Thursday, 17 December 2015
Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage
On a daily basis I welcome the Minister to the House. He is always welcome because his insight, including into this legislation, is very positive. Senator Pashcal Mooney's contributions are always constructive and it was no different on this occasion.
This legislation is badly needed. I respectfully suggest to all concerned that were it not for the efforts of Deputy Willie Penrose, it would not have been brought forward. Sometimes it requires somebody sitting in the back row at a parliamentary party meeting to continue to raise an issue week in, week out, month in, month out to finally focus people's minds. In many ways, those who find themselves in difficulty are vulnerable. What were we doing to solve the problem? We were exporting it, similar to the way thousands of women who find themselves in a difficult situation have to travel abroad, which is equally unacceptable. If the next Government can follow the example being set in the context of bankruptcy and deal with the Eighth Amendment, that would be positive. Here is wishing and hoping.
The measure proposed is reasonable in that it provides that the time period for bankruptcy will be reduced from three years to one. It is reasonable also that a period of three years will apply if it is identified that people are not signing up to meet the spirit of what has been achieved and that the court will have the power to step in and deal with the matter. We have seen in too many cases that once something is done under company law, there is no way of dealing with the matter and undoing it. In this case, if a person gets a break and a chance but abuses it and does not co-operate in meeting his or her responsibilities, it is only right and proper that the court should be able to intervene. In such cases I always maintain that the family home should be protected, no matter what happens. Senator Paschal Mooney has quoted a figure which indicates that 75% of those who become bankrupt lose the family home. I would much prefer to see the flip side, whereby 75% of those made bankrupt retained the family home. Certainly, nobody with a palace should retain it. However, people deserve to live in a modest home and if their home is modest, I do not believe they should lose it. Obviously, if it is in the leafy suburbs of south Dublin, that is a different discussion and needs to be entered into the equation. It is an issue on which I would like to hear the Minister's thoughts.
I believe no Member of the Dáil - I am not sure how it works for Members of the Seanad - can be declared bankrupt; if that should happen, he or she loses his or her seat. I stand to be corrected on that issue, but perhaps the Minister might shed some light on it. I am not a constitutional law expert, but I believe the issue features somewhere in the Constitution. It is one that should be addressed because I am sure there are Members of the Lower House and possibly in this House who may find themselves in financial difficulty from time to time. It is not the way a democracy should work; just because a person finds himself or herself in financial difficulty and becomes bankrupt should not mean he or she cannot put his or her name on the ballot paper. The people should the judge as to whether he or she is capable of doing the job.
The Bill will help us to deal with the consequences of the financial crisis and the fact that the country was broke until a couple of years ago and that thousands of people found themselves mired in desperate financial difficulties.There can be nothing more lonely or soul-destroying than for a person with a small business, finding themselves going broke, having to spend one year to access bankruptcy either in the city of London, Scotland or Holyhead, as a former Member of the other House had to. If nothing else, this legislation amends the bankruptcy arrangements to allow people opt for the same option in this country as they could by going overseas.