Dáil debates

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Protection of Cash as Legal Tender: Motion [Private Members]


10:02 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann: acknowledges that:
— Irish banks and financial institutions are leading the agenda for a move towards a cashless society;

— the Government's policy so far has supported the objective of the banks, who are driven by the high cost of providing cash services and the push towards a more digital banking model, which incentivises banks to move away from direct provision of cash services, thus closing branches all across the country and limiting access for citizens to their own money;

— the agenda to move towards a full transition to a digital-only society has left many Irish citizens behind, particularly senior citizens and those on lower incomes, who may be less comfortable with technology and less able to make the switch from physical currency;

— the Government's strategy to make Ireland a "leader in digital payments" by 2023, together with other initiatives to encourage businesses and individuals to adopt digital payment methods, is undermining citizens access to cash and directly hollowing-out banking services across rural Ireland;

— rural communities could also be left vulnerable due to poor broadband and mobile connectivity;

— it is a discriminatory policy, driven by banking and Government interests, for a business or organisation not to accept cash as payment for goods and services, which disadvantages a large cohort of people including many senior citizens, people with intellectual disabilities, teenagers, children, people on low incomes, homeless people, and the general public, who may not have a bank account or access to a smartphone or credit/debit card for their own private and personal reasons;

— people on a low income or in debt tend to find cash easier to manage;

— a potential disadvantage of a cashless society revolves around security concerns, as online fraud, data and cybersecurity issues are a justifiable concern;

— cash allows people to make purchases anonymously, and without cash people would be forced to leave a record of everything they buy, allowing governments and/or corporations to use individual purchasing histories as a way to track, monitor, and even intimidate people;

— when an individual has cash at hand, they know it is safe from everything except direct robbery or physical destruction, however, when money is in digital form it is vulnerable to hackers and system malfunctions;

— any sort of power outage or network problem can make it impossible for a citizen to retrieve their money;

— in many ways, cash offers a level of monetary security that a cashless system cannot;

— a cashless society would enable more sophisticated criminality, as law enforcement can seize or destroy stores of cash, devastating criminal organisations, however, in a cashless society this advantage is lost, with the lack of an easy cash alternative likely to push many larger criminal organisations into offshore banking, cryptocurrencies, and other sophisticated digital tricks that would make finding and confiscating/eliminating criminally obtained money much more difficult; and

— a cashless society would also exclude a percentage of consumers who do not have access to financial products, as not everyone has access to a bank account or credit card, which are necessary for conducting cashless transactions;
notes that:
— the European Commission issued a recommendation (2010/191/EU), based on the report of the Euro Legal Tender Expert Group on the definition, scope and effects of legal tender of euro banknotes and coins, which states that retailers cannot refuse cash payments unless both parties have agreed to use a different means of payment, and that displaying a label or posters indicating that the retailer refuses payments in cash, or payments made in certain banknote denominations, is not enough;

— threats from organised cyber criminals are very real, and they frequently find new ways of breaching established security systems;

— during the Covid-19 pandemic, many more people made online and mobile purchases, and data breaches increased accordingly;

— a concern closely linked to security is privacy, as identity theft and compromised personal information are heightened potential dangers in a cashless economy;

— when someone pays digitally, a digital footprint is left behind, and this footprint is easily monitored and exploited by financial institutions, leaving many consumers understandably uneasy about their data being harvested or tracked by big businesses;

— it must be fully recognised that many people feel that cashless spending is more difficult to control, as it is simply too easy to overspend when a person is not looking at a finite, physical sum of money in their wallet or purse, and budgeting becomes more difficult;

— the cashless society will also prove costly for all Irish small businesses, beyond individual consumers, as most credit card and mobile payments attract a processing charge of up to three per cent, which will quickly eat into small profit margins, making it harder for independent shops and small-scale outlets to survive or compete with larger operators;

— in an unpredictable world, there is always a concern about system vulnerability and the resilience of the technology that supports a cashless society, with natural disasters or even large-scale cyber attacks likely rendering entire financial systems useless, and preventing people from accessing their money or buying what they need; and

— the Government's lack of action in this area has allowed the unprecedented situation to materialise in Ireland, benefiting banks, where there is no definitive legal requirement on a business to accept cash as a method of payment; and
calls on the Government to:
— recognise that there continues to be, and will likely always be, a societal demand for cash, and implement appropriate measures to ensure that all members of society can continue to access and use cash as a means of payment, including those who are not able or willing to use digital payment methods;

— accept that the Government and the Central Bank of Ireland (CBI), in accordance with the European Central Bank's Eurosystem Cash Strategy, have a fundamental responsibility, together with the banking sector, to ensure the smooth supply of cash and access to cash for consumers and small to medium-sized enterprises continues in Ireland;

— work with financial institutions and payment service providers to ensure that the provision of cash services is maintained, and that the cost of providing these services is not passed on to consumers or small businesses;

— immediately publish a concrete policy that supports the development and maintenance of a sustainable and resilient cash system, for as long as cash is needed;

— fully recognise and accept that choice is key, and everyone has the right to spend and bank on their own terms;

— put in place robust protections against cybercrime and fraud, and ensure that consumers and small businesses have access to effective dispute-resolution mechanisms;

— ensure that the use of digital payment methods is voluntary and not mandatory, and that consumers are given clear and accurate information about the cost, risk, and benefit of different payment options;

— recognise the importance of cash as a means of payment and take steps to promote financial inclusion and access to basic financial services for all members of society;

— without delay, develop "access to cash" legislation, in line with the recommendations of the Department of Finance report entitled "Retail Banking Review November 2022", and implement this legislation before the summer recess, so that the right to use cash is placed on a legal footing;

— instruct all Irish banks and banks that operate within this jurisdiction to provide reasonable access to cash, allowing for the further evolution of the cash infrastructure to be managed in a fair, orderly, transparent, and equitable manner for all stakeholders, and to ensure all retail outlets and businesses, together with consumers, have access to cash services;

— categorically state and instruct, via the CBI and the Minister for Finance, that all retail banks must preserve consumers' and businesses' access to cash services, pending the development of the "access to cash" legislation;

— provide the CBI with responsibility and powers to protect the resilience of the cash system, including the authorisation and supervision of cash-in-transit firms, in respect of their cash handling activities and related financial services;

— sanction the Minister for Finance with the power to require certain classes of firms, sectors, or sub-sectors to accept or facilitate, to an appropriate level, the acceptance of cash;

— immediately implement, as Government policy, the requirement that all public bodies must accept or facilitate the acceptance of cash for the payment of goods, services, taxes, levies, fees, or charges; and

— work with other member states of the European Union (EU) to ensure that the right to use cash as a means of payment is protected, and to resist any attempts to create a fully cashless society at the EU level.
I thank our staff, Mairéad and Brian Ó Domhaill, for putting together the motion for us. I welcome to the Gallery Peter O'Donoghue from Kilworth in Cork, who has done quite a lot of work on this issue, both for us and for the country, over recent weeks.

We have brought forward the motion because the time has come to push back against the notion cash is outdated and unnecessary. We must recognise that a cashless society could lead to exclusion and financial instability for vulnerable groups. Moreover, the push towards a cashless society is driven by the interests of a few powerful corporations that stand to benefit financially from increased levels of electronic payment. Let us not allow these special interests to dictate the future of our monetary system. Let us instead protect cash as a means of payment that provides autonomy, inclusion and security for individuals and communities.

This means advocating for policies which ensure that cash will remain widely accessible and accepted and rejecting attempts by corporations to incentivise or mandate the use of electronic payment methods. Ireland cannot afford to take the role of cash in our economy for granted. We must recognise its value as a means of exchange that has served humanity for centuries by protecting cash. We can ensure that everyone, regardless of their financial status, will have the ability to participate in economic activities and maintain control over their finances. It is time to take action and stand up for the importance of cash in our society by legislating to allow everyone, irrespective of status, creed or colour, to have equal access to cash.

We all saw what happened in July last year, when AIB tried to go cashless. The people in my constituency were up in arms over the whole thing. I, along with the people of Castletownbere, Kinsale and Dunmanway, organised a public meeting because those branches were going to be made cashless. It was an astonishing state of affairs AIB was trying to impose on the people. In the interim, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Danny Healy-Rae and I left our homes in the early hours of the morning and went to the AIB headquarters in Dublin. We demanded a meeting and answers from the CEO, and while we were having our sit-in, AIB decided to reverse its decision due to the massive backlash by the people and by us few politicians who agreed with them. While we were delighted with the outcome, we must push back against the notion of cash being outdated and unnecessary.

The GAA is an integral part of Irish culture, representing not just sport but also community and identity. The association's move towards cashless entry is seen as a way to streamline the entry process and reduce the risk of fraud or theft. It has also, however, raised concern among many members and fans of the organisation. The GAA has a broad range of members, from players to volunteers and supporters, with varying degrees of familiarity with technology. Some may struggle with the transition to a cashless system and this could result in frustration or even exclusion from events. Financial inclusion and access to basic financial services for all members of society must be promoted.

Crucially, our motion requires that the Government develop access to cash legislation in line with the recommendation of the retail banking review report of 2022 and implement this legislation before the summer recess in order that people's right to the use of cash is placed on a legal footing. This proposed legislation must mandate Irish banks and all other banks that operate within the jurisdiction to provide reasonable access to cash, allowing for the further evolution of cash infrastructure to be managed in a fair, orderly, transparent and equitable manner for all stakeholders. It must also ensure all retail outlets and businesses, together with consumers, will have access to cash services.

Our motion was tabled, under the limited access we have as a group to Private Members' motions, to demand action from the Government. We call on the Government to recognise cash is a vital part of our society and that there will always be a demand for it. It is time for the Government to implement measures to ensure everyone, including those who cannot or will not use digital payment methods, will have access to cash. Our motion demands that the Government immediately publish a concrete policy that supports the development and maintenance of a sustainable and resilient cash system for as long as cash is needed. We must recognise choice is the key and that everyone has the right to spend and bank on their own terms.

