Tuesday, 20 January 2009
Business of Dáil
On Friday, 16 January 2009, the Taoiseach requested me by letter under Standing Order 24 to summon Dáil Éireann to meet today, 20 January 2009, at 1.30 p.m. to consider legislation to enable Anglo Irish Bank to be taken into public ownership. The business of today's special sitting is confined to the subject matter set out in the summons and arrangements relating thereto.
It is proposed to take No. 2, motion re allocation of time and No. 1, Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Bill 2009 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Subsequent Stages. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that No. 2 shall be decided without debate.
It is not agreed. We have just come from the Mansion House commemorating the first sitting of the Dáil 90 years ago tomorrow. The point I tried to make there was that the fundamental aspect of that First Dáil was accountability in this Chamber — full accountability by the Government to the Parliament and through the Parliament to the people in respect of all dealings of the Government on behalf of the people. To suggest that this House can deal with a Bill of 38 pages produced at 9 o'clock this morning with the magnitude that it contains in a number of hours is simply not credible given what we have just said and from where we have just come. I propose that the Dáil rise not later than midnight tonight to allow adequate time to deal with the thousand questions that need to be asked arising from the Government's position on the matter.
The country is now in a crisis of confidence, which partly arises from the international situation. However, principally it is a crisis of confidence in the Government led by the Taoiseach, which has no clarity, coherence or agenda in terms of the way out of the problems we now face. The situation of the banks today affects every single person and business on this island and those who have connections beyond it. The many thousands of rock solid people, who put their money into shares in banks, and whose shares and futures have now been decimated, do not speak but are shocked and appalled by the lack of leadership from the Government in dealing with the issue.
Last Wednesday the Fine Gael Party for its part called for the State to take over one bank — Anglo Irish Bank. It also suggested that the proposed €1.5 billion recapitalisation should not proceed and instead that the bank should be wound down in an orderly fashion over seven years. When the Taoiseach spoke in Tokyo three or four hours before the decision was made, he said that recapitalisation was proceeding. Subsequently following telephone calls or whatever, the Government decided to change direction and announced its intention to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank.
For his part the Minister for Finance has said that there were no irresponsible lending practices in Irish banks. We have not seen copies of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report into these banks which is fundamental to the business we need to do here. I wrote to the Taoiseach concerning a number of issues about Anglo Irish Bank and the Government's plan for it to continue as a going concern. I asked about a new management board, a vetting of that board, the new commercial expertise that would be put in there and the issues surrounding the extension or otherwise of the guarantee. The Taoiseach replied in part to that letter. He also sent me a letter on his own behalf personally stating that he was very concerned at statements being made that would have a detrimental effect on the banking and fiscal situation in the country. I can assure the Taoiseach that this party will be responsible and will not be gagged by any overtures from Government or any letters from him. If many Ministers on the other side of the House had watched their mouths in the past six months we might not be in the position we are in today.
Given that Standard and Poor's has readjusted its rating of Spain and is likely to do the same in respect of Ireland, this is a crisis of confidence. Our banks are now practically valueless without the Government. We know the importance of the banking sector to our economy in allowing businesses to continue with credit lines. It is very important for people to be responsible in their attitude to the banking system. In saying that, it is critical that all Deputies in this House receive answers from the Minister for Finance to the questions posed during the debate. What is proposed by Government is completely insufficient to deal with this. I suggest to the Taoiseach that he amend the proposal and allow the House to sit until midnight so that Members can have a decent opportunity to ask questions and get answers. We want accountability here.
We have had all the allegations about the Fianna Fáil tent in Galway, about developers' banks, and people saying they do not owe money to Anglo Irish Bank any more but to the State——
I can stand up in this House and say I have no connection — good, bad or indifferent — with any of these banks, nor do I have shares in any of them. Allegations are flying around the country about people saying——
We want this bank taken over and wound up in an orderly fashion over seven years. I will ask the Minister for Finance, in the course of his contributions, to prove his point and to demonstrate that the Government sees this as a going concern.
