Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Yesterday I asked the Taoiseach if the inquiry initiated by the Government into the IBRC and the Siteserv deal would cover the buying and selling of shares in the period in advance of the sale of Siteserv, and if we would have full transparency over who bought the shares and who benefited from the €5 million pay-out.
I also want to deal with the relationship between IBRC and the Department of Finance. The Government's press release is extraordinary in that it mentions concerns raised in the Dáil and elsewhere but omits the crucial issue of concerns raised at the highest level in the Department of Finance in terms of the operation of the IBRC.
In regard to the documentation and the reports in The Irish Timeslast Friday, has the Taoiseach read the freedom of information documentation? It reveals a fraught relationship and significant concerns civil servants were expressing about IBRC. Why is that core relationship not being addressed by the inquiry? For example, concerns were expressed about the appointment of Blackstone without a public procurement process. The core business of Blackstone is hoovering up distressed assets in situations like this. It was given full visibility to everything that was happening in IBRC. That will not be examined by the inquiry. Issues also arise in regard to the wealth management unit in IBRC.
I understand that William Frye solicitors were brought in to prepare a report on perceived conflicts of interest between IBRC itself and its wealth management entity. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the report is published? The Department expressed a number of concerns about business conduct, including the bank's relationship with big borrowers, pay and appointments. Topaz complained to the Department of Finance about the way in which IBRC was managing its portfolio. In respect of the Apthorp apartment complex in Manhattan, there was an adverse deviation from the normal valuation approach amounting to between €25 million and €50 million. An executive in IBRC raised the alarm about that deviation but his concerns were never brought to the attention of the board. That raises fundamental questions about good practice within the bank but while aspects of this might be addressed by the inquiry, the wider concerns expressed by the Department will not be considered. That is why a commission of investigation would be preferable. Will the issues pertaining to the shares be covered by the inquiry and will there be full transparency?
Why were we not told in 2012 about the relationship between the Department of Finance and the IBRC? Why were the public and the Dáil kept in the dark for so long? Will the Taoiseach take steps to ensure publication of the William Frye report on perceived conflicts of interest and overlapping interests between IBRC wealth management and the bank itself? Has he read the FOI documents on these matters?
I answered the Deputy's question on this matter yesterday. The scale and timeframe of the review is broader than the Siteserv transaction concluded by the board of IBRC in 2012. It is expected to cover the 30 or more transactions concluded by the board between 2009 and the liquidation of the bank in February 2013. The order provides:
The review shall consider all transactions, activities and management decisions ... between 21 January 2009 (being the date of the nationalisation of IBRC) and 7 February 2013 (being the date of the appointment of the special liquidators to IBRC) ... and which either:(A) resulted in a capital loss to IBRC of at least €10,000,000 during the relevant period; orThe purpose of the review is:
(B) are specifically identified by the Special Liquidators as giving rise or likely to give rise to potential public concerns, in respect of the ultimate returns to the taxpayer.
to investigate, in relation to each such decision, transaction and activity ... the processes, procedures and controls which were operated by IBRC in relation to Relevant Writeoffs ... whether there is prima facieevidence of material deficiencies in the performance of their functions by those acting on behalf of IBRC, including the IBRC board, directors, management and agents, in respect of any transactions, activities and management decisions identified under section 2 (A) and (B) above ... whether it can be concluded from any relevant documentation, data or interviews with relevant individuals as appropriate that any of the transactions were not commercially sound in respect of the manner in which they were conducted, the decisions made or the outcomes achieved having regard to the purposes of the Act as set out in section 3 of the Act.I assume these include the reports to which Deputy Martin referred and that, in respect of decisions made, the review would have to take into account documentation or reports provided to the board of IBRC to allow it to make a decision in the first instance. I also assume that the purpose of the review as set out by the Minister will include an investigation of all matters relevant to decisions, transactions and activities. The Deputy referred to a specific report. I can ascertain whether that report is within the scope of the review for publication, although I assume from the order that it would be. I have read the documentation in respect of freedom of information.
The Taoiseach did not answer my questions at all. It is not good enough for him to say he assumes issues are being covered. The relationship between the Department of Finance and IBRC is not covered by this inquiry. The inquiry is ring-fenced to transactions and deciding whether commercially unsound decisions were made or material deficiencies existed. A commission of investigation would get to the core of this matter. There was a pattern of hostility on the part of IBRC towards departmental oversight. I asked the Taoiseach if he had read the documentation but he did not answer me.
I am making inquiries and I am finding out things. The William Frye report will be important because it will examine the way in which IBRC dealt with its wealth management unit. People could not buy it for one reason or other. Why was that?
