with the DPP it would not be prudent to name names. There is no question of the Government taking five more years of navel gazing or whatever to discover this, that or the other. We have had the Regling and Watson and Honohan reports which stand on their own and speak for themselves.
In fairness, the Government is making daily decisions and in many respects it has been a breath of fresh air compared with what we had.
An Cathaoirleach: Is there a question for the Leader?
Senator Paul Coghlan: I am coming to it.
Senator Mary M. White: Self-praise is no praise.
An Cathaoirleach: Please, no interruptions.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I am making a practical commentary on the current position.
An Cathaoirleach: Questions for the Leader, please.
Senator Paul Coghlan: It was right that public interest directors be appointed. However, I wonder if those that were appointed over a year ago were subject to regulatory capture, that is, whether they were captured by management. I wonder if they went to sleep at the wheel. They are the people who should have been working on behalf of all of us. The Leader can confirm that there is no question of committees of investigation taking five years to produce a report. It would be a speedy way to proceed. Do we want more tribunals? I do not think so. I am in favour of such an approach and I look forward to the response of the Leader.
Senator Ivor Callely: I ask the Leader if he will agree to amend the Order of Business to allow me make a personal statement. I formally propose that I be afforded 15 minutes to make such a statement. Numerous allegations have been made against me. All I seek is the opportunity to clear up the misinformation and give the truthful facts.
An Cathaoirleach: The Leader will reply to that. That is not a matter for the Order of Business.
Senator Ivor Callely: I hope that this will be agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, please. The Leader will reply to the question you have asked him. It is not a matter for the Order of Business. He will reply.
Senator Ivor Callely: I was simply putting a proposal to amend the Order of Business and giving the reasons for it.
An Cathaoirleach: That is okay.
Senator Ivor Callely: I ask my colleagues to consider what I am proposing and hope they will agree. We are not burdened with work this afternoon and I hope I can be accommodated and given 15 minutes.
Senator Mark Dearey: I join other Senators in wishing all candidates well in the forthcoming Seanad elections. I wish to raise two items with the Leader, the first of which is the status of the Climate Change Bill. I note the plan is to decline it a Second Reading on the basis that all-party consensus has not been agreed. It is No. 5 on the Order Paper. That is a great disappointment given the urgency of the issue and is antipathetic to the commitment given by the Labour Party when voicing on this side of the House the need for a strong and early climate change Bill. My colleagues and myself were berated time beyond measure on the need for the introduction of early legislation. I understand the Bill is consigned to the C list and that it will be 2012 or later before it is dealt with. That seems to me to be a volte-face, particularly on the part of the Labour Party. I would be interested in hearing the comments of Labour Party Members on it also but the debate is needed. The next round of global negotiations are coming up and we will be attending those without a compass, without targets, without a Bill and effectively neutered as we enter into that debate later in the year in South Africa. That is to be bemoaned in the extreme.
We have seen the price of private sector failure and regulatory failure in this country in the banking crisis. The Stern report identifies the externalising of the price of carbon onto the environment as the greatest market failure in history, greater even than the one we are currently going through. Unless we prepare both in regulatory and in legal terms and are vigorously to the forefront of the global debate on the need to limit carbon emissions to at least 80% of their current levels by 2050, we will pay the price ultimately in terms of the environmental refugees who will be looking for a new home in this relatively temperate country and in terms of the cost of adaptation of our cities and towns, river banks, farming systems, transport systems and energy systems. The price of climate change will be massive. It is better to respond and adapt early than to pay the price after we have been visited by the disasters that it will cause. I ask the Leader to bring that issue forward, raise it with the Government and ensure there is urgent movement on the Bill and that the all-party agreement he seeks is secured at an early stage.
Senator Darragh O’Brien: The report published today by the review group on the sale of State assets and liabilities has been mentioned. Regardless of whether I am a Member of the next Seanad this report needs to be discussed in great detail. I was glad to hear the Taoiseach say today that some of the proposals contained in it would be carefully considered but it must be carefully considered in a much wider debate because selling some of these State assets which are strategic such as Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports, the ESB and Bord Gáis is akin to selling the television set to pay ESB bills. I warn the Government against doing that and urge it to follow through on the commitments it made in the run-up to the general election and proceed very carefully in this regard.
Second, I ask the Leader to arrange early in the new Seanad for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to attend the House as a matter of urgency to discuss the national development plan and strategic infrastructure projects that have been put on hold by the new Government. During the election campaign, commitments were given on metro north and a DART underground service, as well as connecting both Luas lines. All these have been put on hold. The public was promised that by the end of March the order to enable work on metro north would be signed by the new Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, but today is 20 April and it has still not been done. This has cost 260 jobs, while €80 million has been spent so far on the project. If it goes ahead, the project will initially create 6,000 jobs in construction and it has the potential to create 36,000 permanent jobs in the Dublin and north-east region. The public expects critical strategic projects, as outlined in the national development plan, to improve the quality of life for commuters and others. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should attend the next Seanad to explain why he has not followed through on the commitments that he and his party gave prior to the general election.
Senator Ann Ormonde: I wish success to all outgoing Senators who are contesting the Seanad election next week.
Having read the Nyberg report, although not in detail, it would be a great opportunity for the new Seanad to have a full discussion on it. There are major lessons to be learned from the impact these matters have had on society. It is a crying shame to see former senior bank executives walking away with golden handshakes while ordinary Joe Soap citizens cannot fulfil their mortgage obligations. I hope I will be here to participate in a full discussion on this report.
One of my pet subjects is Seanad reform, about which I have spoken many times. Let us not abolish the Seanad, but rather examine its reform. One should always reform first and then, if it does not work, one can abolish it. Reform has never been tried, but it should take place concerning the selection and election procedures. Having travelled the length and breadth of the country, I find it is archaic that we should still have to undertake such a campaign in a modern society. This matter should be fully discussed. I plead with Fine Gael not to allow the Seanad to be abolished, but rather to take the route of reforming it. I would love to participate in that debate to see how best we can make the Seanad worthwhile and complement the Lower House in order that we can all work together. Let us get away from this business of not being relevant in society, because the Seanad is very relevant. That opinion should be aired repeatedly. I ask the Leader to take up these points and not let the House be abolished.
Senator Fiona O’Malley: I compliment the new Government on two areas. First, the Minister for Education and Skills has taken to his new job with great enthusiasm. I particularly like the way he is in consultation with Catholic agencies, concerning their participation in, and examination of, church patronage. I very much welcome that process and wish him great success with it.
Second, the Government is doing a good job regarding Oireachtas committees, by minimising the number of them and deciding to hold a referendum to obtain strengthened powers for those committees, which are necessary.
I agree with what Senator O’Toole said about the need to pick continually at the scab which is the banking crisis and why it happened.
I do not think we necessarily need to do that, I endorse what the Senator said about moving the country forward and focusing on that rather than expending energy on blaming people.
I also agree with what Senator Darragh O’Brien said about the need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to attend the House, but not for the same reasons. We need to revisit the viability of some of the projects referred to. While I accept what the Senator said about jobs being lost and money wasted, we need to look at the long term and whether these are good, viable projects.
Are there the right economic criteria for them? I would welcome that approach and the Minister should welcome a debate on the best way forward.
In this era of reports, I would like the next Seanad or health committee to discuss the report on miscarriage misdiagnosis in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, which has been overlooked. Nothing could be more traumatic. The report highlights that the hospital is a dangerous place for sick women and that needs to be said. If I was in that area and in need of services, I am not sure I would want to go there. We need to examine this issue. There is a history of misogyny around that hospital and it needs to be investigated and eliminated.
Senator Jim Walsh: I support the comments of Senator Prendergast about the one-sided contracts in AIB and other financial institutions. It is simply not good enough that people who failed to do their job in the interests of the businesses that employed them and, as a consequence, have given rise to so much angst economically for many people, are beneficiaries of golden parachutes that they had stitched into their contracts. It is unacceptable.
In the same way, I am appalled that the Government decided not to have senior positions in the Civil Service subject to open competition and it will use closed lists of people promoted from within. This reflects the incestuousness within the public service that has given rise to some of the problems we are experiencing. Huge failures on the part of public bodies and private institutions have resulted in the greatest recession in the history of the State. It is simply not good enough that people charged with responsibilities and who failed to deliver on them in a responsible manner are now beneficiaries of the significant lump sums and pensions that are being reported. Will the Government show some bottle by taking on this issue? If the Government cannot address the contracts in place, which may be underpinned by the constitutional rights of individuals, it should seriously consider a constitutional referendum in this regard. The public will not stand for huge tax increases to pay for the banking fiasco and the failures within the public service. The sooner governments show they have the necessary mettle to tackle this the better in the interests of everyone.
We have proposals for additions to the Committee of Selection. It is essential that the committee would take a close look at the workings of this House and that we do not experience the reputational damage people suffered as a consequence of some of its considerations. I ask that this should be a priority for the incoming Seanad committee to address serious issues in that regard.
Senator John Hanafin: I take the opportunity, which I missed during the previous sitting, to pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach and the staff of the Seanad and the Oireachtas in general. On occasion, particularly in the morning, one hears the greeting, “Good morning, Senator,” and this is uplifting when one is about to partake in public service during which one is expected to give of one’s best and it also reminds one that one is an elected Member. It means a great deal to Members that the people who work here are of such a high calibre.
Looking forward, it is important for the Government to seriously examine our bankruptcy legislation. A young generation got involved in property believing that was the way forward for the entrepreneurial spirit and that is what society told them. These people could be locked in for many years unable to give society the benefit of their entrepreneurial flair. We have to fast-track those innocent young people who are willing and able to assist the nation to export and change direction out of the current financial troubles. We need to bring in new bankruptcy legislation to fast-track people out of bankruptcy in order that they can use their entrepreneurial flair to benefit the nation again.
Having travelled around the country in the past four or five weeks and having met councillors, I notice the extra responsibility suggested by the programme for Government will mean they will work even harder. Therefore, is it not right that councillors are properly remunerated and paid at a rate that will allow them to claim their pensions when the time arises? Currently, their pay is not pensionable, but it should be.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: Like other Senators, I wish everybody well. I support what Senator Dearey said on climate change. I will not repeat what he said, but it is an issue of great importance. Many Senators raised the issue of the sale of State assets. Many lessons could be learned from the way Ms Margaret Thatcher went about matters and how her country sacrificed long term sustainability for short term gain. We should learn the lesson from that before we start to sell State assets. It is crucial for the next Seanad to debate that issue.
Senator Ormonde raised the issue of reform of the Seanad and political reform in general. There has been much discussion, particularly with regard to the debate on the NUI element of the Seanad election, on the sort of political reform that should take place. Some principles have been put forward and many have suggested that Seanad elections should take place on the same day as the general election to prevent people who decide to stand in the general election and who fail to get elected from then deciding to go forward for the Seanad. I am one of those who has done this, but I agree it would be good to be forced to choose which House to stand for. It is also a good idea that everybody on the electoral register would have some form of vote for the Seanad. Senator Boyle said we should never again have a Seanad election that takes place in the same manner as this current one. I agree fully on that point and there seems to be consensus on the issue.
I would also like to see the Seanad as a House without Whips. Many other Senators would also like that. We have very good debates in the House. However, the way the panels are put together is outdated. Many would like to see the Taoiseach’s nominees being done away with, not because of the current situation——
Senator Terry Leyden: Not the 11 Members here but their nomination.
Senator Niall Ó Brolcháin: Not the 11 Members themselves. They should stand for election. There is a great opportunity now for political reform of the Seanad and that opportunity should be taken. The oversight the Seanad provides would be extremely costly if it had to be provided in another way. The Seanad is good value for money and I would like to see it reformed rather than abolished.
Senator Terry Leyden: When Senator Cassidy spoke he may have overlooked the fine contributions of Mr. Conor Hunt and Mr. Michael Lehane on “Oireachtas Report” on RTE. They have given great service.
Senator Donie Cassidy: Hear, hear.
Senator Terry Leyden: On the question of personal statements, would it not be appropriate for the Cathaoirleach to outline the reasons ——
An Cathaoirleach: That is a matter for the Chair.
Senator Terry Leyden: That is why I am asking the question.
An Cathaoirleach: I have ruled on the issue of personal statements. Members know that Standing Order 32A covers the matter clearly. It is a matter for the Chair and I have ruled on it.
Senator Terry Leyden: I would like to make the point that great efforts were made to allow me, or force me, to make a personal statement with regard to Mr. Fintan O’Toole, which I refused to do. Even though that matter went before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges I resisted the overtures and risked possible censure because I was not prepared to make a personal statement.
An Cathaoirleach: That is over and done with. Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
Senator Terry Leyden: I am not an apologist for my colleague, Senator Callely, but as a matter of free speech in the House, Members should be allowed to make a statement if they wish, to clarify their situation.
An Cathaoirleach: I made a decision and it was up to me to make it.
Senator Terry Leyden: It is normal procedure that a person can do so. Efforts were made to force me to make a personal statement. Now a Member wants to make a statement, but is not allowed to apologise, clarify or make whatever statement he wants.
An Cathaoirleach: Is the Senator prepared to accept the ruling of the Chair?
Senator Terry Leyden: I am, as I accepted the Chair’s ruling when I was asked to make a statement also.
Senator Denis O’Donovan: I was not here on the previous occasion to pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach and his very impartial manner in his capacity as Cathaoirleach in the past four years. I wish the new Leader the very best in his new role.
We all talk about reform of the Seanad. I was trying to figure out my mileage last night after completing a tough general election campaign; I have probably done enough miles to circumnavigate the globe twice and I hope I will be in with a chance of election. On the reform of the Seanad, I would like the Leader to consider two issues for the next Seanad — I have no doubt he will be back here. There should be a greater emphasis on the Seanad’s role in European matters, particularly given that in our present financial dilemma we are dependent on the European Union to help us out. I believe that on at least two occasions each year a senior European Commissioner should be invited to address the Seanad and we should have greater interaction. A reformed Seanad can play a greater role in European affairs, which is something that we, as a Seanad group, have neglected historically, leaving politics out of it.
We could also have greater cross-Border interaction with our neighbours in Northern Ireland. When Eamon de Valera originally envisaged the role of the Seanad, he had a place for Northern Ireland, which we may have forgotten. The Taoiseach might reconsider that matter when he is nominating his 11 Senators. In areas such as farming, fishing, tourism and health there is considerable cross-Border benefit from interaction and developing a united-island approach. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister, with other senior Ministers from the North, should be invited here to interact on areas of common policy. This is a small island and we should have greater interaction. I appeal to the Leader to consider a greater role for the new Seanad in European affairs and interaction with Northern Ireland.
Senator Paschal Mooney: I echo the comments of Senator O’Donovan. I did not have the opportunity to pay tribute to the Cathaoirleach for the period I was in the Seanad in the last year. I enjoyed just one year of your tenure, a Chathaoirligh. If that was any indication of what I had missed in the previous two years I regret it. I also pay tribute to the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant and all the wonderful staff. I was reinstated as a member of the Acting Chairman panel, which I deem a great privilege and honour, as do my colleagues. I thank Aisling Hart in particular who always looked after the rota in that regard. As a housekeeping issue, I wanted to thank them sincerely. I hope I will have the opportunity to work with them in the future, but that will be up to the voters and the good Lord above.
I wish to raise something I have said in the past which is particularly relevant. I compliment the Government on the manner in which it has hit the ground running. All of us have put a fair wind behind it and hope in the country’s interest it will succeed in its agenda. However, the media, to which I have referred as background noise, that was pummelling Fianna Fáil and the outgoing Government has stopped ever since the general election took place as we all expected. I ask that the Leader might initiate a debate on the media in the new Seanad. It is rather interesting that our friends in the media are giving the Government an extraordinary honeymoon — I do not mean that in any derogatory sense.
When we were on the Government side of the House and were criticising the media for taking particular positions, they always put themselves forward as being the watchdog for the public. I would hope they would now implement that philosophy a little more effectively because certainly reading it from this side of the House they are giving many of their stories a very soft focus. One in particular annoys me intensely and I have raised it on the Order of Business in the past, namely, the suggestion that Fianna Fáil exclusively as the outgoing Administration stuffed State boards with political appointees. I do not suggest that the manner in which this is done is right and I compliment the Government on the way in which it has set about trying to expand the membership of these boards by changing certain processes. However, hidden among all the stories in the media the one that is not highlighted is that ultimately the Minister will remain responsible, irrespective of all the window dressing surrounding people appearing before Oireachtas committees.
I refer to a matter about which I am annoyed. It is a matter of fact, recorded by those same media, that in 1997 the Rainbow Government also made appointments to State boards in its dying days. All I hope and have ever asked for is that a little bit of balance be injected into the debate on the ills and allegedly nefarious activities of the previous Government, particularly in respect of the making of State appointments in its outgoing days. My political philosophy has always been grounded on the notions of fairness, balance and objectivity, and my comments are addressed as much to the media as to the Leader and the rest on the Government side of the House. In 1997——
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator’s time has concluded.
Senator Paschal Mooney: If the media look at their records from 1997, they will find that the very same thing was done in that year.
An Cathaoirleach: I call Senator Feeney.
Senator Paschal Mooney: In fact, it was probably done much more blatantly.
An Cathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to resume his seat.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: Not having been present on the last occasion we sat, I am delighted to have an opportunity to echo the sentiments of gratitude to the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk of the Seanad, Ms Deirdre Lane, the Clerk Assistant, Ms Jody Blake, and the entire staff of the Seanad office for their excellent care and attention – I begin to feel like a patient – in the past four years. There was never a minute of any day on which they were not attentive and did not do their best for every Member, irrespective of party membership. I wish to be associated with other Senators in articulating this.
I support Senator O’Malley, who asked that the Leader of the 24th Seanad, whom I hope will be the current acting leader, put on the agenda the issue of care in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. I refer in particular to the care of women in that hospital. In this Seanad and its predecessor, we discussed the report on the activities of Dr. Neary and what happened to women at his hands. Now we witness another appalling vista in that women had miscarriages induced through no fault of their own only to discover there was nothing wrong with their foetuses, and that those foetuses were alive and healthy. I do not believe any other issue could have such a negative impact on a woman, or cause such remorse.
I support the Senators who called for us to revisit the concept of Seanad reform, and I hope the Leader will take this call on board. Every voice that has echoed the call for Seanad reform has been very sincere, particularly since the recent election campaign.
I support Senator O’Toole in that it would be an awful waste of time and resources if committee work were carried out for five years to consider the Nyberg report. We should take it as given; it is a very good report. We all indulged ourselves in the five or seven years of the Celtic tiger and we should now move on and learn from it.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Last Thursday, as 90,000 signatures were being handed to representatives of the Minister for Finance at the gates of Leinster House on Kildare Street, Anglo Irish Bank moved in the High Court to remove Seán Quinn and his family from having any involvement in the business he created over 38 years ago. Since that time, he moved from creating a job for himself by delivering sand and gravel throughout Fermanagh and west Cavan in his lorry to creating more than 7,000 jobs internationally, some 5,500 of which were created in the Thirty-two Counties. Many thousands of the jobs were created in my county, Cavan, and the surrounding counties. The 90,000 signatures were in support of the proposal made by the Quinn family to the Department of Finance and the Government that the €2.8 billion owed by the family to Anglo Irish Bank and the taxpayer be paid back to the State over seven years.
An Cathaoirleach: That matter can be raised on the Adjournment.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: I appreciate the Cathaoirleach has selected this matter for the Adjournment debate this evening. However, it is a serious matter, not just for the people of County Cavan, but for the Thirty-two Counties. Up to 5,500 people are directly employed by the Quinn Group, with many more thousands of jobs linked to these, spread across the length and breadth of the country.
An Cathaoirleach: The Minister will address this matter later on the Adjournment.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Will the Leader organise a one-hour debate in the Seanad on this matter either this evening or tomorrow in order that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, can be asked why the Quinn Group proposal, which would have saved the taxpayer €2.8 billion, was not given due consideration? I hope my request will be considered.
Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Francis O’Brien: I support Senator Wilson’s call for a debate on the Quinn saga which has gone on for the past 12 months. In the past 38 years, Seán Quinn did not set out to do anyone wrong or cost the taxpayer any money. He started off delivering sand and gravel and grew his business from there. In a recent television interview, he told the country he had made mistakes and his judgment was wrong.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Finance what can be done for Seán Quinn and his family? They do not deserve what has happened to them. If Seán Quinn got another chance, he would certainly prove to this country and Europe that he is a man of steel and vision who wants to repay the debt he owes. I am sure if he could at all he would go a long way to ensure he would not cost the taxpayer any money.
Since the Quinn problem broke, every Oireachtas Member from counties Cavan and Monaghan has done everything in their power to support Seán Quinn and his family. I have no doubt the Government will carry on this work and I hope it will be successful in it.
Senator James Carroll: I wish the Cathaoirleach well on his impending retirement from the Seanad. As I recall from my county council days, when first elected, one will always have a great fondness for one’s first Cathaoirleach. I also thank the Clerk and the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad for the courtesy and respect they showed to me and other Members. I wish retiring Members well in their future and the best of luck to those contesting the forthcoming Seanad election.
Like Senator O’Malley, I too call for a debate on the national miscarriage misdiagnosis report. It is an extremely sensitive issue in County Louth, one which has affected many across the north east. I concur with the Senator’s demand for the report’s recommendations to be fully implemented. I am referring to the critical question of new life which affects so many people. The events that have occurred in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital have caused so many problems.
My mother was a nurse in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and it is a place that had a phenomenal reputation across the world, both as an educational institution and a caring centre. It is terrible to see its reputation now in tatters as a result of a number of scandals that have taken place there. I, too, hope to see that situation turned around very soon. I would like the Leader to arrange, if not tomorrow, then as early as possible in the next Seanad, for the Minister for Health and Children to address this House and lay out a forthright plan on how he will implement the recommendations made in the report. They need to be implemented because this matter is of concern right across the north east.
People are now making conscious decisions not to go to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in respect of a wide variety of services. That is a very sad day, because I know many people who work in the hospital and I am aware of the facilities that are available there. However, they need to be availed of to demonstrate the great reputation the hospital has and that of its staff. I urge the Leader to take that on board without delay. If at all possible, I would like the Minister for Health and Children to come to the Seanad tomorrow for half an hour or an hour to debate this very urgent matter.
Senator Paul Bradford: I, too, join in the tributes to the Cathaoirleach on this, the last day of the present Seanad, and wish him well for the future. I also extend my good wishes to all my colleagues, regardless of whether they are retiring or contesting the election next week. Life will continue for all of us in whatever shape or form.
I want to raise a matter that the Leader has raised on many occasions in recent months, that is, the threat to the peace process on this island by so-called dissident republicans. Some Members may have seen “Prime Time” last night on which a representative of this group was interviewed. It was quite scary to witness a person so out of touch not just with normal reality but with the thinking of almost all people on this island. We need to keep repeating the fact that Irish people North and South have accepted by referendum the Good Friday Agreement and the fact that the constitutional position of the island has been resolved for perhaps many years to come. We must all work together within the terms of that agreement. An interesting observation was made last night on the programme by a former senior garda in which he highlighted what we all know, namely, that while intelligence work and the prosecution of dissidents must continue, an ongoing effort must be made to try to understand their mentality and lure them away from violence towards constitutional politics. That has been a challenge for all of us in the past 20 to 25 years, and to a great extent it has been successful. However, a tiny minority is entirely out of step with public opinion, unfortunately with the capacity, to bomb, kill, maim and murder. To bring peace to this island we must try to bring those people into the margins of politics. Perhaps the Leader might respond. This is a subject he has raised in the House, and we have to be vigilant to ensure the peace process remains bedded down and that we do not return to the old days. During my first days in the Seanad there were statements almost weekly on outrages, bombs and killings. Thankfully those days are gone and we do not want them to return.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Senator Cassidy raised the matter of the McCarthy report on State assets and asked that I raise it in the next Seanad. I can assure him that should I be a Member of the next Seanad, I shall raise it with the then Leader. I will certainly pass on his request to the Government.
Quite a number of speakers referred to the Nyberg report, including Senators O’Toole, Coghlan, Ormonde and Boyle, among others. Certainly the Nyberg report has given the facts of the situation. Obviously it lacks specifics in many areas and possibly it was constrained by the terms of reference, especially in terms of naming names. The Government will move on and learn the lessons from the mistakes of the past. Honesty will always be the first priority of the Government in laying the facts before the people on all issues.
Many Members spoke about Seanad reform. That is a debate for another day and the next Seanad, but I note the comments of Senator O’Donovan about a possible role relating to the European Union and cross-Border co-operation. There is certainly merit in those suggestions.
Senator Carty spoke about job cuts at Mayo County Council and we will raise that issue with the relevant Minister.
Senator Callely asked about an amendment to the Order of Business. It has been pointed out that personal explanations can only be made with the permission of the Cathaoirleach under Standing Order 32A. It cannot be dealt with by an amendment to the Order of Business as the decision is solely one for the Cathaoirleach. I hope that addresses the point.
Senators Deary and Ó Brolcháin spoke about the Climate Change Bill. It is a very important issue and the Government will be publishing its own Bill in due course.
Senators O’Brien and O’Malley requested that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport attend the House to debate the national development plan. This is a matter that should be addressed by the new Seanad.
I note Senator Walsh’s comments on the Committee of Selection. Senator Hanafin spoke about the need for a change to bankruptcy legislation. I will raise that matter with the relevant Minister. I will also leave the issue of the remuneration of councillors to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
Senator Mooney stated that the Government has hit the ground running, which is certainly the case. In respect of his criticism of the media, we should not shoot the messenger.
Senator Geraldine Feeney: The Leader has learned very quickly.
Senator Maurice Cummins: Senator Wilson spoke about Quinn Insurance. I know the Senator has raised this matter on several occasions. He has tabled an Adjournment matter on the subject and I hope that he receives the answers to the questions he has posed. I am sure adequate time will be given to him to raise those matters on the Adjournment. Unfortunately, I cannot agree to a full debate on the subject, but I hope the matter will be addressed adequately in the Adjournment debate.
Senator Bradford spoke about dissident republicans. I have raised this issue in the House many times. I have always insisted that they are a threat to the institutions of the State. What has happened in recent weeks has been appalling. Let us hope that we never go back to the days where we read daily about people killed and maimed on this island. There is no place for this type of republicanism on this island. I compliment the Garda Síochána and the PSNI on their efforts in bringing the people in question to justice. I hope they will continue to get the resources that are necessary to protect all people on this island.
An Cathaoirleach: Is the Order of Business agreed to?
Senator Ivor Callely: A Chathaoirligh, can I ask a question on a point of order? I have endeavoured to make a personal statement through your office. I have tried to make an amendment to the Order of Business. I simply want to highlight some facts.
An Cathaoirleach: No.
Senator Ivor Callely: Would the Seanad agree to the statement I wish to make being laid in the Oireachtas Library? I do not think that is unreasonable.
An Cathaoirleach: Senator, I gave you an opportunity last June to make a statement. Is that not right?
Senator Ivor Callely: That is correct.
An Cathaoirleach: That is it. You submitted a statement to me for clearance, and I saw no difference in that statement——
Senator Ivor Callely: Last June there was an allegation made against me about misrepresentation of my place of residence. There has since been——
An Cathaoirleach: We are not discussing the issue now.
Senator Ivor Callely: No, you have made the point.
An Cathaoirleach: I have made the point and we are not discussing it any further.
Senator Ivor Callely: In July, August, September, October, November and December other allegations——
An Cathaoirleach: The matter is still in the courts as the Senator understands.
Senator Ivor Callely: I am not talking about the matter in the courts. I am simply asking if I could lay my statement in the Oireachtas Library.
An Cathaoirleach: No. I have ruled on the matter and that is the end of the story.
Senator Ivor Callely: I am simply seeking to put it on the record. They are some truthful facts.
An Cathaoirleach: I have ruled on it and I am moving on.
Senator Ivor Callely: Why am I being gagged?
An Cathaoirleach: I am not gagging anyone. I never did. I explained it to the Senator in great detail and I have written to him on at least six occasions in the last six or eight months. I have ruled on the matter and I am moving on to No. 1, the 15th report of the Committee on Selection. I call Senator Burke.
Senator Ivor Callely: That is terrible.
Senator Paschal Mooney: On a point of order, I subscribe to the philosophy of Voltaire. I might violently disagree with the point made, but I defend the right of the person to say it. I have no axe to grind on this, but natural justice suggests that the Member should be allowed at least to make some——
An Cathaoirleach: I have ruled on the matter and I am not going——
Senator Paschal Mooney: I know you have ruled on it, but I am challenging that ruling on the basis of unfairness.
An Cathaoirleach: I am not allowing it.
Senator Mary M. White: The Senator should have a right to lodge his statement in the Oireachtas Library. What is wrong with that?
An Cathaoirleach: I have moved on.
Senator Mary M. White: Justice must be done.
An Cathaoirleach: I told the Senator what the situation was. I have ruled on the matter a number of times and I am moving on to No. 1.
Order of Business agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Committee of Selection reports that it has nominated the following Members to serve on the Committee on Members’ Interests of Seanad Éireann at their own request: Senators Maurice Cummins and Paul Coghlan.
I move: "That the report be laid before the Seanad."
Question put and agreed to.
Senator Maurice Cummins: I move:
a copy of which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 3 March 2011.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): The motion before the House proposes that Ireland should exercise the option, set out in Article 3 of Protocol 21 to the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, to participate in the adoption and application of an EU directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the use of certain air travel reservation data — passenger name record, PNR, data — in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. I firmly believe that Ireland should opt in to this proposal. Any measure that can give the Garda Síochána and its EU counterparts an advantage in the fight against terrorism and other serious criminal activities is to be welcomed and deserves support. We must recognise that the ever increasing openness of our borders cannot be allowed to work to the benefit of terrorists and criminal gangs. We must make use of the opportunities that information sharing presents for our police to maximise the security of EU citizens.
This measure is among a number being taken at EU level arising from commitments set out in the 2009 Stockholm programme. The Government is determined that Ireland will have a full, active and constructive engagement in bringing forward the European justice agenda. This proposal replaces an earlier one that was not finalised before the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty arrangements. The current proposal is made under those new arrangements, which involve the European Parliament as co-legislator. There is general support among the member states for this proposal and Ireland has indicated support in principle for the measure.
The directive proposes that passenger name record data concerning flights in and out of the EU will be available to national authorities for combating terrorism and serious crime. Passenger name record data are information relating to passengers’ reservations that is collected and held by air carriers. The directive will require the airlines to provide a portion of this information for the relevant member state’s law enforcement authorities. Passenger name record data are already provided by airlines on flights between the EU and the United States, Canada and Australia, including flights from Ireland. It hardly seems credible that EU member states would provide this information for third countries but neglect to avail of the advantages it will afford us in tackling terrorism and serious crime. The UK, Swedish and Spanish authorities have been routinely collecting passenger name record data for some years now and it has proved to be a very valuable tool in a range of investigations targeting drug smugglers, human trafficking rings and terrorists.
I will give the House some practical examples of how passenger name record can be used by law enforcement authorities. In the first example, passenger name record data were used by the UK authorities in the case of Mr. David Headley, the terrorist facilitator convicted of involvement in the atrocious terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. Let us not forget that 164 innocent people lost their lives in that attack. By using details of the suspect’s first name, his partial travel itinerary and a vague travel window, and entering this intelligence into the passenger name record database, Mr. David Headley’s full name, address and passport number was obtained and he was arrested. He subsequently pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
Passenger name record data have also been used in a number of significant transnational organised crime cases. The UK authorities targeted and successfully prosecuted a Chinese criminal gang of human traffickers bringing illegal immigrants to the UK and Ireland, through other EU member states. Without the use of passenger name record the investigation would have taken substantially longer to identify the passengers and link them to the trafficking facilitators.
It is clear that there are tangible results that can be achieved by the use of passenger name record data. However, access to this data under the proposed directive is not unrestricted or unencumbered. Under this proposed directive the use of passenger name record data is restricted by a clear purpose limitation. The data collected and processed may only be used for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. The offences involved are those already established in European and national law under the framework decisions on combating terrorism and on the European arrest warrant. The offences in question include terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, the sexual exploitation of children, and serious offences such as murder and rape.
The directive will require airlines operating flights into and out of the EU, which are departing from or arriving in Ireland, to send the specified passenger name record data from their reservations system to the Irish authority tasked with their analysis. Airlines operating international flights departing from or arriving in other EU member states will be obliged to transfer passenger name record data to the relevant authorities of those member states. The current draft proposal is limited to flights between the EU and third countries. However, there is significant support to include flights between EU member states in the scope of the directive. This is a matter that will be considered as the discussions on the directive proceed.
I discussed the proposal with my EU colleagues at last week’s meeting of justice and home affairs Ministers in Luxembourg. I made clear Ireland’s general support for the measure as an important potential tool for countering the activities of organised criminals and terrorists, and for improving security in the EU. I also indicated Ireland’s support for the inclusion of intra-EU flights in the scope of the measure, an approach that was supported by the majority of other member states around the table. The exact form in which internal EU flights may be included will have to be worked out in the course of the negotiations in the coming months.
Airlines will be obliged to transfer the specified passenger name record data held in their reservation systems to the authorities of the relevant EU member state. Under the current proposal there are 19 fields of information which may be transferred, including the name, address and contact information of passengers, travel itineraries and payment methods. It also includes information on the travel agent, seat number, airline code share information and baggage information.
For the most part, these data are already collected by the airlines and the proposal does not oblige them to collect any additional data. The extent of any costs falling to airlines in providing the data will vary depending on the size and scope of their operations. However, these costs are justified by the value to national and European security achieved by participating in such a measure.
Each member state will be obliged to establish a national unit to receive and process the data provided by airlines under the proposed scheme. The European Commission has indicated that EU funding is to be made available for some of the start-up costs for member states. Once established, member states will have the right to request the passenger name record data and, if necessary, the results of the processing of such data, from other member states. This is an obvious aspect of the form of EU co-operation between member states. Sharing of findings is essential to ensure that EU boundaries are not a barrier to effective action against terrorists or criminal groups. Such requests and sharing of information will be subject to strict data protection measures, which are always a matter requiring particular attention with regard to information-sharing measures such as this.