I am very unhappy, a Cheann Comhairle, with the structure of this debate. You presided in the Mansion House a short time ago over the way in which the first Dáil did its business — open, transparent and accountable.
At the beginning of the session the Ceann Comhairle drew attention to a letter he had received from the Taoiseach asking him to reconvene the Dáil today. However, the Dáil should have been in session today and this week. We have serious business to deal with on behalf of the people. Since the Dáil last met, we have had the worst Exchequer returns we have ever seen. We have seen a continuing rise in unemployment, with 1,900 people told they are to lose their jobs in Limerick and others told yesterday they will lose their jobs in Galway, and a continuing problem with confidence in our economy and in our banking system. Even if there were no proposal to nationalise a bank which required the reconvening of the Dáil today, the Dáil should have been back in session.
The Labour Party has tabled a number of amendments to the proposed business today, the effect of which would be that this Dáil would continue to sit this week as it would any week. In the current economic climate and the current banking situation, with the problems we are now facing, and given the concern the people of this country have for their jobs, their businesses and their futures, the idea that the Dáil should come back for a couple of hours in the afternoon to deal with a major proposal regarding the nationalisation of a bank is not acceptable. The Government's proposal in that regard is out of touch with reality.
I agree with Deputy Kenny that the priority must be to restore confidence to the Irish banking system and to the economy. That confidence is badly damaged. We can see this in the markets, for example, with what is happening to bank shares. The way we do our business here will have a major impact in terms of restoring confidence. It will not restore confidence in the Irish banking system and in the economy to rush through legislation dealing with an important issue such as this. We know from past experience — it has happened over and over again — that when one rushes legislation one often gets it wrong.
The proposal is to deal with a Bill containing 39 sections in a time which allows less than four minutes' discussion on each section. This is a major decision. The implications of what is being done here and what is happening beyond this House are huge. If a bank goes down, it will cost the taxpayer, because the guarantee will take effect. If a bank has to be recapitalised, it will cost the taxpayer because that it where the money is going to come from and if a bank is nationalised, it will cost the taxpayer because of the implications contained therein. This is quite apart from the importance of what the banks do for business, for households and for the running of this country.
The Government has on previous occasions come in here, when it wanted to rush legislation through the House, and suggested debating a proposal for a few hours, taking all sections by a particular time and imposing a guillotine, and that would be the end of the story. This legislation is far too important and serious, and there is far too much riding on this. As regards the letter which the Taoiseach sent me and Deputy Kenny yesterday, the contents of which were then spun by spokespersons for the Taoiseach yesterday evening, the Labour Party needs no lecture or pious homily from the Taoiseach about responsibility on the subject of banking and the economy.
The Labour Party has been measured, as indeed has all the Opposition, in what we have said about the state of banking and the state of the economy over the past number of months and we stand ready, as always, to be constructive in dealing with any proposal that is brought before the House to deal with problems in banking or in any other area of the economy. However, one cannot be very constructive if the time allowed for the consideration of the Bill is as short as is proposed here. This is too serious for the kind of short, rushed approach the Government intends to take to today's business. The House should continue to sit later tonight. Deputy Kenny has proposed sitting until midnight and my amendment proposes sitting until 10.30 p.m. I also believe it should continue to sit as normal throughout this week and take the time that is necessary.
The proposal to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank was announced by the Government last Thursday. It has taken from Thursday to Tuesday to reconvene the Dáil. The Bill to nationalise the bank was not published until last night and I do not see any reason it cannot be subjected to a good, normal debate here in the House where the implications can be teased out. We are here to represent the taxpayer who will end up having to pay the bill if this goes all wrong.
It is not only an issue of the amount of time or how robust is the debate on the proposition, but the fact that this proposal is ill-conceived. It is being rushed without the Government even knowing the full facts of the situation applying at Anglo Irish Bank. The Members of the House are being asked to agree to the potential nationalisation of what could well prove to be, and has plenty of indicators to suggest it, a financial cesspit. This is what we are being asked to nationalise.
