Thursday, 31 January 2019
Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Member's Bill and I commend Deputies Rock and Donnelly on introducing it. I acknowledge the work done by Deputy Quinlivan, who has been a strong advocate for measures to tackle ticket touting.
There is no doubt about the public concern and anger that exists about the resale of tickets at inflated prices. Music or sports fans who are unable to get tickets for a concert or match that they want to attend understandably feel annoyed when they see tickets for sale on secondary websites at a multiple of the face value price. Their annoyance is all the greater when tickets are on offer on secondary websites at the very start of a general ticket sale or even before it in some cases. Disappointed fans naturally want to know how this can happen and what can be done to tackle it. I fully share the concerns of Deputies and the public on the issue. In July, I secured Government approval for taking the Second and later Stages of the Bill in Government time and for the drafting of amendments. The Bill’s Second Reading this evening is being taken in Government time.
In December, my Department submitted a number of amendments to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and my officials are currently engaging with the Parliamentary Counsel on these. My predecessor, the then Minister, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, launched a public consultation on ticket resale in 2017, along with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport. They took this step because it was clear to them that, despite the amount of commentary on the issue, there was a lack of reliable information on many aspects of ticket resale, including the extent to which it was happening, the sources of the tickets that end up for resale on the secondary market and the prices achieved as opposed to advertised for tickets sold on that market. The responses to the public consultation and the subsequent discussions with stakeholders showed widespread, although not universal, support for legislation such as that before the House.
A statutory ban on the resale of tickets above their face value was backed by two of the three main sporting bodies, namely the GAA and the FAI; the two main event promoters, namely Aiken Promotions and MCD; the Consumers Association of Ireland; and a number of public representatives and consumers. Many leading artists and entertainers have also expressed their disapproval of the secondary ticket market. Opposition to a statutory cap on ticket resale prices came mainly from primary ticketing services providers and secondary ticket platforms. In a significant development, however, Ticketmaster announced in August 2018 that it was closing its secondary resale websites, Seatwave and Get Me In!, and would launch a fan-to-fan ticket exchange in which tickets will be able to be resold for no more than their original price. While commercial considerations no doubt played a part in this decision, it was evidence of the growing hostility to the secondary ticket market from fans, sporting bodies, promoters and entertainers. In its statement Ticketmaster indicated that its fan exchange would be launched in Ireland and the UK in October 2018. While the fan exchange appears to be up and running in the UK, it has yet to commence here. I hope there will be no further delay in its roll-out as it will be important, particularly after the enactment of this Bill, that people with unwanted tickets have secure and readily accessible platforms on which they can offer tickets for sale at face value or below.
While figures can vary from year to year, the number of entertainment events that give rise to a level of resale is typically in the region of 50 per year. It is often when major acts are performing that the problem is most acute. We have seen examples of this in recent years, with tickets for acts such as U2, Britney Spears and the Spice Girls sold online for vastly inflated prices. Similarly, the sporting events that generally give rise to a significant level of resale tend to be the more high-profile fixtures and events. For example, I am aware that tickets were available online this week for the Ireland-England rugby match for thousands of euro. We have seen similar experiences in the past for all-Ireland finals and semi-finals and for high-profile games involving the Irish soccer team. In this regard I welcome the decision by the GAA last year to cancel tickets for the all-Ireland hurling and football finals which were found to have been sold online above face value. Of course, there will always be issues of supply and demand. Croke Park can only hold 82,000 people, so if 90,000 people want to go there, there will always be disappointment for those who miss out. I believe this Bill will help to ensure that genuine fans are given the greatest chance possible to get tickets to see their teams play. It should never be the case that tickets simply go to those who have the deepest pockets.
I am confident that legislation along the lines proposed in the Bill will reduce the level of above-face-value resale. I await advice from the Office of the Attorney General as to whether the Bill and the proposed amendments will need to be notified to the European Commission under Directive 2015/1535 on the procedure for the provision of information relating to technical regulations and the rules for information society services. Officials of my Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel are working on amendments to the Bill. The proposed amendments will be moved on Committee or Report Stage.