This measure is an important tool in the fight against terrorism and serious crime and I have cited several examples. However, we must always be careful to ensure that the rights of citizens are not subjected to unnecessary or disproportionate intrusion. It is essential to strike the appropriate balance, especially with regard to the protection of personal data.
The passenger name record data will be used in several ways to enhance security and prevent or detect crime. It may be used reactively following the commission of a crime to assist with investigations. However, it may also be used proactively for the purposes of trend analysis and creating assessment criteria to identify potential threats. The data may also be analysed in real time to prevent the commission of terrorist or criminal offences. The period for which the data can be retained under the directive is accordingly strictly circumscribed. In contrast to the 2007 proposal in this area, this proposal sets out much shorter data retention periods. The directive provides that data will be stored for an initial 30 day active period. Thereafter, it will be anonymised and retained in an inactive database for a further five year period. During this five year period, the data will only be accessible by a limited number of personnel in the national unit and for a specified purpose.
Under Article 3 of Protocol 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Ireland has three months from the date a proposal is presented to the Council to decide whether to opt in to the adoption and application of the proposal. The prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with Article 29.4.7° of the Constitution is required to enable the Government to exercise that option. The deadline for opting in is 10 May 2011. Yesterday the Dáil voted in favour of opting in.
Given the potential value to law enforcement services of passenger name record data, particularly with regard to investigations into drug smuggling, human trafficking or international terrorism, given the important sensitive issues of the protection of personal data and given that the proposal will have some implications for the aviation industry, I am convinced that it is essential that Ireland should opt in to the negotiations to participate fully in those negotiations and to be in a position to seek to influence the outcome. I have no doubt the majority of Members in the Seanad share this view and I commend the motion to the House.
Senator Terry Leyden: I welcome the Minister, Deputy Shatter, to the House. He has been in the Seanad more often than any other Minister. I also welcome the departmental officials who have scrutinised the directive. They, with our ambassador, represent the views of the Department in the European Union.
The proposal for the passenger name record, PNR, directive is the result of much consultation and communication between the European Commission and the European Council through the Justice and Home Affairs Committee. Thereafter the European Parliament contributed to the policy in the shape of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee. Opinions were also submitted from the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Transport and Tourism Committee.
At a national level, the directive has been considered most carefully by 14 member states through their parliamentary scrutiny procedures. Countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Poland have in some shape or form thoroughly examined the terms of the directive. At this juncture it is important to note that many countries have also chosen not to examine the issue, and in certain cases scrutiny is in progress.
The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny, of which I was a member together with Senator Burke, the then Senator Alan Kelly and the late Senator Kieran Phelan, studied the 2007 Council framework. I am aware that the 2007 framework proposal, which had not been adopted by the Council, became obsolete on the introduction of the 2009 treaty on the functioning of the European Union. The framework document takes into account the views expressed by the member states in Council discussions on the draft framework decision as well as the recommendations of the European Parliament as stated in its resolution of 20 November 2008 and the opinion of the European data protection supervisor.
The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny report, dated 13 November 2008, feeds into this very process. The work of the committee under its Chairman, the now Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, was very comprehensive. It is, I believe, a highly accessible and comprehensive analysis of central issues of the directive, and is an example of the good work of the two Houses in the context of our role in the European Union. I will refer to the report throughout my contribution.
I wish to make a number of observations on the directive. The journey the proposal has taken has been transparent and reassuring. It is interesting to recall that at the impact assessment stage of the proposal, the option was available to broaden the PNR framework to include not only “the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime” - but also the addendum of “other policy objectives”. I am glad to see this was discounted as in my mind it would be vague, open to future interpretation and disproportionate.
As national parliamentarians and advocates of the European Union, we are charged with communicating fairly and effectively the complexities and nuances of our membership. The Irish Times today reports a Sinn Féin Deputy as stating in yesterday’s Dáil debate on the matter that the PNR procedure “would mean passengers would be subjected to extensive tracking, tracing and screening procedures”. This is always a danger and I know that, as someone who advocates human rights, the Minister will be very careful in this regard. The Deputy was right to bring these issues to the attention of the Minister in the other House.
It is made explicit that the assessment criteria to be employed by the national authorities in respect of the passenger name record shall in no circumstances be based on a person’s race or ethnic origin, religious or philosophical belief, political opinion, trade union membership, health or sexual life. I know the Minister is very conscious of this and that the Department is very aware of it. Put simply, the PNR directive relates to information on passengers as they interact with at least one European member state and a third country. There has been discussion on broadening this matter to include internal flights of the European Union. The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny commented as to how this might contribute to the perception of a European surveillance society, where private space is increasingly restricted. I would welcome a detailed consideration as to how the proposed internal aspect of this would be put in place.
When considering the PNR issue, the joint committee held an exchange of views with the then Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Data Protection Commissioner. It also invited views from Aer Lingus, Ryanair and Aer Arann. In his detailed submission to the joint committee, the Data Protection Commissioner indicated there is a delicate balance to be struck with regard to reasonable and proportionate measures to counter violence perpetuated against innocent people, but he further suggested that such measures should represent a proper balance between the need to combat such illegality and the rights of the innocent majority to go about their daily lives without any undue interference by the state. Based on his submission, the committee did not believe that the principle of proportionality was satisfied. I would welcome clarification from the Data Protection Commissioner on this position having regard to the directive before the House. I would welcome clarification on the Communitydefinition of “serious crime” and a Communityinterpretation of the term “terrorism”, lest there be a technical difference to its natural meaning.
I look forward to considering the directive when it is finalised and to contributing to its implementation through the House in the coming years if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected. As someone who uses airports, I find the principle is to protect passengers from terrorism and that is what the directive is about. Those who go about their work in an honest and law-abiding way have nothing to fear from the directive. It is an inconvenience to take off one’s shoes or belt in an airport, but these measures are for one’s protection and the protection of other passengers. People must bear it in mind and arrive earlier at airports to ensure they comply with security requirements. We have seen attempts to put bombs in watches and shoes. Terrorists will use every effort to promote their views and very attractive publicity is attached to attacks on aeroplanes.
I am concerned about air safety control the United States where it seems people sleep on the job and place the President’s wife in jeopardy, but this is not the Minister’s responsibility. In Ireland we have a high standard of air traffic controller but it seems to be getting lax in the United States. The Government should consider interaction and co-operation between air traffic controllers.
Senator Eugene Regan: I support the motion and commend it to the House. The Minister has set out in some detail the basis for the EU directive and it falls into the category of co-operation between member states in policing and judicial co-operation in criminal law matters. It has been found for some time in the situation of free movement of people in the European Union that member states on their own cannot counteract terrorism and serious crime. It falls into the category of activities that are best done at European level.
The purpose of the directive is to harmonise the provisions of member states on obligations for air carriers operating flights between a third country and a member state and to transmit the PNR data to the competent authorities for the purposes of preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting terrorist offences. It should also be acknowledged that it deals with serious crime. It is not only to do with terrorist offences, although the main focus is on terrorism, particularly those associated with the terrorism attack on airlines.
The Commission’s proposal highlights three attempted terrorist attacks to show where this type of information can be of great assistance in detecting and preventing this type of attack. These are terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001, aborted terrorist attacks in August 2006 aimed at blowing up a number of aircraft on their way from the United Kingdom to the United States, and the attempted terrorist attack on board a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in December 2009.
The Commission’s proposal set out very clearly, as has the Minister, how this type of data can be used in a reactive sense such as in an investigation, prosecutions and the unravelling of networks after a crime has been committed, and in real time to watch or arrest persons to prevent a crime before it has been committed and prior to the arrival or departure of passengers. The other is proactive use of data for analysis and creation of assessment criteria which can then be used for assessing passengers prior to arrival and departure. This proposal replaces a previous directive which fell with the passing of the Lisbon treaty and is based on the new provisions of that treaty. It is consistent with the principle of creating an area of freedom, security and justice within the European Union.
There has been widespread consultation on the proposals and it is fair to say the views and reservations expressed by bodies such as the European Parliament, the European Data Protection Supervisor and fundamental rights agencies are not entirely consistent or supportive of the proposal in its present form. The Commission has attempted to accommodate these reservations and this country has an interest in ensuring the directive is adopted in an acceptable form. Perhaps the best example of co-operation in freedom, security and justice was the European arrest warrant which is regarded as a resounding success despite the reservations expressed by member states and a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Not only are police authorities able to seek arrest warrants in this jurisdiction but Irish authorities have also availed of the process.
The proposed directive is necessary, proportionate and consistent with the principles of subsidiarity. It is important that it adheres to the principles of data protection, the framework decision of 2008 on the protection of personal data processed in the context of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It reflects what the Government and other member states are trying to achieve in terms of police and judicial co-operation in combatting the most serious forms of crime, including terrorism.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I welcome the Minister back to the Seanad. He is adorning the House with his presence and he could be the reason for its retention.
I would like to hear his response on two issues. First, Senator Leyden raised a question in respect of the Data Protection Commissioner. Has the directive crossed the commissioner’s desk? He is inclined to raise issues where one least expects them. Second, I became anxious at hearing the Minister state: “Of course, the extent of any costs falling to airlines in providing the data will vary depending on the size and scope of their operations.” I ask him to ensure that sentence goes nowhere near Michael O’Leary because I can see him adding €2 to every ticket.
I welcome the proposal. Coming from a citizen’s rights background, it has taken me some time to come around to support this type of measure. I always believed intuitively that we need to go in this direction, even if I have difficulties coming to terms with it intellectually. I accept that in today’s world, we have to make compromises. However, I ask the Minister to bear my concerns in mind when he deals with the issue at European level. One man's terrorist is another's patriot. The Economist published an interesting article on one of the former Yugoslav republics, Bosnia, which is divided into three parts even though it is supposedly one country. I would hate to think what could happen through misuse or abuse of information at senior level. Can the Minister assure us that the data gathered under the directive will be secure?
Why is the directive not being extended to ferries and ships? People are generally trafficked through by other means than airlines. I take exception to the Minister’s throwaway line about extending the provisions to flights within Europe. That suggestion is likely to have arisen in a Europhobic nation, specifically, Britain, which is the reason we are not a party to the Schengen agreement. As a result, we have to pass through the far corners of European airports to go through passport control. We should not encourage that kind of Europhobic approach. We should move towards joining the Schengen agreement to break down borders within Europe and maintain external controls.
I regret that we have to introduce this directive but that is the way the world has gone. However, I want to ensure the data are properly protected and I would like the Department’s response to the concerns expressed by the Data Protection Commissioner. Given the rulings he has made on other issues, I cannot imagine that he is comfortable with this directive.
I also ask that airlines be prohibited from passing on the cost of compliance to their passengers. As sure as eggs, Ryanair will impose a charge for this directive when it finishes paying for last year’s ashes. Europe has already backed away from Mr. O’Leary in regard to modifying the proposed directive on passenger safety and insurance. We should anticipate his response to this measure.
I recognise the urgency of the proposal. We need to be seen to take a Europe-wide approach to terrorism. Perhaps the Minister should start a debate on the meaning of sovereignty, independence and neutrality because nobody in Ireland knows what these words mean. The discussion could be couched in the parable of the good Samaritan. Europe needs to grow its foreign policy to maturity and we need to challenge ourselves on what we mean by our neutrality. Does it mean standing aside and not getting involved in anything that is wrong in the world or does it mean we should act in a controlled and honest way? I have always been in favour of Irish neutrality but I do not know what it means. No state is neutral, neither Sweden which sells arms to every side nor Switzerland which looks after the ill-gotten gains of every corrupt regime. We could invent neutrality for the world.
Senator Phil Prendergast: I welcome the Minister to the House. The necessity of the European Union directive on the retention of passenger data is unquestionable. Like enterprise and governance, crime and terrorism have become globalised, as we are all aware. A co-ordinated international response, therefore, is required. The retention of passenger name data has been used to thwart terrorism, drug smuggling and human trafficking and anyone concerned about civil liberties is rightly wary of laws that involve retaining personal information. However, the need to protect ourselves from international crime and terrorism is imperative.
These conflicting demands mean that the measures we adopt need to be proportionate and the directive provides for data to be stored for 30 days and then anonymised and retained in an inactive database for a further five years. An independent authority will then monitor compliance. This week we saw a related directive on data retention in the ICT sector was found to be inadequate, largely because it entailed disproportionate measures relative to the differing security and crime protection needs of member states. We should take note of that and I am not entirely sure we need to keep the data for five years. Nonetheless, the protection of passenger identities and retention of the data by the authorities of member states and the independent watchdog provides important checks. Civil liberties are further protected by the provision to allow passengers the right to accurate information about the collection of their data and the right to access, clarify, rectify or delete it, where appropriate. They will also be able to seek legal remedy if their rights have been infringed. The European Union has also stipulated that data concerning ethnic origin, political opinions or religious beliefs may never be transferred.  I note in the debate in the Dáil yesterday that the opposition to this directive came from, dare I say it, the usual suspects.
The apologists for terrorism in Sinn Féin and the extremists who claim to be on the left of Irish politics voted against the directive yesterday. These are the people who blithely advocated policies during the general election campaign that would almost certainly lead to the social and economic destruction of our country. The opponents of this directive are the same people who advocate taking wild risks with our future, that of our loved ones, our elderly, our children and the vulnerable members of our society. They believe we should treat our international neighbours with contempt and call it a foreign policy.
When the inevitable consequence of that occurs, they want the people of Ireland to engage in ongoing mass protest. It is no wonder they oppose these measures because experiences such as the street protests in London not long ago, show the screen behind which organised extremists engage in violent and destructive acts. These are the anarchists who operate across international borders that Sinn Féin and the so-called socialists in the Dáil want to facilitate.
As usual, Ireland’s political extremists have lost sight of what public representation and socialism are about. Their opposition to this directive is proof again that they have taken their eye off the people because they are too busy reading The Communist Manifesto. If they were in touch with the people they would have noticed something, namely, that millions of people do not mind having their personal data stored. In fact, they voluntarily submit it for storage to private companies all the time. Financial institutions, web-based services and supermarkets are provided with personal data every day of the week. It is right that we are careful about how we approach this directive but that does not mean we should reject it. Rather, we should ensure it is monitored effectively. PNR data are already provided by airlines on flights from the EU to the US, Canada and Australia. I have yet to hear of an instance of misuse of the data.
The opposition we heard yesterday shows that there are people in the Dáil who think it is better to protect a dated ideological perspective than to protect the people the ideology is supposed to support. This directive protects the citizens of Ireland and Europe and does not threaten them, as some would have us believe.
Deputy Alan Shatter: Am I right in that I have one minute to conclude?
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: We are generous.
Senator Joe O’Toole: We are flexible. That is the great thing about the Upper House.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I thank Senators for the support they have expressed for this proposal. The ultimate civil right that we all have is the right to go about our lives undisturbed by criminals or terrorists, indeed, the right to get on an aeroplane and know that one can safely fly to one's destination without fear of a bomb exploding or a terrorist taking over the flight.
Senator Regan set out the three examples given by the European Commission of instances in which PNR have been usefully used to prevent an incident occurring. Those particular instances speak for themselves. I welcome the support expressed for the directive. I regard what we are doing in this House today and what we did in the Dáil yesterday as part of the more transparent consultative process that is now engaged in in the preparation of directives at European Union level.
Of course, in the context of the issues raised by Members, this directive is at the stage where its terms are being negotiated. The general principles are being set out and some of the issues raised today can be brought into that conversation that my officials and I will be having with our European counterparts. It is, of course, of crucial importance that any information obtained is only used for the purposes intended and that data protection issues are properly addressed. This is something that I know the European Parliament, particularly, has been very conscious of in the context of this particular proposal and has been discussed by it. It is also something the Commission is conscious of and has been discussed at Council of Ministers level.
In the context of the consultative process that has taken place, the directive will be further developed. Any additional protections necessary will be included in it and the benefit of us opting into that discussion is that we can, as a state, help to shape the ultimate architecture of the directive and ensure that it meets the two essential needs, namely, to facilitate the maximum possible co-operation between police forces across Europe in fighting terrorism and organised crime, and providing the protection for citizens that they require, while at the same time providing a proportionate balance in the context of the directive to ensure that people’s rights to privacy are protected and that proper data protection measures are in place.
I have absolutely no doubt that all of us in the State who, for example, fly to the United States have no concerns about the information which is now automatically provided for US airlines which we know, because of its provision and the rules that are now operating in relation to the United States, make our flights to the United States a good deal safer than they might otherwise be. It is important to keep these things in perspective and to remain focused on what the purpose of this particular directive is.
Senator O’Toole raised an obvious issue. If one is going to provide this type of information in relation to airlines, why not provide it in relation to shipping? This of course is a directive focused on flight information and it may well be the case that at a later stage matters will progress beyond that. If one is talking about fighting terrorism and crime, all of the terrorists or criminals who make use of the freedoms that apply within Europe to ply their trades can, of course, access as easily ships as a means of travel or trains across Europe as they can flights.
This directive is initially, in its present form, set out to deal with flights between the European Union and non-EU states. I noted the concern that was expressed about its use on an intra-European Union basis. The truth is, unfortunately, within the European Union we have our own homegrown terrorists and organised criminals. In this particular state we are affected by drugs gangs whose tentacles sweep out into other parts of Europe, particularly Britain, Holland and Spain. Just as it is valuable in a non-EU context to have access to flight information, it can equally be important to do so within the European Union context, and also in the context of homegrown terrorism and in the area, unfortunately, of the growing Muslim fundamentalism which we have seen resulting in attacks in England, our nearest neighbour, which resulted in loss of life and serious injury.