Traditionally, when people thought of money, they thought of cash. From buying food to settling bar tabs, day-to-day dealings involved creased paper or clinking bits of metal. Over the past decade, however, digital payments have taken off and tapping a smartphone has become normal. Now, the revolution is about to turn cash into an endangered species in some rich economies. That is precisely why we tabled the motion, in an attempt to bring back cash from the brink. Unfortunately, Irish banks have been closing branches throughout the country in recent years. This trend has been allowed to occur while each Minister for Finance and government, currently the majority shareholders in Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland, remain fully complicit through their silence. This trend must be reversed and action taken to protect cash as a means to buy goods and services.

A recent email from An Post shows it sees post offices as very much at the heart of maintaining access to cash for the communities and locally based SMEs they serve. It is currently dealing with the Government on that very issue and on the part that An Post and the post office network could play in the future. As the Minister of State will be well aware, many people and businesses rely on the ability to use deposit cash daily. Equally, faced with the cost-of-living crisis, many more people will choose to control their household budgets by spending only cash they have to hand. In many communities, the local post office represents the last ready access point to cash, given the ongoing retreat of many banks and the reduction in the number of ATMs. This applies to both personal customers and local SMEs. Of 910 post offices, 540, or 59%, have no bank within 5 km, while 375 of them, or 41%, have none within 10 km.

It has been suggested the Government will support the motion, but I hope it will not be like many motions the Government has been agreeing with lately, whereby it later quashes the motion. If it is going to agree with a motion like this, it will have to instruct businesses that are restricted to cashless transactions to stop immediately. A law will have to be put in place where, if they do not take cash, they will get severe fines. I spoke earlier about Peter O'Donoghue, who has travelled here from Kilworth. He exposed all this a number of weeks ago, when he went into a restaurant that would not take cash. He asked the gentleman who owned the business why that was the case and, from what I could gather from the radio reports afterwards, the gentleman more or less said he could eat somewhere else and that he did not want Peter's business there. That is appalling, astonishing carry-on for any business to have that kind of flippant attitude towards people who do not use a card and would prefer to use cash, as they are legally entitled to do.

I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State. I have probably said this to her previously, but it is sad to think that neither the Minister for Finance nor the Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reformcould see fit to come to the House to talk about this issue for the people. It reflects very badly on them. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, given that she has her own portfolio, but surely it is the senior Ministers' duty to come before the House and the people to give their reasoning for why the Government is going to agree to the motion. If it is going to agree to the motion, what is it going to do? Is it going to sit on its hands and allow businesses to go cashless at the click of a finger or is it going to stand up, tackle the issue and say what is going to happen to businesses that do not comply with the rules? It is up to the Government. The Minister of State, as a young person, will be aware of a great tradition where people who are growing up and working might get a little tip or whatever, and it is always divided among the staff. It might not mean much to everyone but it is a lot in its own right.

What is it coming to? When a child makes their communion or confirmation, they will open a card and what will be inside it is another card instead of a little bit of cash so they can buy sweets or computer games like we did when growing up. Kids love to open a card and get the traditional 50 quid or whatever, although it was five quid in our time. It is probably as much as €50 or €100 now. I cannot understand a society that wants to rule out the chance to use cash. I listened to Mr. Peter O’Donoghue who brought up the issue on radio, and it was very prevalent on the radio for a while. Elderly people said that they had gone to GAA matches but could not go in. Having spent their whole lives supporting clubs, they stood at the gates and were told it is all done by phone or by apps now. Elderly people do not understand that and no respect has been shown to them. That is right across the board and not just in this case. I plead with the Minister of State to not support this motion unless he is going to take action on it.

10:12 am

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Mairéad McGrath and Brian Ó Domhnaill for helping us to put this motion together. What we are essentially calling for is that the Government makes an order so there is a definite legal requirement on business and all entities to accept cash as a method of payment. Since Covid-19 we have sleepwalked into this situation where many places continue to demand cashless payments. In addition, the motion calls on the Government to lead by example and insist that it is a requirement that all public bodies accept or facilitate the acceptance of cash for payment of goods, services, taxes, levies, fees and charges. That part of our request is very important. The Government must make a definite order.

Deputy Michael Collins mentioned restaurants. What about the young boys and girls working in restaurants on a part-time basis and maybe for the minimum wage? They always depend on getting tips. If payments are to be cashless, the client or the customer will pay with a card but they will not have cash in their pockets to give a tip to the young person who is working part-time and depends on tips. This is a very important aspect of it.

The GAA now insists that tickets are booked online. I know of a very responsible gentleman who is a senior citizen and who gave his life to the GAA. At one of the last games in Killarney, he decided not to go because he was told he would have to book online and he did not want to impose on anyone. Yet when the GAA is fundraising, it can put a box on a stool or whatever outside the church gate and it has no problem with cash. That has to be reversed. The GAA is a respected part of our culture and our identity and is part of who we are and we depend on it to lead the way. The GAA cannot insist on cash only. I am asking the Government to make an order in that regard.

What about old people who may not be able to travel themselves and when they want someone to bring them a product from the chemist or whatever, they give them cash? How will a card work in that situation? In many parts of rural Ireland, people do not have access to the Internet or computers? What will happen when there is a power outage? We have to think of these things.

I am reliably told that when people go abroad they have to pay by card in most places. However, between the conversion rate and the extra charge for using the card, people do not know what is left in their accounts because the banks or the financial institutions do not update their accounts promptly and people are struggling at the end of their visit and do not have enough funds to continue. Those things are very important. There is no point agreeing with our motion; the Government must act. We are asking the Government to make an order that it is a legal requirement for everyone to accept by cash. It cannot be just some people. This includes Government offices and Departments which, in many instances, look for payment online or whatever and will send out the goods to people then. This is not fair on ordinary people. What about the people who do not have a bank account or credit facilities available to them? Those people cannot be disenfranchised.

I am appealing to the Minister of State in the strongest terms. We would have liked to have seen the Minister for Finance here but the Minister of State is a Minister too and we depend on him to take our message on board and ask for our request to be adhered to because this is very serious. We are going down the wrong road if we are going to allow a cashless situation to arise because it is just not fair on ordinary people.

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I am proud to say I grew up old school and that I am a self-employed person. I can go back to times when my father, God rest him, and I used to go to get a few supplies. We would go to Limerick or wherever and before he left the yard, whether it was for hardware supplies or whatever, he always gave the man who loaded the trailer a few bob, or the price of a pint as it was called. I have been self-employed and when it came to Christmas or a birthday, I always gave somebody a few bob in cash, or a few bob for luck.

I built a building in Croagh many years ago for Mr. Micheál O’Connor. When I finished the job and he paid me, I gave him a few bob cash for luck. He asked me if I had any change because he said he would like to hear his luck. That was a tradition in our country and one I will carry forward until the day I die. It is a tradition we have always had.

We have elderly people whose weekly chore was to collect their few bob of a pension. They got their few bob, they went to the post office and then to the local shop and the local butchers to buy a few things. If they wanted to go to the credit union to put in a few pounds, that is what they did. All we are doing with a cashless society is excluding people from going to the post office to do their business. It is excluding people from going to their local shops. It is excluding people from a tradition Ireland had where people went out, met other people and did their business and where they always knew what they had.

We have seen what the likes of Debenhams did to people. People thought they were ordering online from their local store but they were ordering from the UK. At Christmas time, people think they are supporting the local Smyths shop by getting a few toys there. If they order online, that money does not go through the Irish system but it goes straight to the UK. The presents or whatever come in from the UK and the money is taken out of this economy. We see how many businesses have closed down in rural towns and villages because people want to go cashless.

We see what has happened in the hospitality sector. Recently my wife and I spent one night in a place because she had received vouchers for her birthday. I talked to many of the staff there who told me that since payments have become cashless, they do not get tips any more. They do not get the tips we might have given them when we went out for a bite to eat to thank them for their service and because they might have been on a lower wage.

If we become a cashless society, it will destroy this country and will destroy people from the point of view of them going out and meeting people. We also see what the banks are taking in charges. When it comes to somebody buying something in a shop, a charge is imposed on the shopkeeper or whatever business it is. It can be a percentage of a transaction, which is taking from their profits.

I spoke to a person in a hairdressers recently. They told me that somebody had got their hair done and wanted to leave the hairdresser a tip but they had no cash on them, so they paid by card. Given the card system that was there, what happened was that the employer had to pay the tip and had to pay tax on the tip paid by card.

In this country, cash is king. Cash is our culture. Cash means we can be respectful to people around us. When a child was born we always had a tradition of putting a few pounds underneath the pillow in the pram. That is a tradition. That is what we used to do. That is what people in Ireland do. All the large companies are taking the money out of this country and are closing down our small businesses because it is becoming a cashless society. As a member of the Rural Independent Group I am totally opposed to moving to a cashless society. We need cash, we need to recognise traditions and we need to support businesses that need cash. We need to support the people who get their tips in cash because many of the card systems do not allow for this and people have to do without those funds.

10:22 am

Photo of Ossian SmythOssian Smyth (Dún Laoghaire, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this important and interesting proposal on the protection of cash in the financial system. I listened to the contributions which were interesting. The Deputies were thinking about people being excluded from the financial system and people who do not have access to cash and where the only option is to make an electronic payment and for one reason or another people do not have access to that. Deputy O'Donoghue referred to people losing tips and I certainly see that a lot in daily life. A lot of deliveries are happening and people have less cash in their pockets and those who need it most are not receiving tips. I am not sure I agree that tips should not be taxed or how the taxation system should work on that. We need to work that out as well.