As I have indicated previously, one of the amendments will deal with the use of bot software to get around limits on the number of tickets that can be purchased by a single buyer. I propose to prohibit the use of bots for this purpose as well as to prohibit the sale of tickets obtained through the use of bots. Action on this issue was one of the few measures on which there was support from all sides in responses to the public consultation. People seeking to profiteer from the resale of tickets should not be permitted to use unfair means to acquire large numbers of tickets.
I propose also to table an amendment prohibiting the unauthorised sale of tickets for the Euro 2020 football tournament. A commitment to introduce such a provision was given to UEFA as part of the bid for the staging of a number of matches here during the tournament. I will propose a number of other changes aimed at enhancing the effectiveness and enforcement of the Bill.
While the Bill currently applies to specified events with an expected attendance of over 300, I favour its application to designated venues with a capacity of 1,000 or over. Applying the legislation to known designated venues rather than on an event-by-event basis would facilitate its enforcement. A capacity threshold of 1,000 would also capture virtually all the venues where events are likely to give rise to ticket resale.
I am happy to hear the views of Deputies on other possible changes to the Bill. I thank Deputies Rock and Donnelly for initiating this important and worthwhile Bill. The fact that Second Stage is being taken in Government time shows the strong commitment on the part of Government to support the Bill. I thank the officials in my Department, who have put a huge amount of work into putting together the Bill. I look forward to hearing all the contributions and I hope we can have cross-party support to ensure we get the Bill enacted as soon as possible in order that genuine fans are protected.
I express my gratitude to Deputy Stephen Donnelly, the co-drafter of the Bill. He has been great to work with, brought a lot of common sense and economic capacity to the discussion and, above all, shown how productive, positive politics can work, so I thank the Deputy. It does not all have to be a Punch and Judy show, which is what people experience all too often when watching the proceedings of the Houses on the television or the news. We do not have to be at one another's throats all the time or oppose for opposition's sake. Remarkably, this Bill is set to be the first Private Members' legislation initiated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael jointly to become law, should it conclude all Stages. When introduced, the Bill was the first legislation co-sponsored by backbench Deputies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I also set down my praise for Deputy Quinlivan. I know that this is an issue of importance to him and on which he has advocated both in the Chamber and on the airwaves for some time now. This shows there is a recognised problem here. No one has recognised this problem more than the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, so I wish to highlight the vital role the Minister and the team within her Department have played. Since her first week in office, the Minister has been a tireless champion of this legislation. I am grateful for that, as I believe are the 91% of the Irish public who support this legislation.
Both the Bill itself and the problem it seeks to solve are relatively straightforward. As the Minister said, it should never be the case that tickets to concerts or matches go only to those with the deepest pockets. Technology has allowed people to distort the market. We have seen time and again real people, real families and real fans bullied off the pitch by people who buy with the sole intention of making a quick profit despite having done nothing. I ask the Acting Chairman to consider the following. Tickets are strictly finite: we cannot make more of them. We cannot have a second all-Ireland final. Granted, we can have a replay every now and then. As the Minister said, if 90,000 people want to go to a venue that holds 82,000 people, 8,000 people may be left disappointed. Nevertheless, they should at least have a fair crack at being inside the stadium in the first place. It is predictable and well flagged which events will sell out. We always know this in advance. It is possible, sometimes at a price, to buy one's way to the front of the queue, what I call asymmetric access to the market. Sometimes one can get advance access to the market by being a member of a certain mobile phone company or a customer of a certain utility company; sometimes one can simply pay a fee up front to be a member of a fan club of a band or a sports club. This distorts the market. Is this a normal market then? Is it right, is it fair and does it add value to our economy? "No", "no", "no" and "no" are the answers to those questions, and I believe that this is ultimately what was found by the consultation undertaken by the Department to try to separate the truth from the distortion in respect of this market. Yet ticket-touting is still taking place, and in greater numbers than ever. We see the prevalence of ticket-touting and the number of people having to resort to buying tickets from the secondary market growing year on year.
This is the case in many countries, not just Ireland. That is why Deputy Donnelly and I introduced the Bill.
