Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Bill 2008: Committee Stage.
Lucinda Creighton (Dublin South East, Fine Gael)
Please excuse my Freudian slip. I welcome the spirit of this amendment. It is vitally important that we place some form of restriction and method of scrutiny into this Bill. In my lifetime I have never read a Bill that proposes to give such wide-ranging powers to one individual. This potentially makes the Minister for Finance a very powerful man. While I have a certain amount of faith and confidence in the Minister, I have certain concerns, and my concerns and reservations are shared by many Deputies on this side of the House. I refer to the unprecedented latitude being afforded to one Minister and those concerns should be noted on the record of the House. There is a shocking lack of checks and balances on those powers and this amendment would address this lack to some extent.
Fine Gael supports the Bill as a whole and in good faith. We are not privy to the same level of detail as the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues about the actual and real situation in which the banks find themselves. Last week, the House was assured by the Minister that there was no problem with Irish banks and no danger or risk of any of them going under. Obviously, we entered different territory this week and found out that was not the case. The Minister is asking the Opposition to take a giant leap of faith and, to a large extent, we are prepared to do that. However, it is difficult for a variety of reasons, primarily because the Government and the Department of Finance have in no small part contributed to the mess in which we now find ourselves. It is important to acknowledge this point. It is not nay-saying or negativity. Deputy Seán Ardagh may take issue with Members from the Opposition benches criticising any aspect of this legislation. However, that is our duty. It would be highly irresponsible for the Opposition not to seek reassurances from the Minister for Finance or ensure safeguards are put in place.
We have heard contradictory figures concerning the guarantee. If we take the figure of €400 billion at face value, it is a massive guarantee based on taxpayers' money. When it is broken down, it amounts to €92,000 for every man, woman and child. That is a large responsibility for us who represent the taxpayers and non-taxpayers who ultimately will foot the bill should the guarantee be called into play. It is a noose around the necks of the ordinary citizens. If a single bank goes down, the chair will be kicked from under them. I have concerns about this and find it difficult to support an open-ended Bill without any safeguards for the people, particularly as we have arrived at this position because of reckless financial behaviour, a failure to adequately regulate the banking sector and, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins pointed out, the speculative nature of the property industry. We now realise the so-called "property boom" was a false bubble.
I have grave concerns about section 6. I do not like to draw extreme analogies but the powers being vested in the Minister for Finance are somewhat akin to those seen in 1930s Germany. While I accept the Minister will not abuse them, should he be in the frame of mind to do so, the section provides him with much latitude. There is no requirement for the Minister to present any details of secondary legislation to the House. He is simply required to consult with a person or a body. He then has 21 days to introduce whatever measures he so wishes and return to the House with them. Even if his resolution is rejected by the House, this cannot take effect retrospectively. Should damage be done, it cannot be undone.
I support Deputy Richard Bruton's argument that three days would be adequate in this regard. It would provide much greater safeguards for parliamentary democracy and greater accountability to the people. There is no reason that an extended period of three weeks is necessary. If the Minister was required to take action for a particular bank, there is no reason this could not happen by re-calling the House in two or three days. We are all acutely conscious of the gravity of this issue but also of the responsibility on us to protect taxpayers' money. I am sure every Member would be willing to agree to such an amendment.
There is a large responsibility on the Minister and the Government. The Opposition is prepared to play its part in this and support the legislation to re-inject confidence into the financial markets. We cannot, however, in good conscience or faith give the Minister the type of blank cheque as presented in the Bill. Meaningful amendments must be accepted by the Government. I hope every amendment is not pushed to a division but that the Minister will — in the same good faith as the Opposition — take on board some of the constructive suggestions put forward by the Opposition.
I commend Deputy Joan Burton's amendment. I hope the Minister will consider the other amendments and take them on board in a responsible fashion as we would expect from the Minister for Finance.