Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 24 May 2023
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection
Safe Deposit Boxes and Related Deposits Bill 2022: Discussion
Apologies have been received from the Cathaoirleach, Deputy Denis Naughten. Members participating in the meeting remotely are required to do so from within the precincts of the Leinster House complex only. I ask members and witnesses to please turn off their mobile phones or ensure they are on silent mode. I advise members of the committee who are participating in the meeting remotely to use the raise-hand function on Microsoft Teams if they wish to contribute.
The Safe Deposits Boxes and Related Deposits Bill 2022 concerns abandoned safe deposit boxes residing in some of the oldest banks still in operation today. Some of these boxes are in a sealed state and, as such, it is unknown what lies within them. This legislation is a rarity for two reasons. First, it has the potential to uncover hugely meaningful artefacts that could be of significance to the State. Second, it is an opportunity seized by Deputy Ó Cuív to fully utilise the parliamentary legal drafting service with a Private Member's Bill, which has the possibility of achieving a great common good. The Bill has six Parts and 30 sections, addressing among other items: the registration of deposits; the retention by the State of unclaimed property; notification of relevant institutions such as the National Gallery or the National Library and the disposal or transfer of unclaimed property and moneys.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Community and Rural Development first looked at this issue in March 2019. It is clear that some of the issues raised in that debate on abandoned safe deposit boxes have been addressed in Deputy Ó Cuív's Private Member's Bill. The Bill was first introduced in May 2022 and has now reached pre-Committee Stage scrutiny. There have been some subsequent developments to this area with Ireland's Safe Deposit Box, Bank and Payment Accounts Register, ISBAR, regulated by the Central Bank, which credit institutions began onboarding in February 2023.
Today, we are engaging with departmental officials from three Departments on how this Bill may potentially affect their work and how the committee can best incorporate their views in the detailed scrutiny process to assist with and improve this Bill.
I welcome to the meeting today representatives from the Department of Rural and Community Development: Mr. Kenneth Jordan, principal officer in the finance and evaluation unit; from the Department of Finance, Mr. Pat Leahy, principal officer in the banking division, and Ms Fidelma Cotter, assistant principal in the Central Bank policy unit of the banking division; and from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Ms Deirdre Mahony, principal officer, and Ms Ciara Moloney, assistant principal officer. They are both from the cultural policy and institutions unit.
Before we begin, I wish to explain some limitations to parliamentary privilege and the practice of the Houses as regards the references witnesses make to other persons in their evidence. The evidence of witnesses physically present or who give evidence from within the parliamentary precincts is protected pursuant to both the Constitution and statute by absolute privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
With those niceties completed, I now call on Mr. Jordan to make his opening statement.
Mr. Kenneth Jordan:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present this opening statement on behalf of the Department of Rural and Community Development. As you say, Chair, the Department has been invited here today on the topic of the Private Member's Bill on safe deposit boxes and related deposits. The Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, gave a detailed statement on this in Dáil Éireann on 20 April, and I will be touching today on some of the points he made at that time.
The Bill itself is quite detailed and complex, but Parts 2, 3 and 5 are perhaps the most pertinent for the purposes of today's discussion. Part 2 contains a number of provisions. It seeks to enable the establishment of a register of property deposited in safe deposit boxes in relevant financial institutions. This register would include depositor details and information on when the property was deposited and last accessed by, or on behalf of, the depositor. These provisions are key to the proposed Bill, with the register forming the basis on which property would be defined as "unclaimed", effectively where a period of 80 years has passed since the property was accessed by the depositor. This Part of the Bill also sets out that, where items are identified as unclaimed, the institutions should take specific steps to reunite the property with its owner.
Part 2 then provides for the examination of property which remains unclaimed, by the relevant institutions, for the purposes of ascertaining the identity of the depositor. I note that the key issues around Part 2 relate to regulations on financial institutions, and place significant responsibilities on these institutions. As such, I think it is the views of those entities, and my colleagues in the Department of Finance, that are key to this Part of the Bill.
Part 3 builds on the register and steps detailed in Part 2, and covers the proposed retention by the State of unclaimed property. The provisions would require institutions to give notice to the director of the National Museum of Ireland of the details of property which remains unclaimed. The director, or a person authorised by the director, would then be obliged to make a determination as to whether the unclaimed property concerned is of historical, archaeological, or artistic importance. Items of importance can then be retained by the State, however with the rightful owners able to reclaim property at any point in the future. As with Part 2, there are detailed provisions here which do not relate to the remit of the Department of Rural and Community Development, and which will require the consideration of my colleagues in the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. I am aware, from discussions prior to the Second Reading, that there are concerns over the proposed extensive role of the director of the National Museum, for example, around the potential volume of items that may need to be considered, and regarding decisions to reunite property with rightful owners being made by the director.
Part 5 provides for the sale of unclaimed property, not retained by the State, by the institutions, in a manner that would "obtain the best price reasonably attainable". These funds would then be transferred to the Dormant Accounts Fund, net of reasonable costs incurred by the institution. In addition, cash deposits would be transferred to the Dormant Accounts Fund directly. The rightful owner can reclaim transferred funds from the relevant institution, with the funds then recouped from the Dormant Accounts Fund. This Part also provides for the disposal of items deemed to have little intrinsic value.
While it should be feasible to transfer such funds, once realised, to the Dormant Accounts Fund, there are a number of issues which need further consideration and discussion. First, how costly would the process be, and how significant are the potential funds that could be transferred to the Dormant Accounts Fund? Is it intended that the sale of items would cover all costs for the institutions, including establishing and maintaining the register, contacting customers, publishing notices, examining items etc.? If a rightful owner emerges, is it proposed they get the full market value of the item, or the value less administration and sale costs? What happens if a rightful owner demands the item that has been sold? With regard to the proposed transfer of cash deposits to the fund, is it likely that older cash deposits have more value as a collector's item and should be treated as such? How exactly would the proposed disposal of items deemed to have little intrinsic value work? Could rightful owners challenge the decision to dispose of their item, and what would happen items of historical interest but not of sufficient importance to be held in care by the State?