This Bill will effectively ban the above-cost reselling of tickets. That is all; it is straightforward. If someone has a ticket that they need to offload it at face value, they will still be able to do so. If someone finds that, for whatever reason, he or she cannot go to a soccer game between Ireland and Georgia, a rugby game between Ireland and England or a Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift concert, he or she will still be able to his or her ticket at face value, in a fair way in order to ensure that he or she does not lose out. What we are trying to ensure does not happen is the hoarding of tickets. That is happening now. People buy tickets with the sole intention of cornering the market, driving up the price, reselling the tickets and making a profit, having had no input whatsoever.
In drafting this Bill, we drew on the work of other parliaments, such as the Belgian Parliament, as well as the work of Deputies, past and present, within Fine Gael. The initial work of the current Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, Deputy Denis Naughten and the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, some 21 years ago, paved the way for the Bill.
This Bill is straightforward consumer legislation. There is a clear skewing of the market against the consumer and there have been various examples of other such consumer protection legislation. The ethos of minimum wage laws run parallel to that of this Bill, which is to say that the market is not the best way of deciding how things should be governed. There is a need for intervention and regulation. That is the case with mobile phone roaming fees whereby a cap is set on the amount that people can be charged when they go abroad. That is consumer protection legislation. In minimum wage laws, we say there has to be a basement level above which people must be paid. We cannot simply let companies set the level at which people are paid. As a Government, a Parliament and a society, we set a minimum wage law. Certain interventions made by Government are positive for consumers, society and the population.
I am proud to be proposing a Bill which every consumer association has spoken in favour of and which is based on a principle that every party in the Dáil has spoken in favour of at one point or another. The GAA is in favour of this. The IRFU representatives I met were in favour of this. The FAI is in favour of this. As the Minister pointed out, our hosting of Euro 2020 games will require legislation such as this. This is not simply a trivial whim, this is something we must do, in one form or another. I am glad that the Minister is taking action.
Sometimes people ask why we cannot do this kind of thing in respect of other sectors. Theoretically, one could, but, in the case of, say, housing, the best solution is more supply, as well as interventions and subsidies, to make housing affordable and accessible for people. The market this Bill addresses is very different. It is an easily identifiable problem that is easily solved. It has been solved in other countries and we can do it here.
There has been a lot of distortion, lobbying and inaccuracy about the constitutionality of this Bill. Certain companies have spent tens of thousands of euro fighting and opposing it in the media and through lobbying on Merrion Street and Kildare Street. Some have not correctly declared their engagement in lobbying. They have set out to muddy the waters and delay the legislation. We have been delayed for the past two years. If one includes the work of Alan Shatter and Deputy Denis Naughten, we have been delayed for the past 21 years enacting legislation on this. That delay, thanks to the action of the Minister, is coming to an end.
One of the main issues of distortion featured in an article in a prominent daily newspaper on Saturday about the issue of constitutionality and property rights etc. This is rubbish. The terms and conditions of one of the most prominent ticketing companies reads, "Any ticket you purchase from us remains the property of the relevant event partner and is a personal, revocable licence which may be withdrawn and admission refused at any time." It is not property. The consumer does not own the ticket at any point. It is a token by which the consumer gains access to an event. It is not property so it does not interfere with constitutional property rights whatsoever and it is disingenuous to claim otherwise, it muddies the waters and it tries to make people believe this Bill is something it is not. It is simple consumer protection legislation. It is an attempt to level the playing field so that regular fans, regular people, be they sports fans or music fans, have the same access to tickets as anybody else. He or she who shows up first gets first dibs on a ticket. It is not the case that whoever has the deepest pockets controls the market anymore.
I am a sports fan. Some Deputies are music fans. I gather from Deputy Donnelly's press release yesterday that he is an Ariana Grande fan. We were all surprised to hear that, but, to paraphrase E.M. Forster, democracy loves variety.
We all have a reason to back and believe in this Bill. I am delighted to have played a part in putting this Bill together and I hope now, with the amendments the Minister will put forward on subsequent Stages, we can finally see action and realise a conclusion to this. I thank everybody who has played a constructive role in this. I thank the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation which has played a constructive role in the consultation and I thank the Minister for facilitating that and driving it forward. I thank Deputy Donnelly for bringing about what is a somewhat historic Bill through cross-party co-operation. I also thank Deputy Quinlivan for his party's belief and backing and he put forward his own Private Members' legislation in respect of this matter. That helped to drive the conversation forward and showed that there is true cross-party support for this Bill. That is borne out in the conversations I have had with Independents and smaller parties. I hope that, with that cross-party support, we can drive this forward, take action now and realise a law.