On the point that cash is part our culture, there may be different attitudes in different age groups. I spoke to my father about this recently and he felt very strongly that cash should still be accepted. When credit cards were first introduced I remember thinking it might be possible not have cash at all. I remember asking my father about that. His reply was that if we got rid of cash people would stop believing in money. Cash is tangible and there is something there that one can see because the entire financial system is based on faith and belief. The reason we accept pieces of paper or metal discs in exchange for our labour is because we have faith that somebody else is going to accept those in turn. Second, we have faith that is not going to be devalued by the Central Bank printing too much of it. Perhaps it is harder to maintain that faith if everything is happening in a electronic world.

There was a retail banking review and one of the recommendations that came of it was that there should be a national payments strategy - in other words, a strategy that determines what types of payments should be accepted and in which circumstances. This strategy will consider legislating that the Minister for Finance may legislate to have the power to require that classes of firms, sectors or sub-sectors should accept or facilitate the acceptance of cash. We also need to determine whether it should be Government policy that public bodies should accept or facilitate the acceptance of cash for the payment of goods, services, levies, fees and charges. That is to be determined by 2024. As Government supports the policy intent behind the motion put forward, and because it is consistent with Government policy, we are not opposing it.

How citizens engage with and access banking services has changed rapidly in recent years. This is due to technological development and also as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. However, despite the decline in the use of cash and visits to bank branches, many people want to keep the option to pay in cash even if some have a preference for digital as a means of payment. These developments are reflected in the motion put forward by the Deputies and I strongly agree that action is needed in order to facilitate access to cash in Ireland.

I thank the Deputies for their acknowledgement of the work of the Department of Finance on the recent retail banking review, published in November 2022. The review recognised that the Government and the Central Bank, in line with the ECB's cash strategy, have a fundamental responsibility, together with the banking sector, to ensure the smooth supply of cash and to facilitate the use of cash in payments by consumers and SMEs.

Government policy must, therefore, support the development and maintenance of a sustainable and resilient cash system for as long as cash is needed. This review has made a number of recommendations that aim to ensure good access to cash for consumers and businesses as well as protecting the resilience of the cash system. I agree that legislation and an enhanced role for the Central Bank are needed to achieve this objective.

While the Government supports the general policy intent of this motion, there are some statements that the Government does not accept and there are proposals that are unrealistic or premature. Government already has a concrete policy that supports the development and maintenance of a sustainable and resilient cash system for as long as is needed. That is thanks to the approval of the implementation of the recommendations of the retail banking review to prepare legislation on protecting access to cash, supervising ATM operators, and authorising and supervising cash in transit firms.

The call to ensure that the use of digital payments methods is voluntary and not mandatory is premature because the retail banking review specifically highlights that the issue of acceptance of cash, including by public bodies, should now be considered in the preparation of a new national payments strategy. This is the correct forum to consider this very complex issue as every effort should be made to avoid unintended consequences. The new national payments strategy is going to be completed next year. The call on Government to, without delay, develop access to cash legislation is superfluous, because in line with the recommendation of the retail banking review, the Department is already working on the heads of Bill for this important legislation. My colleague the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, will bring the heads of Bill to Government before the end of this year to seek approval to draft the Bill and to submit it for pre-legislative scrutiny to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach.

The call to have this legislation drafted, considered by the Oireachtas and enacted before the summer recess is simply not feasible. It is a difficult and complex task and it needs adequate time and consideration.

The motion calls on the Government to instruct all Irish banks and banks that operate within this jurisdiction to provide reasonable access to cash, allowing for the further evolution of the cash infrastructure be managed in a fair, orderly, transparent and equitable manner for all stakeholders. It will ensure that all retail outlets and businesses, together with consumers have access to cash services. The motion also calls for the Government to categorically state and instruct, via the Central Bank of Ireland and the Minister for Finance, that all retail banks must preserve consumers' and businesses' access to cash services pending the development of the access to cash legislation. The Minister for Finance has no power to do this, as there is no current legislative basis under which the Government could issue such an instruction. However, the review and the Government have called on banks to maintain the existing cash infrastructure pending the passage of the access to cash legislation. This has already put the sector on notice that any reduction in access to cash services would then have to be rectified when the legislation is enacted.

The objectives of the motion and Government policy are closely aligned. We are working on putting in place a robust framework to govern further changes in the cash system. Further developments must be managed in an orderly, transparent, and equitable manner. It is important that future reductions to the cash infrastructure do not outpace the needs or expectations of society. This is a complex and wide-ranging matter. It deserves adequate time and consideration. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter today and I thank Deputies for bringing forward the motion.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Mairéad McGrath, Brian Ó Domhnaill and all the people in Deputy Mattie McGrath's office who worked diligently on the preparation of this very important motion. What has become evident over the last number of years, and particularly over the last 12 months, is quite shocking. The Government does not have the right to say "card only" to people who come in with their money in their hand to pay for a licence from the NDLS or for one of the other services the Government provides through our local authorities or the different agencies. Cash is legal tender. The message has to go out from this House loud and clear that there is nothing dirty or wrong with producing cash and paying for goods or services in that way. I appreciate many young people do not want to use cash. They are not going to have cash in their pockets. They are going to use cards instead. That is the way they are going to pay. That is fine but that is not for everybody. One shoe does not fit all sizes. Too far east is west - in other words, we cannot just all agree with this and say we will forget about cash. We need balance in life. I respect the young people who have no time for cash and want to use the phone to pay for everything. They use it to pay 50 cent for something because they would not have 50 cent in their pockets. If they are buying a packet of chewing gum, they will use their phone.

What about everybody else? We are not all the same. It is true that an awful lot of people in Ireland prefer cash. It is not just older people. There are also middle aged people, and maybe even younger people, who are in the habit of using cash and will continue to do so. When a company is providing a service, it has to do its job right. I believe doing the job right means ensuring accepting cash, which is legal tender.

I will move to An Post and declare an interest, in that I am a postmaster. I know a lot about the subject. An Post does great work in our communities. In many of the communities it serves, the local post office represents the last point of ready access to cash, given the ongoing retreat of many banks and the reduction in the availability of ATMs. I remind people what AIB wanted to do in County Kerry, in Cahersiveen in the great Iveragh Peninsula and in Listowel and Dingle in west Kerry. AIB wanted to leave us without banks. The same applied in respect of other banks throughout the county. The people of Ireland and AIB customers rose up and said they would not accept that. The people of Kerry said they would not accept it. AIB had to do an embarrassing u-turn. That company tells us on its signs, "We back brave", when in fact it backs nothing. This is no reflection on the people working in AIB because many of them are disgusted with what is going on.

I compliment the post offices, as I always do. I compliment them for the sure, sound and solid service they have given, as have our credit unions. They accept cash. They want to see people coming in with cash. Do not mind this cashless society. I again thank the credit unions and post offices for that.

Moving to consider sporting organisations, every one of us adores and appreciates what the GAA has done for Ireland, in particular rural Ireland. We are grateful for that. Like every one of us, people can make mistakes. I think the GAA is making a mistake by requiring people to buy game tickets online with a card. It is wrong in many ways. It takes away from the great tradition of the GAA. We in the Dáil always have to be mindful of not telling an organisation how to run its business. I am not doing that but I am politely reminding this great organisation of the great people who support it, many of whom do not have cards or access to cards. Those may be older people. If they are going to a game, they want to pay in cash.

Tipping culture is also affected. It is important to have money accessible for people if you want to tip and show your gratitude for good service.

Other sporting organisations and events, such as concerts, are affected. Cards are important when a massive amount of people are going to a concert but we must always remember that cash is legal tender in Ireland and as long as that is the case, it should be accepted and respected.

10:32 am

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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When the pillar banks and, indeed, the European Central Bank came calling for access to Ireland's cash in 2008, they were given that access. It cost the Irish State dearly and will go on costing the Irish State dearly for generations to come as our children and grandchildren remain saddled with hundreds of millions in debt that they had no hand, act or part in incurring. I have no great desire to rehash the past but I mention this because it highlights in dramatic fashion the social and financial debt that banks have with Irish society. We rightly demand a lot from them because a lot was given to them. When they were on the verge of collapse, the Irish people stumped up and covered the banks' reckless losses. There should be a willingness on the part of the pillar banks to honour the social contract between communities and banks. Instead, what we have seen is a reduction of services, increased charges, mortgage rate overcharges and debt write-downs for the elite. Our motion reflects some of these issues as a kind of background to the main issue but it also develops a series of concerns that arose in dramatic fashion last year when all of us here, including the Government, were apparently blind-sided by the decision of AIB to make dozens of its branches cashless operations. I did not hear enough condemnation of that move from the Government. My colleagues in the Rural Independent Group took a stand at that time and went to the headquarters of AIB to demand action and an end to the cashless society it was trying to impose on us.

It is important that there is proper oversight and regulation of the banks at all times. It is not good enough for Government Deputies to say they did not know what was happening, as I distinctly remember what was said that summer. The startled reaction of the then Minister for Finance, who was clearly not deemed important enough by the bank to be kept in the loop, was embarrassing enough, as was the frantic political reaction and the desire to avoid the impression that once again the banks had overstepped the mark and abused their positions of market dominance. I and my colleagues are here today to put a halt to the banks' gallop and to the mad rush to force everyone into digitalised or electronic methods of payment even when the express wish of most people is that we would have the freedom to use cash when we need or desire to do so.