In discussing these issues with the Minister of State, Deputy Joe O'Brien, one option to be considered is to simplify the Bill and remove the proposed sale or disposal of items and the subsequent transfer of proceeds to the Dormant Accounts Fund. This would retain some form of register or inventory, seeking to identify owners, the completion of an inventory of unclaimed items, and an examination of items that are potentially of importance for retention by the State. Furthermore, by adding a process whereby items are valued when being examined an evidence base of the value of items would be developed, while the institutions would still retain responsibility for safekeeping of the items for now. Based on this information of what is actually deposited, and its potential value, future consideration could then be given to the sale and disposal of items, balancing the right to property with the public good. We feel that this would mitigate the risks around this Part of the Bill, while still allowing items of importance to be identified and displayed. As I noted at the start, the Bill is very complex, and requires further detailed consideration across the three relevant Departments.
For example, one area of specific concern is the Minister of Rural and Community Development indemnifying persons carrying out functions related to the examination of items. In closing, I thank the committee again for the invitation to attend and I would be happy to assist the committee in any questions members may have.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
I thank the committee for inviting the Department of Finance to address on the Bill. I will set out the primary rationale for financial regulation and supervision. First, it is to protect consumers, given the complexity of financial products and services and the significant informational advantages financial service providers have compared to the average consumer. Second, it is to protect financial stability and the wider economy, given the substantial negative employment and economic impacts of financial instability events. The Department of Finance believes that the provision of safe deposit boxes is not a regulated financial services activity because safe deposit boxes are a simple product that all customers can comprehend; essentially, there are no significant information asymmetries in favour of the provider of the product. Safe deposit boxes do not provide a financial stability risk as there is no ability for the providers of the service to leverage the contents of the boxes. If they were doing so, they would fall within the definition of providing a banking service and, as such, would be regulated.
The Department notes the preparation of a detailed and comprehensive Bill and has a number of initial observations to make on the draft Bill. As the Department understands the Bill, it is intended that financial institutions would establish a registry of property deposited in safe deposit boxes in relevant financial institutions. The proposed register would have detailed information relating to the provisions outlined in the Bill, such as details related to the examination of unclaimed property by relevant institutions and possible retention of unclaimed property by the director of the National Museum of Ireland. The draft Bill sets out the conditions under which the deposited property shall be considered unclaimed and the methods by which it is intended to unite the safe deposit box with its rightful owner. The Bill sets out a notification procedure for the provision of information with regard to ownership of safe deposit boxes and provisions for the publication of that notice. The Bill provides for a process for the examination of unclaimed property and for an indemnification process for the Minister for Rural and Community Development. The Bill also provides for a process for the retention of unclaimed property by the director of the National Museum of Ireland, including examination and retention of unclaimed property by the director and dealing with claims for unclaimed property. The Bill also provides for the possibility of the sale of unclaimed property and the transfer of moneys received to the Dormant Accounts Fund by the institutions. There are issues within this Bill that are not directly relevant to the Department in the evaluation of the cultural or historical significance of objects that may be contained in safe deposit boxes or otherwise maintained within the custody of financial institutions.
The Department sees value in the broad aims of the Bill in seeking to determine whether there are items of historical and-or cultural value in financial institutions and providing a process whereby these items could be recovered. The Department thinks the Bill could focus more on the recovery of potential historical and-or cultural items. Such an approach would likely provide a stronger public interest rationale and legal basis. This approach could involve an assessment of items in the safe deposit boxes or otherwise in the possession of financial institutions, transfer of items considered to possess historical or cultural merit based on appropriate analysis and items retained by these cultural institutions on a safekeeping basis and returned to individuals who make a valid claim to ownership. Under the proposed approach, there would be no assessment of the value of most items where it was not possible to locate an owner and nor would such items be sold and the resulting amounts transferred to the Dormant Accounts Fund. The financial institutions would continue to be responsible for safeguarding items originally entrusted to them for safekeeping. The Department proposes this approach for the following reasons: it is not obvious that there are significant items of value in safe deposit boxes that could be put up for sale to be passed to the fund.
One source of evidence as to what is contained in these boxes is the 2019 Deloitte report, Dormant Assets Review: Identifying Potential Additional Dormant Assets. The report indicates that one bank opened 100 safe deposit boxes belonging to deceased customers with no identifiable next of kin. The contents of the boxes included a broad range of items such as old currency, title deeds, savings, death and marriage certificates, wills, personal correspondence, keys and one item of jewellery. The report indicated that none of the items were valuable. Deposit boxes could contain a wide variety of different assets, some with potentially little value. The variety of assets would dramatically increase administration costs, as the assets will likely be physical assets that must be carefully handled, valued and stored. As there is no information available to the Department or the Central Bank on the number of safe deposit boxes in existence, it is important that costs for the State and the private sector potentially incurred by this Bill be considered and balanced against the potential benefits. In the event of people coming forward to claim financial assets such as deposit accounts from dormant accounts, the State can always pay out. However, if the State sold unique assets, it is unlikely to be able to subsequently replace the asset or satisfy the affected person with adequate compensation. Likewise, the State is likely to be liable for any mistakes made, for example, if assets were misclassified as suitable for sale or if the State disposed of items which may have a low face value, for example, notes or coins, but with a high monetary value. Any damage to assets as part of the cataloguing process or when stored by the State could potentially make the State liable for compensation. It is noted that there would be a process for notifying potential next of kin of assets held in safe deposit boxes. The right and ability of the State to sell assets not deemed to be of cultural significance would need careful legal consideration. Even with the passage of time, there must be some doubt whether such sales are possible or permissible, given the property rights involved. Other legal issues to be considered include potential breaches of the right to privacy, potential breach of contract and consideration of the law of bailment. The Deloitte report recommended that safe deposits continue to be excluded from the Dormant Accounts Fund due to the lack of clarity regarding the materiality of the asset and the complexity of the legal and practical implications of opening dormant safe deposits. In the event that there are assets of limited value and there is a contractual relationship between the depositor and the financial institution, safeguarding of the contents of safe deposit boxes should remain with the financial institutions.