This is not the biggest issue in the world, it does not relate to housing or health. Ultimately, however, getting legislation passed is my job as a Member of Parliament and a legislator. It is an important thing and I am glad to have played a practical role as a parliamentarian.
I can tell that the Acting Chairman is still getting over the Ariana Grande thing.
I want to start by thanking the Minister. This is a Private Members' Bill and we may have been able to get it to Second Stage as a Private Members' Bill but the chances are that it certainly would not have gone any further than that. The Bill has the backing of the Minister and I know she has spent a considerable amount of time on it. I have met her to discuss it on several occasions. Our hope is that it will become law. I want to recognise that it would not have happened without the Minister and I thank her for that.
I acknowledge the huge amount of work that Deputy Rock has done on this over a considerable period. He has been intimately involved in it and we would probably not be here without him championing the Bill and without his input, expertise and passion, and the work he has done with the Minister. I acknowledge Deputy Rock's work. I also acknowledge Deputy Quinlivan, who had his own legislation on this issue, which passed Second Stage. I know this is an issue on which he has done much work and which he takes seriously. I acknowledge the officials in the Department who did an enormous amount of work on this. I recognise what they and their colleagues have done.
The Chairman looked a little confused at the mention of Ariana Grande. Anyone who has teenage or tweenage kids knows exactly who she is. Tickets for her concerts in Ireland went on sale recently. They sold out in the blink of an eye. Those tickets were on sale for €70 and they are now on sale for hundreds of euro on the secondary sites. Under our current law, the sky is the limit for those organised ticket touts. Imagine that kind of pressure every day. All the standard tickets are sold out but these others are available if a kid can convince his or her mum or dad to shell out the money to a tout.
All that pester power means that even the toughest parents can be worn down when they see their kids devastated with no tears left to cry. It is not fair. It is time for us to break free from these ticket touts. It is not just music fans and their long-suffering parents who are set to benefit from the Bill. Sports fans will see how it works for them too. Ireland will play England on Saturday in the Six Nations Championship. Tickets for that match went on sale at €65. If anyone listening to proceedings has a ticket they would like to sell me at €65, let me know. I would happily buy it but people who want to go to the match know that those same tickets are now up for sale on the secondary sites. I checked yesterday and they were starting at €350. I saw them go up to €1,500. I imagine by the end of the day tomorrow they will be even higher. The Bill will make it an offence for anyone to sell a ticket for a major sporting, music and theatrical event above face value. It will make it an offence to advertise a ticket at above face value.
One thing I like about this Bill is its simplicity. We will be making several changes on Committee Stage but it sends out a very simple message. It will not work perfectly but it does not work perfectly anywhere in the world. One of its powers, however, is its simplicity. When it is signed into law, everyone in Ireland will know it is illegal to offer a ticket for sale above face value and to offer for sale on one's website other people's tickets above face value. It will make it possible, not only for the police but for fans, to spot it and tackle it. The Bill is about targeting organised ticket touting. It has become particularly pervasive in recent years with the move to online sales. Sophisticated touts are using so-called bots to buy up large numbers of tickets and to access tickets far more quickly than can any genuine fan. Popular music and sporting events used to take days or hours to sell out and at that time, one could get a ticket if one was willing to queue. I remember standing on Bray Main Street as a teenager at about 5 a.m. trying to get tickets to a U2 concert and we did. At the end of the day the concert was sold out but if one was willing to get up at 4 a.m. and get into Bray and queue up all morning, one could get two tickets. We got two tickets but that does not happen today. Today they are sold out not in days or hours but in minutes or even seconds. What drives genuine fans mad is that while they are pressing the button on the primary site trying to get tickets, they are told they will have to queue, that they have to wait and then that all the tickets have been sold out. Moments later, however, the tickets appear on the secondary sites. In some cases those secondary sites are owned by the primary seller but the tickets are no longer for sale at €65. They are suddenly €100, €200 or €300. We all know what is going on there. It is organised, sophisticated ticket touts using modern technology to gouge fans. It is only the touts who are profiting. Some of these touts are just entrepreneurial types. They saw a gap in the market and they are using technology to make a few quid. Some of it is much more sinister. A lot of evidence was given to a House of Commons committee on this issue last year. One expert involved linked some of the organised ticket touting to organised crime. Worryingly for us, the two areas he identified where those organised gangs are based are Israel and Dublin. There is a highly sinister element to this. Fans, sporting bodies and artists are being ripped off and it needs to stop. This Bill is one important tool in bringing that about.