In our view — it was a view I expressed on behalf of the Government at the meeting of European Ministers — it would be artificial to provide for access to this information between the European Union and third countries and not to provide it within Europe itself, in particular in circumstances in which one could provide genuine protection for European citizens.
I noted Senator O’Toole’s reference to airlines and I am sure the airline he mentioned will be delighted by his mentioning it because its view is that any publicity is good publicity.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I apologise for that.
Deputy Alan Shatter: In the context of the Senator’s reference, there has been an estimate done of the approximate cost to airlines of providing information. The information that arises under this is information that airlines already acquire. I understand that across Europe there is not additional information that this directive requires to be acquired by airlines. Much or all of it is acquired at present. In so far as there is a cost it is estimated at about 10 cent per passenger. It is not something that could give an excuse to any airline to legitimately add one or two euro——
Senator Joe O’Toole: Only Ryanair would add an administration cost to the 10 cent, which would bring it up to €10.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Minister to continue, without interruption.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I refuse to get engaged in that one. The cost is minimal and the additional protections are valuable way beyond the cost.
Senator Joe O’Toole: Hear, hear.
Deputy Alan Shatter: Coming back to the contributions of Senators Regan and Prendergast, the importance of co-operation within the European Union between police forces and co-operation within the justice area has considerable advantages for all of us.
I will conclude on two notes. The first is to again thank Senators for their contributions. The contributions made will be taken into account in the context of the further work we do on the directive. I would dearly love to engage in Senator O’Toole’s invitation to define in one fell swoop what we mean by “sovereignty, defence and neutrality” and produce the ultimate definition for which there would be public acclaim across the length and breadth of the country.
Senator Joe O’Toole: I will chair the commission.
Deputy Alan Shatter: I know it is an issue that could keep this House engaged in a debate for many hours. I welcome Senator O’Toole’s comment on that issue. It is a mirror image of a comment I made in the Dáil yesterday in response to a Dáil question when I said it is important that we debate issues of this nature and understand what we mean by them, whether we talk about neutrality or triple lock mechanisms. All of these are issues of relevance to the capacity of the State to engage internationally in peacekeeping operations and how we approach that, but that is a debate for another day. This is a more confined debate.
I thank Senators for their contributions. I look forward to our working to bring about a directive that is put in place that covers all of the concerns that have been addressed which truly provide for extra co-operation between our police forces across Europe in a manner that provides for our citizens the protections to which they are entitled in the context of their civil liberties and human rights.
Question put and agreed to.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House. I congratulate him and wish him the best of luck in his new position as Minister of State.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Brian Hayes): Thank you. It is wonderful to be back in Seanad Éireann and to see so many colleagues here for these important statements on the economy. I understand this is the last day of the current Seanad and I take this opportunity to wish those Senators who will not contest the election or who have decided to retire every success. Senator O’Toole, who is in the Chamber, has made an enormous contribution over many years and left a great legacy to this House and Irish politics.
Senator Paul Coghlan: Hear, hear.
Deputy Brian Hayes: I wish those colleagues who have decided to go into battle again and who have run around the country over the course of the past few weeks every success in next week’s Seanad elections.
It is a great privilege to have been appointed as a Minister of State in the Department of Finance and in the new Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. As colleagues are aware, I have responsibility for the Office of Public Works side as well.
The mandate the new Government received brings an enormous responsibility for those of us privileged to have been given ministerial office. The mandate is a simple one. It is to do whatever we can to fix this huge problem we have all inherited in a way which tells the people the truth about the scale of the challenges we face and which is honest and up-front about the kind of decisions this country must take over the course of the coming years to ensure we can get back to a sustainable path of economic growth and that jobs will ultimately flow from that.
There is no magic bullet answer to these problems, as colleagues are aware, but what the new Government has done successfully in the past five weeks in government is instil some confidence that we can take decisions rapidly. We have communicated decisions to the public across the board about the necessity to get on to the next stage of recovery. That twin objective of being honest and up-front about those problems and speaking plainly about those issues, and being prepared to take decisions quickly, marks out new territory that we need to be in to bring the economic recovery we all wish close to hand.
I am pleased to be here today and in my remarks I will briefly take stock of recent economic trends before outlining the policies the Government is putting in place to support economic recovery and to maintain the public finances on a sustainable path. In terms of putting public finances on a sustainable path, I stress that the Government will be fair and will endeavour to cushion the impact of consolidation on the most vulnerable in our society.
As all Members know, the economy is in the midst of an extraordinarily difficult adjustment. Gross domestic product — the most comprehensive measure of economy activity in Ireland — continued to fall last year, the third successive year of declining activity. Economic activity has fallen by around 15% since its peak at the end of 2007, implying a substantial decline in our living standards. We have seen an adjustment in terms of our own public finance position of approximately €20 billion over that period.
I have made the point, as have other Ministers, that this country has gone through an enormous period of restructuring in terms of that public finance position. It is fair to say that despite the difficulties in countries like Greece and Portugal we have already seen an extraordinary adjustment of about €20 billion and, as colleagues are aware, it is the clearly stated position of the Government as set out in the programme for Government that the accumulated adjustments for 2011, the €6 billion, and for 2012 have been clearly stated to the international community and that we intend to continue on the path of trying to correct our public finance position to ensure the international community has a clear view that this country will fix the fiscal position which has been allowed to get out of kilter dramatically in recent years.
The recent data, however, provide some grounds for optimism. Perhaps most encouraging has been the performance of the exporting sectors, where an increase of 9.5% was recorded last year, the strongest rate of growth in a decade. The broad-based nature of the increase in exports is also noteworthy. On foot of the strong export performance, the current account of the balance of payments — essentially our trade and income balance with the rest of the world — has moved into surplus. Ireland as a whole, therefore, is once again paying its way in the world.
Foreign direct investment inflows have also recovered, with the bulk of these inflows being in high technology sectors, which is where our comparative advantage lies. Several well known multinational firms have recently announced new investments in Ireland, generating employment in high value-added, knowledge-intensive sectors. They include Intel, Google, eBay, Facebook and many others. I see that as a strong vote of confidence in the economy and its future.
While our international reputation has suffered in recent times, it is also fair to say that we retain the key underlying strengths which make us one of the most attractive locations in the EU for mobile, direct investment flows. All in this House would endorse the Government’s strategy concerning the 12.5% corporation tax rate. It is a key growth driver in the economy and any changes would hamper our ability to get ourselves out of the current difficulty.
The impressive export performance and the increase in FDI inflows reflect, in no small part, the significant improvements in competitiveness that have taken place in recent years. A substantial realignment of unit labour costs relative to those in our major trading partners has taken place, while consumer price inflation has been below that in the rest of the euro area since the beginning of 2009. Moreover, the necessary adjustments to our cost base have occurred over a fairly short period, demonstrating the inherent flexibility of the economy. This adaptability is a beneficial feature of the economy, and has helped to differentiate us from other peripheral economies in difficulty.
The Government will maintain its efforts to secure further competitiveness improvements, in order to strengthen our economic recovery based on boosting exports and investment. While the recent information flow on the exporting front has been encouraging, unfortunately the same cannot be said about internal demand. Conditions in this area remain weak, as excesses that were built up during the bubble period remain to be unwound. For instance, the downsizing of the construction sector, the necessary fiscal consolidation and the repair of household balance sheets are all continuing to depress domestic demand. It is as if we have two economies because exports — which traditionally are not job rich compared to the local domestic economy — are flourishing and showing extraordinary signs of growth. Meanwhile, we have an internal economy which effectively is not working because people are afraid to spend and make investment decisions. At a time when people are saving as never before, we effectively have two economies — a domestic one that has not recovered and an export-led one that is leading the way. The objective of all the Government’s decisions taken, and to be taken, is to bring some confidence back to the economy in order that people will be encouraged to spend again, making small investments in their homes or businesses.
The Government’s other task is to ensure that the banks’ restructuring plans are implemented along with the €30 billion investment in the next three years. We must be honest and blunt in saying that there has to be a political imperative from the Department of Finance to the Central Bank and everyone else involved to ensure that the lending capacity, which will soon be put at the heart of these over-capitalised banks, needs to be driven to make sure that credit lines are there for domestic and business borrowers. That is the only way we will shock the economy into having the confidence we all hope for.
The contraction in activity has taken a severe toll on the labour market where the unemployment rate has almost tripled since 2008. Of particular concern is the increasing drift from short-term to long-term unemployment — the latter now makes up half of all those who are unemployed. We know this is happening across our constituencies, particularly with young men, when we look at the shocking statistics concerning the numbers of people who cannot find work.
Turning to the public finances, it is clear that this is an area which will continue to occupy a considerable amount of the Government’s time and energy for the foreseeable future. Two key issues need to be addressed: first, the deficit must be reduced; and, second, the budgetary architecture needs to be improved. As regards the deficit, the situation appears to have stabilised. Data for the first quarter of 2011 were broadly in line with expectations. The end-quarter fiscal outturn was also in line with the performance criteria set under the joint EU-IMF programme of financial support, with the targets for the Exchequer primary balance — that is, the Exchequer balance excluding debt interest expenditure — and net national debt being achieved.
Last week, the troika acknowledged that at the end of the first quarter of this year, the fiscal outturns were well within the target limits. Notwithstanding this stabilisation, it is abundantly clear that a large and unsustainable deficit remains. As most of this will not be corrected by the economic cycle, further budgetary consolidation will be required if the State’s spending and revenues are to be more closely aligned in the coming years.
The Government is firmly committed to reaching the 3% of GDP deficit target by 2015 and is committed to implementing the necessary fiscal consolidation to ensure that this target is met. That sends a positive signal to the international community and those partners who are working with us on the financial difficulties we face, that there is a clear commitment that we want to reach a 3% deficit target by 2015.
It is abundantly clear that robust action on the public expenditure front is necessary to ensure that consolidation targets are achieved. In this regard, the Government has initiated a comprehensive review of public spending, which will form the basis for deficit reduction in the coming years. The challenge of the review lies in examining not only how we can spend less, but also how we can do more — in other words, it is about boosting productivity. The review also involves asking the question as to how we can achieve our policy objectives differently, as well as how we can be more effective and efficient. The objective of the process will be to provide the Government with a comprehensive set of options.
One of the most exciting decisions taken by the new Government in its first five or six weeks in office has been the comprehensive spending review. Previous Governments, through the Department of Finance, took the view that a percentage reduction in one Department should be sought without having regard to the various programmes which are run by those Departments and are ultimately accountable to the line Minister. If we are to reach our targets and achieve the necessary efficiencies, it must be led by Ministers in their Departments. Ministers need to have the confidence to go through departmental Estimates with their officials line by line and vote by vote to see exactly what is involved. They must ask themselves if particular programmes are required, can they be done better or can services be shared as a means of reducing ultimate costs. This review is the most radical departure in public expenditure in a generation because it puts the responsibility involved on the line Minister, and ultimately on the Dáil and the Seanad. If we are to get out of this hole we need a totally new way of budgeting with Ministers putting forward plans early. We must move away from this dreadful cloak and dagger budgetary process in which the Minister for Finance stands up in December with a great tome of wisdom, which has been leaked the previous Sunday. That approach is no longer good enough and it is not fit for purpose. We need a budgetary process in which information is in the public domain possibly four months in advance, in order that there can be an open and honest debate about the options facing Ministers. Such debates should be held in public rather than the smoke and daggers approach currently adopted. My ministerial colleague, Deputy Brendan Howlin, is dealing with this area on behalf of the Government. The comprehensive spending review is crucial to our recovery, as well as the reform agenda and ensuring that the State gets back on its feet again. The current budgetary process is not working and is not fit for purpose.
I would like to comment on the banking sector. There is a realisation that as regards the stress-test reports that have been published, there is a sense both locally and internationally that we are getting to the bottom of the banking problem. There is a sense that we have been told the truth about the potential scale of liabilities the banks will ultimately have to face. That is the first step on the road to restructuring our banks. The statement by the Minister for Finance in the Dáil last Thursday three weeks was about over-capitalising our banks to ensure they have higher capital ratios than Swiss banks in order that people can be assured their money is safe in them. The largest outflows of deposits have been on the capital side, not the retail side. The economy cannot function unless it has a functioning banking system. We have to ensure there is confidence in our banks and the decision taken by the Government on the two pillar banks is about the future. There is a sense that we have a plan in place to deliver that future through a much stronger supervisory role for the Department of Finance, the Central Bank and others. It was crucially important that this first step in restructuring our banking system was taken by the Government.
This was set out clearly by my party and the Labour Party during the election campaign as the most important issue. It was addressed within three weeks of the Government taking up office and I am proud of that. However, the policy now must be driven, as there is no point in having a plan and demanding reform in the banking sector with new bank boards and management systems, unless we get to a new position. There must be a fundamental cultural change within our banking system. The old arrogance, the notions of grandeur and the days of the bank manager knowing best are over. Managers have to get to know their clients again. They must be involved in their communities and they must be aware of the decisions that have to be made to assist SMEs in towns. The new cultural change means we must return to traditional banking methods if we are to seriously turn everything around.
We face daunting challenges but the Government has hit the ground running and within five weeks of taking office, major policy announcements were made covering political reform, public sector reform and the reorientation of banking and fiscal policies. It has started as it means to go on by taking decisions that are needed when they are needed. I look forward to the contributions of colleagues on this historic final sitting of this Seanad. I have always believed that the contributions made in the House form an important part of the national debate.
Senator Marc MacSharry: I wholeheartedly congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. I had the great pleasure of serving with him in this House and he was always a straight talker. I agreed with much of what he had to say then and I agree with an uncanny number of his comments today. Much of his contribution recognised the policies of the past and the many strengths of the economy. It is important that we realise in the midst of the doom and gloom nationally and internationally following the regulatory and systemic failures of our nation and the international financial services sector in recent years that many of the gains of the so-called boom years are secure. The Minister of State outlined a few of them and one would almost think he was giving accolades to the previous Government for its policies when one considers our export performance, improvements in competitiveness and the creation of 11,000 jobs last year.
However, I take issue with one comment. Did the Minister of State say that within the past three weeks the Government has established a floor for our banking liabilities through the stress tests?
Deputy Brian Hayes: I said there was confidence around the stress tests.
Senator Marc MacSharry: The Minister of State said the Minister for Finance’s announcement of the results of the stress tests was the thing of which he was most proud. However, it is important to note that the previous Minister commissioned Black Rock Consulting to undertake the stress tests. As I said on the Order of Business, the new Government parties have started with great commitment and they have the genuine goodwill of the people and Fianna Fáil people behind them as they set out to seize opportunities to help us recover from the difficult position we are in.
Fianna Fáil broadly supports the Government’s banking strategy. Exports are performing positively and the foreign direct investment sector performed strongly last year. Various surveys show Ireland is among the easiest and best placed to do business and business sentiment is stabilising. We have a highly educated workforce, employment growth in manufacturing was stronger last year than for the previous ten years, Exchequer returns were broadly on target, as the Minister of State said, and recent data highlight that in 2009 investment in research and development was higher than in previous years, notwithstanding that significant work still remains to be done.
The Nyberg report was published yesterday and it is appropriate that the new Seanad debate it during its first or second sitting. I am sure Senator Coghlan who is home and dry in an electoral context, as has always been the case, will see to that on the Order of Business during the first sitting day.
Senator Paul Coghlan: There is no such thing but I admired the book the Senator circulated.
Senator Marc MacSharry: It would be appropriate to schedule such a debate.
I welcome the report, which highlighted systemic and regulatory failures and the cosiness of the relationship between regulatory authorities and banks in the past. There was a lack of expertise in key areas. When key figures were asked why certain actions were not taken, the reason provided was that officials found the issues to be complex and they could not take the necessary actions. It would be useful to go over the report in detail, perhaps through an Oireachtas joint committee which has the ability to call witnesses. The Taoiseach referred to this. I was a member of the previous Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service and we had the opportunity to ask questions. A continuation of that dialogue would be useful because the people want their pound of flesh. Due process will provide that for them but finding solutions is much more urgent.
The new Government must acknowledge that much of its banking strategy is in line with that set out by Fianna Fáil. The previous Minister for Finance commissioned Black Rock Consulting in January. During the election campaign, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar said “not another cent” would go into the banks while the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gilmore, said it would be “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way.” However, when the votes were cast, reality had to be embraced. In the real world, real policies must be pursued and the Government’s banking policy is similar to that pursued by the previous Minister for Finance.
On the issue of burden sharing, both Fine Gael and the Labour Party said they would burn the bondholders. During the negotiations with the IMF and the ECB, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, raised the issue of burden sharing with senior bondholders and this was flatly rejected by the ECB. The new Government continued to pretend this was an option until very recently when the Taoiseach said it was not “reasonable or logical” to go after the bondholders in “live banks” which depended on the markets for funding.
