Tuesday, 12 March 2013
There have been so many pronouncements and declarations about the mortgage crisis over recent days that they are difficult to comprehend, and many people on the street are looking on with some disbelief. Given that it is two years since the Government took office, people are coming to the conclusion that it is the imminence of the by-election that has caused the sudden series of announcements and the Government's realisation that it is a full-blown crisis which needs to be tackled urgently.
The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have committed to bringing in legislation to facilitate repossessions of family homes. The Taoiseach made that statement categorically last week. The Secretary General of the Department of Finance added to that when he told the Committee of Public Accounts that one could not expect the taxpayer to subsidise "them", meaning the people in arrears, to remain in houses that are beyond their means, given an "unnaturally low" level of repossessions. The Labour Party was furious with this remark and immediately set out to rubbish the Secretary General and hang him out to dry. Indeed, a leading member of the Labour Party, Mr. Jack O'Connor, said that the Secretary General's comments were "reprehensible and barbaric". The Minister for Finance said that the Secretary General is the Accounting Officer and must be honest when answering questions. I do not know whether he meant that the Labour Party Ministers and leading members of the party do not have to tell the truth all the time when they answer questions.
The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, put the tin hat on it when he said that we cannot have necessary recovery without the stick of dealing with people who are in houses they can no longer afford. The Government is facilitating the banks all the way; €1 billion was given back to them last week. Under the Personal Insolvency Act, the banks retain a veto over restructuring deals with clients and customers. Last week I met a young couple in Ashbourne who were working and wanted to engage with the bank.
All the bank did was raise the bar, preventing any discussion. I encountered another young woman, looking after her mother, who is also in arrears but who wants to deal with her lender. Again, the bar was raised by the bank. The banks are not engaging with people. Instead, they are intimidating young couples. I have one case of a young couple who were told when their interest-only period ends, they had better be thinking about selling on their house. That is what is happening on the ground in reality.
Does Mr. Moran enjoy the full confidence of the entire Government? Will the Taoiseach explain to the House why he is insisting the banks retain a veto over all restructuring deals with their clients? I would argue strongly that it needs independent oversight.
If one looks at the repeat of the committee meeting which the Secretary General attended, he was actually commended on his forthrightness and the detail into which he went about the matters raised with him.
There are 100,000 people out there who have problems with their mortgages. They are in limbo. The Government's intention is to bring about clarity for them in respect of their house, their positions and how they can plan for the future. Regarding the wall of allegations about wholescale house repossessions, nothing could be further from the truth. For the past two years, the Government has worked hard in restructuring and recapitalising the banks, as well as making arrangements, based on the recommendations of the Cooney report, for the different strategies that can be adopted by the banks in bringing about a resolution to each person's mortgage difficulties. All cases are unique with particular circumstances. Resolution will also include the complexity of the personal insolvency legislation which has passed through the Houses. The insolvency agency will open its doors during the summer.
The impact of what Deputy Martin suggests is that the bank guarantee should be continued.
Does he want to expand the disastrous situation that he had previously by extending that across Europe? The Minister for Finance has made clear the Government's intention for those with mortgage difficulties. The 100,000 people under pressure every day and every week in respect of their mortgage problems can have them resolved satisfactorily though a variety of opportunities and methods that are now in place. The last of these to be considered is house repossession. We want to see the majority of these people happy in the knowledge a resolution has been brought about in restructuring their mortgage arrangements with their bank or lender and which they will adhere to in a new format. We want this to give them the opportunity to live and plan their lives without this pressure which has been on them for the past several years and which came about, of course, as a result of disastrous policies produced before. The arrangement will allow them to contribute to their local economy and, as a consequence, to their country.
We want the majority of these difficulties to be resolved with debts restructured and reconfigured without consideration of house repossessions. I am quite sure Deputy Martin understands that very well indeed.