The Bill protects charities and clubs. It grants them exemptions when tickets are being sold for fundraising so they will still be able to auction off tickets at above face value for fundraising reasons. The Bill allows people to sell their tickets at face value. It allows resellers to do the same; it allows them to do so online and to continue to charge commission on the resale. There is no problem with that. It means that a margin can still be made by reselling sites if they are providing a service. They are providing a way for fans to buy and sell tickets at face value. They are providing verification that they are real tickets and they can charge a commission for it and maintain a margin. This is important because there are a lot of reseller sites in Ireland that employ a lot of people. We need to make sure that while we are protecting fans, we also make sure such jobs are secure.
The Bill is a Private Members' Bill sponsored by Deputy Rock and me. As such, it is not legally rigorous, as is the case with all Private Members' Bills. I acknowledge the work of the officials and the Minister, who have spent a great deal of time developing amendments for Committee Stage to tighten it up. As Deputy Rock stated, some of the people who think they will lose out from this are already threatening constitutional and legal challenges. We, as legislators, have to make sure it is tight before it is passed.
Extensive consultation with stakeholders has taken place and has fed into the Committee Stage amendments. The prohibition on above-cost resale will apply to designated venues with a capacity of over 1,000. The amendment will outlaw the use of so-called bots used by these sophisticated touts, which is really important. Interestingly, it will give UEFA confidence that only legitimate tickets will be sold onto the market for games in Ireland during Euro 2020, which is nice. It is important. Other sporting organisations have already taken steps. As the Minister stated in her speech, the GAA has cancelled tickets for big games in the past when it has seen tickets appearing on secondary sites. I will read part of the GAA's submission to the consultation on ticket touting because it really captures this issue. It stated:
The current legislation in no way reflects the technological developments of recent decades. It does not act as an incentive for the civil authorities to challenge the on-street touting at our fixtures or extortionate pricing on on-line sites. Any change to the current legislation would help protect consumers, our members and the organisation. Touting in its various forms should be classified as a criminal activity with appropriate penalties in place, whether this be on the street, on-line or private trading of tickets above face value or fraudulent tickets.
We all have the height of respect for the GAA and the work it does. They are its words on the actions that need to be taken. My understanding is the FAI is supportive of this. My understanding is the IRFU has indicated it is supportive. We know artists are supportive, as the Minister stated. We know promoters are supportive. Where will the extra money go? It will go to sports bodies and artists. It will go where it should be going, to the people who create the value. At least one other State agency is already acting. Some time ago, when I started looking into this - I think it was about two years ago - I contacted the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, and asked it if an investigation into secondary ticketing was warranted. I told the commission it was something I would like to see, as I had seen disturbing trends in the market I thought might be anti-competitive. I wrote to it and asked if it would consider launching an investigation to see if there was anti-competitive and, therefore, illegal behaviour at play. I was delighted to hear back and subsequently met its representatives. It has launched a belts-and-braces investigation. It is looking at the potential abuse of a dominant market position, the illegal use of multiparty agreements and a range of other anti-competitive issues. I am delighted to be able to say that I have an update from it on the investigation. It has reviewed over 200,000 emails and has conducted 11 hearings. I understand it will issue its findings later this year. Without prejudice to what it finds, I am delighted the CCPC saw fit to take it so seriously and conduct such a comprehensive investigation. We will see what it finds.
This is not the most important issue facing us today. While we all know that, it matters regularly to a great many music and sports fans, artists and sporting bodies.
Therefore, let us do it. Let us stop people getting ripped off. Let us take the gouging out of ticket touting. When it comes to these types of touts, let us say, "Thank you. Next."
We welcome anything that resolves this issue and makes progress as the Bill attempts to do. I know that in the past Deputy Quinlivan has also made strides in that direction.
