Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Order of Business
It is proposed to take No. 1, Access to Central Treasury Funds (Commission for Energy Regulation) Bill 2011 [Seanad] - Second Stage; No. 5, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2011 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage; and Private Members' business shall be No. 30, motion re promissory notes.
According to the programme for Government, this DÃ¡il is due to consider at least ten constitutional amendments and an overall constitutional convention. Without a new approach and a willingness both to consult and listen to other opinions, many of these proposals will meet the same fate as the Oireachtas inquiries referendum. I hope we can be assured that the notable winning ways of Ministers Howlin and Shatter will be brought into line at some stage in the coming months.
In June, when I asked the Taoiseach a question about the constitutional convention and the constitutional amendments proposed in the programme for Government, he said: "Before I draft the final structure and terms of reference, party leaders will be consulted." In the months since then, there have been absolutely no consultations whatsoever. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, has now announced that the Government will publish the structure and terms of reference in a week or so. I have had no consultation from anybody, however.
Before I make any public announcement about the constitutional convention I will of course consult with Opposition leaders. I might make this point about "people's day, people's choice" in respect of the recent referendum. I think we need a serious discussion here as politicians and public representatives about this situation for the future. For instance, the Government is committed to holding two referenda, on children's rights and the abolition of the Seanad, which have been agreed by all parties. We do need to consider, however, the way in which that can best be structured and whether one can actually hold two referenda on the one day. If so, and if they are quite complex, what is the capacity to inform citizens so they can make their judgment in the best possible way? If one cannot generate sufficient interest in them - if one does not have over 30% of the vote - they fall dead. The constitutional convention will have to examine quite a number of areas on a whole range of issues. It will make its deliberations before it comes back to the Oireachtas. I intend that we should have an opportunity for Members to give their views on this, as to whether in fact one can hold more than one referendum in future, on the same day, on what may be complex issues. If they are held individually, one runs the risk that there is a cost involved and it may not be possible to generate enough interest to have more than 30% of the vote in the first place. Before I pronounce on this matter, I intend to talk to the Opposition leaders.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur faoi reachtaÃocht a fÃ³graÃodh. I wish to raise this matter under promised legislation, particularly that which was promised by the Taoiseach to ensure that banks would pass on the ECB rate reduction to customers. Earlier today, I heard the Taoiseach's attitude to this. I have to say that it causes me concern because it was so watery, given what he has said previously. According to reports, a leading mortgage holder, National Irish Bank, is defying the Government by pressing ahead with a 1% increase in its variable home loan rate, despite last week's interest rate reduction by the ECB. The NIB is challenging the authority and the Financial Regulator. It will cause untold hardship to already hard pressed home owners. The Taoiseach promised to introduce this legislation. When will it be brought before the DÃ¡il?
On the very same issue, I understand National Irish Bank is owned by Danske Bank and that it does not have to adhere to ECB guidelines because it is Danish owned and Denmark is not in the eurozone. However, as Deputy Adams quite rightly stated, it intends to increase its variable mortgage interest rate by 0.95% this Friday. If legislation comes before the House in this regard, what can we do to ensure interest rate increases of such institutions, which work within our marketplace, will not have a huge impact on families across the State? What can we do with institutions that are foreign owned and outside the remit of the ECB?
I answered the questions of Deputies Ã RÃordÃ¡in and Adams in response to Deputy Martin. The Financial Regulator is completely independent and his job is to regulate and oversee a level playing pitch in respect of the banks. It is unfair and just not right that banks that set their prices in respect of tracker mortgages should attempt to make up losses by increasing interest rates on variable mortgages. Irrespective of whether a bank is State owned, there should be a level playing pitch.
Deputy Adams should note I actually said I would not introduce legislation until the regulator states to the Government he has a problem-----
If the regulator, Mr. Elderfield, points out where his powers should be enhanced in order to have interest rate reductions passed on to mortgage customers, be they in State or non-State banks, the Government will be very happy to engage with him in that regard. I want to hear from him as to what powers he is seeking.
In the run-in to the last election, the Taoiseach's party and the Labour Party made much of their desire to abolish upward-only rent reviews of commercial leases. There was a very strong position taken by both parties and a view obtained that legislation would be introduced very quickly in the House. When does the Taoiseach intend to have this matter addressed in the House?
Now that the presidential election and Dublin West by-election are over, can the Taoiseach be more candid with us about the timescale for the local government (charges) Bill, which provides for the introduction of a new household tax that will affect an already over-burdened tax-paying public? Can he tell me the proposed schedule? The budget statement will be made four weeks from today. Will and must all Stages of the local government (charges) Bill be completed before that statement?
The local government (charges) Bill is expected this session. It is not necessary that all Stages be passed by the time of the budget. The timeline for the process leading up to the budget has been set out for Members like never before. I look forward to seeing Deputy Joe Higgins on Friday at the inauguration of President-elect Higgins, his namesake.
That association might mean an invitation to the Phoenix Park for the Deputy; one never knows. However, the President-elect will not be able to comment on politics in the way he normally would with the Deputy in respect of their differences of opinion on a range of issues.
It is a bit like the biblical quotation to the effect that one knows not the time nor the hour. The Deputy quoted the Bible to me some time ago. There are quite a number of budgetary measures that have to be given effect after the budget, as applies every year. I cannot give the Deputy the exact date. The legislation is expected this session and there will not be any delay when we get around to considering it.
The programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce a climate change Bill, which would be welcome in offsetting the negative impact of climate change and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Last week, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government appeared to do a solo run-----
-----by saying we would not have a climate change Bill, as promised. Will the Taoiseach confirm today that he was not doing a solo run, that the Government will introduce the legislation and that it will be introduced in the first quarter of 2012? I am sure the Labour Party wants this also. It was a solid commitment in the programme for Government.
Yes, and I expect that is an issue that will be dealt with pretty comprehensively. The Minister is being realistic in this instance about policy and the priority accorded to legislation. He has already made the point that we intend to meet the Kyoto targets signed up to. There are a number of policy issues and it is only right and proper that, in respect of these, there should be serious consultation with the sectors concerned. The Minister is prioritising this over the drafting of legislation which might not be appropriate.
Yes, it is in the programme for Government but the Minister's focus is now on dealing with policy priorities involving consultation. The question of the Bill referred to in the programme for Government will be dealt with when the consultation process has concluded.
Will the Taoiseach clarify his position on bringing forward legislation on ECB interest rates? It is not clear. Is he saying legislation will not be introduced unless the Financial Regulator tells the Government he wants legislation? Will the Government not respond to the outrage over the failure to pass on the interest rate reduction and will it bring forward legislation to ensure it is passed on?
Some time ago, I asked about the mental capacity Bill. We have Victorian laws to deal with vulnerable children and other persons-----
It is listed for early next year. With regard to interest rates, let me say again to the Deputy that the regulator is completely independent. If he tells the Government he needs extra powers in certain areas, it will deal with that. I have already said I want to see the interest rate decreases passed on. The Minister for Finance has been very vehement about that. Tomorrow, both banks will be attending meetings to deal with this matter and a number of others in respect of interest rate reductions-----
On promised legislation, in view of the need for comprehensive and modern forestry policy, when is it expected that the forestry Bill will be brought before the House, have the heads of it been agreed or to what extent has the legislation being progressed? Similarly, will the Taoiseach indicate the level of progress on the housing Bill, which is No. 74 on the list?
Deputy Durkan always asks valid questions. The heads of the housing Bill have not gone to Government yet. In respect of the forestry Bill, the heads of it were approved in 2009 and I expect that it will be published towards the end of first session in the spring.
In view of the establishment by the Red Cross of a hardship fund for recent flood victims, are there any proposals for the Government to introduce similar supports for those families? Is there a need for further legislation to be introduced to provide for those victims who have been unable to get insurance cover-----
Deputy Crowe raised a valid issue. The Government this morning approved a memo to deal with this in much the same way as it was dealt with previously through a combination of provision between the Departments of Social Protection and the Environment, Community and Local Government. I know that the Red Cross is providing some assistance at present with a fund of â¬10 million allocated for this. I hope this will go some way towards relieving a situation which is quite desperate for some people who have lost their homes. When a person's house has been flooded and it is ruined forever it is a very trying period for people. They cannot stop the flood waters coming through and it destroys the house. We approved a memo this morning on a single issue in this respect with a â¬10 million fund.
The Taoiseach was rightly sympathetic to the plight of the people of Priory Hall in Dublin north east a few weeks ago in this House. He might have noted the city manager is now saying that it will be necessary to seek support to rehouse the families concerned or rebuild the complex from the Minister with responsibility for housing. Will the Taoiseach ensure that support for the city council will be forthcoming?
I want to return to the issue about the Taoiseach promising to bring in legislation to ensure that the banks pass on the ECB rate reduction to customers. That promise was made and it was very clear. It was the right commitment to make.
I give this commitment. If the regulator comes into Government and approaches the Minister for Finance and says "I need enhanced powers to deal with the question of passing on reduced interest rates to distressed mortgage holders, the Government will engage with the regulator in this matter". I hope that is clear, for the fifth time today.
Deputy Adams is being very mischievous. What I said was let us see how the regulator gets on, if he comes back to Government and looks for extra authority or enhanced powers, we will engage with him. That is what I said and that is what I stand by. The Deputy should not put words in my mouth like he does in the case of many other people.
-----and the Taoiseach said he would not introduce legislation although earlier he said he would consider bringing in legislation, irrespective of what the regulator said. That is the problem. I am hearing the Taoiseach loud and clear now and I accept what he is saying.
When the Bill establishing the Department of the Minister, Deputy Howlin, was before the Oireachtas we were told that the Minister for Finance would announce the overall Estimate envelope in the DÃ¡il and that there would be a debate on it. In terms of what happened subsequently, last Friday we had a public announcement on this-----
We have had announcements from the Taoiseach on the Order of Business about the budget and how it will be presented. All I am asking is that in future on this issue and on the other instalments in regard to the budget and debate, announcements will be made in this House on fundamental issues that go to the core of what this House is about.
Will the Taoiseach indicate if it is the intention of his Government to bring forward the partial loan guarantee scheme for small businesses as promised in the programme for Government? Many small businesses are facing turbulent times and nine months later there is no sign of that being brought before this House. I ask when it will be given priority and when it will be brought before this House for debate.
The Deputy will be aware that, because of the troika arrangements, we are required to introduced 30 items of legislation this session. I expect that one of these Bills will provide for the partial loan guarantee scheme. I hope it will be introduced before Christmas because it is an important issue and a considerable number of small businesses are concerned about it. I am sure every Deputy appreciates that. In respect of what Deputy Martin said earlier, he should feel free to raise this matter with the Whips.