The Taoiseach did not answer the question I asked. Why is the Government insisting on the banks retaining a veto over all restructuring deals with its customers? Last week, when I was in Ashbourne, County Meath, I met a young couple - the husband is working - in mortgage difficulties who want to do a deal and are anxious to make a contribution. All the bank does in return is up the bar with fresh obstacles. In another case I have been dealing with for 12 months, which involves a public servant who has an income and can make a contribution, the bank has told the couple to sell their house. I met another couple last week in Ashbourne - there seem to be quite a number of people in mortgage difficulties in the area - who are facing a similar issue. The rhetoric they hear in this House is incredibly disconnected to the reality they have experienced on the ground for the past number of years when dealing with the banks. They do not see themselves in limbo. Quite a lot of them see themselves in purgatory and are unsure where they are going to end up.
The problem is that the Taoiseach and the Government have facilitated the banks all the way in this case. Two years on, talking tough is not enough. Telling the banks they must do this and must do that is not enough. Fianna Fáil put forward a debt settlement office Bill which would provide for an independent debt settlement office to arbitrate in matters regarding household debt between the banks and the customer. The banks have been given a fair opportunity here. Why this insistence on the banks having a veto in these arrangements? Why the insistence that the banks be facilitated all the way with regard to this matter?
The Deputy has identified the problem that has been here for a long time. It is the interminable delays in dealing with people's cases. The Deputy pointed out he is dealing with a case for 12 months but no progress has been made on it. Having put all these arrangements into place, we want to see a quick and effective solution brought about for the individual uniqueness of each case.
That means the banks have to sit down with each client to work out their circumstances and work out a solution through many of the various options in place. I know, as well as the Deputy knows, that the banks claimed they could not do this because of a loophole in the law that was never dealt with. That question will be dealt with now. Banks themselves have said-----
The banks themselves have been at pains to say that the consideration of house repossession is the last resort and the end of the line. I want to see a situation in which the banks do not have an excuse to say they have not got all of the paraphernalia they need to deal with this issue swiftly, effectively and compassionately.
What has been wrong with Deputy Martin in past times is that he never listened. We want to work with the 100,000 people in mortgage difficulties. I understand the banks have been training people for some considerable time because they lost the capacity to deal with this particular problem.
They have trained personnel to work with clients individually to bring about a resolution of what the particular circumstances might be for any mortgage. The last consideration is house repossession. Tomorrow, the Minister for Finance will address this matter. Having put all of this together, including the personal insolvency agency, I hope when the banks deal with their clients in mortgage difficulties that there will be a speedy and compassionate resolution that both parties will adhere to in a restructured fashion. That is what we want so that this 100,000 people can then contribute to the well-being of their local economies and we can offer them hope and confidence for the future.
On February 13, I raised with the Taoiseach the issue of double cochlear implants for young children who are profoundly deaf. At the time, he committed to adopting a positive approach to this issue. I have also spoken to the Minister for Health twice about this matter. The Taoiseach will recall that on 13 February I raised the case of Billy Cairns, aged four from Dundalk. On 3 April he will undergo his fifth general anaesthetic of his short life to replace an existing faulty implant. Would it not be sensible that when he is getting that done, he would get the other ear fixed as well? If he does not, he might have to get several more general anaesthetics in the time ahead.
In Cork, Julie Anne Cunneen has received funding from a private donor.
Her five-year old child, Liam, has one implant and fits the criteria for a second implant.
Despite Liam fitting the criteria, Beaumont Hospital will not carry out the operation because it has not been funded to do so. The hospital has stated it does not wish to make an exception because there are other children who need this treatment. Therefore, it has recommended that he travel to England. This five year old child could be left in a bizarre position where he has an implant in one ear put in place in Beaumont Hospital and one in the other put in place in a hospital in Britain. In such cases there is a need for regular check-ups; therefore, the child will have to travel within Ireland and to England for treatment. This does not make sense. None of us would wish to see our children having to go through this and I imagine the Taoiseach has costed it. We know the treatment is not hugely expensive and that it can make a great difference to the lives of the children concerned. Obviously, they need other supports also. The Taoiseach promised to raise the issue with the Minister for Health as a matter of urgency. One month on, will the Government fund the treatment for the children concerned?
