Thursday, 30 July 2020
Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020: Second Stage
Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo. I welcome the debate this evening but I must say I am absolutely taken aback that the Government has abused the goodwill of Members of the Opposition who, given the pandemic, the serious risk to health and the impact on our economy and court systems and throughout society, have waived normal political and parliamentary scrutiny on legislation and allowed for legislation to be dealt with in one sitting of the House. We have allowed for a truncated period for amendments to be submitted. Legislation that would usually take months to pass in the Houses is now taking hours, with the support and facilitation of Members of the Opposition, including Sinn Féin. We have done this because we recognise the consequences the pandemic is having, sometimes despite the fact we do not support the legislation that is before the House.
What we never expected was that the Government would use this support and use the pandemic to sneak into legislation amendments that have nothing to do with the pandemic, nothing to do with Covid-19 and nothing to do with the circumstances in which people find themselves and not emergency legislation. We had that in one instance last week, where in a three-section Bill, one section was to give a €17,000 wage increase to a Minister of State, and in this legislation, which is supposed to be emergency legislation, there is a whole chapter that facilitates vulture funds. We could not make this up.
This is about supporting vulture funds. I sat on the finance committee for the previous two Dáil terms. Every member of the committee was looking to get vulture funds before it so we could question them about their practices of repossessing homes and how they are dealing with debtors in this State but not one of them would present before the finance committee of the Houses of the Oireachtas. Perhaps the question is why would they, when they have a Government that is willing not only to pass legislation for them but to pass emergency legislation that will do only one thing, which is, in Chapters 12, 13 and 14 of the Bill, to allow them to rely on hearsay and inadmissible evidence. These vulture funds will now be able to rely on these provisions to secure debts to evict people from their homes. It is simply not acceptable.
At this late stage and at this late hour, I appeal to the Minister to do the right thing and not to facilitate the vulture funds. If she believes that is what needs to be done, at least let us go through the proper scrutiny process. Why has this come about? It is because the vulture fund in this case, Promontoria, which is well renowned in this State for its practices, lost a case. It lost a case that was appealed to the Court of Appeal just a number of months ago, in April. Lo and behold, the Government believed it was a priority, just a number of months later, to write into this Bill a number of sections that resolve the issue in favour of Promontoria, basically nullifying the decision made in Mr. Justice Collins's determination at the Court of Appeal.
With all the pressing priorities in the State, this was the issue that was brought forward by the Minister for Justice and Equality to the Cabinet. Somehow, with everything else that is happening, she felt that this case, which ruled against the vulture fund and in favour of the debtor in April and which protects many people not just in the case of Promontoria but in other cases, was so important that the Government should get it through in a way whereby there is no pre-legislative scrutiny, no proper Second Stage debate which would normally take days to conclude, no proper Committee Stage but one that is guillotined and no proper Report Stage, which should take place two weeks later. It decided to do something unique and to use the cover of the pandemic to support the vulture funds. It does not matter that the vulture funds will not come in and talk to the elected representatives of the people of this State. Why would they? This Government has rolled out the red carpet to them, not only to say, "What do you want?" but to say, "We will not only give you what you want, but we will use emergency legislation to bring it in".
This is wrong on a number of levels. I appeal to the Minister to do the right thing and not use the pandemic to introduce legislation that only favours vulture funds. It will send shivers down the spines of the debtors who are now in the grips of these vulture funds, be it Promontoria or the many others. I appeal to Members across the political divide here not to support sections 12, 13 and 14 of the Bill.