There is, of course, a drive towards, and a greater take-up of, electronic forms of payment but let us not fool ourselves that this is because of some great desire to do everything online. Much of it is driven by the charges being demanded by banks of businesses and individuals lodging their own money. Let us take Bank of Ireland as an example. In 2021, it closed its branches in Edenderry, Banagher and Clara, along with 85 other outlets across the country, as part of the bank's ongoing transition to digital banking. For notes lodged or withdrawn, a person or business can be charged 60 cent per €100 but if notes are exchanged, that cost rises to €1.20 per €100. For the privilege of coin handling, the cost rises again to €3 per €100. Taken cumulatively, these figures give rise to levels of cost that place a real strain on people. The banks do not want your coins. They do not say that, of course, or at least not explicitly, but they tell us that in other ways, including the fees they charge. If the Government announced tomorrow that it was placing an additional €3 tax on every €100 earned, there would be uproar, and rightly so. When the banks do it, we are meant to accept it as the price we pay for the privilege of doing business with them. That seems to be the attitude.

Our motion reflects the real fears and concerns of people with respect to digital surveillance of their finances. This is not some kind of conspiracy theory or paranoid fantasy. It is a real and legitimate concern. There is now almost no area of human activity or human life that is not vulnerable to financial or governmental monitoring of one kind or another. Physical cash offers privacy in a way that electronic cash never can. This is important for people and ought to be maintained. It also offers our older people relief from having to navigate the online financial world. We know from a report by Age Action Ireland that over half of Irish people aged between 65 and 74 have never used the Internet. Age Action Ireland also points to the fact that although Ireland has an international brand as a tech leader, and is home to some of the world's biggest brands, current levels of digital literacy among older people continue to lag far behind our nearest neighbour and comparable EU states.

Our post office network is very dear and precious to rural communities. Let us not undermine them in any way by taking action towards a cashless society. We must have access to cash. It is at the heart of communities to have access to cash through their credit union or post office and, indeed, that access is also provided to our SMEs, which are vital to our local economy.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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We hear more and more talk about moving to a cashless society but cash remains a critical pillar of the financial system and access to it is crucial for citizens and businesses. Despite widespread commentary regarding the transition to a cashless society, most consumers value having cash. Its importance is even more critical for certain cohorts, including the elderly and those on low incomes, for whom the use of cash is not just a choice but a necessity. There is no doubt but that cash is in decline, and we acknowledge that. However, Ireland is not prepared to become cashless. Digital payments do not work for everybody.

As some have already said, sleepwalking into a cashless society is not an option and action is needed to stop it. According to a recent survey conducted by the Department of Finance, cash remains the preferred method of in-store payment for 20% of people, with older and lower income groups exhibiting a higher preference for cash. The risk of electronic systems failure, insecurity arising from the increased threat of cybercrime and concerns regarding identity and digital connectivity further underline the importance of access to cash for citizens. However, in recent years there has been a decline in public access to cash driven by the digitalisation and downsizing of branch and ATM services by retail banks. As we heard from previous speakers, AIB's attempts to remove cash from its branches with the full knowledge of the Department of Finance and the then Minister for Finance was deplorable.

While the use of cash and access to cash services have been on a downward trend and are expected to reduce further in the coming years, the predicted transition to a cashless society is neither inevitable nor desirable. Research has shown that reduced access to cash presents risks to rural communities and personal independence and creates risks of financial abuse, increased debt, the poorest paying more and catastrophic failures through cybercrime and IT failures. For many people, using cash is not a matter of choice but a necessity. Digital payment options do not work for everybody. While there is a perception that reliance on cash is restricted to older citizens, this is simply not the case. Poverty is the biggest indicator of cash dependency and not age. There are many reasons for this, including the degree of control over spending that cash offers. It allows households to budget their spending, manage their money and stay on top of their budget. Those who cannot provide proof of identity to open a bank account have few options but to use cash.

Cash serves several important functions that cannot be disregarded. As legal tender, retailers are required to accept cash as a form of payment. Cash is an inclusive form of money that serves citizens with limited access to digital services. This makes its availability and access to it crucial, especially for vulnerable customer groups such as the elderly and those with low financial resilience. Cash safeguards the privacy, data rights and identity of citizens in their financial activities and remains an important tool in budgeting for many citizens, households and businesses. Cash is secure, especially at a time when citizens are at greater risk of being victims of financial fraud and payment system failures.

Access to cash remains and will remain crucial in the economy and society and the same can and must be said with regard to access to banking services through the branch and ATM network. A recent survey commissioned by the Department of Finance found that 37% of customers visit their branch every month. That number is greater in rural areas. The Deputies, whom I commend on bringing forward this motion, note that retailers should be required to accept cash as a form of payment. I am aware of a number of retailers close to Leinster House that refuse to accept cash. Having the option to use cash is key and should not be closed down.

It is critical that Government, industry and regulators understand the importance of access to cash for social and financial inclusion. Its use and access to it must be protected in legislation, and I have been calling for such legislation for more than a year now. In both Britain and Sweden, legislation has been introduced to protect access to cash. Such legislation requires banks to provide a minimum level of cash withdrawal and deposit facilities, including ATMs, within set geographic baselines. To stop the drive towards ATM closures, which has damaging effects on rural communities, elderly citizens and low-income groups, we need similar reforms here in Ireland. We need legislative protections. We cannot allow the banks to take cash away from citizens in rural communities. We cannot allow ourselves to sleepwalk into a cashless society. It is simply not an option. It would leave citizens and rural communities poorer and excluded. I therefore support the motion. We need the legislation I have been calling for over the past year.

10:42 am

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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I also thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion before the House. Last summer, AIB attempted to make 70 of its branches cashless. In my constituency of Tipperary, the branches at Cashel, Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir and Roscrea were targeted. The response from the public was straightforward; they said "No." The Government dithered but people power ultimately won out and the decision was abandoned. Why was the public outcry so strong? It was because cash is important in providing for social and financial inclusion for many people, particularly in rural areas. It provides access to services for people who may not be in a position to use contactless payments or who do not have online access to carry out transactions. The Department of Finance itself has said cash remains the preferred method of in-store payment for 20% of people. This is especially the case for older and low-income groups. Cash is very much a relevant medium of payment. While there has been an increase in electronic payments, that cannot be allowed to exclude those for whom cash is not a choice but a necessity.

We must also bear in mind that access to cash is also important to many as a tool for budgeting. Tapping cards can give us a false idea of our spending. Many of our small and medium enterprises deal with high volumes of cash every day and so need access to it. It is also not unheard of for online systems to go down, making cash payments crucial. That is why we need ATMs and access to cash in our communities, especially in our rural towns and villages.

When cash services in Tipperary were under threat, I spoke of the need for a comprehensive review of access to cash to protect access throughout the State. We need this to ensure, as the use of cash declines in the future, retail banks will be required to provide cash withdrawal and deposit facilities based on customer distribution, market share and geographical coverage. A way forward that still enables full access to cash is possible. The needs of people must always take precedence. People must not be left behind on the pretext of technological advancement.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Because of how precious cash can be during times of financial stress, many have said that cash is king. This phrase means that having liquid funds available can be vital because of the flexibility it provides during a crisis. It does not have to be a crisis, however. It can be as simple as granny slipping a few coins or, if they are lucky, a fiver into her grandchildren's hands with the phrase, "Buy yourself some sweets." Cash is the only form of money that citizens can hold without the involvement of third parties or access to broadband, electricity or equipment. By God, we are some way off rural Ireland being reliably covered by adequate broadband service. If the strain on our electricity grid becomes too much at some point, and there are many warnings this might happen, and the power goes down, how do you access your money? If you are on a night out with cash in your pocket, you know how much you are spending. You can track it and you can stick to your budget for that night much more easily than if you were tapping for everything. It is simple, easy to use and you know how much you have. Why make life more complicated by taking away the option of using it?

We must also think of the victims of coercive control and domestic violence. Abusers can have far more control if they only need to take away one bank card. On lists put together to assist victims of domestic abuse to prepare to leave, the advice is always given to try to set aside a small amount of money each week, if at all possible. Access to cash is vital in all of these circumstances.

Despite widespread commentary regarding the move to a cashless society, most consumers value having cash, with its importance even more critical for particular cohorts, including the elderly and low-income households, for whom the use of cash is not a choice but a necessity. For my own part, I have recently requested that the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media write to the GAA to ask it to review its cashless policy and to allow loyal supporters, young and old, many of whom have attended games for decades, to use cash to make purchases. However, the central point of all of this is that cash is legal tender. To agree that there is anywhere it cannot be used is to deny that cash is legal tender. Let us protect cash now so that it does not become an issue later on.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the motion it has brought forward. Most days here, we discuss real and profound issues such as the crisis in housing, the cost-of-living crisis and the crisis in health but, to many people, this motion is just as important because many vulnerable people have no other option but to make transactions and pay for services with cash. That is why I support this excellent Private Member's motion today. I am a proud member of St Vincent's hurling and football club in Cork. I have been a GAA person all my life. My family is steeped in GAA tradition. I was very disappointed by the GAA's decision to go cashless.

During the pandemic the argument was that everyone accepted it during the pandemic because it was a public health issue but when we came out of it, the GAA should have gone back to its roots. My dad would go to a lot of games. Sometimes I would go with my wife, my brothers-in-law or my nephews. We would get the tickets for my dad but there are a lot of people out there who do not have family members to get tickets and they stayed away. I am really disappointed in the association. The Gaelic Athletic Association is one of the greatest organisations ever to come from this island and I am proud to be a member. It is about time it rowed back and respected everyone within the association and if it wants to go cashless or pay cash, that should be the members' or supporters' choice. That should apply right across the board with all sport and with all events. One should not be blocking people from having access to facilities, services or events.

A number of Deputies spoke about vulnerable people, older people, people on low incomes and people who might have literacy problems. People need to be included, not excluded, and that is what this motion would do.

The Government needs to act now rather than talking about waiting for something down the road. People need to know now that cash is legal tender and that they have a right. If they want to pay by cash, that is their right. I do not accept businesses or services, in particular, banks, telling people that they do not have that right. AIB learnt its lesson and it is now time for the Government to act.