In the past ten to 15 years as online booking has come increasingly into play we have had a problem. Prior to that people had to go to the local shop that had the agency for supplying tickets. They queued up there and bought them, as Deputy Donnelly mentioned earlier. We have seen significant problems online, particularly for people living in rural areas with very bad broadband. Sometimes my teenage children try to buy tickets online. If they are doing so at the wrong time in the evening when others are also on the Internet, they find it very difficult to get things moving.
Tickets are being bought in bulk, sometimes by the same company that is selling them. It is putting them up for sale again in another company's name at an inflated price. That problem has been there for far too long and it cannot be allowed to continue. I welcome this move forward. The quicker this issue can be resolved the better. At the end of the day we are talking about people who want to go out and enjoy themselves at a football match, concert or whatever, but they find that they are being ripped off. There is a great sense of disappointment in that and a sense that the system does not protect them. That is what this is about.
I again commend Deputies Donnelly and Rock on introducing the Bill in an attempt to resolve the situation. I also acknowledge Deputy Quinlivan's work. We need to get into the detail of it as quickly as possible and get it passed. It has been too long lying around, with waiting and talking but nothing happening.
I acknowledge the work Deputies Rock and Donnelly have done. I genuinely believe they have an interest in solving the problem. Unfortunately the Minister has left. I will probably write to her or contact her to discuss the issue. While we are discussing ticket touting again, we are no closer to solving the problem.
The glacial pace the Government have moved on this issue is ridiculous, with consumers continuing to pay the price at the hands of ticket touts in the absence of any legislation. As the Minister of State will be well aware, I introduced a Bill on this topic two years ago. However, at every opportunity Fine Gael sought to delay the progress of that Bill, simply because it had a Sinn Féin Deputy’s name on it.
First the Government, supported by Fianna Fáil, introduced an amendment on Second Stage that delayed the Bill for nine months for no reason whatsoever. Then the Government refused to issue a money message to allow it to proceed to Committee Stage, despite the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation carrying out detailed scrutiny on the Bill. The committee’s report recommended "that ticket touting legislation is introduced immediately to ensure consumers are protected". The committee recognised that, "if introduced, the Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill 2017 [the Bill I introduced] would help eliminate the problem of ticket touting in Ireland".
This behaviour by Fine Gael, of using the money message procedure to kill Opposition Bills such as this Bill and a number of others is a far cry from the new politics we were promised. The new politics only seems to apply between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which is unsurprising considering the two parties are slowly merging into one.
One could be forgiven for not realising the Government has actually been the biggest obstacle to eliminating ticket touting in recent years. As Deputy Donnelly mentioned, Deputy Naughten introduced a Bill in 1998 and 21 years later we are still talking about it.
This duplication of Bills on the same topic is not a valuable use of Dáil time, especially considering we have only 21 Dáil sitting days, including today, before Brexit on 29 March. Although I fully appreciate the problem of ticket touting is very important and needs to be resolved as soon as possible, I think it would be more valuable to be debating today the emergency Brexit legislation that will be needed for businesses across Ireland, rather than going through the motions again with another Bill on ticket touting.
It is peculiar that the Government is proceeding with a Bill that it admits is not currently fit for purpose and that needs substantial amendments. Why did the Government simply not introduce a new Bill that would be ready to go? We have not seen any of the amendments and have only read about them in press releases. Will they change the substantive nature of the Bill, including importantly the size of venues that will be covered by it? From what I have heard the Bill will no longer protect venues seating 300 or more, but only venues with a capacity of 1,000 or more.
I also understand new sections relating to bot software will be introduced on Committee or Report Stage. I expect this will be a complex addition to the Bill and it would have been useful to see this in advance of tonight’s debate. If the Government is insistent on starting the whole process again and delaying the introduction of a prohibition on ticket touting, would it not be more prudent to introduce a Bill that is actually complete, which we can fully consider and debate thoroughly?
The Government’s petty behaviour about Opposition Bills and subsequent delay in sorting this issue has resulted in thousands of consumers being ripped off by ticket touts in the past few years. We have seen it again this week with different matches and concerts going on.
Information I received indicates that 1,006 complaints have been lodged with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission since 2014 on the issue, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many thousands of others have been ripped off, but made no complaints.