I asked about the shares. The Taoiseach did not answer my question on that yesterday and he has not answered today either. Will the share issue be covered? Who was buying shares in a bust company and why were they doing so?
Billions of euro were involved. Does the Taoiseach stand by his civil servants it he Department of Finance? Cliff Taylor summed matters up well in his article in The Irish Timeswith the following observation:
[T]he extent of the tensions revealed in the FOI documents ... is striking, and cause for concern when so much money was at stake. Was it a case of an over-controlling government department insisting on playing everything by the rule book and not being experienced in the real world of deal-making? Or was the IBRC really being run without the proper controls and procedures in place and choosing sometimes to ignore the official view?There is sufficient cause for grave concern given the scale of the matters arising. We know the bank resisted the framework document to the extent that the Department suggested there was a risk that it might seek to take action to delay or impede finalisation of the document, which was required by the troika.
I remind Deputy Martin that unlike his own outfit, which proceeded with Anglo Irish Bank and cost us €34 billion, this Government has no difficulty in defending the taxpayer's rights in public and in an accountable fashion.
Deputy Martin demanded a commission of investigation into Siteserv. I made the point that if one sets up a commission of investigation, there is a long lead-in and possibly a long period before one receives a report. The Deputy wants answers now.
All of the files that are relevant to Siteserv, and beyond Siteserv, are in the hands of the special liquidator, who has been directed by the Minister to produce those files and to report to him by the end of August. In respect of the matter of conflicts of interest, the Minister has appointed a retired High Court judge to adjudicate.
Prior to the sale of Siteserv, these documents on shareholdings were public documents and on the day of sale access to them is available.
I read the reports about the journalists who had access to the shareholding file of Siteserv, to the names and addresses of people who were shareholders and the stockbrokers who bought shares for individuals.
That document was always a public document and was a public document on the day of sale. The evidence is accessible to journalists and they have examined it.
Second, in regard to the difficulties the Deputy referred to between the Department of Finance and IBRC, the freedom of information document shows exactly the nature of the concerns the Minister for Finance had. He changed the framework Deputy Martin's Government set up, where there was no mandatory reporting of major transactions to a point where it was compulsory for that to happen. He changed that and the senior person he appointed asked the questions on behalf of the Minister for Finance in respect of the taxpayer, and was right to do so. Fianna Fáil did not see fit to do that and its Government let it run, without mandatory reporting. That framework was changed.
We are now going to have a situation where the files will be prepared for the Minister, and if necessary, the Government will change the law so that a further independent objective assessment carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General if the Committee of Public Accounts wishes to do that.
Yesterday, when I asked the Taoiseach when the Minister, Deputy Noonan, informed the Taoiseach about his Department's deep concerns over the sale of Siteserv and the other IBRC deals, he did not answer the question directly, but he gave the impression that the Minister did not brief him on these issues. How could that be when this involved hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers' money and when officials in the Department of Finance raised repeated, serious concerns with the Minister and sought an independent review?
Then, when in 2013 the Minister was winding up IBRC sooner than expected, this was clearly a big issue. Was the Taoiseach not briefed on this then? The Minister knew it had cost hundreds of millions of taxpayers' money and hundreds of millions in gains for insiders. What did he tell the Taoiseach? We know that on 6 February in the Dáil, speaking on the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Bill, the Minister said, "I wish to acknowledge, with much appreciation, the significant efforts the directors and staff of the IBRC have made to the stabilisation and maintenance of value in the IBRC". This statement is totally at odds with the deep concerns within his Department, so how does it square with the facts we now know regarding the concerns expressed within the Department of Finance?
The Government is supposed to protect the interests of the taxpayers, yet the Taoiseach said in response to me yesterday that the Minister, Deputy Noonan, did not deal with each of the 30 or so transactions of over €100 million which are now part of the review. If this is so, is this acceptable to the Taoiseach, given that Department of Finance officials have expressed such serious concerns regarding these transactions? Leaving aside any other interpretation, if what the Taoiseach is telling us is true, does this not show gross incompetence on the part of the Government?
On the contrary. As I have said to the Deputy, the framework structure set up by the previous Government meant there was no connection or no interference or questioning from the Department of Finance in respect of these major transactions, nor was it compulsory that the Minister for Finance of the day would be informed. That was the situation that applied when the sale of the company in question happened.