10:52 am

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Chief Medical Officer, in recent days, has talked about older people getting back to normal after the pandemic to regain their lives and part of that is this issue of being able to pay with cash. Not everybody is able to go online and operate like that with credit cards. There is a section of people who will be excluded if this is the way we proceed.

I am glad that Deputy Gould mentioned AIB because what it had proposed was outrageous. They were essentially to close access to cash facilities, including ATMs, at their banks in vast swathes of rural Ireland. In Donegal, it was to have a significant impact. The GAA clubs were to the fore in speaking out against that. Thankfully, AIB, with the public backlash and the fact that we have substantial State control of it, did what was right eventually, but it should not have taken all of that.

I am really disappointed with the cashless approach the GAA has taken. It needs to listen to the grassroots and in particular make sure that older people who have been the bedrock of their clubs for years can go along to the games. Anybody who follows the GAA and goes to those matches sees that historically there is a large number of older people for whom it is where they socially interact and have the craic every Sunday. That decision needs to be reversed. It needs to be accessible to all.

If you look at the National Driver Licence Service, in Donegal you cannot pay with cash if you go to avail of your driving licence. I am starting to see increasingly it creeping in that a section of people are excluded.

I thank the Rural Independent Group for this important motion because there has been a drift towards cash being rejected, and cash is legal tender. No citizen should be denied access, certainly to something that is a public service or a community service, if he or she has legal tender in his or her hands and is willing to pay. We need to stop this and we need to listen to our communities and our grassroots and confront those who are acting against those interests.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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I commend the Rural Independent Group for bringing this forward.

Often when we talk about cash and those people who access cash, we talk about older people. Personally, I far prefer to use cash because it is a far easier way to know how much you are spending, where your money is going etc. A lot of speakers before me have already detailed the impact that not having access to or being able to pay for goods in cash can and would have on a vast array of different people, especially older people who find online banking etc. a lot more difficult.

I want to make some wider points as well, I suppose to put this debate in a different context. Obviously we need to recognise that cash represents at present only 3% of the money supply in most developed countries and the overwhelming majority of it is digital. In recent times, certain types of notes have been phased out. Most ordinary people have never seen a €500 note. Such notes were mostly used in money-laundering and by those engaged in financial crime and hence high denomination notes were phased out.

It is also important to address the proposals for central bank digital currencies which often exercise people. There are various motivations for central bank digital currencies. There is the rise of crypto-currencies, the Chinese Central Bank's efforts to create its own digital yuan, the US Federal Reserve and ECB's fear of being left behind etc.

Of course, then there are the impacts of quantitative easing. During the last financial crisis, significant amounts of new digital currency were created. This was, in effect, given over to the commercial banking sector in the hope that it would lend to the real economy but that did not work out as planned. Banks largely sat on this new credit or used it to buy and sell existing assets, and hence the major price inflation in property assets and other financial assets over the past decade. It was stimulus for the banks but not for ordinary people. It contributed to growing wealth inequality but, unfortunately, we have not seen much focus on that.

There are a number of reasons I think cash is important. For most people, and me personally, it is good to have access to cash.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing this really important motion forward.

For many people, particularly those at risk of poverty who budget with cash, moving to a cashless society is a huge concern. It shows a disconnect between Government and many big businesses, such as Ryanair, and ordinary people, particularly older people and people at risk of poverty.

The GAA is the biggest grassroots organisation in Ireland and is a central pillar in community life. For many, the love of sport starts at an early age and follows though their whole life. It is disappointing to see the GAA introduce a cashless policy for tickets at grounds which will, without doubt, have a disproportionate impact on some of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in our communities. The GAA, and going to matches, is such an important part of the social infrastructure for so many people, young and old.

Research from Age Action Ireland shows that two thirds of the over 65 age group relies on cash. Last year, we saw AIB reverse its decision to remove cash service on the premise that the move would adversely impact several groups, such as the older generation. I have written to the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media and Sport Ireland asking that they listen to the concerns of groups, such as Age Action, Age NI and GAA for All. I ask that the Minister and Sport Ireland engage with the GAA to find a solution for the more marginalised and vulnerable groups in our community.

As Deputy Gould mentioned, the GAA is so important to us all and has been the bedrock of so many communities across the country. Fairness underpins the GAA, but this is unfair and it needs to be changed.

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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I start by thanking the Rural Independent Group for tabling this motion, which the Social Democrats is happy to support.

There is no doubt that cash usage declined rapidly in the last decade, particularly during Covid. We now live in a country that has a very sophisticated electronic payments system and, therefore, a declining need for cash.

This rapid change is born out in the Central Bank data. Since 2015, the use of debit cards has almost tripled, increasing by 284%, while the number of ATM transactions has almost halved, dropping by 46%. However, despite this significant change to the cash cycle, there is still an appetite and, indeed, a need for physical money.

11 o’clock

Most people may have moved to electronic payment methods by choice, but many others have been forced or, worse, left behind. Branch closures, the removal of cash services and a reduced ATM network has left many people with few options. According to the retail banking review, once all Ulster Bank branches close, the entire branch network will have reduced from 617 branches to 438. Of those remaining, 21% will have no staffed cash counter.

In terms of our ATM network, Ireland had the third largest decrease in ATMs in the EU between 2017 and 2020 after the Netherlands and Belgium. However, it is worth nothing that the reduction in ATMs in the Netherlands and Belgium happened under a structured framework from their respective states. The same cannot be said of Ireland, of course, where the rapid decrease was as a result of decisions taken by the banks themselves. This is yet another example of successive governments' hands-off approach to banking policy.

Of particular concern should be the management of the ATM network, which has changed dramatically in recent years. In 2015, all ATMs were operated by traditional banks, but by the end of 2021, independent ATM deployers, or IADs, controlled 75% of ATM locations. These IADs are now significant players in the cash cycle, yet they remain unregulated by the Central Bank. Aside from the glaringly obvious issues with outsourcing this service to unregulated providers, this model is particularly bad for rural communities and SMEs. The IAD business model depends on having ATMs in areas of high footfall. This means rural Ireland, which has already been hardest hit by branch closures, is most likely to lose ATMs. This is just another reason on an already long list of reasons for the Government to rethink its position on public banking. The pillar banks cannot be relied upon to protect consumers' and SMEs' access to cash, especially in rural areas. Cash services, even those that are loss making, are vital for local communities, and this consideration must trump commercial concerns.

While I accept the increased use of cashless payments has made life easier for most people, without a clear strategy to manage this transformation, too many people are being left behind. It has been ten years since the last national payments strategy was published and changes to the cash cycle have far outpaced that plan. We now find ourselves at a crossroads and pre-emptive action is required to ensure a cashless society does not become a runaway train. The retail banking review recommended a new national payments strategy by 2024. I would appreciate it if the Minister of State outlined her plans in that regard.

Ultimately, this is about inclusivity. If we continue blindly down the path towards a cashless society, some of the most vulnerable will be excluded. This includes some older people, some on low incomes and those who lack the digital or financial literacy needed to manage electronic payments. Organisations like Age Action have been warning the Government about the threat of an increasingly cashless society for years, long before the number of bank branches receded or Covid accelerated the use of electronic payment methods. In 2018, Age Action said an entire generation of older people were being left behind, with 50% of people aged between 65 and 74 never having been online. This level of exclusion did not improve in the proceeding years. As of 2021, 65% of over-65s experienced digital exclusion, meaning they could not access online or contactless financial services.

We must not lose sight of the fact that cash is still an essential part of everyday life for many. It is not a choice or a habit but a need. While I do not believe the Government is trying to move us towards a totally cashless society by design, I do fear that, without a plan, it is stumbling into one. You cannot attend a GAA match, renew a driver's licence or, increasingly, even buy a coffee without a debit card. This requires immediate attention.

I accept that the Government has committed to drafting legislation on access to cash, but when is it going to publish the heads of that Bill? There has been little discussion on it at Oireachtas level. This should be priority legislation for the Department of Finance, but it is nowhere to be found on the spring legislative programme. Will the Minister of State commit to publishing the draft legislation before the summer recess? A clear and structured legislative framework is needed to manage this evolution before our cash infrastructure deteriorates any further and before large numbers in our population are excluded from financial services.

11:02 am

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this important motion, which we are happy to support.

As many Deputies have said, while it is the case, and not necessarily a bad thing, that we have an ever-growing number of digital and electronic financial transactions – for some, this is convenient and can be a good and useful thing – people need a choice. For many, if it is not possible to pay by cash and they are forced to do otherwise, they do not actually have the choice to buy products or conduct financial transactions digitally. People have problems with computer literacy – I do myself, to be honest – and often find dealing with online payments difficult and complicated. Many people do not have access to bank accounts. For many, the exchange of cash is linked to social interaction. One of the gripes I have and, I suspect, many older people, sociable people and those who are not so good at dealing with online interactions also have is the difficulty in talking to human beings these days in key areas of our economic and social life. It is a great frustration to me. It is not good that you cannot talk to someone in the local bank the way you used to be able to. Life is complicated and everyone's individual circumstances are different. Many online transactions or applications are literally about ticking boxes, but life is not always as straightforward as ticking particular boxes. The nuances, complexities and unique characteristics of people's individual lives and circumstances are often not accommodated by the online or digital format. As such, it is vital, as the motion is indicating, that we retain the option of, and guarantee the infrastructure to allow for, cash interactions.

I will add a few more dimensions to the debate in a slightly different direction. In some areas, there are ways to remove cash that do not disenfranchise people. This is not by handing it over to banks and private corporations, which may charge processing fees and where it becomes difficult as a human being to interact with them, but by removing certain areas from the money economy altogether.

