Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 November 2009

National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009: Motions

 

12:00 pm

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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Yesterday, 11 November 2009, the Seanad returned the National Asset Management Agency Bill 2009 to the Dáil with 37 amendments to which the agreement of the Dáil was sought. The Dáil considered these amendments and agreed Nos. 1 to 10, inclusive, and Nos. 14 to 37, inclusive, without change. However, it made changes to amendment Nos. 11 to 13, inclusive, to which agreement is sought.

The Seanad must now decide whether it agrees with each of the amendments made by the Dáil to amendments Nos. 11, 12 and 13. As the subject matter of these Dáil amendments is related, with the agreement of the House, Members can discuss the six amendments made by the Dáil together and the House can then decide on each individual amendment. I call on the Leader to move the first motion suggesting the action to be taken by the Seanad and will then call on the Minister of State to explain the decision taken by the Dáil. I remind Members that each Senator may only speak once on the motion.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann agrees to the first amendment made by the Dáil to Seanad amendment No. 11.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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These amendments extend the whistleblower protection provisions to employees of NAMA group entities. This amendment was proposed by Fine Gael in the Dáil earlier today and the Minister accepted it, as it is necessary that any employee of a NAMA group entity is fully protected by these provisions. I thank Fine Gael for its contribution.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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In respect of the motions on the amendments which have returned from the Dáil, I regret that the Government has not accepted more Fine Gael amendments during the debate on NAMA, as they would have strengthened the protection for the taxpayer. Without rehashing the entire debate on the Bill, I note that never before has so much money been handed over to so few people on behalf of so many, namely, taxpayers, for such an uncertain return. As I stated yesterday, while one must hope it succeeds for the sake of the country, it is a gamble. Fine Gael's central worry pertains to the damage this legislation could do to the country, as well as the debt burden that will be placed on every family in the country.

The Fine Gael amendment tabled by Deputy O'Donnell which has been accepted by the Minister in the Dáil ensures the whistleblower legislation protection also applies to employees in the other group entities related to NAMA, about which Members do not know much just yet, that is, the SPVs. Its acceptance is good because it ensures an equality of protection for all employees connected with any entity of NAMA and is a step towards transparency. That is important because it is a step towards transparency in what Fine Gael believes is otherwise a fairly secret work-out process for the banks and those who have been associated with the toxic debts that have arisen. I thank the Minister for accepting these Fine Gael amendments and welcome their return to the Seanad today in this final stage of the NAMA legislation.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I echo what Senator Fitzgerald said by expressing regret that the Minister did not accept more amendments from the Labour Party, Fine Gael and the Opposition in general. The Labour Party had and continues to have serious concerns about NAMA as an institution. I do not wish to rehash them but the main concern pertains to the level of risk taken on by the taxpayer. However, the Labour Party also expressed concerns during the debates in the Seanad and Dáil on the secretive culture, the lack of transparency and so on. It tabled amendments aimed at giving protection to whistleblowers in a similar style to this amendment. I welcome the amendment to the amendment, given that it will extend whistleblower protection to employees of NAMA group entities, as well as to those of NAMA itself. However, the Labour Party retains serious concerns about the running of NAMA. They pertain to both its basic premise and the lack of transparency regarding various aspects of NAMA such as the valuation panels, in particular. However, in so far as the amendment gives protection to whistleblowers, it is to be welcomed.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Green Party)
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I also welcome the acceptance of this amendment. Members find themselves using an unusual procedure to amend an amendment to a Bill that went passed all Stages in both Houses. However, it is a sign of the seriousness the Government attaches to ensuring the Bill is as complete and acceptable as it can be. I hear what the Opposition Senators say about the number of amendments accepted.

Several dozen Government amendments incorporate ideas expressed by the Opposition in the ongoing debate since NAMA was first mooted and the publication of the draft consultation Bill in July. The completed Bill is very different from that draft. I have concerns, as does everyone, about whether this will work but I have more confidence than some that it can work. We need to get away from some of the trite phrases about whether the taxpayer is being unnecessarily exposed. These resources depend on the country's working and we all have an interest in ensuring that happens.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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We welcome the fact that the Government has accepted this Fine Gael amendment. A Bill which puts €54 billion of taxpayers' money at risk should not be guillotined and that this type of amendment can emerge in a short debate before the guillotine in the Lower House today shows the pitfalls of rushing legislation and not allowing a full debate on each and every provision. The conflicts of interest and whistleblower provisions in the Bill are very important. This is the type of issue that got us into trouble in the first instance.

The entire project, however, depends on EU approval. The European Commission will pick up any Opposition amendments that the Government has not accepted when it puts its slide rule over the project.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I am surprised that we are back here. It may indicate that careful scrutiny of this legislation is important. I have only just seen the amendments but I understand they are intended to extend the protection of the whistleblower section to personnel under the NAMA umbrella who were not previously covered. That is very important.

I had not realised that this was a Fine Gael suggestion. It indicates that the Government can work well when it does so in a co-operative fashion. I hope there will be more of that.