Last December, Deputy Lenihan introduced the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Bill, which allowed for burden sharing with subordinated bondholders, despite claims from the Government parties that they were the first to deal with the issue. It is incorrect and misleading to suggest that. Subordinated bond holders have contributed approximately €10 billion to the cost of the bailout to date and negotiations are ongoing, which is welcome. The reality, as Fianna Fáil has continually pointed out, is that if we keep talking about burning bondholders, we can hardly be surprised if depositors remove their funds from the banking system and have little faith or confidence in it. This is a worry.
The Government parties were oblivious in opposition to the fact that senior debt has the same legal status in the State as deposits. People will not leave their money on deposit in our banking system if there is a constant barrage and chorus of calls not to honour Irish senior debt. It is no coincidence that the withdrawal of deposits from Irish banks has been stemmed since the Government’s confirmation last week that it was holding true to Fianna Fáil’s policy.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, announced the restructuring of the Irish banking sector into two pillar banks, made up of Bank of Ireland and AIB and incorporating the EBS, as agreed under the memorandum of understanding with the EU and the IMF. Fianna Fáil has always maintained that we needed to restructure our banks to better reflect the size and scale of the economy, but it was clear this could not be done until the completion of the stress tests commissioned by Fianna Fáil in January.
On the issue of strategic investment banking, the Minister of State mentioned the speech delivered by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, three weeks ago. The programme for Government pledges to establish a strategic investment bank as proposed by the Labour Party.  We have never agreed with this policy. Our two main banks already compete in the financial markets for funding and putting another bank there would detract from their ability to secure funds, taking funding away from the two pillar banks and threatening their sustainability. I have noticed there has been no mention in any of the important banking statements made by the relevant Ministers in the new Government of the strategic investment bank. Is this a U-turn or what is the situation?
There is clearly still a difficulty with regard to getting credit flowing. We have all met people with first hand experience of the difficulty in this regard in our constituencies. Yesterday, I dealt with a person who had secured a mortgage within the past six months and who was making some adjustments to the house while the mortgage was being completed. However, the mortgage sanction expired just days before completion of the work and drawing down the mortgage. Now the person must go through the process again. The fact this person had used some savings to pay for additions to the house while being built have been taken into account and now the person may not be accepted for the mortgage.
There is also an issue with regard to businesses. The Minister of State said we must get back to the time where the bank manager knows and appreciates the customer. I agree. We are now applying a level of regulation that was probably appropriate to the height of the boom. However, it is being put into practice today when it is not fit for purpose. While it is good to have banks that are well capitalised, we cannot expect people to be required to do the equivalent of filling their petrol tanks every ten miles. Much of what Fianna Fáil was doing was correct and the new Government is continuing that, but it is important it acknowledges that in the interest of credibility.
I urge the new Government to be relentless in its pursuit of savings through the Croke Park agreement. While on the Government side of the House, I said we cannot have a business plan for the public service, but that is what I would call a Croke Park agreement that takes two years to implement, or two years to agree to implement. If we were talking about private agile industry, the deal would have been agreed yesterday and implemented this morning at 9 a.m. We must aspire to a public service that operates the same way. I am aware the new Government has appointed a Minister in this area. Reviews, considerations, meetings and forums are a waste of time. While we all yearn for that place from which we can begin to grow again — many good things continue to happen to contribute to arriving at that destination — until we get in deep and dirty and have the rows that are needed, we will not achieve the kind of structural reform that will provide us with the fuel to take the next step.
I thank the Minister of State, a former Member of the Seanad, for coming to the House and congratulate him and his family on his deserved appointment. He will have the best support from this side of the House, whoever is here, provided the measures being taken are in the interest of the State, as I am sure they will be.
Senator Paul Bradford: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, back to this House and wish him well over the next interesting, exciting and important few years for the country.
The election at the end of February brought about a political revolution in this country and the political landscape has changed utterly. The economic landscape facing us now is similar to that on the day of the general election. We have a new Government which has brought a degree of hope and confidence to the people, but the very same problems face the new Government as faced the previous one during the final few weeks of the Administration of former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. Every action taken by the new Government in the next few crucial months must be to begin the turning of the economic status of the country.
History generally repeats itself and few governments get the opportunity to chart a new direction. Therefore, every government should try to learn, in so far as it can, from the actions and mistakes of previous governments. It would be wise for the current Government to look back a few decades and reflect on the challenges which faced the coalition Government of Dr. FitzGerald in the early to mid 1980s. I concede today’s challenges are much greater, but in November 1982, Fine Gael and the Labour Party formed a new Administration which was hugely welcomed by the public at a time when the previous Administration had lapsed into not just financial difficulty but a degree of political scandal. Massive challenges faced the Garret FitzGerald-led Government in the early part of 1983. A roadmap was set out by that Government as to what it should do. This included the curtailment of public expenditure, the changing of our tax base and a degree of political and economic reform. However, the decisions required to be taken in the early stages of that Government were not made. They were deferred. Everybody knew what needed to be done, but everybody decided it would be done "tomorrow" and "tomorrow" never came. My message to my colleague, the Minister of State, is that once again, we know what needs to be done. We know it will be painful, but it must be done. The new Government has huge public goodwill and it is in the interests of everybody, politician and non-politician, that it works well for the country. There is huge goodwill, but goodwill can only last so long. Therefore, the period between now and Christmas must be one in which the foundation block for the rebuilding of the nation is set in stone. The difficult decisions we know need to be taken must be taken. Tomorrow's decisions must not be left till next week, but must be taken today.
I acknowledge that the previous speaker has always spoken strongly on the issue of the Croke Park agreement. When the agreement is mentioned, it is often seen as some kind of attack on the public service. Fine Gael Members on this side of the House represent the party that founded the public service and the State and we will always defend the public service. However, we also recognise that the public service must work for the public and must pay its way. We aspire to a public service which we the taxpayer can afford to pay, and pay properly. We need a public service which works for Ireland. Therefore, it is important the Croke Park agreement is implemented in full. We must ensure in the next few weeks that the component parts of the Croke Park agreement are up and running. There can be no delay in implementing the agreement. We have heard all the warnings from external agencies that if the agreement is not implemented and the savings are not made, we will have to have pay or job cuts. Let us work together to ensure the agreement is fully implemented, not next year, but this year.
Our economic situation is characterised by what I would call the three “Ds”: the debt crisis; the deficit crisis; and the debate on default. Those of us on this side of the House will recall a most interesting presentation by the Professor Colm McCarthy to a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting almost two years ago. It was at the onset of the banking crisis, which was very much on the political agenda. I believe the meeting took place in Galway and Professor McCarthy asked us not to ignore the fact that even if there was never a banking crisis here, we still had an enormous problem with our current budget deficit. While it might not have been — and still is not — grabbing the same headlines as the banking crisis, a country borrowing up to €400 million a week to keep ticking over is not sustainable. We obviously need to challenge the current budget deficit, which is difficult. It will be difficult to meet the 3% target and I am glad the Minister of State has again given the Government’s commitment to meet it. It is easy to say we will meet it; it is more difficult to do it, but do it we must. Unfortunately across virtually every Department it will mean restraint and saving not of Government spending but of taxpayers’ money. It is important that the review the Minister of State mentioned is very thorough and produces the required savings because we cannot as a country continue to live beyond our means. We lived in that sort of economic cloud cuckoo land for far too long. It and much more brought us to where we are and no further must we go, which is why the deficit issue must remain at the top of the political economic agenda alongside the banking issue.
Default is a very easy word to say and it has gained much currency — excuse the pun — in recent months. Internationally we must maintain our financial reputation because we will need to borrow the money internationally every week and month in coming years to pay our teachers and nurses to keep our schools and hospitals open. Any corporate or personal entity that needs to borrow money every week must in so far as possible repay those moneys. Obviously we hope the Government will be able to come up with more favourable arrangements on our international financial commitments, but we need to get real about suggesting that if we wave the magic wand all our problems will go away and the same people will continue to lend us money.
The national sovereign debt is of concern to us all. The debt of the banks is almost the taxpayers’ debt. The level of personal indebtedness on mortgages and credit cards requires particular attention. I fully understand how difficult it is for many citizens to pay their monthly or annual financial commitments to various financial agencies for mortgages, car loans, credit union repayments, etc., and simultaneously see the Government apparently bailing out banks and paying off bondholders. The question of a type of NAMA for mortgage holders is possibly one of those simplistic slogans that does not stack up, but it is important that we work to put some structure in place to ensure people do not lose their homes and there is some degree of flexibility on debt forgiveness in order that we do not end up putting people on the street, which is no solution to our mortgage and debt crisis.
I look forward to publication of the jobs initiative in the coming weeks. The solution to most of our problems would be considerably easier to bring about if we had 100,000 more people at work. In its actions across all Departments, the Government must try to ensure that job creation is at the top of our agenda. In the 1980s I remember the Talbot car factory and other such projects. We must talk about job creation that is real rather than imaginary, job creation that is sustainable rather than made up as one goes along. Throughout the country there are entrepreneurs who if given some credit and assistance can begin the process of rebuilding the country. They must be at the core of our job creation strategy. As the days of large multinational factories establishing here are unlikely to be repeated, the indigenous side of production and job creation must be to the fore. I look forward to the jobs initiative changing PRSI, introducing employers’ incentives, etc. Giving people the incentive to go back to work should be at the core of the Government’s thinking.
An Cathaoirleach: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House. I congratulate him on his appointment and wish him the very best of luck in the future.
Senator Dan Boyle: I join in that welcome. The Minister of State has intersected in terms of my sojourns in this and the other House. I am not sure whether his current position in the other House might mean that I will return to this House next week, but we will see what the Seanad electorate has to say about that. I was struck by the tone of the Minister of State’s helpful contribution. There were some hints of the Government wanting to stress its distance from the situation that brought about our current economic situation and jab rather than point fingers, but that is forgivable in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, particularly so soon after a general election. In trying to find our way through an economic morass, we need to understand in the first instance that the factors affecting our economic development are multifaceted and the response to it is also diffuse. That means there is a collective responsibility to identifying and trying to deal with those problems.
There are some hopeful indicators and others that are less hopeful. We have agreed a package of measures with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund which will be difficult to meet in any circumstances. To indicate otherwise is not being honest with the stark reality of that agreement and with the people themselves. In attempting to meet those particularly stringent criteria we might ultimately fall short. There is an onus on those involved in that particular package, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, to ensure that the effort in trying to achieve those criteria is not a retarding factor in Ireland’s future economic development. That is something on which there will be collective agreement.
In meeting those criteria many hard decisions remain as my party found in our first experience of government and our contribution to economic policy. Decisions were made with our agreement and often at our behest in terms of dealing with the various difficult circumstances in which the country has found itself. Such decisions do not lend themselves — as we all too vividly know — to political popularity. To bring about a solution to Ireland’s future economic development means risking the hard-won popularity the new Government has and thinking of politics, particularly in the area of economic development, in a longer term than up to the next general election. We find ourselves in this set of economic circumstances because successive Governments have not moved their eyes beyond that political timeline. Until we do so, it will be very hard to develop as a country.
That said, many of the changes we need to make are not necessarily policy linked or even accounting linked in terms of budgetary strategy. We still need to address issues relating to political and societal culture, and the idea of greed being good, benefiting the few. Those who cause most damage not taking responsibility for that damage feeds public anger. While that still occurs I fear that the rate of development and the timetable for success in such development will be hampered even further. We have seen an example of that in the past week. I will try to avoid finger pointing but contend that the idea of a chief executive – his title was under question – in a particular bank earning €3 million while that bank was losing €12 billion is incredible. People cannot understand that. That the decision was informed by public interest directors, among others, cannot be stood over by anyone in public life. With regard to future banking strategy, we must consider the question marks over the efficacy, efficiency and competence of people appointed as public interest directors of the various financial institutions. If they are not doing their job, we must get people who can do a better job. My party fully supports steps in this regard.
I welcome the small amount of movement in the Minister for Finance’s statement on banking strategy. This is necessary because we have moribund and dead banks that need to be reconstituted into other structures. When in government, my party tried to consider the banking system itself. We should have financial institutions that reflect various aspects of the financial services market. We should have a common or garden commercial break and a co-operative small savers bank, a small lending institution. We should have pursued the more up-market development bank idea. It does not matter what political party is responsible for this; what is important is the mix. The mix in Irish banking at present is wrong, as are the structures.
There are worrying signs in respect of the general economy. The plan agreed with the European Union and IMF is predicated on average growth of 2.25% to 2.5%. It was not anticipated that we would reach this in the early years of the programme. It was hoped that, in the first year, the figure would be 1.5%. This figure was downgraded by the Central Bank to 1% and subsequently downgraded by the IMF to 0.5%. Every downgrade means more catching up must occur. Increasingly difficult decisions must be made on public expenditure. The new Government has further challenges regarding the catching up involved.
I would like to see the model turned on its head. Even if projected growth is downgraded by our institutions and those on which we are depending for capital and current expenditure, we should still note that in the most difficult set of circumstances we are achieving economic growth and developing structures to build upon.
I welcome the Minister of State’s recognition that there are sectors in the economy that are performing quite well. With regard to investment and policy, my party, when in government, helped to achieve many of the successes, especially in respect of the green economy, renewable energy and information technology. The economy must be based on looking to the future. If we have learned anything from the collapses in banking, public expenditure and property in the past ten years, it is that an economy based on putting all one’s eggs in the one basket is doomed to repeat its failures. I hope the new Government takes this policy lesson on board as soon as possible.
I want economic debates that move away from the very narrow and simplistic questioning of why we are where we are and how we got here. We are not where we are because of the bank guarantee; a bank guarantee of one form or another would have been needed in any case. The guarantee was too broad when given but the then Government acted sincerely upon information given to it, largely dishonestly, by many of the banks and operated according to what was perceived to be the best policy option.
An asset management approach was needed. During the debates on the NAMA legislation, the then Opposition parties, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, spoke about an asset management approach in addition to the Government. I hope this approach is allowed to work. It is important that the property portfolio, which was bought at a considerable discount and has the potential to bring all the money back to the Exchequer, will be allowed to be sat upon such that its value will be maximised when sold. I was and still am worried that the Minister for Finance has indicated a fire sale approach to some NAMA properties. This undermines what NAMA and asset management should be about. We should try to obtain the best possible return for our money.
We must definitely move away from debating who was present at or asleep at various meetings. Very important policy decisions are not made on the spur of the moment, despite the impression that was being created. I hope this will be true in the case of the new Government also. Decisions are made on foot of broad consultation and there is much deliberation before and after those decisions. Every Government must face circumstances in which it must act immediately. Bearing in mind the report on the efficacy of the Department of Finance, one must note one of the main problems with decision-making here is the tendency to make decisions too slowly and apply them in a contradictory fashion. If the balance in this regard can be got right, I am confident we will get out of our economic difficulties sooner rather than later. Ultimately, however, if the country is to succeed we require political honesty of a kind that has, all too sadly, been lacking in the past.
Senator Paul Coghlan: I join the Chairman and Senators MacSharry, Bradford and Boyle in welcoming the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. We enjoyed the five years in which he was a Senator, during which time he demonstrated good leadership, even if we were in opposition.
The Minister of State has outlined very fairly the task facing the Government. He approached the matter very honestly. The task is to fix and help rejuvenate this broken economy. My colleagues have made thoughtful contributions on our problems. Our task is a mammoth one not just because of the banking circumstances but because of the huge deficit resulting from the gap between revenue and money spent running the State. I refer to the fall in our gross domestic product and the resulting decline in living standards.
It was interesting to hear Senator Bradford’s comparison with circumstances in the 1980s. The circumstances that now obtain are far worse than those in the 1980s because the problems are greater. The Government in the 1980s sadly postponed decisions that needed to be taken. In fairness to the present Government, it is showing great diligence in tackling and facing head-on the tough decisions that must be made. It is making decisions daily and I hope this will continue to the benefit of the country.
The Minister of State touched upon one of the most essential points, based on the fact that we cannot function without a banking system. A banking system must be in good order and, if not, it must be brought back into order. The restoration of credit lines for businesses is necessary. This is related to confidence, an intangible, nebulous concept. Without confidence, so much cannot be put back in order. I am not saying we should talk up the current circumstances because we do not want to do something that is false but we must be realistic and, through the moves the Government is making, restore confidence as soon as possible and get credit flowing again to viable businesses.
The problem in the banking sector was caused by the headlong rush to back practically everybody engaging in property deals, so much of which were false and, I am sad to say, could not stand up. I loved the Minister of State’s reference to bank managers. In the old-fashioned system, the bank manager probably did know best. Recently, however, on foot of centralisation in the main banks, atrocious decisions were made. Sadly, individuals chased after Anglo Irish Bank for a greater market share. The banks were selling a false product by chasing property and advancing money for it. Security on credit advances was forgotten and no consideration given to whom they were lending because they were big names. It turned out, however, to be a pillar of sand. We have to get back, as the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, said, to traditional banking values. Bankers must again be prudential. Advances cannot be made in lending without some level of security offered. It is to be hoped this will happen on the Minister of State’s watch. He and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, enjoy our full confidence and are going in the right direction.
For years I have told the Seanad that those bank directors who steered the banking ship on to the rocks should have been removed when the first appointments of public interest directors to their boards were made. This has not yet happened, however, and I am wondering about regulatory capture. It seems the public interest directors have been captured by the banks’ management.