This is one reason as to why it would be a good idea to have free public transport. It would encourage people to get out of their cars and onto public transport. Having free and open access to the public transport system would overcome the difficulty of people not having cash or cards with them in order to get on a bus when necessary, even at the basic social level. There are parts of society in respect of which we could and should do that. Services could be run on an not-for-profit basis, and certain public services could be provided simply by dint of the fact that someone is a citizen of society and is entitled to do those things.

We had a heated political conflict over the issue of water charges because people felt - they expressed their views strongly and effectively - that water is a basic human right and should not be commodified. Water should not have a price tag. It costs money to build water infrastructure-----

11:12 am

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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And to treat water.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----but that does not mean that there must be a financial interaction at the point of use. That is commodifying in a way. It is making water a private commodity rather than a socially owned resource that everyone is entitled to use and for which people contribute through the tax system. I am throwing that in as another dimension to this argument. There are different ways of becoming cashless. It does not have to mean digitising, privatising and commodifying things. There are areas where we can take things out of the cash economy by making them free at the point of use and paid for in a different way that is easier for people in contributing to the tax system on the basis of their income.

The other concept that is relevant to this debate is that of alienation. This is an increasing feature of our society. At the heart of many mental health issues is the fact that, increasingly, young people and all other members of society are being affected by alienation. There is no doubt that there is a growing mental health crisis that comes from many pressures on people. One feature of that crisis is alienation. Things that used to be human interactions and involved relations between human beings are being replaced by interactions with faceless, anonymous forces in society, whether it is technology, big corporations or large bureaucracies. That is not good. People such as Kafka wrote about this many years ago. There is more and more alienation happening. Fundamentally, alienation is not good for the mental health of human beings or for the cohesion of our society. We need to think carefully about it. There is no doubt that being able to interact with people by means of paying cash, or not being able to do so, is part of the pressure in the context of people being moved in a direction that can be alienating when it comes to human relations. One of the most fundamental needs of human beings is to be able to interact with other human beings. We must be careful about things that will reduce people's right or choice to interact with other human beings in day-to-day economic or social processes. We must ensure that the choice to interact is still there.

Photo of Michael LowryMichael Lowry (Tipperary, Independent)
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A Chathaoirligh gníomhaí, a Aire, agus a chomhghleacaithe, today's world sees more and more people tapping a card on a machine in order to purchase something as simple as a cup of coffee. The vast majority of retailers no longer even tell customers the cost of what they are purchasing. They simply direct them towards a machine and by pressing the four buttons, the customers' money becomes the retailers' money in return for what is bought. Ultimately, the retailer transfers that day's takings to the bank with another touch of a button. The process is simple and efficient. That cannot be denied. People tap their way around towns and cities every day. The use electronic means to buy goods online and pay bills by standing order. They seldom see or handle cash. Unless something is seen, it is difficult to gauge its value.

Commentators jump to blame the Covid-19 pandemic for the fact that cash has fallen out of favour. At the height of the pandemic, handling money was certainly not something that would have been encouraged. The pandemic may have encouraged more people to ditch notes and coins and join the tapping era, but tapping was already established well in advance of the pandemic. The purpose of this motion is not to change that. In keeping with the rest of the world, Ireland has embraced electronic banking because its ease of use. The only way this will ever change is if an even more efficient system comes along. The motion seeks to protect the use of cash as legal tender and to keep notes and coins in circulation. It is worthy, timely and wise to move to ensure that cash will continue to be accepted as payment for goods and services.

The motion also seeks to protect people who continue to have a preference for using cash. People instantly think of the elderly members of our society in this regard. However, a survey carried out in November found that 78% of all Irish people feel that businesses should be legally obliged to accept cash as payment. Under existing laws, businesses can refuse to accept cash payments by simply putting up a sign at their entrances or at the payment point. This cannot be questioned by the customer. By doing it, however, a business discriminates against a significant cohort of people. Some elderly people have not transitioned to new payment methods. People who have been victims of electronic payment fraud may understandably be wary of digital payments. Homeless people cannot open bank accounts. Some intellectually challenged people find it easier to manage cash. There are those who are unable to keep track of their spending because they are not familiar with or do not have access to computers. Some people fear losing their debit cards and giving the finder access to their money. Some people simply prefer to manage their affairs by using cash. The list of circumstances and people affected by no-cash zones is endless. There is no one size fits all when it comes to money management. Refusing to take cash payment prevents these people from having financial freedom. It denies them their rights as citizens. It is a form of financial control.

Only the banks stand to benefit from a cashless society. Removing their obligation to handle cash means they do not have to have an expensive ATM network, paid bank tellers or cash vans constantly crisscrossing the country. Staff will be made redundant from banks and the public will be made totally dependent on banks. For banks, removing cash from circulation completely is a win-win situation. Meanwhile those who favour notes and coins are cast aside.

I fully support the motion to protect cash as legal tender by enacting legislation. This, in turn, would protect the interests and choices of all sectors of our society.

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an ngrúpa the Rural Independents as ucht dul i ngleic leis an ábhar seo. This is an important motion. It speaks to the retention of choice and freedom and the dangers in the removal of choice and freedom in how citizens conduct their daily lives and how they transact in their daily lives. As we know, there is a strong move to digitisation happening globally and the environment is changing to favour digital transactions. However, a significant number of people find themselves less and less in favour of digitisation, especially as they age. That will continue to be the case as people age. Those who grew up using cash always felt they knew the value of something because they had to hand over what was in their pockets in order to pay for it.

As Deputy Lowry said, people are tapping their way around society oblivious to what they are paying for something. It is such a simple thing to do to take out a card and swipe it. If people had to take out their hard-earned payment at the end of the week and transact with it, it would be a good discipline for them in terms of budgeting.

We have seen very strong resistance from consumer banks to halting the move to a cashless society for very obvious reasons. There are very good efficiencies to be gained. There is an exceptional ability to track and mine data. They would also get to reduce their costs in terms of their overheads. Why would they need a plethora of retail banking locations throughout the country when it could all be done online? From the point of view of banks and financial institutions there are very good reasons for them to promote continuing to adopt a cashless society.

The question must be asked as to who in our society uses cash and why. Largely it is the elderly in particular and people who want to have discretion about what they purchase. Sometimes people may not want other people or agencies or regulatory bodies to know what they are purchasing. Cash allows this. It is a very important freedom and choice that we have in this country that must be retained. Legislation must continue to allow payments in cash and businesses must be required to accept payments in cash. The motion calls for strong legislation to ensure that cash is retained as legal tender. I certainly support this. We have moved a long way from having the barter system of many hundreds of years ago. We do not want to see people being forced back into such a retrograde step.

With respect to security, people are right to be concerned about the digital economy and how cash may be subject to digital theft. What guarantees can banks give with regard to keeping people's funds secured when we have seen such a rise in international and global cybercrime? These are the concerns that people have. Holding a certain amount of cash assuages this. We need to be aware of the ability of financial institutions to mine data using the amount of tapping we are all doing. In time it could be very easy for banks to be able to tell other financial institutions what health providers people might use, where their mortgages are placed and what convenience stores they shop in every week. These are concerns with regard to GDPR. In the overall I support the motion and I applaud the Rural Independent Group for tabling it.

11:22 am

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this very important issue and I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling it. I support the motion's calls to ensure that the use of digital payment methods is voluntary and not mandatory, and to instruct all banks that operate in this jurisdiction to provide access to cash for all communities.

There is a societal demand for cash and there is no doubt about this. We saw evidence of this last summer when AIB announced its decision to go cashless. There was such significant backlash from the public that AIB was forced to reverse the decision swiftly. As I said at the time, this was an action that prioritised shareholders over the public. It showed that AIB does not care about the public or local businesses which rely on cash. AIB is not a loss-making business. Its attempt to go cashless was a clear attempt to make even more profit for its shareholders. Unfortunately, due to the banks' profit-driven model, I do not believe that this will be the last time a bank attempts to go cashless. It is for this reason that we need to put measures in place to stop this. The Government is not a neutral observer. It needs to be proactive in this and ensure legislation is in place to stop a move to cashless.

Society is becoming increasingly cashless, with contactless payments becoming increasingly popular. We can accept this while, at the same time, ensuring that cash is still an option. It is not acceptable to have fully cashless venues or businesses as it severely disadvantages some cohorts more than others, particularly senior citizens, young people, those on low incomes and homeless people. Cashless venues such as the 3Arena have made it very difficult for people without a card and those who would rather not use their card to access the same services as everyone else. This is unfair and discriminatory. Cash is legal tender and venues and businesses should be obliged to accept it.

I was particularly disappointed with the GAA's move to an online-centric ticket system. This has severely impacted many older people in particular, some who have been avid fans for many years. Having to buy a ticket online in advance is a nightmare. It requires people not only to have a bank account but also to have a computer and Internet access. This is particularly difficult for those of us living in rural Ireland with very weak broadband connections. The fibre broadband roll-out may seem like something of the past for those here in the capital but there are still many areas in my constituency of Donegal that have serious connection issues and will not be getting fibre broadband until 2025 or 2026. This in itself is unacceptable but the fact that we are now limiting access to Gaelic games is completely discriminatory against the people affected.

The Government needs to take action on this. Cashless events, venues, banks and businesses are not only problematic for older people and those living in rural Ireland but also for victims of domestic abuse who are experiencing financial control by an abusive partner. Women’s Aid has stated:

Very often, abusive partners control access to the family finances. Financial abuse includes exerting control over income, spending and bank accounts. Without access to money, and in particular in cash form...it is difficult to leave an abuser and access safety.

Disabled women and migrant women are particularly at risk.