Sinn Féin has advocated a State bank approach, the nationalisation of a bank certainly if that was the methodology to be approached——
The Member opposite will have his chance to mouth again later, whoever he may be among the caucus over there. I have my brief opportunity to speak. I am saying clearly that as people who believe sincerely that a State bank approach is indeed one that should be pursued by Government, why would it take on board Anglo Irish Bank which already has such a damaged reputation? How does the Government propose such a State bank exercise will regain the confidence of the people and will go forward with the potential of succeeding in the future as a further entity among all the competing financial institutions in this State? Why does the Government believe that a State bank or nationalised entity must always be, as in this instance, nothing more than a potential financial cesspit? Surely we have higher standards in respect of what should be a nationalised entity or State bank and not this particular example of gross abuse and mismanagement.
As we speak, a constituent of mine is in Mountjoy Prison over not being able, through unemployment, to meet repayments on a €3,000 loan from a credit union. He is in prison, jailed by a District Court, while there are people in Anglo Irish Bank who have been responsible for masking, with the connivance of others in other financial institutions, major loan irregularities. Has the Taoiseach any idea of the full extent of it? With resignation after resignation of directors, does the Government even know the full truth regarding the financial practices, the bottom line and the balance sheet of Anglo Irish Bank? All the information we have been shown so far suggests it does not. It is, therefore, irresponsible for the Government to come before the House and expect Members to adopt this Bill. This is not the way forward.
Sinn Féin supported in principle the proposal to address the then emerging crisis in the financial institutions in September. We took the opportunity to engage with the Minister for Finance outlining our concerns and how we believed the banking guarantee proposals should be put into practice. The Government, when it returned with the details of the Minister's proposals, failed far short of the minimum requirement in our view and we were forced to oppose the details of the guarantee scheme. We are mindful of and recognise the importance of fiscal stability in the economy. This is not, however, the correct working out of what was initially flagged. Not only do I object to the time constraints imposed by the Order of Business but I oppose the proposition for Anglo Irish Bank. This bank does not deserve to be nationalised. I strongly reject the Government's proposals.
The purpose of the introduction of this Bill today and for its completion this evening is to ensure we underpin stability in our financial system. Wider issues regarding banking policy or performance, which are open for debate at any time, can be accommodated in the normal course of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service or in plenary session of the House.
The important priority for today is that this legislation be enacted today. For that reason, the Government brought this motion to the House. This is not the end of the matter regarding banking policy and performance. These issues can be dealt with on an ongoing basis on another occasion.
It is important today that we give effect to the policy decision taken. The draft of this legislation has been available since Thursday evening and the Opposition has received full briefings from the Department of Finance on many of the matters involved. In this regard I send correspondence to the party leaders out of a sense of responsibility that I have, no more than the party leaders, to ensure that the public commentary is such so as not to undermine stability in the financial system. That is the purpose for which I would communicate, on the basis of advice and the offer of a briefing from the Governor of the Central Bank to those who wish to take it in respect of correspondence I send. It is for that purpose and no other that I would act in this regard.
It is important to make the point that it is in the country's interest that legislation be passed through the House, that clarity and certainty be brought to the policy decisions as taken in respect of taking the further, decisive step to put this bank into public ownership. We will continue to have a debate on this and on banking policy generally. The Minister for Finance is more than ready to be available, through the committee system in the House——
The wider economic issues are ones the Government is busily dealing with during the week, in the context of social partnership and decisions it will take. We are using the time available prior to the return of the House next week to make sure we can finalise our arrangements in that regard.
While we all have views on these matters, there is adequate time to debate in this House and to legislate on this Bill for the purposes of bringing certainty to the policy that was announced. Wider issues of policy, in economic, budgetary and wider banking policy issues can be dealt with on an ongoing basis beyond this issue.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 80 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Pat Gallagher, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 70 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Joe Behan, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pat Carey and John Cregan; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.
Question declared carried.