More importantly, individuals at senior managerial level in the two larger banks who made these decisions as to how credit could be advanced and, in turn, created a property bubble are still in charge and still enjoy positions of responsibility. Some of them are even managing agents of impaired loan portfolios for NAMA. When the Government makes more public interest directorship appointments, it will have to insist the individuals in question are not allowed to continue in their positions. It is neither right nor inspires confidence in the sector.
The recent stress test exercises undertaken by the Central Bank have been well received by both market participants and the public. While they were severe, they were also necessary in our circumstances. There is a growing consensus that a floor has finally been placed under the banking crisis. The objective of the exercise is to deliver a smaller but more robust banking system capable of supporting economic recovery. The approach creates the capacity for the two pillar banks to lend in excess of €30 billion into the economy in the next three years, providing, in turn, a sound foundation for recovery. This is essential. We all know of business people who did not get caught up in the property game but who are having their working capital and advance credit facilities cut by their banks. This should not be tolerated for long-established, profitable and properly audited businesses. I hope Mr. John Trethowan and the Credit Review Office will offer redress in those cases referred to it and assist genuine businesses in regaining access to credit facilities. Without confidence, we will not get through this.
Senator Joe O’Toole: It is my great pleasure to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House and congratulate him on his elevation to office. I wish him well, not just in his career but also in his ministry, in these difficult times.
Last week, there was a classic example of which economic expert should we believe. Various international and domestic experts were asked to give their prediction for Ireland’s – this small island on the western suburbs of Europe — economic growth for next year. The EU-IMF-ECB troika reduced its predicted growth rate from 0.9% to 0.4% while the Irish authorities reduced it to 0.8%. A day later, IBEC claimed the growth rate would be 1.4%. I have always stated the largest problem in addressing economic problems is knowing which expert to believe. We now know the previous Government was told lies. If it was not told lies, it was not told the full truth or given the full facts and many times was misled. Will the Minister of State tell me which figure for next year’s economic growth I should believe?
It is important the Minister of State keeps these figures so as to return to them next January to see which expert might have been right. I will add that, over the years, the Irish authorities have tended to be more correct in their predictions. As we know, the great economic gurus in Standard & Poor’s recently worsened our global credit rating which has caused knock-on problems for overseas companies making deposits in Irish banks. It is important, therefore, that people take economic projections with a grain of salt. Will the Minister of State explain why the Department of Finance had a more optimistic and positive view than the European Commission?
In recent years I was always opposed to the burn the bondholders approach as I believed it would have had a serious impact on Ireland’s economic credibility. Now, I am not so sure. The most recent issue of The Economist contains up to four articles on Ireland burning the bondholders. One commentator, Charlemagne, highlighted the differences between the approach of Ireland and Iceland to their respective economic crises. It is not just about a simplistic approach of putting the question of default to a national referendum. Six months ago we could not think of doing it because the impact, internationally, would have destroyed our credibility. However, now that we are beginning to control the size of the banks problem, we at least are in a situation, if not to burden the bondholders, to ask them to share the burden. I would like to hear the Minister of State say how that might be approached.
At the beginning of this, about two years ago, I remember supporting the then Government on everything except the date, 2014. It is worthwhile recalling the arguments of those who said that timeframe would put too much pressure on the economy, that it was unsustainable and would destroy domestic demand, in particular. I am aware that the Government is prevaricating slightly and the date has clearly been extended to 2015, if not 2016. There is nothing wrong with that, and I should like to hear the Minister of State’s views on that as well. Without being chauvinistic or nationalistic, it is important to have some discussion on the contrasts and comparisons between Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Iceland. If I were to pick one of those economies to try to get right, it would be Ireland for a whole variety of reasons.
The Minister of State mentioned exports. I mention the issue of education, third level in particular. Ireland is now in a position to grow the economy with doctoral level input, whereas in Portugal only 14% of students get to third level. It seems impossible to see how that economy could be weaned away almost from pre-development economic status.
On the question of domestic demand, the media got on the bandwagon last week as regards the auction in St. Stephen’s Green of the distressed properties. However, the issue for the rest of us should be where the money came from. It came from the extraordinary levels of savings that have been made in Ireland in the past three or four years. The State has been so focused on the structural issues that I should like to hear the Government talking about releasing that money. Both sides of the House acknowledge this has to be done, but how can we give people the confidence to buy? What we saw last week was not just a kick-start to the property boom but rather the fact that people saw a bargain. In the event, they were able to spend, and they had the money. There is no doubt that this is the reality and it is something that needs to be looked into somewhat further.
The growth in exports, as the Minister of State has indicated, is crucial to where we are going. I apologise that I did not hear Senator Boyle’s speech as I was with some people at the time, but the question of renewable energy is an issue we need to look at. Specifically, I ask the Minister of State to consider the following. There are two problems with the development of renewable energy in terms of wave power, green and wind energy in particular, one of which is connection to the grid. People are playing ducks and drakes. There are people buying a place in the queue with no intention of connecting to the grid, but rather with the intention of selling the place in the queue to other entrepreneurs who are seriously trying to make an investment. That needs to be examined.
The other issue is the REFIT price, the price paid for renewable energy that is being fed into the grid, and that needs to be raised. A cost benefit analysis needs to be done on what would happen if the REFIT price were increased. I believe we would gain; it would make us more energy independent and more energy competitive. All these variables might be fed into a cost benefit analysis.
I do not have time to speak on the Croke Park agreement, but I want to deal with an issue that has arisen recently, that is, the State agencies. I would like to hear how the Government will approach State agencies. Very simply, I am asking that every State agency should be formally requested to put forward proposals to the Government on how it can make a positive impact on the economy. Before we close down a State agency, we might ask whether there is any reason it might not be expanded. Let us see what they have to offer. One of problems is that people are entirely focused on the Government’s assertion that it will get rid of 200 quangos, to the exclusion of all else. I do not have any fundament problem with this if they are not doing their business. However, the question should be asked as to whether they might have been doing something which had to be done, and who will do it now. A cost benefit analysis would show the cost of the operation, but it must be determined whether a particular agency might have been doing something extra, that it had not been doing previously. I can certainly give plenty of examples and chapter and verse in that regard.
I congratulate the Minister of State on his appointment. I wish him well and hope he is successful in his portfolio.
Senator Phil Prendergast: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes to the House and wish him well in his brief. I listened to his speech. I did not hear Senator Boyle's speech, but I am sure he will fill me in on anything that I missed. The fact that the IMF-EU-ECB troika has just completed its quarterly review of our finances gives us a fairly good idea of where we are at. The economy is on a precipice and we have taken firm steps to address the banking crisis once and for all. Our real economy is still in tatters and any unforeseen shock might well put us into sovereign default territory. The Greek crisis is particularly worrying in this regard.
An increasing body of opinion suggests that debt restructuring is on the cards before the summer is out. These indicators have been well touted in the media and the effects on the EU economy and on Ireland in particular could be serious. The Government is being forced to take decisions on bank support that it had not wanted. Senior bondholders of the two pillar banks are being protected because these institutions cannot look to the capital markets for funding while at the same time not paying back existing debt. The Financial Regulator, Mr. Matthew Elderfield, says that protecting senior bondholders in the pillar banks is cheaper than applying haircuts, because those banks would be charged unsustainably high interest rates when they return to the markets. In the event, taxpayers would be asked to pay more money than they are now paying in, and I really do not believe the taxpayer can take one further hit.
The money going in now will attract private capital, which will reduce the amount the taxpayer will have to put in. There is a minority view on the board of the ECB to the effect that senior bondholders should take a hit, so perhaps more needs to be written on that subject. However, the majority view is that if bondholders suffer losses on such safe financial investments, that is, senior debt in regulated banks, this could spark a new crisis of confidence in the eurozone. That is the big fear.
I acknowledge that economic activity here has fallen by 15% since the end peak of 2007, as the Minister of State said. This has had an enormous impact on living standards, although people are coping and adjusting quite well. We have more competition now, and there is cheaper electricity, for example. People are shopping around, and nobody accepts the first price he or she is being offered. They are looking for the best bargain not because they want to, but because they need to. That is the big difference.
It is surprising that the media are asserting that the Government has not got Ireland a better a deal, or somehow has reneged on election promises. In the light of the actions being taken now, this could not be further from the truth. It was said here earlier that there was an immensely long honeymoon period for the new Government. I do not believe this is so. There has been an absolute “hit the ground running” element to the Government, and an immense amount has been done within a very short period. Not only has this pace been necessary to indicate that there has been a genuine effort at reform, but a real effort is also being made in having measurements that will stand up to scrutiny.
I spoke on the Order of Business today on payments to people who are leaving office, as well as on bonus payments. Ordinary members of the public find it very difficult to understand how people justify these bonuses. The standard answer is that it is in the contract and that this element cannot be changed. I have already gone on record as saying that elements of that contract should be put up to public scrutiny. When we have Oireachtas committees with some degree of accountability, we can bring those people in and ask them how they justify their bonuses.
A bonus is supposed to indicate that a person performed at an extraordinary level that is worth so much. What is the benchmark for measuring people’s output? How can these people be protected in law when they are getting huge bonuses for having spectacularly failed at their job? It is hard to justify these pay scales to people when they are so much more than their natural needs. I am not saying that we should all live in poverty, but it is very difficult to explain that to people on the ground. They do not understand it when they cannot get a medical card, a rent review or a re-evaluation of their rates. People are utterly confused about the mixed messages that are being sent. Having been in opposition and listening to members of the last Government saying that these things were set in stone and could not be changed, I believe that we now need to look for reform everywhere.
The media are commenting on issues that have not been concluded, and the Government has certainly hit the ground running. The Tánaiste used an interesting word when the latest bank recapitalisations were announced. He referred to the Government’s engagement in a “process” with the troika and a diplomatic offensive with our European partners. It seems that too many people are making assumptions about how the economy will be funded in future. There has been unhelpful rhetoric coming from some European states, as if it has nothing to do with economic analysis and everything to do with domestic political considerations. We all know that is not the case. There is broad agreement on the need for peripheral economies to recover to address shaky confidence in the EU, and I believe this will be the ultimate consideration for those with whom we are negotiating. If circumstances change, the deal will have to change as well. I can understand a Minister not wanting to say this, but it seems self-evident to me. I would urge commentators to view the Government’s approach to negotiations as something that is flexible, but also something that is evolving. We will only know the terms of the bank bailout and the terms for sovereign funding long after they are written.
I thank the Minister of State for listening to me and I wish him every success.
Senator Mark Dearey: I also wish the Minister of State well. He will bring a sharp mind and a clear sense of priority to his new role. I look forward to watching him from the sidelines in the years ahead.
The Government has made a decision to long finger the issue of a climate change Bill. Such a Bill is not only a progressive and critical environmental measure, it would also provide massive momentum to the economy in the years ahead. At its climate change summit last November, the CBI identified the global market in low-carbon goods and services to be worth €5 trillion by 2015, which is the year by which I hope we will have met the last of our targets. Such numbers are doing the rounds right now and will be a reality in time. As a nation that adapts early and forces its processes of delivery of goods and services to comply with rigorous legislation, this could be a massive guide, compass and driver for innovation. Such innovation would be met by a global market. If we look at the climate change Bill as a measure that can give real focus and distinction to the economy, then it should be moved up the agenda, and not long fingered as has happened.
Innovation is critical. Fine Gael representatives have often spoken about the innovation task force report, which is a fantastic blueprint for the future of the economy. We are not getting enough definition on what that new economy will look like. There are many generic phrases, such as “smart”, “clean”, “green” and so on, but what exactly do they mean? The people on that task force, who are operators in the economy, put real focus and practical ideas on how Ireland can become the innovation island. It is a policy that I would back. However, what energy will drive this? Will it be imported fossil fuel, or the energy that is abundantly available around us? If we could capture all the wind that has come out of this Chamber on renewables, it would be a good start. To an extent, it is all wind; an aspiration. Renewables meet 15% of our national energy demands, but that can go a whole lot further.
I am very disappointed that the 26th recommendation in today’s McCarthy report states that the group “recommends that EirGrid’s Grid25 targets be re-considered in the light of demand developments and the Group’s recommendations regarding reduced wind penetration”. I like McCarthy’s approach and I am generally in favour of what he says. As somebody who operates in the private sector, much of it resonates with me. However, I do not get this notion of reducing wind penetration. I think he has got an inherent suspicion of investment in wind energy projects and he sees it as a potential bubble. It would be counterintuitive for us to adopt this as national policy and it would not represent common sense, given the fact that it is a resource we are uniquely positioned to exploit in Europe, along with Scotland. Nobody else can touch us. In wind regimes even at minor sites, such as one I am opposing due to its poor location, seven metres per second is not great by Irish standards. Sites are being exploited in Germany at 4.5 metres per second. That part of the report needs to be challenged.
I would like to highlight just how native public interest directors can go. Senator Boyle will forgive me if I relate a telephone call he received from the previous Minister for Finance, having himself received a telephone call from the public interest directors on comments that the Senator made about Mr. Michael Fingleton’s bonus payment, which is still to be returned. They were effectively defending Mr. Fingleton and chastising Senator Boyle for his comments. That is how uninterested in public service those particular individuals were at the time. I find it quite extraordinary that such an incident could happen.
I would like to comment on NAMA, the value of its assets and the interface between this and the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010. It is critical that this Act is adhered to and is not diluted. An effort is being made to return certain powers to councillors, but it is critical that the core assets of NAMA retain their value. If we open the supply tap, that will be undermined and will lead to confusion in the market. It will lead to a fuzziness about where the economy is going and the fact that it can no longer return to being a development-based economy. I call this the “stupid economy”, as opposed to the smart economy we are trying to develop. The 2010 Act acts as a bulwark against a return to those days and we need to adhere to it. There is pressure within Fine Gael for a certain unpicking of the Act, but I would warn against it. It would be very retrograde in terms of giving definition to our future economy.
A previous speaker mentioned that SMEs will drive our future growth and that the large inward investments of the past will become less frequent. Let us bring them on if they are still available. They can be available to us, particularly if we can guarantee clean energy. Some of the big search engines are looking not just for cheap energy but for clean energy. They want to be in places like Niagara, Norway and Switzerland where hydro energy is available. They are going to places where power is clean and affordable. We can also offer that.
Enterprise, ultimately, will help the economy to grow. Growth is a curious concept because we all understand that nothing can grow infinitely, even economies if they are based on resource use. The decoupling of resource use from growth will be a key challenge for the economy. It has been written about many times. It is a common theme for Green Party Members to speak about economic development without increased growth. It is a major conundrum to crack and it is one we must examine. In the area of energy, Ireland can do that.
Several months ago I spoke about how young, unskilled men are seriously affected by unemployment. A transition to a lower wage should be examined as a means of bringing them into the economy. The difference between what they receive and the minimum wage should be given to them rather than €100 per week on social welfare. This sum will be much less than €100 a week and, net, the State will pay them less and they will be in employment. In so far as the increase in the minimum wage presents a barrier to employment for some young people, this matter must be tackled. We did not mention unemployment in this debate. The function of the economy is to give employment, to give meaning to lives, to give dignity to people and to give people a sense of self-esteem when they wake up in the morning. What is the economy about if not that? It is certainly not about repaying our enormous debts, even though it must also do this.
I will leave it there, with apologies for saying so much. These are my last few words here and I am happy to have made them.
Senator John Hanafin: I am conscious of the fact that we have had beautiful weather, especially in the past four weeks. It is a good time to reflect on an industry that is important to this country. I am talking about tourism. This year the numbers will be increased. Figures suggest the American tourists have returned. The American tourists are back and the tourism industry has responded positively. I am conscious that prices have not been raised in hotels around the country this Easter. This is a positive move by the industry to ensure people get the benefit of Ireland in all its glory, which candidates for the Seanad saw in the past four weeks. It is important that the tourism industry is showing improvement. It is an industry with an immediate cash input. It creates significant numbers of jobs in the service industry. In the past we benefited from it significantly. We were very badly hit last year by the ash cloud and the difficulties hanging over the airline industry. Notwithstanding that, this year we have seen a recovery.
The second positive area concerns food production. As an agricultural country, we can see the price of commodities hold strong at a time when we benefit particularly from it. This is happening across a range of products, including beef, milk, and grain. These are all in positive territory and that is what we need. Thankfully, we are getting it. The tough decisions made in the past and the world economy have benefited Ireland. We should look to the economy and the future with hope.
We have seen the herd mentality in the past while and the media engaged in a race to the bottom to see how bad things can be. Not only could they offer bankruptcy, they offered it to us on a daily basis but I do not accept that. In fact, matters were worse in the 1980s. I wish the Government every success, as does every Fianna Fáil Member. Our first concern is this country and ensuring the revival and thriving of the economy. That we have maintained the corporation tax rate, against many pressures, is essential when dealing with foreign direct investment. This investment still arriving on our shores. We need to get rid of the negativity and see that we have rates that produce major savings. We need people to feel more confident. We must put all our resources behind whatever programmes the Government introduces to entice employment to this country. We have a record in this area. When the people set their minds to a single task, they achieve it. We achieved this in the 1960s by bringing the economy from what would now be regarded as Third World status to First World status. We achieved a task by tackling the intractable problems of the North of Ireland. I have no doubt about the policies we maintained in the 1980s to create employment. If we can move from property-based incentives to employment-based incentives, we can significantly increase employment. I am thinking of tax breaks that companies can offer to investors at the top marginal rate without restriction, in order that we have employment-based incentives to bring employment back to the nation.  We are a cork on the ocean. Our economy is one of the most open in the world. We now have an opportunity to change direction. There is no point in navel gazing, talking about the past, what went on and what we should have done. We must go forward together, to ensure this nation offers a future to young people.