The Department also notes the proposed role for the Central Bank. The Bill proposes a role for the Central Bank in monitoring institutions in the discharge of its obligations under the legislation, taking enforcement action where institutions have failed in the discharge of their responsibilities under the Bill, assisting the Minister for Rural and Community Development in respect of regulations making disclosures from the register and consenting to the disposal of assets unsuitable for sale and determining an appropriate means of disposal of such assets. It is not obvious that these roles are consistent with the mandate of the Central Bank or are within its specific expertise. In particular, the specific expertise of the Central Bank in respect of section 23(3), consenting to the disposal of assets, is not obvious. Likewise, we see the enforcement processes and ensuring institutions engage with the director of the National Museum of Ireland as a matter for legislation involving cultural institutions, not the Central Bank. The Central Bank has a specific role with regard to safe deposit boxes. Under regulations made on foot of EU legislation signed by the Minister for Finance in February 2022, the Central Bank is required to establish and maintain a central register of information on safe deposit boxes and bank and payment accounts. The register identifies the holders and beneficial owners of bank and payment accounts and safe deposit boxes in Ireland. However, this is for the purpose of establishing links between suspicious transactions and underlying criminal activity. The register, operated by the Central Bank, assists competent authorities seeking to prevent and combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The register ensures that flows of money can be properly traced to individuals, entities and illicit networks at an early stage. With the exception of this specific purpose, the Central Bank does not have a role in supervising institutions in respect of their management of safe deposit boxes. It is not clear that the roles envisaged in the Bill for the bank would be accommodated by the legislation providing for this specific purpose. It is worth noting that any involvement, as this Bill envisages, in the imposition of new functions and power on the bank will require consultation by the Department of Finance with the European Central Bank, ECB, on such a legislative proposal.
As stated, there is relatively limited available information on safe deposit boxes. An approach which focused on recovering items of historical and-or cultural value may yield results for the State and avoid the difficulties of dealing with the sale of specific items. As of now, there is no evidence that there are items of specific value suitable for sale, even if the legal issues involved could be addressed. The cost benefits of running an evaluation and sale process also need to be considered. With regard to Part 2 specifically, which deals with the proposed register of deposited property, there are significant requirements set out for financial institutions in respect of the establishment of the register of possessions held by financial institutions. The Department considers that if there is agreement and this process were simplified to only consider articles of cultural or historic importance, the need for the detailed register might be mitigated or eliminated entirely. In such cases, the items could be classified as culturally or historically important, subject to consultation with the relevant authorities, and then there would be efforts to locate owners before the item is transferred to the State. It would only be when an item of cultural or historic importance was found and it was planned to transfer it to the temporary custody of the State that there would be a need to seek to locate a beneficiary. The register could then be in respect of that item and not every item held by the financial institution. There may be other items of concern but we need to await the final direction of the Bill before providing more detailed comments. I hope the above analysis is of assistance to the committee and I will attempt to answer any questions that the committee may have.
Ms Deirdre Mahony:
I thank the committee for inviting us. I welcome the opportunity on behalf of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to discuss this Private Members' Bill, and, in particular the elements that relate to the role and functions of the director of the National Museum of Ireland and the inclusion of artefacts in the national collections. I am the principal officer with responsibility for a number of our national cultural institutions, including the National Museum of Ireland. I am joined by my colleague, Ciara Moloney.
I recognise the positive policy intention behind this Bill, which, taking the lead from the success of the Dormant Accounts Fund, aims to provide a means whereby unclaimed property may be used for the benefit of our society. The Bill provides two ways of doing so, either by the disposal of unclaimed property or by the inclusion of previously unknown cultural or heritage assets in the national collections. Consideration of the disposal of unclaimed property has been addressed by my colleague from the Department of Rural and Community Development, while consideration of the role and implications for financial institutions has been addressed by my colleague from the Department of Finance. As I mentioned, this Department’s consideration relates, in the main, to the proposed role of the director of the National Museum of Ireland and the inclusion of artefacts in the national collections.
There are three main ways that heritage and cultural objects and artefacts can currently enter the national collections, namely, by donation, through acquisition or under the role set out for the National Museum of Ireland under the National Monuments Acts. Under the National Monuments Acts, the director of the National Museum of Ireland is empowered to assert the State’s ownership of archaeological objects that are found and which have no known owner, and the museum engages directly on these finds.
In terms of acquisition, the Department, working with the cultural institutions, has supported an expanding programme in recent years, which has seen significant acquisitions into the collections, including La Vie des Champsby Cézanne and Jack B. Yeat’s Bachelor's Walk, both at the National Gallery of Ireland. The National Museum, National Archives and National Library continue to augment the collections with carefully chosen objects and papers that expand and support our understanding of our national history, culture and heritage. Recent acquisitions of note include an important collection of Pearse papers at the museum, the Edna O’Brien papers at the library and, as members may have seen in the media, the Michael Collins diaries at the National Archives.
Although these significant acquisitions often make headlines, it should be noted that the national cultural institutions are constantly and consistently seeking out and securing important items of cultural or heritage significance, particularly, those that fill gaps in the collections. In that regard, I highlight the Department-funded acquisitions programme at the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Crawford Art Gallery, which explicitly seeks to enhance the contemporary art holdings of the national collections by ensuring they are more representative of the diverse perspectives and identities of contemporary Ireland. To date, the Department has provided €2.5 million for this purpose and overseen the acquisition of 500 works. As I stated, the national cultural institutions also benefit from donations of items and artworks, including those under section 176 of the Finance Act 1995 and section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. Among other donations in recent years, a painting by Sir John Lavery, the Port of Cork collection of artworks and a collection of important silver have been donated to the National Gallery of Ireland, Crawford Art Gallery and National Museum of Ireland, respectively.
Returning to the Bill, as with all legislation, the question arises as to whether it, as drafted, meets the objectives of the policy intention in a way that is effective and without creating any legal or administrative challenges in its operation. In that context, the Department considers that there remain open questions in the drafting with regard to the scope and nature of the role designated to the director of the National Museum of Ireland and we would welcome further consultation on the drafting. Engaging the directors of the National Museum of Ireland and the National Archives in particular in this consultation is essential to ensuring there are no adverse or unforeseen effects.
In terms of areas for future consultation, the Department notes that, although we have no objection to the Bill creating a vehicle for potentially valuable artefacts to enter the national collections, the current drafting may create a potentially significant administrative burden on the director or her nominees. As such, we consider that further analysis of the number of such boxes and the short timeframe for examination by the director would be beneficial to the process.