I am also concerned about the level of tracking and surveillance that banks and governments would have access to in a cashless society. This information is incredibly valuable and though we may not be at risk now we do not know how this information might be used in the future. It is vital that we ensure that cash is always an option and I urge the Government to take a stronger stance on this that goes beyond the toothless act of merely supporting the motion. Action is needed and not words. The Government is a very active participant in the system and needs to ensure that everybody performs.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independents 4 Change)
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I thank the Rural Independent Group for tabling this Private Members' motion. I support it. While the move away from cash during Covid was understandable, cash remains an important part of life for many people in this country. There is real need for cash in society, whether it be for elderly people who might not know how to access digital services, people with disabilities who need access to cash services or people who have spent their entire lives budgeting through cash. There are also the issues raised by Deputy Pringle regarding women and domestic violence where cash is very important.

There are broad groups of people for whom cash is a fundamental pillar of how they make or raise money. These include charitable donations, tips, busking, homeless people and even communions and confirmations. Access to cash is central to the income of many groups of people. Cash has a limited buy-in. People do not need to purchase the newest smart phone or watch to have access to cash. People do not need to pay monthly phone data bills to have access to cash. Not everyone can afford the buy-in that digitalisation of payment and banking requires. Cash has much lower operating costs for consumers. It will always be a cheaper option for those on low pay or fixed incomes and those who are struggling to get by.

There is also a problem with digital literacy. There are many people who did not grow up with access or exposure to technology. They would be left out by any significant move to a cashless society. If people do not have this literacy but are pushed into using online payments and banking they will be far more susceptible to fraud and cybercrime. Added to this are the many people who have been using cash as a way of budgeting their whole lives. They take money out on a Thursday or Friday and that is their money for the week. We are facing a cost-of-living crisis, soaring rents and mortgages, massive inflation and large rises in bills. Any move to push people away from how they have been budgeting their entire lives should be opposed.

It is an easy fix to legislate to make sure cash is accepted as payment. France has laws enforcing cash being accepted as payment. The US is looking into federal law after many states have passed laws requiring cash payment. This is the easy fix. What is far more difficult and far more important is to make sure that people have access to cash. We cannot allow the banks a backhanded way of cutting costs by removing important services and raising fees to discourage cash. We have lost far too many banking services in communities throughout the country. In 2022 Ireland had 8.63 bank branches per 100,000 people. In the UK the number of bank branches per 100,000 people was 10.4, in New Zealand it was 21.4, in Portugal it was 32.8 and in Canada it was 20.2. This is a clear example of the need for real regulation of banks to provide proper widespread services and the development of a real public banking system so we can make sure every community in Ireland has access not only to cash services but to all banking services.

We need legislation to ensure that cash can be used but, far more importantly, we need to make sure banks are regulated properly to ensure cash is easily accessible and widely distributed in communities. If there are any gaps that need to be filled in that regulation, that should happen through Government support and services like post offices, supports for credit unions and a real and serious push to set up a public banking system.

11:32 am

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Danny Healy Rae and O'Donoghue for tabling this motion in regard to the protection of cash in the financial system. I also thank all of those who have contributed to the debate so far. As the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, outlined, this is an important issue and a priority for the Government. We are not opposing the motion, given that it is so aligned with what the Government is trying to do, albeit to a slightly different timetable. I will outline that and I will also try to address many of the different issues that have been raised and to provide more information.

I forgot to wish Deputies a happy International Women's Day. I was glad to hear many Deputies, including Deputies Joan Collins, Pringle and Munster, raise the importance of cash as part of our response to domestic violence and coercive control. The situation of people in vulnerable situations is a core part of why we need to ensure we provide access to cash all of the time.

The motion is entirely consistent with the findings of the retail banking review published last year. That review recognised that the Government and the Central Bank, in line with the ECB's cash strategy, have a fundamental responsibility, together with the banking sector, to ensure the smooth supply of cash and facilitate the use of cash payments by consumers and SMEs.

Deputies spoke about the legality or illegality of refusing cash acceptance. It is not illegal to refuse cash acceptance at the moment once it has been displayed clearly to the customer, but that is not enough and it is not what we are talking about. It is not ideal and it poses real risks to sectors of society, which I know the Deputies are trying to highlight today. That is going to be part of the national payments strategy which will be completed in 2024 and which is also recommended by the retail banking strategy.

A Deputy - I think it was Deputy Nolan - referred to An Post. Officials are working on access to cash legislation, and Deputy Shortall looked for a timeline on that. We will have heads of Bill in the second half of this year, with a view to enactment in 2024. As part of that legislation, there is a question around An Post and around determining what exactly is access to cash, for example, is it access to cash through the post office, through banks or through cashback in shops? The role of An Post is not being ignored. It is part of the conversations I will continue to have with An Post in the context of different communities having been left too short, with no pun intended, by the removal of the retail banks in different communities.

I would perhaps push back against Deputy Nolan's point about Government Deputies responding to the potential withdrawal of cash services around the country. I recall my colleague from Kerry, Deputy Griffin, stating that AIB had shown despicable disregard for people in his community and for customers more broadly. Indeed, I was on radio giving out very strongly about it from an access to cash perspective. I think that was very broadly felt across this House. It is one of the many reasons we are completely agreed on the need to provide ongoing access to cash.

This is about access to cash through legislation arising from the retail banking review. It is also about the acceptance of cash, which is what many Deputies have highlighted in regard to the GAA and other institutions. Many Deputies highlighted the GAA issue in particular. That is a matter of contract law and it is a matter for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. However, it is exactly the sort of issue that we need to consider in the national payments strategy with regard to cash acceptance and where cash is accepted. That review will examine the potential requirement for certain firms, sectors and sub-sectors, Government bodies, public bodies and others to accept cash. As Deputies have correctly highlighted, that would include bodies like the National Driver Licence Service.

Do we have to require that everybody accepts cash? Do we have to require that every coffee shop accepts cash? I do not know, and we need to talk that through. I am certainly of the view that, for example, every supermarket needs to accept cash and there should be no discretion in that regard. We need to think through the different parts of our society to work out what is fundamental in terms of accepting cash and where we can exercise more discretion, and how we think about that going into the future.

The motion calls on the Government to:

- instruct all Irish banks and banks that operate within this jurisdiction to provide reasonable access to cash, allowing for the further evolution of the cash infrastructure to be managed in a fair, orderly, transparent, and equitable manner for all stakeholders, and to ensure all retail outlets and businesses, together with consumers, have access to cash services;

- categorically state and instruct, via the CBI and the Minister for Finance, that all retail banks must preserve consumers' and businesses' access to cash services, pending the development of the "access to cash" legislation...

The trouble is we do not have the powers to do that on the current legislative basis. What we are signalling very clearly, however, is that this is where we are going with the legislation, and we are doing that this year. If Deputies will allow us some forbearance on that, it is part of the Government strategy. Officials in the Department of Finance and other Departments are beginning work on this at present. The sector is well on notice that this is where the legislative intent is and this is where we are going, and that any reduction in cash services between now and then would have to be rectified when the legislation is enacted. We have signalled very clearly exactly where we are going.

Deputy Doherty mentioned a number of different issues in the context of cyber threats, security measures and privacy. It is important to highlight the EU payment services directive, which originally came into force in 2018. That EU legislation focuses more on the card and digital elements. Officials in the Department of Finance are actively involved in discussions at EU level to ensure that consumers are protected when making electronic payments. That will review fraud rates, security measures, informational requirements for customers, costs and fees. I thank the Deputy for raising that matter.

I also want to make another point about cash that I had to reflect on in listening to the contributions of Deputy Doherty and other Sinn Féin Deputies. It was very good to hear a Sinn Féin contribution to the Dáil motion on access to and use of cash, and especially good to hear Deputy Doherty, Sinn Féin's spokesperson on money and finance and Sinn Féin party treasurer, on his perspectives on access to and use of cash, considering he managed to amass €180,000 in cash to pay for a constituency office, a feat that I could certainly never manage in terms of cash. We also recognise the businesses left high and dry by Sinn Féin, which, I imagine, would love to have been paid in cash, if paid at all. I refer to the €600 owed to the Royal Irish Academy in respect of the 2016 election and the €5,305 owed to a postering company for work done in 2014. Of course, it can be hard to keep track of cash, in fairness, which might be the reason for the very sparse Sinn Féin electoral returns - its statutory electoral returns. Too much cash or too little cash: it sort of depends on where you are sitting.

Of course, cash can pose risks, and less cash does have important security benefits as it reduces the risk of security raids, such as the one on the Northern Bank in 2004. The role of cash in society is an evolving concept, an evolving risk, an evolving threat, depending on where you are sitting. There is simply no question that access to cash and use of cash is a pertinent matter for everybody in Irish society.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I call Deputy Mattie McGrath on behalf of the Rural Independent Group.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an iar-Sheanadóir Brian Ó Domhnaill agus Mairéad san oifig as an ábhar seo a chur chun cinn. I thank Brian Ó Domhnaill, Mairéad, all my colleagues and supporters, David and everybody else for putting this motion together.

I would have preferred if the Minister of State had stuck to the motion rather than using her time to-----

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I can speak as I like, as you do.

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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Order, please.Members should speak through the Chair.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Yes, through the Chair - tríd an gCathaoir.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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The Minister of State is very argumentative today.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I addressed everyone's points.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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There are a lot of tangible issues relating to the motion, and we do not have a lot of time. Rather than choosing to attack another party in order to score political points, there is plenty of work to do on this.

I also welcome Peter O’Donoghue from Kilworth in Cork, who is in the Visitors Gallery today and who has done huge work. He has actually stood up and been counted in venues which refuse to take cash.

I want to correct the Minister of State. I do not believe she is right when she says that where people put up a poster or a notice saying cash is not acceptable, they are legally covered. They are not. The European Commission issued a document saying that that has no bearing. We use Europe as cover when we want to and then we ignore it when we want to.

The motion is straightforward. Refusal to accept cash as payment is discriminatory.