I reiterate that I wish the impact of this Bill to be positive. I have certain doubts and reservations and for that reason voted against it last night. It is important that it does succeed. I am worried because I have just received a communication from a senior adviser whom I have mentioned before, Mr. Matthews, who has conducted a rigorous critique. He is concerned and I hope that on this occasion his conclusions are not fully accurate.

In the same way that the Government has listened to the advice of Fine Gael on this amendment and taken it on board, I hope it will be amenable to ideas in the form of a ruthlessly intellectually-based critique. I do not mean something destructively critical. We discussed the uses, beauties and inelegancies of language last night and I know the Minister of State here present is sensitive to nuance and knows that when I say critical I mean it in the sense of a critique that will be valuable. I hope the views of people like Peter Mathews will be taken into account. I have no difficulty in supporting this amendments.

I am rather glad to have been allowed to speak on it because the Minister of State will recall occasions when we dealt with some very antique and obscure Bills. There was a kind of antiquarian delight in that. I have been in this House for 22 years and have never experienced this particular manoeuvre before. It is like a boomerang effect. The Bill bounces from one House to the other, like a shuttlecock, to mix the sporting metaphors. I am glad to have been able to add to my parliamentary repertoire or CV this rather peculiar but interesting precedent.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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I want to correct Senator Regan who said that the Bill was guillotined.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator can never resist doing this.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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It was not guillotined in this House.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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I never said it was.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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It was in the Dáil.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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We had a proper and high quality debate.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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On a point of order, I was speaking about the Lower House.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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That is not a point of order.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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It is a point of order.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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It is for the Cathaoirleach to decide what is a point of order.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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As I heard Senator Regan he mentioned the other House.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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I just wanted to correct the Senator.

Photo of Frances FitzgeraldFrances Fitzgerald (Fine Gael)
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That is not a correction.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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We had a high quality debate, thanks to all the parties who contributed amendments. I support the amendment to the Bill because it strengthens it. It proves that the Government will accept a good proposal from the other side of the House.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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That is rare enough.

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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It is a correction. Let us be fair.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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It is important we work as closely as possible together to get the best decision when a major Bill such as this goes through the House.

I disagree with the Fine Gael Leader when she says this is a risky Bill. There is a certain amount of risk in everything. We will take a risk when we walk out tomorrow morning and so forth.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator should speak to the amendments, not to the total Bill.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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This is a business approach to getting our economy back. I do not want to move too far away from-----

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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We are on amendments and must stick to those before us.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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The leader of the Fine Gael group broadened the scope of what she was saying so there is correction needed there.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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No. As I read it here-----

Photo of Eugene ReganEugene Regan (Fine Gael)
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She made good points.

Photo of Larry ButlerLarry Butler (Fianna Fail)
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We accept this as a good amendment to the Bill and it protects the people who work within NAMA and ensures there is proper accountability there.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I am glad the point was clarified about there being no guillotine in the Seanad. I join Senator Norris in expressing the view that I hope the Department considered Peter Mathews' advice. I would like to think we as parliamentarians appreciate it when people with professional expertise give advice voluntarily. I hope the Minister of State can assure us the Department took into account and teased out all the views it received. Mr. Mathews rang me five minutes before we came back into the House this evening. That was the first time I heard the views he strongly expressed and I hope the Minister and the Department have researched what he has said.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators for their co-operation in agreeing these amendments. Senator Norris has an extensive parliamentary repertoire of his own but there is nothing wrong, in the interests of good legislation, in using whatever procedure the rules and the Constitution allow, even if this procedure is very rare.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I absolutely agree.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Minister of State with special responsibility for the Arts, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Department of Finance; Tipperary South, Fianna Fail)
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I endorse what Senator Butler said about the Bill not being guillotined in this House. I also agree there was a high standard of debate in the Seanad. This was reinforced for me this morning when I was listening to the Order of Business in the other House. The danger of open-ended debate is that it encourages Members, Ministers included I hasten to add, to divert from the main subject. It does, however, impose a certain degree of self-discipline and this was observed in this House.

I do not wish to name individuals outside of the House but a certain name was mentioned here. I did meet the said gentleman in my office some time in the past couple of weeks. He put his points to me. In the end we cannot have what the former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, once called the paralysis of analysis. One can have endless intellectual debate about this, that and the other but none of us can tie down the future beyond a certain point. Both the Executive and Legislature have to take decisions without being able to guarantee fully everything that is going to happen as a result of that legislation for all future time. Risks do have to be taken but they should be well-considered and well-calculated. I appreciate there are differences of opinion as to the degree to which this legislation meets that criterion.

Apart from the President signing the Bill into law, as far as the Houses of the Oireachtas are concerned these motions bring this legislation to a conclusion. I thank the House for the part it has played in the legislation and of which it can be proud.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann agrees to the second amendment made by the Dáil to Seanad amendment No. 11.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann agrees to the third amendment made by the Dáil to Seanad amendment No. 11.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann agrees to the first amendment made by the Dáil to Seanad amendment No. 12.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann agrees to the second amendment made by the Dáil to Seanad amendment No. 12.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann agrees to the amendment made by the Dáil to Seanad amendment No. 13.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Pat MoylanPat Moylan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Donie CassidyDonie Cassidy (Fianna Fail)
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At 2.30 p.m. next Tuesday.