Equally, we are interested in the experience and advice of financial institutions on the types of materials that are typically found in safe deposit boxes. Arising from our cross-departmental engagement on the Bill, it appears there is anecdotal evidence that the majority of such boxes contain materials that are of personal importance but would not meet the high standards of the national collections. In that context, the Department believes there is merit in considering whether all boxes meeting the criteria set out in the Bill need to be referred to the director or just those boxes where there has been a prior determination that the contents may be of national importance. The current drafting sees the assessment by financial institutions as just a review of the materials with a view to identifying the owner, which is a very limited assessment. Accordingly, the Department, with the director, would be happy to consider ways to support the financial institutions in assessing the importance of items, including through the development of a set of criteria that could be used by the institution to assess whether an object should be referred to the director for further consideration. This intermediate step would be critical in ensuring the role provided for in the Bill continues to align with the role and functions of the directors as set out in the establishing legislation and would not lead to the introduction of an administrative function that is outside their area of specialist expertise. Consideration might also be given to how the materials are recorded during the assessment, given the growing emphasis on digital collecting among cultural institutions.
Finally, the Department believes there is a need to expand consideration of indemnity for the State in taking objects into the national collections. In addition to consideration of the general protections for the State and the director of the National Museum of Ireland, a further area of consideration not currently provided for in the Bill is where items have been conserved or restored and could be considered by an owner at a future date as an unlawful change to the object.
In closing, I thank the committee for its time and am happy to take any questions that the members may have.
I thank the witnesses for those opening submissions. I invite members to open the discussion. I remind those participating online that they can use the raise hand function on Microsoft Teams to indicate that they wish to come in.
I thank the Departments for the detailed engagement at this stage of the process. What we are doing is what would have been done if the Bill had been developed in one of the Departments. All this consultation would have taken pace as a matter of course long before we got this far. When it is a Private Member's Bill, however, Deputies do not have those privileges of access. Many of the points raised are valid and could be dealt with. While reading the written submissions, I was considering the focus of the Bill and how to mitigate the risk the witnesses have clearly highlighted. We need to keep in mind that explicit in the Bill is that someone starts with the oldest boxes first. There is a reason for that. It is very unlikely that a person from 1782, 1783, 1784 and so on, or a known successor of that person, will appear. As someone goes forward, a practical idea will be built up. When I was studying science, there was always the theory and then the practical implementation of the theory to see how it worked in practice and what were the risks. When we do things in practice, we sometimes gets unexpected results but, on the other hand, matters of theoretical concern do not always materialise in the real world.
The witnesses made a clear point that simplifies the Bill, namely, that if a box is opened and the contents are of no interest, the bank is told to keep it in storage and look after it. Thereafter, it is the bank's baby and should be kept safe in case a person comes looking for it. That would make the Bill a lot simpler. Whether the banks want to devote all that space in perpetuity to deposit boxes is not of concern to me. That was not a purpose of the Bill.
It would be very easy to limit the Bill at the stroke of a pen by extending the 80-year guideline to 100, 120 or 130 years. As I stated, someone would start with the older boxes and work forward to see how it goes and whether anything is being found. From a cultural point of view, a letter written in 1815 on an issue that might have been mundane at the time might be a lot more interesting now than a letter written in 1940, depending on the contents of the letter and who wrote it. I again make the point that by opening the oldest boxes first, some of the more interesting social history and so on might be found. As regards the idea of disposing of them, I accept there are good issues there. It struck me that if cash from 1850 is found, its nominal value would be very little but its real value significant if it was in notes. It would be even better if it is in coin, and better again if it was gold. The witnesses all seem to be making the same point, namely, that the Bill should be simplified and limited. There is a lot of merit in that.
Another issue relates to modern anti-money laundering law and dealing with things that are ancient in that regard.
I do not want to take up too much time at this stage. The idea of the register was that there was a record of everything that was opened in case anyone came back. The question is how detailed it needs to be. We obviously threw the kitchen sink at that. How detailed it needs to be or could be depends on what information is available.
The issue under the present law of archaeological artefacts has been mentioned. My understanding is that there is a date beyond which the State is fairly well indemnified. What is that particular date? It could be of relevance in this context.
As the person who drafted the Bill, I had access to very good drafters. In a committee such is this it is not necessarily possible to get into granular detail. I do not want to hold the committee up but I am unsure about who the appropriate person is, whether it is me as the drafter of the Bill or the committee, to ask for detailed engagement with the Department. We should sit down and go through what has been suggested by the officials, as well as the submission received from the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, BPFI, and other matters that may arise. Would it be possible for the Departments to engage in more detail, with the objective of retaining the essence of the Bill, minimising the risk by looking at the older boxes first and perhaps having a higher threshold of what is old and, moving forward, taking on board what the Department has said? It might mean considerable redrafting or considering whether to have Second Stage with a new Bill or continue by way of amendment.
These are all issues. The next step, on which I do not need an immediate answer, is to find out if the Department will get involved in detailed engagement to allow me to bring proposals to the committee for pre-legislative scrutiny which we could write into our report. The answer to that can wait until the end of the meeting.
Mr. Kenneth Jordan:
To pick up on the Deputy’s final point, I am unsure as to what the process would be but I would have no objection on that front. Our Department is mostly concerned with the Dormant Accounts Fund and the transfers, so perhaps our job is simpler on that point. Again I am not sure what the process would be but we will be more than happy to engage bilaterally. Time is an issue. I am the finance officer for the Dormant Accounts Fund, with a valuation function, so time is always an issue but I am definitely more than happy to engage.
I am not sure if the Deputy asked any specific questions. I meet the BPFI on dormant accounts quite regularly in any event and this matter did come up. It dawned on me as the Deputy was speaking that, by and large, we are not talking about safe deposit boxes at all here. These items are kept in what is called safe storage, that is, safes in banks where items have just been dropped in. The committee would need to speak to the BPFI about this to be reasonably clear about it but I am not sure if the banks necessarily know when an item has been looked at or last checked. The timeline issue probably needs consideration to determine if there is a timeline here, for example, whether we can say an item is 200 years or 150 years old?
I assume that people managing this process may want to do it in a sufficiently big batch to justify the process, if that makes sense. I wonder with regard to the timelines if this might be done along the lines of tranches and years. There is definitely an issue with the banks in that I am not sure if they have a full knowledge of the timelines for when items were deposited. Again, that is an issue for the detailed drafting.
The Deputy made a point about the register. To my mind, the simpler the register is, the better. The information involved is very limited.