On the Order of Business, I raised the matter of young people who believed that the way forward in business was through property. They are heavily involved in property and there are many innocent young people who find themselves caught and could technically be bankrupt. For those who are innocent, we should offer them a quick way out rather than having Victorian bankruptcy laws. We should have a fast-track method to have young entrepreneurs working for Ireland and ensuring there are jobs for this country in the future. This is our future. The opportunities in export-led growth are almost limitless. We are heading in the right direction with BRIC countries. We have natural resources that we have not fully utilised and I have no doubt that, with the same geological structure as the North Sea and the UK, we have oil offshore. Why have 3,000 oil wells been drilled off the UK shore and fewer than 200 in Ireland? Ireland has produced the fields in Ballycotton, the Seven Heads and the Corrib. We have oil and gas and for people to say that we have given it away is arrant nonsense. Billions of euro have been spent in exploration in this country, with no reward for some. There must be risk and there must be reward. That is an area in which this Government can concentrate, given that the price of oil is $121 a barrel. There are also new methods of extracting smaller fields. I refer to the Helvick field, with 10 million barrels of oil. We should use new methods of extracting oil from smaller fields and get the first commercial onshore oil in Ireland. Can Members imagine the benefit to the economy when we see the first commercial barrel brought ashore? We would have belief in ourselves. We can go 200 miles offshore now and claim it as our national territory. It is all there for us to develop. Ireland is a country with a wonderful future. Why do people insist on going through the same negativity and bringing us down? Why does the media offer one worse scenario after another? It has become almost a national frenzy. Some 16% of people’s disposable income is being saved as people buy down their debt. Surely it is time for people to say that we can provide a future but that we also believe in ourselves.
Senator Jim Walsh: Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach. Go n-éirí go geal leis san obair thábhachtach atá le déanamh aige ar son an Rialtais agus, go mórmhór, ar son mhuintir na hÉireann.
We are living in the deepest recession since the foundation of the State. In this regard, an interesting leaflet was produced by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service in recent days which showed that in the 1930s the our economy fell by 5% but in the past three years GNP has fallen by 16%. This very graphically spells out the depth of the recession we are in, which is unprecedented for us. Its projections indicate that it will be 2018 before Ireland will recover to the 2007 level of GNP. This is over-optimistic; last October when the Government announced its projections I stated they would not be met and that we would be lucky to be at 1%, but we will be at less than that. Growth for this year and, I believe for next year, will be more or less flat and if we make projections which are far too optimistic the corrections and solutions we apply will be inadequate. This would have the absolute effect of countering the suggestion the Minister of State made, which I agree with, that one of the great priorities we have now is to restore confidence. The more we procrastinate on dealing with the issues and prolonging the agony, with bad news coming on a six monthly or annual basis, will mean that it could be a generation before we see the end of this.
The biggest cost of the recession, apart from over-leveraging by many, is unemployment whereby individuals and families have had to suffer setbacks in their lifestyles and incomes which are unparalleled for them. Many of them never saw bad days or recessions in the past.
A number of issues need to be tackled and I will deal with them quickly. If we are to restore growth in the economy, one of the first issues to be dealt with is competitiveness. It is amazing that after cutbacks our salaries and wages are still probably anywhere between 25% and 40% too high compared with other European countries. A 2008 report by the University of Glasgow indicated clearly where our wages stood vis-à-vis other western European countries. This is a major issue which has not been seriously tackled. If it is not tackled and if we merely mark time for the economy to grow to where the level of wages is commensurate with the wealth being created, we will be waiting for quite some time.
There is also the issue of the minimum wage which the previous Government introduced. It inspired no confidence in me to see the current Government take what is a populist stand. It shows either an unawareness of the depth of the problems we are encountering or a lack of economic analysis of what needs to be done.
The issue with regard to wages generally must be tackled from the top and very severe cuts should be made in public administrative positions, in the wages paid to people at higher levels in the public service, and in the private sector as we have seen. It is interesting that it took IMF pressure for the Government to respond to the huge cost of our legal fees, on which many in the House have commented over a period of time. Medical expenses and fees by other professionals have never been seriously tackled. It is a real failure of successive Governments and public administration as this is anti-competitive behaviour which does untold damage to the economy. It is an abuse of privilege and I have previously quoted in the House the words of Pedro Arrupe who stated, “Let there be men and women who will bend their energies not to strengthen positions of privilege, but, to the extent possible, reduce privilege in favour of the underprivileged.”
The question of the economic agreements for various sectors in the economy, which were really between unions representing larger employers and the major employers themselves to protect their positions and not have smaller operations competing favourably against them, has done much damage to the economy. All these agreements, including the minimum wage, should be suspended for the next three years and reviewed prior to being reintroduced. Let the market decide where we should be. Failure to deal with the minimum wage and other such issues is leading to people remaining on the dole on social welfare wages and not taking up employment or, as is happening in many instances, retaining their social welfare payments and working in the black economy. This is an area of increasing concern. Unless it is tackled forthrightly and fairly, all we are doing, as I stated previously, is delaying dealing with it.
Our failure to tackle public sector pay and numbers is leading to increases in taxation. In opposition, Government Members strongly advocated the avoidance of increases in taxation in order not to impede or retard growth in the economy. In government, I would like to see them acting on these opinions as it needs to be done. If, as I suspect, there will be feet-dragging on the Croke Park agreement and failure to tackle the huge increase in numbers and pay, then the Government will find the problems we are encountering now will still be there at the end of its term and we will still be debating the same issues, only they will be more embedded in the economy and there will be much pain for people as a consequence.
I urge the Minister of State, those elected to the Lower House and those who will be elected to this House to support the Government in its courageous effort to make corrections on fiscal rectitude and the economy and to eradicate wasteful expenditure in the public service in the interests of the people. If the Government does so, it will deserve the support of all sides of the House and the public at large.
An Cathaoirleach: I am obliged to call the Minister of State.
Senator Donie Cassidy: May I have an extra four or five minutes to make a short contribution?
Senator Paul Bradford: I propose the time be extended by four minutes to allow the Father of the House, Senator Cassidy, to make a contribution.
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I thank everyone. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, who was a distinguished Member of this House when he was leader of the Opposition. I wish him well in his new role.
That the Government has the confidence of the people was demonstrated in the ballot boxes. It has the confidence of everyone in Ireland to try to turn the economy around in the national interest. However, it is my firm belief that if it does not set the parameters right in the first 100 days it could take five to seven years to turn around. Everything is going well, and it was nice to see the British Prime Minister with the Taoiseach. Her Majesty is coming for an official visit, as is the President of the United States. A huge amount of goodwill is being shown to Ireland throughout the world. The former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, set much of this in place and the present Government is the beneficiary.
What is most important for people who will create jobs is to create confidence and give hope. This can be done through credit facilities, and the banks will have a major role with regard to making credit available. At present, there is a race to the bottom because credit is not available. Look at the Exchequer returns, which are €1.3 billion down on this time last year. This is because the retail sector is on its knees. As I stated previously, in the first year of this three-year downturn people spent their savings, in the second year they spent their overdraft facilities and they have nothing left this year. The Government should know this from the Exchequer returns. At least 20% to 25% of the billions of euro we are putting into the banks, which the Government now owns, must be put into circulation. I hope the Government will seriously consider David Begg’s proposal to spread the debt over a 50 year period to allow for the day-to-day running of the country. It would allow us to recover more quickly and we would be in a good position to build on the sound foundations laid in past decades. Those of us who are campaigning in the Seanad election cannot but notice the great infrastructure that has been built in the past 14 years.
We must do something for those who took out mortgages at the height of the boom. I ask the Minister of State to consider seriously a programme of debt remission for such individuals.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Brian Hayes): I wish the Cathaoirleach well on the occasion of his retirement from the Seanad. I do not know of any other Member who is as widely respected for the way he has carried out his duties in the past four years. He can be rightly proud of the steely and commonsensical contribution he has made to this House.
We have had an informed debate, with a total of ten contributions from all sides. I thank the former Leader and other Senators for their kind remarks.
Senator Dearey forcefully reminded us that we have not focused sufficiently on unemployment. Despite all the fiscal, banking and jobs problems this country faces, however, 1.8 million people continue to work in this country, or 800,000 more than was the case 11 years ago. The Government’s absolute priority must be to preserve every single job. I concur with Senator Walsh that we have to improve our competitiveness and we are making huge strides in productivity. One of the reasons we have done well is because wages have decreased and our productivity has improved. We can do more, however, and we have to keep every individual who is at work in his or her position, even as we create new jobs in areas such as tourism and agrifoods. We have not concentrated sufficiently on goods we can produce more cheaply and better than others. We have failed to develop an industrial policy which concentrates on what we need to achieve.
Senator O’Toole asked about the wide variation in projections for growth. Last week the Central Bank predicted a growth rate of 0.9%, IBEC predicted 1.3% and the IMF predicted 0.5%. The Government’s assessment, which is, of course, the best one, will be published next week. I remind Senators of the point made by Dr. Garret FitzGerald that small open economies that go down quickly can return to growth rapidly if we put in place the right domestic policies.
Senator Donie Cassidy: We said that too.
Deputy Brian Hayes: Irrespective of our worries about growth rates at the end of this year, we have to introduce the necessary changes to our domestic policies. Our assessment will be put in the public domain next week, but who knows what the rate will be at the end of the year? The difference between the first and third quarter can be very different depending on the tax take from businesses.
Senator O’Toole also asked about burning the bondholders, or what those of us who take a more considered view called burden sharing during the election campaign. His question about whether we studied what has happened in other countries was a fundamental one. I urge my colleagues to read a simple pamphlet published by Deputy Donohoe which outlines in clear terms the options on default and points out that we are a developed economy and, unlike Iceland, part of a single currency. To consider the options on default, people need to be clear about where we will get the liquidity needed to keep our banks intact at an equivalent rate to the 1% we are getting from the ECB. If anyone can suggest another agency on this planet which can offer us that 1% facility, I am all ears, but it is not likely to happen. Deputy Donnelly, who is a very sensible individual with a big contribution to make, recently appeared on a “Prime Time” programme with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and when pushed to state what country he was thinking of in terms of default, his answer was Argentina. That country experienced 27% inflation over a period of two years. I ask Members to compare the pay levels of our teachers with that of Argentinian teachers or the difference between the top of that society and those at the bottom.
We are a developed and sophisticated economy and are part of a single currency zone. The notion that we would default on our sovereign debt or take unilateral action as a result of being a member of the ECB is daft. I stated as much during the election campaign, regardless of what others said about not paying a penny more.
Senator Joe O’Toole: We will ask that individual the question at some stage.
Deputy Brian Hayes: It would be a crazy policy to act unilaterally when we are part of a bigger club. Furthermore, we cannot act unless we are certain about getting alternative money to keep the country going.
Senator Jim Walsh: Nouriel Roubini advised that we should extend the repayment period and reduce the coupon.
An Cathaoirleach: Please allow the Minister of State to continue, without interruption.
Deputy Brian Hayes: Who knows what will happen in the next three to six months? We know a new restructuring package will be on the agenda after 2013. The Government has already started burden sharing between €5 billion and €6 billion in subordinated debt. Last Thursday the Minister for Finance announced that an application to this effect had been made in the courts. We have started the process in respect of junior bondholders, which is exactly what we committed to do in our manifesto. The Government wanted to do more on senior bonds but that is not the majority view in the ECB.
Senator Jim Walsh: The junior bondholders were being cut before the Government took office.
An Cathaoirleach: No interruptions, please.
Deputy Brian Hayes: We were told for two years that subordinated debt could not be touched. We have to work with our partners in this. The lender of last resort is this country and that will continue to be the case until we restore market confidence in our ability to resell our debt and reduce our bond ratios.
Senator Bradford made one of the most important points in this debate when he reminded us of the need to learn the lessons of the past. Dr. Garret FitzGerald and the Labour Party in the period between 1981 and 1987 were given a mandate to fix a problem but they failed to do the heavy lifting. We have collectively learned from that experience. I do not wish to undermine in any way the great contribution Dr. FitzGerald has made on a host of subjects, from the redefinition of Irish nationalism to his constitutional crusade for a more open and tolerant society, but on the economic issues we did not do it and we have to learn from our mistakes. It has to be done in an ordered, sensible, constrained way. As Senator O’Toole said, our ambition is to reach the deficit 3% target by 2015. As he is aware, in the programme we will review the matter as the end of the two year period to see where we see the economy going in light of the experience of the past two years. I agree with Senator Bradford that this situation has to be fixed once and for all, otherwise this country will have a decade of a lack of investment, no hope for young people who leave college and a sense of absolute hopelessness. That is something we cannot countenance.
Senator Boyle spoke about the stringent conditions of the memorandum. Before and during the course of the election we said it was the ambition of the Government to renegotiate the deal. We have seen some success in terms of the memorandum which will be published, I understand, on 16 May following the troika meeting of last week. The Government has announced that we have inserted into the memorandum areas where we believe we can stimulate employment. Whether it is called a jobs budget or initiative is irrelevant, as far as I am concerned. Measures can be taken to grow the economy to get people back to work and make it more productive for employers to take people on and vice versa. We have shown quickly that we have introduced some renegotiation. We have made it abundantly clear that the overall burden and targets have not changed but that there can be changes within the context of the memorandum to help stimulate the domestic economy and create some hope within it. That is an important first step. Last week Mr. Chopra said we have reached our targets comfortably in terms of the first quarter and fiscal position.
The sense of hopelessness has to be replaced with a sense of hope. I know that is the view of colleagues on all sides of the House, no matter what political position or party from which one comes. Hope comes from a sense of confidence, doing things quickly, making decisions early in the life of the Government and doing, as one colleague said, things in the first 100 days because if they are not done then, they might not be done at all. We have learned that from experience. We will continue to do that and colleagues can be assured that is the frame of mind the Government is in, namely, to make decisions quickly and to instil hope that there is a way out of the straitjacket in which we find ourselves. I do not believe that harping back to the past will create one extra job in this economy. The past is the past. The people have had their say, made their verdict and given the new Government an extraordinary mandate to fix the problems within the economy. There is honest support in this House, as I am sure there will be in the new Seanad when it is returned, for the Government’s efforts to build confidence and get this great country going again.
I reiterate my thanks to all colleagues on both sides of the House for their work in what was a very difficult working environment in the past four and a half years, given the enormous financial pressures the country has faced. I wish those who are standing down or retiring well. I especially wish all my colleagues on both sides of the House who are contesting what has to be the most complicated, bizarre and difficult electoral process in western Europe every success next week.
An Cathaoirleach: I have to inform the House that letters dated 9 and 10 March 2011 and 4 April 2011 have been received from the Secretary to the Government regarding:
to be Minister of State at the Department of The Taoiseach (with special responsibility as Government Chief Whip) and at the Department of Defence, and
to be Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (with special responsibility for Housing and Planning);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs (Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Primary Care (Department of Health and Children);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Small Business (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Tourism and Sport (Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Development (Department of Foreign Affairs);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Disability, Equality and Mental Health (Departments of Health and Children and Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs);
Minister of State with special responsibility for the NewEra Project (Departments of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Environment, Heritage and Local Government);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Reform and the OPW (Department of Finance);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Food, Horticulture and Food Safety (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food);
Minister of State with special responsibility for European Affairs (Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Research and Innovation (Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and Education and Skills);
Minister of State with special responsibility for Training and Skills (Department of Education and Skills); and
Minister of State with special responsibility for Public and Commuter Transport (Department of Transport).
Justice and Law Reform (Alteration of Name of Department and Title of Minister) Order 2011
Transport (Alteration of Name of Department and Title of Minister) Order 2011
Minister/Department of Justice and Law Reform to become the Minister/Department of Justice and Equality, and
Minister/Department of Transport to become the Minister/Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House and congratulate him on his election and appointment as Minister of State. I wish him many long years in the House.
Since March 2010, a cloud of uncertainty has covered the employees of Quinn Insurance Limited in Enniskillen, Navan, Blanchardstown, my native county of Cavan and neighbouring counties. Thousands of families were plunged into uncertainty about their future following the hasty and undue action taken by the Financial Regulator, Mr. Matthew Elderfield, to have provisional joint administrators appointed by the High Court to Quinn Insurance Limited. This action was taken without notice being given to the company. Since then 1,000 redundancies have been announced, 700 of which have taken effect.
I understand the Quinn family submitted a plan in early April 2011 to the Government. Last Thursday, as over 90,000 signatures were handed to a representative of the Minister for Finance at the Kildare Street gates of Leinster House in support of the Quinn family proposal, which would see the State repaid €2.8 billion owed to Anglo Irish Bank by the Quinn family, a spokesperson for the Minister, Deputy Noonan, informed the nation that Anglo Irish Bank had gone to the High Court to have a receiver appointed to the Quinn family shares in the Quinn Group. This resulted in Seán Quinn and his family being removed from any involvement whatsoever in the Quinn Group.