The Deputy has raised this issue before and we addressed it at that stage. I spoke to the Minister for Health about it. As the Deputy will appreciate, I have no wish to single out an individual case, but obviously this is rather frustrating for the parents and, in particular, the young children who must meet this challenge. The Deputy is aware that since the programme commenced some 17 years ago, there have been approximately 700 cochlear implants. Approximately 90 per year are provided here.
The Deputy has raised the question of why there is not a dual implant system. This has been ongoing for a considerable number of years in Britain and Northern Ireland. I spoke to the Minister for Health about the matter and the Deputy received a letter from him. I can confirm for the Deputy that last week there was a good meeting between the HSE, the Department of Health and the organisation known as Happy New Ear. I understand the meeting was very positive. While the Minister has pointed out to the Deputy in his letter that it is a matter for the HSE and Beaumont Hospital to deliver their programmes, clearly the intention is to do something about it.
The Deputy has asked whether the young boy to whom he has referred will have a dual implant when he attends for his next examination. I cannot answer that question for him now, save to say I regard this as being a positive development. I understand the cost is approximately €20,000 in these cases and that they are reviewed as time passes. I can confirm for the Deputy that I have spoken directly to the Minister for Health who is interested in seeing whether the policy position that has applied in the United Kingdom for some time might be adopted in a similar way in Ireland. Last week there was great positivity about the meeting on this policy. I will keep the Deputy updated on the question arising from the specific case of the individual boy he has mentioned.
There are approximately 200 children awaiting a bilateral cochlear implant and it is accepted universally that it is far better for a child to have the implant placed in both ears as opposed to one. It is a matter of funding. I spoke to the parents at the meeting with the HSE last week. I also met the mothers of three of the children over the weekend and spoke to another by telephone. The cost is between €18,000 and €20,000, which is not prohibitive. The problem is that the young fellow in question, Billy Kearns, has not been told he will have the two implants on 3 April; on the contrary, there is a race against time because once a child goes beyond four years of age the nerve ends are not as receptive to the second implant.
We can look at this issue either way. It may be the case that there was a good meeting, depending on to whom one talks, but the fact is that the Government must make a decision. If it were to take a decision, it could make a profound difference to the lives of the children concerned. It is also bad economics because if the children do not receive this treatment, they will need special needs assistants and special educational support and so on. The need for these supports will be lessened if they undergo the procedure. I, therefore, appeal to the Taoiseach to take a positive decision on the issue and do the right thing by the children concerned.
The Deputy is right when he says there are approximately 200 children who have been deemed to be suitable for a second implant. However, it is also true to say not all parents want to proceed with a bilateral implant, even after such an assessment. I understand there are ten children who have received bilateral implants because of their specific medical condition. The Deputy is also correct when he says the cost is approximately €20,000. At issue, therefore, is an estimated €4 million. However, I assume that in the case of a child with a unilateral implant only when it comes up for review, analysis or updating would the time be appropriate to consider a bilateral implant. Normally, depending on the assessment of the multidisciplinary teams involved, it is between four and six months from the date of assessment to when a child receives a single implant. I confirm for the Deputy my understanding that the meeting which took place last week was very positive and that it is the intention to phase in the programme of bilateral implants in 2014. That is why I cannot confirm at this stage the position of the particular child or young boy the Deputy mentioned. The matter having been raised, the policy of bilateral implantation is being considered between Beaumont Hospital and the HSE. They met the Happy New Ear group last week when there was great positivity. There is an intention to introduce or phase in the procedure in 2014. I will keep the Deputy updated.
Bilateral implant procedures have been carried out in England for quite some time. There were occasions in the past when people who could not receive treatment here travelled abroad in specialist cases.
If the Deputy has a specific letter, perhaps he might show it to me. The Minister for Health is keen to have this matter addressed. The question of having the facility provided is being discussed between the HSE and Beaumont Hospital.