When he got the opportunity, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, changed that structure to make it mandatory that he would be informed of major financial transactions by IBRC. The documentation that was released under freedom of information to the journalist who requested it was posted on the Department of Finance website. That is a record, if you like, of the issues of concern to the Minister and the Department at the time and of the actions taken to ensure the best interests of the taxpayer were protected. The documents confirm that the chairman of IBRC provided the Minister for Finance and the senior officials he appointed with strong assurances that the transaction involving Siteserv, including those aspects of the transaction with which the Department officials had concerns, had been thoroughly assessed by the IBRC board - this was confirmed by the chairman - and that the board of IBRC was satisfied that the transaction was managed in the best possible manner to achieve the best result for the State. It should be noted that IBRC had a fiduciary responsibility to the bank's shareholders and in light of that legal responsibility, the chairman and the board would have considered and provided such assurances, following careful consideration of the issues.
In light of the assurances the Minister for Finance received from the chairman that this transaction had been properly considered by the IBRC board, assurances he accepted, the Minister and his officials took steps in line with the improved relationship framework to ensure the Department's role of challenging the board and the executives of IBRC was in the best interests of the taxpayer and was strengthened by the actions the Minister took. Clearly, the Minister kept the Government informed of the progress that was being made in respect of the negotiations on the famous promissory notes, an issue the Deputy has raised on many occasions, which because of that legacy required that the Government would have to raise €3.1 billion every March to pay interest that was due. That matter was brought to a conclusion following those negotiations.
All of these matters will be part of the documentation now sent in by the special liquidator to the Minister, with the independence of a High Court judge to adjudicate on any perception of conflict of interest. The Dáil, the Committee of Public Accounts and other appropriate Oireachtas committees will consider that report, where all the information is available. If people have further concerns following that, considering there has been an analysis by the IBRC board, by the Central Bank and now by the special liquidator under the direction of the Minister, we can have a further analysis, if the House wishes, by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I am sure everybody has complete trust and faith in that independence.
The problem is that I asked the Taoiseach a number of direct questions about his knowledge at different times as this scandal unravelled, but he never answered even one question. He said - I noted this - that it was not compulsory for the Minister to be informed by his officials. However, it is a matter of record that he was informed by his officials and for three years, the serious concerns at the Department of Finance were kept from the Dáil and from citizens. This occurred despite significant numbers of questions from Deputies, including Deputy Pearse Doherty, who was stonewalled by the Minister, from 2012 onwards.
Why in his answers to Deputy Doherty did the Minister not disclose what was going on? Why did he withhold information from the Dáil? Essentially, the Dáil has been misled on this issue, the Taoiseach did this again today, and there is a cover up of the facts.
I am being very careful. I am here to hold the Government to account and I do so within the rules.
The strategy began to fall apart when freedom of information replies were given to an Teachta Catherine Murphy. The Minister received a recommendation from his officials to have an independent review of some of these deals, but he refused to do that.
Does the Taoiseach agree that the Dáil has been misled on this IBRC scandal? That is what the record looks like and the opaque answers given today by the Taoiseach to very simple and straightforward questions is part of that tradition.
I have stayed away from asking the Taoiseach about the review because I did not want him to get caught up in the gobbledeygook that he usually spouts. Why are asset acquisitions by NAMA from the IBRC explicitly excluded from the review that has been set up? How is that squared with the much vaunted commitment to openness, transparency and the new way of doing politics?
As I stated to the Deputy already, the relationship framework set in place before the time of the Minister, Deputy Noonan, did not require that the Minister for Finance would be informed in a mandatory fashion of serious financial transactions of that order.
When the Minister had the opportunity, he changed the framework and appointed a senior civil servant. The evidence from the freedom of information documentation shows the level of concern and action taken by the Minister for Finance in this case. The Deputy has continually spoken about cover-ups and many other issues.
The framework structure set in place when Siteserv was dealt with did not require mandatory reporting to the Minister for Finance but it does now. The review now being ordered by the Minister-----
-----from the special liquidator goes back to 2009 and right up to 2013. It includes all those cases, and I understand there are 30 or possibly more of the order of over €10 million.
All that information is being collated and compiled, and it will be presented in a report to the Minister for Finance by the end of August. As I stated yesterday, in the event of any perception of a conflict of interest in that review, he appointed a High Court judge to adjudicate on those matters. All these transactions, beyond Siteserv, are covered in that period.
It has been examined by the Central Bank, which did not take any action. The issue is now the subject of this review. The Government will have no difficulty, if deemed appropriate, for a further independent investigation to be carried out by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, for example. We cannot direct that independent office. The Government has no difficulty in changing the legislation to accommodate that.
All of these issues will be put on the table with respect to the taxpayer being defended and accountability for transactions and commercially sound decisions being made. It is all included.
