Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 8, Road Traffic Bill 2011 [Seanad] - Report and Final Stages; No. 9, Nurses and Midwives Bill 2010 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 10 - statements on suicide prevention (resumed); No. 11 - statements on the commission of inquiry into the banking sector in Ireland, the Nyberg report, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. today and the Order shall resume thereafter. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the proceedings for No. 11 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Technical Group, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; the statement of each other Member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed ten minutes. Private Members' Business shall be No. 21 – motion re: natural resources (resumed), which is to conclude at 8.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.
The McCarthy report on State assets and companies will be published today. Will the Taoiseach agree to provide time for a debate on this when the Dáil resumes? We welcome the fact that it does not appear to recommend a fire sale of State assets; however, I have not seen the report. Commitments were made in the programme for Government by the parties in office to realise about €2 billion through the sale of such assets. Could the Taoiseach indicate when legislation will be introduced to realise those proceeds?
The McCarthy report will be published today, and it is important that there be a public debate about its contents. Obviously, the Government will consider its implications. The programme for Government, as the Deputy is aware, states clearly that we believe the sale of non-strategic State assets should be enabled in order to obtain a fund of €2 billion. That will only apply at appropriate times.
Time will be allowed in the House for a debate on this. Yesterday we had a debate about the EU-IMF memorandum of understanding, which will apply in the week the Dáil returns after Easter. We will make arrangements at the Whips' meeting this evening about when it will be appropriate to have a comprehensive debate on the McCarthy report.
I may have misheard the Taoiseach. I think he said we had a debate yesterday on the memorandum of understanding, but I must have missed that.
The Government promised a referendum to overturn the results of the Abbeylara case. Is it intended that this will be held in conjunction with the presidential election in November? Will the promised children's rights referendum also be held in November? Is the Government still ruling out a referendum on the EU-IMF bailout?
What I said was that we agreed yesterday that the original promised debate on the EU-IMF memorandum of understanding, which was to be held this week, would be replaced by a debate on the Nyberg report, and the original debate would take place the week after the Dáil comes back. The Deputy may not agree with the format of the debate; he will be entitled to have his say about that.
The Government has decided, in respect of the publication of the Nyberg report, that the current legislation does not allow the Oireachtas to do its job in the way in which we would like. Thus, it is necessary to have a referendum to deal with the consequences of the Abbeylara judgment. What we have said is that this referendum will take place this year. I emphasise that the legislation required is complex and sensitive, but it will be prioritised by the Government and by the Attorney General. There was no commitment to hold any particular referendum in conjunction with the presidential election, on whatever date that might be, but it is an option that could be considered.
The Minister for Children, who is beside me, is working on the issues that need to be dealt with in order to hold a referendum on children's rights. As the Deputy is aware, there was a change in the wording, on the recommendation of the previous Attorney General, from that agreed by the all-party Oireachtas committee. I have met with advocacy groups for children's rights, and work is currently being undertaken by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in this regard. I cannot give a commitment that this referendum will be held at any particular time.
I seek clarity on an issue to which we referred earlier, namely, contractual entitlements. If it is proven that the individuals involved were in breach of their contractual obligations, an indictment that is clear from the current reports-----
As I said, the Minister for Finance is examining this, and he has already announced a number of changes that will apply from here on. As I said in reply to an earlier question from the Deputy, I am not aware of the number of people who might have similar contracts and are currently working in the banking system. The Department of Finance is now considering this.
I welcome the fact that we will have an opportunity to discuss the Nyberg report today, although I cannot say I welcome its content. Given the media coverage today that the McCarthy report proposes the sale not of €2 billion worth of State assets, as specified in the programme for Government, but of €5 billion worth, and lists such bodies as Coillte, the ESB, and harbours and ports, is it not a matter of urgency that we debate the report before the Easter break? This is not about what happened in the past but what will be done to vital public assets in the future in order to pay off the bad gambling debts of bankers and speculators at the behest of the IMF. Could we have time before the Easter break to discuss this report and hear the Taoiseach's response to its recommendations?
There is not much time left to have a debate on this before Easter. The Deputy should read the report. I can confirm that it recommends no fire sale of non-strategic State assets. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will comment on this today following the publication of Mr. McCarthy's report.