The reason the step taken with regard to the Dormant Accounts Fund is so accepted - Deputy Ó Cuív is very aware of this having been involved in this area for much longer than I have - is that the system works very well. People know they get their money back. We see recoupments of perhaps 40% of what goes in a given year. It eventually finds its way back out again because people appear. I know the timelines are much shorter but I am sure that if something of value is found, people will appear. It is still a very important step to provide that people have a right to the property in perpetuity. What has made the Dormant Accounts Fund work is that people can always come back and get the money. The rest of the funds then go towards good purposes.
Mr. Kenneth Jordan:
Yes, it is 15 years. It is amazing how much money comes in to the Dormant Accounts Fund but it is also amazing how much money goes back out again to people who discover they have a dormant account that is 20 or 30 years old and the money has already gone. Some €25 million a year can be recouped from the fund so people, or their descendants, appear and find that money.
Ms Deirdre Mahony:
Before I address that point, I should say that we would be delighted to sit down and engage with Deputy Ó Cuív. We have reached out to the directors of the National Museum of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland. Collectively, we would be very happy to engage on this because where there is an opportunity to get something of social and historical interest, or of artistic or other cultural value, we would never say "No" to adding it to the national collections. We are very happy to consult on that.
I do not have the date the Deputy requested. There are two dimensions to it. There is the cut-off date but there is also the "no known owner" piece which the Deputy is seeking to address in the Bill. Objects found in a field are less likely to have an identifiable owner so I believe there are two dimensions to that. If it is okay with the Deputy, I will come back to him with that date.
The other matter the Deputy raised was in respect of correspondence, where a letter found in a box and written in the 1780s might be of very significant social interest and of social and historical value. Being conscious of the role and function of the national collections, it strikes me that there could be materials of more appropriate interest to our local museums as they may tell very important local stories. In the future consultation, we might look at engaging the local network of museums as well to see how they would interact with the legislation and what role they could play in safeguarding these important artefacts.
The Department often has the custodianship of national artefacts but it has a process in place for lending in the long term to the county museums and so on, provided it is satisfied with the standards and also that these museums will continue to exist and are funded through public funding. The Department has some arrangement where if it receives an artefact, it can act as the agent in deciding whether it is of national or local interest, and what is the most appropriate theme or location for it.
Ms Deirdre Mahony:
We have long-term lending agreements with a number of local authority museums and other museums and galleries throughout the network of same across the country. We also have a mobility of collection scheme where we support the national cultural institutions in bringing objects to the communities which may have a particular interest in them.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
We can certainly co-operate in looking at the Bill to see what we can do. I suggest that rather than getting into the detailed drafting of the Bill, we might agree on the broad outlines of the way in which the Bill will go. The drafting could then follow that. I am just trying to be helpful in at least understanding the structure and if it is to change.
I agree with respect to the timeline. I suspect there are issues and that the record-keeping of the banks, the further back one goes, is probably limited enough. Items may been deposited in good faith years ago and it may be impossible to determine a timeline there.
Our concerns on the register were that we thought it was more a question of the cart following the horse. It would be much better to have the banks do an examination of what they have and perhaps have a register done that way, rather than having a register of every single thing, noting every time there were changes in it. It seems very detailed and the information may not be available. The BPFI pointed that out that as you go further back, there may not be detailed information. There is also the point that of the items put into safe deposit boxes and storage, there is a difference between items of value and historical items.
I am encouraging the idea that we first have a broad idea of what the structure of the Bill will look like with drafting thereafter, rather than trying to redraft the Bill now without having a template to follow. Others may have a view on that.
I will come in very briefly. I envisage that we will take on board these useful submissions. There will be other submissions, particularly from the banking institutions. We will sit down with the drafters and look at what the Department said. We will take on board as far as is possible the very valid issues raised. We will see what changes can be made without moving away from the central part of the Bill. As I said, the central part of this Bill is so simple. It is just a matter of putting a legal structure on it. Maybe in some of the issues where we thought we had been safeguarding, we were really just creating complexities. I accept that. We will then come back with proposals for a remodelled Bill, which will leave out things that the Department indicated would be better left out and so on, and, as far as is possible, keeping the essence of the Bill, while taking on board what has been suggested here and by the banking institutions, that is, the people who hold them and have more information than any of us. Yet, I am not sure how much information they really have, because record-keeping was not exactly the same in times gone by.
We will do that and then come back for a much shorter debate with the Department. If we take on board things that have been highlighted here, then fewer debates will have to take place. That will minimise the unnecessary over-and-back. On the hoof, because I read these just last night, we must try to see a way forward that minimises this and gives us the biggest output for the smallest amount of input from the Department. We will first take on board very seriously every point debated and then we will come back. If there is to be a counter-argument to be made, we will explain it at that stage, rather than trying to do it here. I think it is a bit too complex for here, because the Bill itself is quite complex. That is what I see as a way forward.
On the other hand, there is an idea here that is worth pursuing. I do not see any big resistance from the Department in having a peep at this in order to see if other things are there. It would not take an awful lot of artefacts of value to turn up in order to make it a worthwhile exercise. We might find something really interesting. There may be something with a social history.
We became conscious of one issue when we opened up the monument in Moore Street. There were little bits of artefacts and there was one very simple thing. There was a picture of Robert Emmet which was dated pre-Rising and pre-national revival. It therefore showed that history had lived. It was not the case that it in itself was of hugely significant importance. Yet, it gave the context of what the people who were in those houses believed in. They were found under floorboards or something. We had an exhibition in this House of what was found under the floorboards when we did the renovation. There were things that were not hugely monumental, but that are interesting in a historic context. We would not know that until we opened them up.
I have one final point, which has become very obvious the more you talk to people. I accept that things are not actually in boxes. I understand that, in one case, there is a trunk with ropes and everything around it. I will not say how it was sealed. It was probably sealed on the outside with padlocks and so on. God knows what is inside. Maybe there is nothing inside. I accept that things were given in various shapes and forms. They could be in envelopes, or in any form. For safekeeping, they are in boxes. Maybe we have to change the name of the Bill from the safe deposit boxes and related deposits Bill. I am very flexible about that, because I think those terms may give the wrong idea. It is not about that. We are looking for stuff that was put into banks for safekeeping. That is what we want to look at.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an Teachta Ó Cuív. Is reachtaíocht fhíor shuimiúil í seo agus is dóigh liom go bhfuil an ceart aige go bhféadfaí 20 bosca a oscailt gan faic a bheith iontu ach d’fhéadfaí dhá nó trí bhosca a oscailt agus luach dochreidte a bheith iontu ó thaobh staire agus oidhreachta de. Is tuairim an-suimiúil í.