I now turn to the provisions of the Bill. Under section 2(1), will an online site that hosts advertisements for tickets and other items for sale be liable for conviction under this legislation simply by hosting an advertisement with a ticket priced in excess of the designated price? I am specifically talking about the offence in the section that refers to “sell, or offer, or expose for sale”. If so how would this be enforced and, if not, does the Minster believe this section needs to be clarified?
What would constitute a “voluntary or community organisation” as stated in section 2(3)? How many organisations will this cover?
I do not understand the rationale behind the increased capacity from 300 to 1,000. Does this mean that tickets for events in smaller venues will not be protected by this legislation? If so, this will exclude dozens of theatres and event venues around the country, including the National Opera House in Waterford with 855 seats, the Tivoli in Dublin with 560 seats, the Lime Tree in Limerick with 511 seats and the Abbey in Dublin with 494 seats. I do not understand why the Government is now proposing a change to this Bill that would result in a large cohort of events excluded from the protections the legislation seeks to introduce.
The Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill 2017, which I introduced, includes a confiscation provision that would give the courts the power to recover profits they determine a convicted ticket tout may have gained from his or her illegal behaviour. Was such a provision considered for this Bill?
We understand there has been a strong lobby from secondary selling sites regarding legislating in this area. We have all been lobbied on the matter. I do not know whether what they claim is correct. There have been some suggestions that jobs could be lost owing to the total ban on above-face-value sales of tickets. Has the Minister examined this claim? I ask her to clarify the role secondary selling sites have played in her preparation of this Bill. What interactions has she had with these companies?
I register my dissatisfaction with how the Government behaved regarding the Bill I introduced on this topic and many other Opposition Bills. The use of the money message procedure to kill Opposition Bills is not in the public interest and this tactic should be stopped.
However, Sinn Féin recognises the importance of solving the problem of ticket touting and we are therefore happy to facilitate this Bill moving to Committee Stage. It is important to note that this is not an endorsement of the Bill because as I have pointed out, we have yet to see key aspects that apparently will form a large part of this Bill. We look forward to seeing those amendments. We may table amendments on Committee and Report Stages.
The Labour Party wants to see the issue of ticket touting addressed. We have all witnessed significant mark-ups on greatly desired tickets for sporting events or concerts almost immediately the tickets went on sale initially. I am somewhat different from Deputy Donnelly in that I would be more likely to be looking for a ticket for a Munster rugby match than for an Ariana Grande concert.
That may say more about me than it does about Deputy Donnelly.
We certainly recognise there is an issue to be addressed.
I understand and support the points made by my constituency colleague, Deputy Quinlivan. This Bill is coming from a Fine Gael and a Fianna Fáil Member but nobody saw fit to move on a Bill that came from a Sinn Féin Member. This is clearly about confidence and supply.
The point I am making is that this situation is very unusual. When I came in here today I did not know whether the Bill would be introduced by the Minister or the two Deputies who sponsored it. It is very unusual for a Private Members' Bill to be introduced in this way and I am absolutely certain it would not have happened if any other parties had been involved. That is the point I am making in that regard. We all have Bills that are awaiting money messages in various committees, an issue which must be addressed. We have very limited time to debate anything as it stands and we may have to debate a Brexit Bill next month, although we hope that will not arise and we will not have a no-deal Brexit. If that does happen, we will have all sorts of difficulties and will need a considerable amount of Oireachtas time to deal with it.
To address the Bill, I welcome the Minister's statement that this is not the complete object because some of the most important issues in this area are not currently covered in the legislation before us. I refer in particular to the outlawing of bot software and am glad to hear the Minister intends to table an amendment dealing with that. I assume the Deputies sponsoring the Bill would also be happy with that. One of the biggest problems in this area is that tickets are bought up in bulk almost immediately, with the express intention of reselling them at a fairly significant profit. I am not sure what the Minister's intentions are in regard to ensuring that a percentage of tickets for all events go on general sale. I understand that for sporting events in particular, a certain number of tickets will be allocated to ten-year ticket holders, clubs and so on and that is perfectly acceptable. However, some percentage of tickets should be set aside for sale to the general public. We all know of people who go to every qualifying match in the GAA championship but who cannot get tickets for the final. Deputies might say that they should be able to get them through their clubs but that is not always possible and genuine fans sometimes lose out. Some percentage of tickets should be available to the general public. I do not know whether the Minister intends to include such a provision in her amendments. She said she is waiting for the advice of the Attorney General on whether the Bill will have to go to the EU for approval. I also welcome Deputy Donnelly's statement that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is examining the Bill, which is very positive because we all want to see progress on this issue.
