Thursday, 30 July 2020
Civil Law and Criminal Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2020: Second Stage
I add my voice to many of the other voices from the Opposition. Legislation is an incredibly important element of what we do here and of the lives of the people outside the House. People live and die by legislation that is created in this House. We are discussing legislation here that has very far-reaching effects in Irish society. Obviously, vulture funds are a negative element of Irish society. As the previous speaker said, they have had phenomenal access to the Department of Finance over the last number of years, yet they have had very little scrutiny from the elected representatives in the committee on finance. Indeed, they refused every opportunity to be questioned by the committee on finance in the past. They simply pick on the financial carcases of families, individuals, farms and businesses.
The Government's attitude to vulture funds over the last decade has been wrong. I have stood in the House before previous Ministers for Finance and asked them to ensure that assets, houses, farms and buildings can be sold back to families at the same price the vulture funds receive them, but Minister after Minister has refused to do that. It always seems that the vulture funds have the ear of the Government and have opportunities provided by the Government, and the people who are in battle with those vulture funds for properties, houses, farms and businesses, which they have poured their lives into and which they have bled and sweated to keep, always get negative responses from the Government. Now we have the Government crowbarring a section into a legislative measure under the cover of Covid-19 that radically reduces the grounds on which people stand legally in their battles against vulture funds.
I ask the Minister to consider removing it and to place it where it should be. It should be given scrutiny. The idea that a Bill of this import should be dealt with in its entirety in a matter of hours on the last day the Dáil sits before the recess is nonsense. The reason there are processes in Leinster House for pre-legislative scrutiny and for ensuring that all affected groups have the ear of the Minister and are consulted and that legislation goes through five Stages, with the back and forth on Committee and Report Stages on amendments, is to ensure the legislation is right. We know that when we do not do that, we simply do not get it right. We create massive mistakes, and people will live and die by those mistakes. I ask the Minister to make sure that she has the will of the Dáil in this case. The Dáil has assented to helping the Government to get through legislation in short periods of time because of the Covid pandemic.
I also wish to discuss another element of the Bill. Aontú is an Irish republican party. Our views date back to the ideas of Wolfe Tone. We believe in pluralism. We believe in an Ireland of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, as well as those of every other religion and none, being able to live together in harmony with one another. That pluralism is not one that seeks to make people's characteristics invisible in the public domain. We believe that people in their religious or cultural attributes should be able to flourish in the public space. This country has a history of extreme uniformity. In 1950s Ireland there was one way and one way only. If one did not accept that way, one was cast aside. We have reached a level of pluralism in recent times. People can express religious beliefs if they wish and do not have to express any religious belief if they do not wish to do so. Both the secular and the religious can live equally side by side.
It would be a big mistake if the Government rowed back and attacked the pluralism we have today by returning to a situation where there is uniformity again and everybody must adhere to that new uniformity. When it comes to oaths and so forth, the Government should simply give people a choice on how to express their commitment to tell the truth in courts in the future. It is very disappointing that we would have a new uniformity or orthodoxy and that the achievements we have attained towards pluralism in recent times would be scrubbed out.