I want to commend Deputy Ó Cuív on a really fascinating Bill. The point he made at the end is very true, which is that several boxes could be opened and there may be nothing of any value in them, but something remarkable could turn up. It is just a mechanism. I want to welcome the fact that the officials from all the Departments seem to be willing. The most useful thing that will happen next is probably the direct engagement to try to tease out the mechanism. The point that was made by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media on local museums is well made.
I have a few questions. The first two or three are for Mr. Leahy from the Department of Finance. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something here, but from his statement, I note that his Department currently has a role under moneylaundering legislation in relation to the regulation of safe deposit boxes, etc. How would that differ from the register that is proposed? Is it retrospective or is it from whatever date it had been initiated going forward? Is it simply that it monitors what is coming in and out of this date henceforward and does not necessarily catalogue what is in them? That is one question.
On the issue of cash items - and this might be a stupid question - I assume currencies that were pre-decimalisation and even decimalised punts would be taken at the exchange rate at the point of changeover. Is it the case that they would not be adjusted for inflation or anything like that? Would it be a case of the €1.27 for £1? Is it the case that it would not be adjusted for anything beyond that? Similarly, for the pre-decimalisation currencies, I imagine that would be the case.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
In relation to the question on the euro, the answer is "Yes". The Central Bank of Ireland still accepts old Irish coins and notes at the conversion rate of when they converted over to euro. You have to go to the bank with those notes, but it is worth making the point that there may well be some of those that may have a higher face value than the actual value. One of the points we try to make is that you would therefore want to be careful. If you were to convert some money over, you could end up with a higher face value and a loss of money for the individuals involved. That is one of the points where you need to be careful.
I do not deal with the area of moneylaundering, but what I understand is included in the register is that all bank and payment accounts are identified by IBAN and safe deposit boxes are held by the registered credit institution. It does not include information on bank balances. The purpose of this register is to make this information available to the financial intelligence unit, FIU, which is the investigations unit within An Garda Síochána. This is effectively to track information. Yet, if there were a specific question the Deputy wanted to ask on this issue, maybe he could give it to the clerk and we could come back to him on it. I do not want to give him information because, as I said, I do not deal with money laundering myself. It is not one of my areas.
That is okay. Not go over what is a relatively marginal issue, but Mr. Leahy has given an answer on the euro. What about the pre-decimalisation currencies? Would they be at the exchange rate at the point of changeover?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
It is an interesting question. I have never come across the pre-decimalisation currency, but I imagine that in the case of an old Irish pound, it is probably the same. If you are talking about coins, it is probably the same conversion rate. It is something we would have to ask the bank. The issue has never arisen, as far as I am aware. People will have probably held onto those coins and notes that are pre-decimalisation under the assumption that they may have some value. We will have to ask the bank about what its approach would be to pre-1971 currency.
I am not sure whether it was Mr. Leahy or Mr. Jordan who made the point that it would be on the grounds that realistically the financial value that would be involved would not be very significant. Nonetheless, it is important the legislation has some mechanism because it is possible, whether across all the safe deposit boxes, if a dozen had a very substantial amount of cash. Even when you allow for depreciation, there has to be a mechanism to do something with it. That sum of money could not simply be discarded. You would like to see it being put to use. In the context of what the Exchequer deals with, it is not huge. Yet, to an individual project, it could be substantial. It is therefore important that that mechanism exists.
Mr. Jordan may want to come in, but I will just put one more question to Mr. Leahy first. The Deloitte report tells us we do not know much is there in value.
Is it known how many safe deposit boxes or equivalent items there are?
Mr. Kenneth Jordan:
If there was substantial amounts of cash involved, our proposal on that was if it was clear that there were items of value, we would balance the right to property with the public good. At the moment, the evidence in the Deloitte report is that the value is not there so by actually putting in place legislation that would give the State the right to take those funds, the balance is not quite right. If the bank goes through these and finds valuable items, that is when we actually know how to progress. On the issue of cash, I would imagine that if we find an item of significant value, it is probably of national significance as well. It is very much an issue of finding cash deposits. Again, if we are opening boxes from 200 years ago, it is the case that substantial amounts then were hundreds and thousands and it gets really complicated to work out their value today. The suggestion on our part was that if we have a look at these boxes and we find dormant items that are valuable, we will work out what to do from there and figure out whether it is feasible to put them into the Dormant Accounts Fund.
I would like to put the question to Mr. Leahy on the number of safety deposit boxes or items. I have another question as well, which might be an issue for the Department of Justice rather than any of the Departments represented today. I am interested in the issue of title deeds, which had not occurred to me previously. Title deeds are not particularly valuable, except to somebody who is trying to perfect title or who is in a situation like that. There might be a substantial amount of people, particularly in the cities where there are large amounts of unregistered properties like Cork and Dublin, for whom those title deeds might be very valuable or useful. If such people are not related or connected to the person who lodged those title deeds, that becomes complicated. Is there potentially a function for the Land Registry and the Department of Justice in terms of reuniting title deeds with people with-----
There were two separate questions. If Mr. Leahy could tell me how many safe deposit boxes there are, that would be great. Separately, I was asking of anyone who wants to offer an opinion on it - although perhaps it is an issue for the drafter or this committee as much as anything else - but it occurs to me that there may be a role in terms of reuniting title deeds with their rightful owners.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
As regards the first question, we have no idea. The Central Bank has no idea how many there are because it is not a regulated activity under the Central Bank's rules. It is really a contract between the bank and the individual so we have no idea how many safe deposit boxes there are or how many objects are in safe keeping. There is no record of it and that is why the Deloitte report only looked at 100, just as an example for the purposes of compiling its report. The Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, BPFI, has also done some work on this but we do not have a record of what is there.
As regards title deeds, it is my understanding that while there may be missing physical deeds, everything is automated and available electronically from the PRA at this stage. Therefore any deeds or similar documents found may be of historical interest or value but I am not sure they would be relevant. They may be of interest to the PRA but we would have to engage with the authority to determine if it is interested in old deeds at this stage. It is my understanding is that most deeds are now available electronically. Effectively, they have all been digitised so it may not be an issue.