We are spending approximately 80% of Dáil time this week on the spring statement but, in reality, we are just regurgitating material discussed at the last budget. For the past six months, we have underperformed dramatically, to be honest, in the delivery of what was set out in the programme for Government, which is over four years old now. I would have expected better statements and responses from the Government front benches, as many important issues have been totally forgotten or remain unaddressed.
Last night we had a justified three-hour debate after Deputy Stephen Donnelly initiated a discussion on the current house repossession crisis. Repossessions are rampant around the country and I do not have to reiterate what the Taoiseach is well aware of. The Government has had a very cosy relationship with the banks over the past couple of years in particular. This is the time to take off the kid gloves, as the Taoiseach and his Minister for Finance must tackle the problem head on. As we are here today, there are people who are being driven demented through no fault of their own. They were taken in with the wool pulled over their eyes in many respects because of the epidemic at the time which saw inflated house prices. Banks were giving 120% mortgages but many people were not even in secure jobs.
The Government was perfectly clear that the statements made yesterday and today are not budgetary statements but they are realistic in setting out the parameters of the conversation we need to have in the Oireachtas about where we need the country to be and where we see it as far as 2020 and beyond. The spring statement is very clearly predicated on a set of policies that are working - and seen to be working - and if they were to be changed by any other party with an increase of corporation or income tax, the system would not work in the way we need it to for our people.
The Deputy mentioned two aspects relating to banks, distressed mortgages and variable mortgage interest rates. He also mentioned the relationship between the Government and banks. The Deputy knows that the Government does not set interest rates. There are a number of very serious problems with some mortgages in distress and there are serious problems with other mortgages still in arrears. Since the insolvency agency was established, the numbers being dealt with have not been as high as expected. Nonetheless, over 110,000 mortgage accounts were in arrears and there have been negotiated settlements between those debtors and the banks in a satisfactory fashion. That is a great relief for those people. As I indicated before, the Government next week hopes to bring in a number of other options for dealing with these other cases that have been left aside for some time.
Approximately 115,000 mortgages were restructured in 2014, and I am sure that came as a great relief to the people involved. Over the next period, the Government hopes to deal with a number of other options that will assist mortgage holders still in distress with a number of other opportunities. With respect to variable mortgage interest rates, the Minister has confirmed that as Permanent TSB has had a valuation placed on it, with money raised for a proportion of that, he intends to call in representatives of major banks and explain on behalf of the Government the moral correctness of reducing variable interest rates in cases where the banks are borrowing money at a much cheaper rate than they are charging people with respect to the mortgage being paid. I understand that will happen in May.
These are just a few issues. There is another crisis out there which we have not really addressed in any manner, and that is the jobs crisis. Statistics published this week by EUROSTAT indicate that one in four Irish people with jobs is working part-time.
The rate of youth unemployment is totally unacceptable.
Approximately 25% of young people aged between 18 and 35 years are unemployed. This figure does not include those who have emigrated, who would account for 7% or 8% of that age group, thus giving an overall youth unemployment rate of 33% or one third.
Many young people are participating in training schemes. Improvements are required in the roll-out of such schemes and more centres must be provided for upskilling and training. The current system is unable to cope with the large number of people who need assistance. I ask the Taoiseach to consult the Ministers for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Social Protection and Education and Skills to ensure more training centres are provided and greater liaison takes place with employers and industry. It is necessary to provide for matching skills.
I do not need to raise with the Taoiseach the issue of super-size classes-----
Irish people face the highest crèche bills in Europe. These are preventing people from entering employment. Will the Taoiseach ensure this matter is addressed as it places great financial strain on young married couples with children?
I am sure Deputy Fleming's contribution was heard loud and clear in Scartaglin. He referred to mortgage holders, variable interest rates, banks, the spring statement, small schools, tourism, apprenticeships and jobs. His contribution was a sort of spring statement in itself.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office show unemployment now stands at approximately 10%, having reached 15% only a few years ago.
The Minister of State with responsibility for training and apprenticeships received approximately 90 proposals at the end of March and these are being examined. Arising from this, he has already started a new apprenticeship course in stonemasonry, which is a very important activity in Deputy Tom Fleming's part of the country.
Almost 100,000 new jobs have been created in the past four years and we expect between 40,000 and 45,000 new jobs to be created this year and in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively. I hope this will bring the country back to full employment. According to the most recent figures, 1.9 million people are working which is the highest number since 2009.
The Deputy raises important issues which are central to the discussion we must have on the spring statement and the direction the country will take in the years ahead.