The Deputy should note that reports are reports. There is no binding obligation upon the Government to comply with all the recommendations in the report, of which there are a considerable number. The Government's intention to realise €2 billion from the sale of non-strategic State assets at an appropriate time is clear. Let there be a comprehensive debate, to which the Deputy can contribute, and the Government will make its decision in due course about which of the recommendations may feasibly be implemented.
Last week I asked the Tánaiste a question about legislation dealing with the retention of deposits. He courteously replied and said an official would be in contact with me regarding that issue. However, I have not had such contact. I would appreciate if I could be given information on the question I raised last Thursday.
My question is about community employment schemes. There is a commitment in the programme for Government that these will be transferred to local authorities. When will legislation be introduced to deal with this?
I can confirm to the Deputy that there was contact with the Department of Justice and Equality about this although it is not actually the responsibility of that Department but of the Department of Finance. Two contacts were made; one is now accurate, and that will be followed through. The Deputy will hear a report shortly.
Considering the Taoiseach's statement that tackling the disastrous unemployment situation is a top priority and that the proposed strategic investment bank is supposed to deal with this crisis by financing large infrastructural projects, which could create tens of thousands of jobs, I am surprised that he was not able to tell us in recent days when legislation would be introduced by the Government to provide for this investment bank. In view of the urgency of this situation and the need to resume lending to small enterprises and the self-employed, which is provided for by the proposed bank, does the Government have a timetable for legislation in this regard?
The strategic investment bank and the NewERA programme are part of the programme for Government, and these are being dealt with at the moment. The decision of the Government to have two pillar banks, and the required deleveraging, will provide serious capital of €10 billion for credit over each of the next three years. In addition, the Government has stated that as part of its jobs initiative programme it intends to introduce a loan credit scheme, which will make it easier for businesses to acquire credit for expansion, changes of direction and employment of new personnel. It is fundamentally important for everybody that we get our people back to work. Those two elements of our jobs initiative will help in that matter.
The Taoiseach did not reply to my question. He knew when this legislation would be introduced because he considers it important but he spoke about two other banks. Will there be a strategic bank and when will relevant legislation be introduced?
I answered the Deputy's question. I reiterate the strategic investment bank and the NewERA programme are part of the programme for Government and work is being done on both at present. The Deputy also raised a point about credit not being available and I gave him two answers. The deleveraging and the decision of the Government to bring clarity to this matter will allow for credit to be made available. As part of its jobs initiative programme, the Government will introduce a partial loan credit guarantee scheme which will free up the capacity of business to have credit to provide employment and to help with the development of our indigenous economy. I hope that is clear.
Given that banks' external auditors should have a key reassurance role at the heart of the financial reporting system, that they had a privileged position which provided exceptional access to bank information and that the audit report had limited constructive value as a means of communicating the banks' problems, would the Taoiseach consider improving the existing rules and regulations in regard to the proposed Central Bank Bill to conform to a more watchdog approach to the role of the banks?
Deputy Lawlor may make a number of such points in the course of the debate if he has the opportunity to speak. The Central Bank Bill is at an advanced stage and is obviously receiving priority from the Minister for Finance. It will be introduced to the House as soon as it is ready.
Under secondary legislation, namely, the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, for a long time local authority tenants living in houses have been afforded the right to purchase their homes. Under that Act when will the Minister sign an order to allow tenants in flats to purchase their flats? Will the Taoiseach provide me with a date?
I am aware of the problem. This concerns secondary legislation for which I do not have details to hand. I suggest the Deputy forward a question to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, or asks the Ceann Comhairle's permission to have the matter considered on the Adjournment. I shall send the Deputy a report in so far as I can ascertain the position.
The first McCarthy report made a number of recommendations regarding the unifying of local authorities in, for example, Limerick, Waterford and Galway, and this was echoed in the Brosnan report for Limerick. Does the Taoiseach intend to introduce legislation to give effect to those recommendations?
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is working actively on this matter. I do not know when he intends to introduce legislation but he is considering the implications of the reports mentioned by the Deputy.