I must be upfront and say that I am concerned about jobs in my constituency. There are 275 workers currently employed by an IDA Ireland backed company in Limerick which provides customer services for the EU-wide, if not worldwide, activities of an online ticket resale platform. I understand all of the points that have been made thus far. I also note that Deputy Donnelly said that this Bill would secure jobs and that it will be possible to charge commission on resale. However, I cannot find any provision in the Bill which states that one can charge commission on resale. The legislation states that a service charge means "any booking charge or fee imposed and printed on the ticket at the time of the initial sale by an authorised person". I cannot see the provision to which Deputy Donnelly referred but perhaps the Minister can clarify that later.
There is a concern for the aforementioned jobs in Limerick. The company in question was backed by IDA Ireland. I attended the official opening a number of years ago, as did the relevant Minister. We must be concerned about these 275 jobs, which is not a small number by any means. I am not endorsing the resale of tickets at inflated prices, which is essentially what this Bill is trying to address, but recording my concern for those jobs. The Minister must respond to this, given that she is also responsible for the IDA. I am anxious, obviously, to protect jobs in my constituency.
I fully support the general purpose of this legislation. I have been known to loiter outside Thomond Park on occasions when I did not have a ticket in the hope of meeting someone with one to spare but I would never pay more than face value. I have also done it for GAA matches and most people who do it will never pay more than face value. One will nearly always meet someone whose brother could not make it or some such and he or she will never ask for more than face value. That is generally how sports fans behave. I absolutely condemn those who hang around outside venues, pushing people out of the way so that they can sell tickets at inflated prices. That is what we want to stamp out and I assume that is the aim of the two Deputies who sponsored this Bill. It is what we all want to achieve.
Deputy Rock said earlier that the Bill is fairly simple and straightforward but questions around legality arise. One such question relates to the power of gardaí to seize tickets. The Bill reads thus:
If a member of An Garda Síochána has reasonable cause for believing that a person is committing or has committed an offence under section 2(1), that member may—(a) arrest without warrant the person who has so behaved
The advice of the Attorney General may be required on that provision because I do not think gardaí can arrest somebody on suspicion without warrant. Certainly those who try to stop shoplifters are very much aware that if they accuse someone and then turn out to be wrong, they may be charged with taking someone's good name. There may be pitfalls in this provision and if we are to pass legislation here, we must make sure it is tight and legally sound.
I presume that all of these issues will be discussed in depth on Committee Stage. I am not a member of the relevant committee but I presume I can attend and contribute to the debate. If I table amendments, I will not be able to vote on them but I presume I can attend the committee. I look forward to seeing the Minister's amendments. I assume she will publish them fairly soon. Opposition spokespersons will need to see those amendments well in advance so that we can get legal advice on them and on what is a very important Bill which is genuinely trying to address a serious problem. We need to get it right because otherwise it will be challenged and will not be effective.
In response to what Deputy Jan O'Sullivan just said, there will always be occasions when people buy tickets and are not able to use them for whatever reason. There should always be a facility for reselling so, in that context, the loss of jobs that she fears should not arise.
In Ireland the ticket prices for many sporting events, music shows and other acts are absolutely extortionate in many instances. This becomes obvious when one compares the price of tickets in venues in Dublin with the prices in other European cities. One will find plenty of examples of inflated prices and in some cases, tickets for music events in Dublin are double the price of tickets for the same events in other EU cities. The same applies to football matches.End of Tak
There is an issue with extortionate prices. Regardless of the fact that the GAA has not increased its prices in a number of years, it is a bit much to be asked to pay €45 to stand on Hill 16 for an all-Ireland final and €90 for a seat in the stands. We then come to the subject of this Bill - ticket-touting - which exacerbates the problem in Ireland.