I express my admiration for Seán Quinn and his family. He started 38 years ago, as I have said on many occasions in this House, and provided a job for himself selling sand and gravel in west Cavan and Fermanagh. Some 38 years later, he has created over 7,000 jobs internationally, 5,500 of which are based in the 32 counties of this country. Many thousands of those jobs are in my native county of Cavan and surrounding counties. I consider him to be a practical patriot. He has provided jobs in an area of this island that nobody else would even contemplate looking at, not to mention providing jobs.
The impact of the Quinn Group on County Cavan alone is phenomenal. It directly employs over 2,000 people and operates the internationally renowned Slieve Russell Hotel, the greatest tourist attraction in the north west or north east. It accounts for up to one third of manufacturing and service-based employment in County Cavan and provides more than €60 million per annum in direct wages to employees in the area, combined with indirect contractors, sub-suppliers, etc., which contributes over €200 million per annum to the local economy. The Quinn Group has and continues to provide employment opportunities and economic development in some of the most marginalised areas of this country. To a large extent, these jobs are irreplaceable. For example, the Slieve Russell Hotel put Cavan and the Border region on the tourism map and provided opportunities for women returning to work which in turn enabled many young people of today to go on to third level or further education. Many people were afforded the opportunity to return to their native county to work and raise their families. The social impact of this must not be overlooked. In overall terms, the impact of the group is immeasurable.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the all-party Oireachtas group which has worked on this issue for over 12 months. I pay particular tribute to a former colleague of this House, Deputy Joe O’Reilly, who, with me, tabled many motions in this regard in the 12-month period which the Cathaoirleach was good enough to accept.
I pay tribute also to my constituency colleagues, Deputy Brendan Smith, former Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Dr. Rory O’Hanlon, Seymour Crawford and Margaret Conlon, who are no longer Members of the Oireachtas, and Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who is the convener of the all-party group. We worked tirelessly together on this issue for over 12 months and the main emphasis of our work is to protect the existing jobs in the Quinn Group, Quinn Insurance Limited and all the various other operations the Quinn Group controlled.
I understand the proposal submitted to the Minister for Finance in early April this year would see the State regain the €2.8 billion owed to it through Anglo Irish Bank over a seven year period. Why was that proposal not afforded full detailed examination and, having received that application, why was the decision taken to move in rapidly to acquire the shares of the Quinn family and to sell the insurance company? The least the employees and the Quinn family are entitled to is that the proposal, which would have seen the State regain €2.8 billion of its money returned to it over a seven year period, be examined.
Senator Donie Cassidy: I support the matter raised by the Senator.
Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Brian Hayes): I thank Senator Wilson for raising this matter and recognise the substantial all-party work that has gone on for a substantial period behind the scenes with both this Government and the previous Government to arrive at the result we have on this matter. As the Senator is aware, the appointment of the administrators to take over the management of Quinn Insurance Limited was taken in the best interests of the firm’s policyholders and the purpose of the appointment was to allow the firm to remain open for business and to continue to be run as a going concern with a view to placing it on an ongoing sound commercial and financial footing. From the outset the joint administrators have concentrated on fulfilling this agenda, with one of their initial concerns being to try to ensure the value of the business was maintained to make it as attractive as possible to potential buyers. A key factor was the reopening of the profitable parts of the UK business.
In response to a detailed case from the joint administrators, the Central Bank allowed Quinn Insurance Limited to reopen private motor insurance business at the end of April 2010. Before making its decision, the bank carefully considered the information provided by the administrators on the important improvements in the company’s underwriting model and significant strengthening of its pricing structure. It also consulted closely with the UK. In this regard it should also be noted that the administrators also sought to have the commercial lines of business in the UK reopened. However, the Central Bank decided in September that such a move would not be appropriate as Quinn Insurance Limited would require additional capital which it currently does not have.
The next significant step was the appointment by the High Court on 3 June last of advisers on any prospective sale of Quinn Insurance Limited at the request of the joint administrators. The advisers, on behalf of the joint administrators, issued an information memorandum on 27 August last on the sale of the company to interested parties which set out a two stage process for selecting a purchaser. The first stage required the submission of a non-binding indicative proposal by Friday, 17 September 2010. I understand that following evaluation by the advisers and the joint administrators of the above mentioned proposals, a limited number of prospective purchasers were shortlisted by the administrators to participate in phase 2 of the sale process. They conducted further due diligence, including the consideration of the necessary commercial information, enabling them to make a final bid.
The joint administrators have considered the final bids and have selected the preferred bidder, Liberty Mutual-Anglo, which they believe best meets the objectives of their appointment, namely, a solution that puts the business back on a sound commercial and financial footing while at the same time protecting the interests of policyholders. Another factor in their decision to go with the Liberty Mutual-Anglo proposal is the fact that virtually all the jobs are protected, aside from 24 redundancies in Manchester. The sale is subject to regulatory approval and the completion of contract details. It should be noted that Liberty Mutual is the fifth largest property and casualty insurer in the United States and is a very well respected company. Liberty will own 51% of the joint venture and will operate the insurance company. Anglo Irish Bank will own 49% and will have no involvement in the business. As the Senator will appreciate, the financial details remain confidential and are subject to the completion of legal and other arrangements being finalised.
The position regarding the wider Quinn Group is that Anglo Irish Bank has appointed a share receiver to the Quinn family’s shares in the Quinn Group. The receiver holds these shares on Anglo Irish Bank’s behalf. It should be noted that a share receiver is fundamentally different from a company receiver and will not be involved in the sale of businesses or assets. However, this appointment has allowed Anglo Irish Bank, together with the senior creditors, to restructure the boards and to remove Quinn family members and their associates from key board and management positions.
This decision by Anglo Irish Bank to appoint a share receiver is very much a commercial one and I, in my role as Minister of State, and the Minister for Finance had no input into this matter. In this context it should be noted that under the relationship framework put in place under the Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Act 2009, which governs the relationship between the bank and its shareholder, the State, issues relating to the commercial activities at the bank and day-to-day management decisions are a matter for the board in respect of which the Minister for Finance has no role. I have been informed, however, that the decision to appoint a share receiver will have no significant impact on jobs in the wider Quinn Group.
I understand that the joint administrators did an initial evaluation of the Quinn Group proposal which they considered highly conditional. However, they came to the conclusion that it was not feasible as, funding issues aside, they felt that, among other things, the assumptions underpinning it were overly optimistic, and there was likely to be a consensual agreement with the banks and bondholders. In summary, they felt that the proposal was not a realistic alternative to the Liberty Mutual-Anglo proposal.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson: I thank the Minister of State for that reply. The main emphasis has to be on the retention of the jobs in their current locations. I would like assurance that the jobs will be ring-fenced and protected in their current locations. The big concern is that Liberty Mutual may, after a time, move this operation to the Far East or somewhere similar. The wider concern is that in regard to the group in general, the cement factory and the other factories will be sold off gradually and the jobs will disappear. What guarantees has the Government succeeded in getting from potential purchasers of the various outlets that the jobs will be ring-fenced and will continue in their current locations?
Deputy Brian Hayes: The number one priority for the Government in this entire matter, from the first day in the job, was to secure employment for those people working within the group. This is an issue in the Senator’s area of the country and also in my area. A large number of my constituents work in the Blanchardstown area and it is crucial that we have now received assurances in connection with the total number currently employed within the group. It has been the number one priority of the Government from day one and I believe the position arrived at now, although it was a commercial arrangement and obviously something the State was keen to progress, gives some measure of comfort to people in the current environment because at least they know where they stand. The position before the announcement was made was that they had no intention as to what would happen. The number one priority for the Government is the jobs issue and there is some assurance now that the company can be put on a progressive footing which is based on growing the business which is, as the Senator well knows, a profitable, successful business that has unfortunately been besmirched by the wider issues that have affected the Quinn Group of late. The priority he has articulated is the same as the Government’s.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Cathaoirleach for accepting this matter for discussion on the Adjournment, as well as for his courtesy during the lifetime of the current Seanad. This is probably the last hurrah in that respect. I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate him on his elevation to ministerial office. I wish him great success in his portfolio. I know that he is very capable of handling the many issues that will come before him in the years ahead.
While he is not the Minister responsible for this subject matter, I know he has an interest in sport and fair play. The Department of Finance has an interest in ensuring that best use is made of public money and I will declare a few interests in this respect. First, I chaired the committee that produced this report entitled, The Olympics — from Athens to London. Second, I am president of the Council of Europe’s youth and sport committee. While there seems to be a question mark over the precedent which meant that people could stay on that committee after the elections, I hope I will get a chance to remain on it until June at least because I am involved in compiling a report on organised crime in sport, including the issue of match fixing. The latter issue is an integral one to be resolved by sports governance, which is why I am raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am interested in what has progressed since November 2005 when we examined Ireland’s record in Athens. We deliberately did not examine the progress made between the games in Athens and Beijing because there was not enough time to address the problems within the sports sector at that stage. When London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games we were excited that Ireland would be a major beneficiary of those games, not just regarding our participation and getting more people interested in sport due to the proximity of the London games, but also regarding a spin-off through having our own sports facilities used for pre-Olympics training.
The issues I dealt with then and those I have been dealing with now have overlapped. I acknowledge the role of Irish Olympic Council president, Mr. Pat Hickey, who attended a conference with me which was organised by the International Olympic Committee on 1 March this year. It was to have dealt solely with integrity in sport, but it also tackled the issue of irregular betting and gambling on sports events. The IOC was concerned that the 2012 games may not be free and fair due to being impacted by organised crime in the form of spread betting. That may be something that comes within the Minister of State’s remit when his Department examines legislation on gambling, including Internet betting.
Deputy Brian Hayes: It does, actually.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I have a lot of interest in and information on those matters. We must not underestimate the fact that 85% to 90% of sports in Asia are corrupt. In addition, they are being corrupted by people who have no interest in sport. They are only interested in making money from sport through spread betting and Internet gambling, which is their core focus.
I am seeking an update on what the Irish Sports Council has been doing concerning the international carding system. Athletes must have access to the required support from the Olympic Council of Ireland. In 2005, our report made 19 recommendations and I would like to think that some of them have been acted upon. We have seen Ireland progress from a position where prior to the Athens games we had, to put it crudely, horses on the wrong grass. We also had Olympic swimming medals that were badly tarnished. We all want to see the maximum number of participants in sports. Next year will be a great opportunity to get more people interested in sporting pursuits, but they will be looking for role models. In 2005, I drew up a questionnaire for athletes asking a number of questions, and they replied that it was the first time their opinions had been sought. As regards future strategies, while sports associations and federations have a role they must be seen to represent people on the ground. The most important aspect is how athletes are treated both before, during and after international sports events. They require such support.
The key questions I have for the Aire Stáit are whether we have we progressed, whether the 19 recommendations have been implemented, and to ask him to outline the state of play less than a year from the 2012 Olympic Games. Will Ireland’s athletes be properly supported? Will the Games be fair to ensure our children can watch and aspire to be at the subsequent games?
Deputy Brian Hayes: I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I apologise for the fact that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, unfortunately cannot attend the House this evening to reply to the Senator. I know of her interest in this issue because we have spoken about it in the past. I will ensure that her comments are brought to the attention of the Minister.
The Irish Sports Council, which is funded by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, is statutorily responsible for the development of high performance sport in Ireland. Since its establishment in 1999, more than €421 million has been provided for the council towards initiating, developing and enhancing a wide range of programmes aimed at raising standards in Irish sport and also towards increasing participation at all levels.
The existing high performance system has developed following a series of independent reviews commissioned by the Irish Sports Council following the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Since 2004, the council has invested significantly in high performance sport through the international carding scheme and the high performance plans of 18 focus sports, which have the potential to deliver at the highest levels of international competition. This includes not only focusing and investing in the current generation of world class athletes, but also developing junior talent through a structured competition pathway from schools through to world level.
The Irish Institute of Sport was established following the Athens review which was carried out after the 2004 games. The establishment of an institute of sport was also one of the key recommendations of the joint committee’s report. The institute, which operates at the national sports campus at Abbotstown, plays a key role in the Irish high performance system through the co-ordination and delivery of technical services.
In February this year, the Irish Sports Council announced that €7.8 million would be invested in high performance sports in 2011. The council has made a decision to maintain funding at the 2010 levels as the coming year is the vital preparation and qualification one for the games in London 2012. Almost €6 million is being provided for the national governing bodies of the 18 focus sports for their high performance plans. In addition, 115 athletes and two teams will receive over €1.95 million under the carding scheme this year.
The high performance plans are funded on an annual basis and continue to be developed in a detailed way with the focus sports. As the performance planning process will take a longer term focus, each governing body is required to consider a whole-sport approach to planning. While there is a need to support the London Olympic cycle, the Irish Sports Council will continue on its path of long-term programme delivery, thus ensuring maximum return from the opportunities provided by the London games in 2012, but also looking forward to the games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The aim is to provide a legacy in high performance sport.
In 2009, a new high performance committee — chaired by the former world champion runner, Eamonn Coghlan — was established to oversee the investment of the Irish Sports Council in elite sport. The committee includes representatives from all major sports agencies, including the Olympic Council of Ireland. This is one of the clearest public demonstrations of the operational co-operation between all relevant agencies in Irish sport.
One of the central elements of the high performance system for the London 2012 games is an operational plan with the Olympic council. In addition, funding to the Olympic Council of Ireland and Paralympics Ireland ensures that Irish teams have the best possible support.
The high performance support system, both financial and otherwise, for our elite athletes is reflected in Irish athletes’ success at international level in recent years. In 2010, Ireland won 31 medals at international championship level across the various disciplines supported by the Irish Sport Council. This is compared to ten medals won at international level in 2006. Sport is not just about high performance and the Government is committed to promoting greater participation in sport at all levels.
The Irish Sport Council provides funding and other resources for the national governing bodies of sport and local sports partnerships with a specific emphasis on increasing levels of participation in sport and physical activity. The joint committee’s 2005 report also highlighted the potential benefits to Ireland arising from the geographical proximity of the London 2012 games. A high level co-ordinating group, chaired by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, is identifying opportunities across the sports, tourism and cultural sectors, from the London games. The group comprises representatives from the Irish Sport Council, the Olympic Council of Ireland and many other organisations.
The group’s discussions will take into account the current economic situation and the findings of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games task force report, which was published in 2009. The report made a number of recommendations arising from an audit carried out of high quality sports facilities in Ireland and the findings of a report by Indecon International Economic Consultants on the economic evaluation of the benefit to the island of Ireland of the London games. The Indecon report concluded that the largest potential benefits of the London 2012 Olympic Games were on the business side and Enterprise Ireland is actively pursuing opportunities for Irish business.
The decision of both the American Olympic synchronized swimming squad and the Great Britain Paralympic swimming squad to choose the National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown as a pre-London 2012 games training base is a reflection of the calibre of the facility. It was also announced earlier that the Hungarian and UK water polo teams will play and train in the National Aquatic Centre in June. A number of other sports facilities such as University College Dublin and the University of Limerick are also directly promoting their own facilities to try to attract international teams and athletes. In addition, the Department has produced a CD which contains the details of a number of Irish elite sports facilities which are suitable as pre-London games training camps. This CD has been circulated widely.
The potential to attract international teams and athletes to train in Ireland in the lead up to the London games is just one of the issues that the co-ordinating group is examining. The Indecon report considered that the second largest potential benefits from the London games lay on the tourism side and the tourism agencies, in conjunction with the London 2012 games co-ordinating group, are exploring a range of possible initiatives to maximise this potential. The Arts Council and Culture Ireland are also developing proposals for a cultural programme, which would include participation in the four-year Cultural Olympiad.
The high level co-ordinating group will meet on an ongoing basis to maximise opportunities and this will influence the benefits to Ireland. I have outlined to the House the improved high performance sport structures that have been developed since the publication of the Oireachtas joint committee’s 2005 report. I am confident that Ireland can continue to deliver finalists and medal winners at European, world, Olympic and Paralympic level. As we approach the London 2012 games, the Irish Sport Council is committed to ensuring the best supports are available for our elite athletes from the junior ranks to world class level. Efforts are also under way to capture the economic benefits from the London games.
I thank the Senator for the opportunity to highlight the progress made since the joint committee published its report in 2005.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I welcome the progress in getting teams on the ground. I was a little scared by the comment that cultural programmes would be put in place for a four-year Cultural Olympiad. The year before the Olympics is probably more important and the focus has been on the games in London for the past few years. Will the Minister of State keep asking about progress on this issue? There is massive potential in this area and it should be not allowed to slide. That is why we wrote the report in 2005, seven years before the games in 2012.
I ask the Minister of State, in conjunction with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, to take seriously the protection of the integrity of sports and, in particular, the challenges presented by spread betting and the interference that can be created in this regard. It cannot be underestimated. Four people are before the courts in Germany for fixing 300 matches. If they are convicted, another 150 people will be prosecuted. Every sport in Ireland and Europe is exposed to this challenge. Not only should we be aware of it, we should support the concept of an international agency such as the World Anti-Doping Agency to address it. If we do not, there will be a crisis in sport and future Olympic Games will not matter because nobody will take them seriously and no one will want to participate in or be associated with them.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. I am grateful for my time in the Seanad. I have enjoyed taking on issues such as this and bringing them from concept to implementation stage. I may have made a little progress. It may not be significant in the scheme of life or in the eyes of the media but it is important to those involved at grassroots level.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.55 p.m. sine die.