I highlight an issue fundamental to the pursuit of justice in this country in 2013. There is an ongoing scandal surrounding the unsolved murder of a hugely popular parish priest, Fr. Niall Molloy, in 1985. The case has remained controversial and there has been unhappiness and unease about it through several Governments for three decades. All of the evidence points to a high level cover up, involving all of the institutions of the State, including, sadly, elements of An Garda Síochána, the Judiciary, politicians, the health service and the Catholic Church. The main point is that we want to get to the bottom of this sordid affair. Fr. Niall Molloy was beaten to death and left bleeding for up to six hours, according to an independent neuropathologist who examined his brain. Dermot Hourihane, a former professor of pathology at Trinity College Dublin and St. James's Hospital, spoke to anyone who wanted to listen to him last week in the audiovisual room. He left us in no doubt about his findings and those of his senior and eminent colleagues. Fr. Niall Molloy's watch was cracked and stopped at 10.40 p.m., but the Garda was not contacted until 3.15 a.m. the following morning. What happened during these vital hours?
By all accounts, the first Garda investigation was a total shambles. Vital evidence was contaminated and important witnesses were never interviewed. At the first inquest the Garda contradicted the State pathologist. The trial judge, the late Mr. Justice Frank Roe, was a friend of the Flynn family.
He directed the jury to acquit the defendant, thereby causing the case to collapse after four hours. He also wrote to the DPP, which was very unwise for any man in that position. It gets worse. The General - Martin Cahill - broke into the DPP's office.
I am putting my question to the leader of our country, the Taoiseach, who occupies the highest office in the land. His Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, committed to holding an independent inquiry on this sordid affair while he was in Opposition, as did the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, when he was justice spokesperson for the Labour Party. It is a serious affair, and the Taoiseach and the Minister for Justice and Equality, who is abroad, will have to deal with it because it is a disquieting situation that cannot be allowed to continue. I ask the Taoiseach whether he will hold an independent inquiry. I am not speaking about a tribunal. I seek a short, sharp independent inquiry of low cost that can get to the facts. I salute the journalists who brought this issue to our attention and are continuing their inquiries. Will the Taoiseach hold an independent inquiry? The chairman of his own party has written to him to request one.
I recall this incident. I read about it and have received some correspondence in respect of it in the past. As an Opposition Deputy, the Minister for Justice and Equality had a particular interest in some aspects of it. Deputy Mattie McGrath outlined certain features of the death of Fr. Molloy. This is a serious matter and I am not going to comment further on it other than to say that I will bring the facts raised by the Deputy to the attention of the Minister on his return. I am not going to commit to an independent inquiry without a full analysis by the Minister. This is not a matter to be treated lightly.
It is not a matter to be treated lightly and I do not stand up lightly to raise it. It is a matter of huge disquiet to the population at large. Our justice system, An Garda Síochána and the institutions of the State must be held in the highest of esteem and put above reproach. I thank the Taoiseach for indicating that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality, but he is well aware of the facts, as is Deputy Rabbitte and every other Deputy or Minister who cares to find out. The current cold case investigation has been dragging on for almost two and a half years. That is not fair. The Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan, has been refusing to answer questions for the last year. There is too much unease and too much time has been lost. The parishioners and family of the late Fr. Molloy and all involved need answers to be brought to light by an independent commission of inquiry. I hope I will hear an announcement to that effect from the Cabinet when the Minister returns and the matter has been discussed. The chairman of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has written to the Taoiseach and has spoken out on the matter. It is very serious. A mountain of evidence has come to light and we know a lot of things we did not know previously. I salute the late Veronica Guerin and Gemma O'Doherty for pursuing this case, as well as the many other journalists who have dared to write about it. It is vital, in this time of debating banks and repossessions, that we have faith in our justice system and the institutions of the State. Things are at a low ebb but this is an opportunity for the Taoiseach to be the leader of the country and put this sordid matter to bed. We all look forward to that.