It is totally discriminatory against people with intellectual disabilities, elderly people, na daoine óige, the poorest in society and indeed our newest arrivals, namely the refugees, who cannot open a bank account or anything else. We have all these lovely platitudes and we talk of the inclusive actions we take, but we are allowing our banks to do this. There is some kind of amnesia in this Government, as there was in the previous one and the one I was in when we had the bank crash. It is an amnesia we get when we deal with the banks. We start deferring to them. In the past bank managers had great respect in the community, and rightly so. People knew the managers and they in turn knew the people. There was trust there and the managers knew who to help out and who to trust with loans and everything else. All that connectivity is gone. You cannot find a manager or even a teller in a bank now. I always support the staff of the banks who are there under duress. They get the brunt of it because when you go in you meet machine, after machine, after machine. They are like robots. The banks do not want the customers. Look at the arrogance of what AIB did last year, in spite of the fact every man, woman and child, and children unborn, will be paying for the horrible mess they left us in and the blank cheque they got from us. This is the thanks we get, because Governments are not up to it.

That was proved this morning. I mean no disrespect to the present Minister of State or to the Minister of State, Deputy Smyth, but cá bhfuil an tAire Airgeadais, an Teachta Micheál Mac Craith, agus an tAire, an Teachta Ó Donnchú? I thank every group here who spoke in support of our motion. The Labour Party Members missed their slot, but Deputy Nash approached me to say they support it also. The Government is supporting the motion as well, so we have unanimous support. However, the Government is doing what it always does with a motion when it does not find it palatable to vote it down, namely, it takes it, puts it into a folder and files it away. It puts more folders on top of it and more on top of that until there are ten years of files sitting on it. I want dates and timelines for legislation from the Minister of State.

11:42 am

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I gave dates.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Minister of State talked about the second half of 2023 and maybe we will get something in 2024. We cannot wait that long, because everything is being harvested up, including people's cash reserves, their patience and their resilience. Above all, this is about our support for the people we are elected to represent. We are not elected to drive them off the edge of a cliff.

This affects many people, and they are not all elderly. Lots of elderly people are way more proficient in electronic communication than I am, but I am thinking of the people I listed earlier, including the homeless and vulnerable. You see signs in hospitals saying "No more cash accepted here after 1 January". You cannot get your ceadúnas to drive on the road from the National Driver Licence Service, NDLS, centres. This is happening. It is a relentless push. Every time a customer uses a card up to 3.5% is taken from the small business. Goodness knows it is hard enough to keep the doors of a business open at the moment given the efforts of the electricity and oil companies. The Government will not defend businesses from those either.

I do not know what has got into the political system. We mark 100 years since the death of the likes of Liam Lynch and Micheal Collins and the Ballyseedy murders and everything else and pay homage to what they did, yet we allow our people to be downtrodden and crucified by big corporations. Anything to do with corporations is big and beautiful. Last week we saw the Bill to have corporate sections in the credit unions. We need to support our people. Under Bunreacht na hÉireann it is our solemn duty to serve the people who elect us, but we need a lesson in that. We need tutorials to be put on to remind the Government of what its responsibilities are. Its members love trotting out to Europe. They are trotting all over the world now. They are not trotting but flying for St. Patrick's Day. It is the biggest exodus since the Famine. God help me for making the comparison with that perilous situation but the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, cannot keep up with the places he is going. Someone said yesterday that he is hiring an adviser to advise an adviser. He will need them. He needs someone to be ahead of him, behind him and with him, all on the one road - the bóthar díreach. There will be no carbon tax on the trips and we little minions here must pay up and shut up.

The GAA, Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, played a huge part in our history. It was founded in one of our home towns in Tiobraid Árann - Dúrlas Éile - many years ago. I think of the ideas those men had and I cannot believe the GAA is one of the first big national organisations to go cashless. It is shameful of the association. I have written to the ard stiúrthóir and indeed the county chairman, but I did not even get an acknowledgement. The association has got so big now, is so in bed with the Government and is so obliging, that this is how it thinks it can treat its loyal supporters. Many other clubs and organisations are thinking of going the same way. It is shameful. I am thinking of two sagairt pharóiste who are retired. They are assistant pastors now and do great work. They were excellent hurlers on the field. I would not like to have been playing against them because they pulled on the ground and pulled on the ball and they were great hurlers. They gave great service to their clubs and to their county and they love to go to matches. They have not been to a match in 18 months since this carry-on came in, because they live alone and do not have families to help them. They are embarrassed as much as anything else. They do not want to have to ask somebody to buy tickets for them. Did you ever see the beat of it? Years ago you could go to a dance for a tenner. You might have only eight bob, but you could ask someone passing whether there was any chance of getting a half crown to make up the tenner. You might have been embarrassed, but now grown men in their late 70s or 80s must ask someone else to buy them at ticket.

It is about the cash sa phóca. I was in Belfast at the weekend and things have been done up there to protect their cash. It is the same in Denmark. Why are we laggards in everything that is good for our people? The Minister of State talked about legislation the Government might introduce but we have not seen the heads of it. We have seen no draft guidelines or had anything for committees to get their teeth into. Why the delay? Is the Government complicit in the removal of cash by means of delay, subterfuge and everything else? I think so. I cannot come to any other conclusion. The Government has decided to accept the Rural Independent Group's motion, speak in favour of it, have a kick at Sinn Féin and settle political scores in the middle of it and then not even use the full deich nóiméad to answer the question and deal with the salient, important points we have raised.

The Visa cashless challenge was announced in 2017 by that company. Mastercard also brought us on a cashless journey. We are adoring of these card companies and it saddens me. I am not antiquated or backward-looking and I use cards. However, I see the daoine óige being indoctrinated into using cards to buy everything. It could be chewing gum, a bar of chocolate, a cocktail, a mineral, a cup of coffee or anything else. The control element in all that is my big fear. What about when they go to get a mortgage or any kind of loan from the bank? First they will have to find a bank that is open and a manager who will talk to them. They will not be able to. Where is the bank in Clonmel? Is someone able to tell me where the bank is in Cashel? The banks intend on abandoning the people totally. They are well on their way and do not care about governments because governments are complicit. That has been proven today because the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, an-chara liom riamh, is absent and so is the Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform. They would not even come in to debate this motion that every group in this House thought was important, and that is some signal to the banks. The signal is a nod and a wink and says away ye go lads to the banks and tells them they can charge what they like. Interest rates are going up again this week, as we know. We see this pressure and saw the devastation left after people were brought through the courts, evicted and everything else and now we are on our merry way to a cashless society.

I have nine grandchildren, thank God, and uimhir a deich on the way, le cúnamh Dé, and I love to give them a few bob in cash. Every grandparent does. Then there are first communions and whatever else. There is the person who wants to give a tip, which could be to the lorry driver doing a delivery or someone bringing home the turf when that was allowed. You got a large bottle and a fiver as a tip and everyone was happy because the turf was home and ready for the winter.

I beg the Cathaoirleach Gníomhach's indulgence on this, but I want to see action. I want to see a prescriptive timeline for when the Government is going to introduce heads of Bill-----

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I said it will be the second half of this year.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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-----when it will be introduced to pre-legislative scrutiny and when we will debate it in this Chamber.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Next year.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It cannot be on the never-never, with talk of doing it in 2023 or maybe 2024.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I gave the timeline.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Government will be out of power then and it will be over to someone else to mind all the cash. I commend this motion. It is a pity the Government has not got the guts to oppose it and would rather have it gathering dust on some shelf. That cannot happen.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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We are doing the same thing. We are doing the work. I gave the timeline.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I wish to raise a point of clarification. The Cathaoirleach Gníomhach has time to deal with a point of clarification.

11:52 am

Photo of Marian HarkinMarian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim, Independent)
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I may have the time, Deputy, but not the expertise.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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No, but the Minister of State will be able to answer this question. During her contribution, she said that it was her belief there was no basis in law to force businesses into having to take cash or to say they could not take cash, provided they had a sign up.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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What is the basis for this statement? The record of the Dáil is very important and the Minister of State has sent out a message that if any person providing a service puts up a sign stating, "We do not accept cash", it is acceptable. In effect, what is being said is that it is okay not to take what is legal tender on the island of Ireland. I am not saying the Minister of State is wrong, but I am asking her to clarify, on the record, if what she said is correct.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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If it is, how is she saying it is correct and what is she basing this knowledge on? I ask her to clarify this point because it is very important for businesses. We are saying businesses should accept what is legal tender, so I ask the Minister of State to clarify this statement, if she can.

Photo of Jennifer Carroll MacNeillJennifer Carroll MacNeill (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I will give two clarifications. Yes, that is what I am saying. The position now, in the absence of legislation, is what we are going to address by bringing through the national payments strategy in respect of the acceptance of cash and the requirement to accept cash as tender. In the absence of this legislation, it is a commercial decision and there is no legal obligation. What we have, then, is a vacuum in this regard and it is a commercial decision for businesses. I will give the Deputy two examples from my area. One coffee shop there only accepts cash, while the coffee shop next door to it does not accept cash. In both instances, it is a commercial decision. We are saying both methods should be able to be accepted and it is the payments strategy on the acceptance of cash that will enable this to be the case.

Deputy Mattie McGrath pressed me for a more specific timeline than the one I gave regarding the legislation and access to cash. The reason we are not opposing this motion is that we are doing this now. We are literally in the process of legislating for and providing this measure. Perhaps this is not the same timeline. We are now in a research and engagement stage. We will have a targeted consultation this summer with industry and also with the Office of the Attorney General around the drafting in this regard. We will have heads of a general scheme of this legislation in the second half of this year, as I said in my contribution earlier. In summer 2024, having gone through pre-legislative scrutiny, we will have the final Bill capable of enactment.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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What about the European Commission?

Question put and agreed to.

Cuireadh an Dáil ar fionraí ar 11.53 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar meán lae.

Sitting suspended at 11.53 a.m. and resumed at 12 noon.