I am not looking for a response from the witnesses on this. This is for the committee and for the transcript of the meeting as much as anything else. This issue may arise because it is common enough in Cork city and Dublin city to have unregistered properties. Sometimes there are issues in relation to ground rent and so forth. This may be an issue for people who have an imperfect title and an unregistered property. A lot of these would be older people with properties that have not been sold in the past 20 or 30 years since the Land Registry was established. There would not be digitised deeds for properties like that, as I understand it.
I will finish on that. I do not have any questions for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, despite the fact that the greatest benefit might well be in the areas of culture and heritage. The statement from the Department was very strong and it is important that the dialogue continues.
I welcome all members of the delegation to the meeting. I thank Deputy Ó Cuív for bringing this forward. It is a very interesting topic and one that a lot of people would never have even thought about.
I have a question in the context of the winding down of Ulster Bank. I am sure that bank has safe deposit boxes such as those alluded to by Deputy Ó Cuív. What is happening there? Does the Central Bank or the Department have a role to play? Who has a role in it? Quite a number of banks have closed since the economic crash, including Irish Nationwide, KBC, and so on. What happened in regard to safety deposit boxes that they had? Would they have moved to whoever bought those banks or bought their debt? Would the purchasers have bought the safe deposit boxes as well? I am interested to know what happened.
It is very timely that Deputy Ó Cuív is bringing forward this legislation, given that Ulster Bank is winding down its operations. Indeed, the fact that Ulster Bank is winding down could give us an insight into what might happen and could strengthen Deputy Ó Cuív's Bill. We could learn from what Ulster Bank does and use the findings from its closure.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
On those issues, the two longest-standing banks in Ireland are probably Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank. As I understand it, Ulster Bank has been 178 years in the State or rather, on the island. As far as I am aware, all the branches of Ulster Bank are now closed and the bank is in the process of emptying those branches. I would imagine that because they have been given issues in safe keeping, they are continuing to maintain those. As I said already, it is not a regulated activity so it does not come under the purview of the Central Bank or the Department. It is really a contractual issue between the individuals who own those safe deposit boxes and the banks themselves. We would not be up to date but I would imagine that Ulster Bank would have a duty of care to keep those safe and to store the materials somewhere. They may well be moving them out of the branches at this stage. As I understand it, they are emptying those branches for the purposes of either returning the buildings to their owners or selling the actual buildings. There is no role for us. I do not think anybody has a role here. Certainly, the Department and the Central Bank have no role.
I understand that Part 3 of the 1970 Act provides for bailment transfer which is effectively the transfer of goods to different institutions. It may well be the case that Ulster Bank will retain an entity in the State to deal with legacy issues and that may actually take control of those goods. It would be best to address the question to Ulster Bank. The arrival of KBC is more recent. It has only been here since 1971 so there may be fewer issues there. In terms of what would have been sold, its assets, including debts, mortgages and so on would have been transferred. Financial assets would have transferred from one bank to another but it would not necessarily have included safe deposit boxes as such.
So what Mr. Leahy is saying is that those safe deposit boxes could have travelled around the world, going from one bank to another and so on. Maybe the next of kin have no dealings with the bank holding the safe deposit boxes now. Indeed, they may not know where they are. Mr. Leahy is saying that the activity is unregulated and in the context of Ulster Bank, there is nobody overseeing the boxes. We do not know what is going to happen to them. It is a contractual issue between the party who lodged items in the safe deposit box, perhaps 50 or 100 years ago, and the bank. It is really unregulated which leads one to wonder about it. I would have thought that the Central Bank would have some say in it.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
We do not regulate safety deposits. There is no regulation of safe deposit boxes in banks. They do not come within the purview of the Central Bank so we would not have a role in terms of the recovery of that property. It would really be a matter for the individuals involved and a matter for the bank to maintain the duty of care that it has towards the individuals. The Central Bank would be more interested in making sure that the winding down of both Ulster Bank and KBC occurred properly and that the financial assets were transferred appropriately to AIB, Bank of Ireland and PTSB.
Mr. Pat Leahy:
To the extent the Department was involved, it was about concerns over transfers of accounts and making sure accounts were closed within the banks and moved to appropriate accounts so people were not unbanked as a result of this. The Department’s main focus in this was making sure there was a proper transfer of functions, that individuals with Ulster Bank or KBC had moved to a new home and that it was properly done. The focus of the Department was not on safe deposit boxes. The Department does not have a role in regulating them. It would be for the banks to deal with those issues.
So we did not have a situation where, when NAMA sold the loans or properties, or the banks themselves were taken over and sold on, the safe deposit boxes then became property of the bank. That would not have happened, would it?
Mr. Pat Leahy:
We need to distinguish between loans, financial assets, mortgages, etc., and safe deposits boxes. They are separate. Financial assets of the institutions were at interest and sold on. Other assets owned by the banks would be a matter for them to deal with appropriately. Where they have safe deposit boxes or material in storage, they may have moved stuff between branches when branches were closed down.
The Central Bank would have had a role when one institution took over another, would it not? Surely it would have put something in place to say if there are safe deposit boxes, they will be the property of the contractual person, rather than of the bank.
Going back 80 or 100 years, the number of banks involved was small. The smaller banks were amalgamating into AIB, Bank of Ireland and so on. It simplifies it. All the new banks that came in, such as KBC, do not come into the reckoning for the foreseeable future. By that stage, the Bill, if passed, will be well amended, as all these things are. An attraction in having a long cut-off date beyond which you do not move is it simplifies how many banks could be involved in the process. I do not know if ACC ever took safe deposits. It was not set up until the 1930s or 1940s. The further back you go, the fewer banks there were. Presumably, when the Provincial Bank of Ireland, the Munster & Leinster Bank and all of those became AIB, all their safe deposit boxes moved in. The same thing happened when Bank of Ireland amalgamated with other banks. Do I take it as given that the banks are more than conscious of all the concerns we are expressing today about people having rights to property? If Ulster Bank had safe deposit boxes, as the one old bank that has ceased to exist in the State, would it have generally had a duty to protect people’s property since it does not own it and to have a vehicle to handle said property in case someone came looking for it and produced proof of ownership? That would be its problem as a bank, as opposed to the concern of the Bill.
Mr. Kenneth Jordan:
It is not our policy area, but I asked the BPFI that question. The answer should come from that body, but it told me Ulster Bank has centralised all items in a single location. It also told me that, with other banks, when individual branches closed, the policy was to move items to the nearest branch. It is not a dramatic movement if a Bank of Ireland or AIB branch closed. I am relaying the information from the BPFI but I think it answers some of the queries.
It strikes me that beneath it all Deputy Ó Cuív is a closet romantic in putting forward this Bill. There is something romantic in the idea of these artefacts travelling down through history to us. While Schrödinger's cat would long since be dead if it was in a safe deposit box, Schrödinger's artefact excites the imagination when we think what could be inside the boxes. I am sure every one of us is the same in this.
Deputy Ó Cuív has posed a pleasant headache. Normally, there is one Department championing a piece of legislation but this legislation requires input from a number of Departments. I have a number of questions but will begin with that one. I was given the advice when entering politics by Trevor Sargent that, if you want to get something done, get somebody to take responsibility for it. If there was to be extensive redrafting or recasting of the Bill, in which it seems universally acknowledged there is merit, which Department would best head that work? The route to legislation for a Private Members' Bill is tortuous. For this to be done in a short timeframe, ideally a Minister would pick it up and run. I am interested if any Department represented here will say it is the logical one to take this work on.
Mr. Kenneth Jordan:
That is a policy decision which I am not sure officials could make. In my mind, the responsible Department probably falls out of an amendment to the Bill. If the Dormant Accounts Fund element does not come in, the Minister for Rural and Community Development has much less responsibility, including around indemnification and those issues. The decision needs to be made further down the line after conversation.
If you found cash, it would be from the 1800s or whatever and you would be better keeping it. We have to keep in mind we are not talking about anything current but things that are there a long time. The more we push back the Bill date, which is arbitrary, from 80 to 100 to 120, the more turning anything found into cash would be an awful tragedy.
There would be a headache.
The difference between the face value and conversion value would cause problems if somebody came calling. With the Dormant Accounts Fund, somebody might come calling and it is cash in, cash out and it is the exact value, but getting into the business of selling X number of coins through whatever market could cause problems.
I want to ask Ms Mahony about that issue of finding correspondence. One of the issues is that we do not have any idea of the scale of what we are talking about in terms of resource. Mr. Leahy said we have no idea how many of these objects, boxes, caskets or whatever it is there are. We do not really have an idea of the scale of the ask on the national museums.
There may be personal correspondence involved here and there is the idea of social history. Correspondence that is 150 years old may have been banal and prosaic at the time but with the passage of time, it may have acquired historical significance. In terms of the digitisation of those records, do we run into any headaches around privacy issues? Obviously, if my box of letters was found in my childhood room, I would not necessarily like them to be digitised, uploaded and published. Is there any kind of indemnity involved in that or any conflict with privacy issues? Depending on resources, these records could ideally be digitised and put to one side, the letters put back in the box and handed back to the bank. That is surely not as simple as I imagine it to be, however.
Ms Deirdre Mahony:
I will go to the Leas-Chathaoirleach's earlier point about where the policy responsibility might lie. Certainly, we would have a huge interest in the Department in any artefacts that might emerge which would be of benefit to the national collections and local communities through the network of local and regional museums.
To reflect on our intervention in the opening statement, we would be conscious of an administrative burden on the director of the National Museum of Ireland or her delegates of looking in every box. That would potentially be a huge amount of time requiring a variety of expertise depending on the kinds of artefacts involved. We would be very keen to see an intermediate step whereby there is some sort of pre-assessment. I am not sure with that intermediate step that it follows that the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media would necessarily take it all on board but, again, that is a wider policy discussion and one on which we would be very happy to engage with Deputy Ó Cuív and, as I mentioned, the director of the National Museum of Ireland and director of the National Archives of Ireland.
On digitisation, the Leas-Chathaoirleach asked a very interesting question and I do not have a quick answer. Obviously, we are engaged in a programme of digitising the national collections and within those, particularly in the archives of the National Library of Ireland, would be personal correspondence that is being digitised without any general data protection regulation, GDPR, issues of which I am aware. It might be worth reflecting on that fact and looking at how we do that. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach said, there could be efficiencies in digitising and putting that away. That is something for me to take back to the Department and maybe consider further.
I thank the witnesses. I will give Deputy Ó Cuív the last word as it is his Bill. I found the interaction today very constructive even though it is maybe a difficult Bill to interact with in that way. It has been a very constructive discussion, however. Everybody in attendance will have seen the worth of this Bill if it can be simplified and the problems the witnesses have raised can be resolved in a way that is satisfactory to everybody. It is certainly something with which we should move forward. Deputy Ó Cuív may have the last word.
I thank the witnesses from the various Departments for coming in and for their constructive contributions. The first point that comes across to me, particularly from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, is that this is worth looking at and working on. The second is that some of the suggestions are to take things out of the Bill rather than that there are huge omissions. It is easier to take a thing out than to reconstruct it the other way.
What we have to debate as a committee in private session is the process by which we move forward with the committee involved. I am involved as the author of the Bill. Obviously, I had considerable back-up in drafting it. We cannot leave those people out. We should go through our pre-legislative scrutiny and write a report. At that stage, the idea would be to have a detailed discussion with the Department and then to come back to the committee before we submit our final pre-legislative report with what we would see as changes to the Bill if we are to go forward, and whether the Bill would be rewritten or this would be done by amendment. Since we have not gone very far in the process - we have only gone through Second Stage - there is no problem recommitting a new Bill, going through Second Stage again and then getting a derogation from pre-legislative scrutiny the next time and so on. We need to work out the mechanics but I am much clearer in my own mind today about what might be a possible way forward that will get us the interaction we need.
As I said, to a certain extent, we are at the stage in a Bill that if the Department was developing it, it would have covered all of this before even reaching the heads of Bill stage. There was no way of doing that, however, until the Department had the shape of what was in my mind in bringing forward this Bill. I am not sure about that, however, because here have not been many Private Members' Bills with as many sections as this one. There have been one or two. Former Deputy Alan Shatter introduced a few Bills but not many have been introduced with more than three or four sections. To a certain extent, therefore, we have to create the process. That creation has to be within the existing processes of the State. That is my position. Again, we have access to legal advice and drafting advice here that was not available in the past and it is a great service altogether.
It remains for me to add my thanks as well. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir for what has been a very interesting and constructive session. That concludes the committee's business in public session for today. I propose that we go into private session to deal with other business. Is that agreed? Agreed.