Saturday, 29 January 2011
Finance Bill 2011 (Certified Money Bill): Report and Final Stages
On a point of order, there is a reference on the list of Seanad recommendations to a printer's error in two of the recommendations. It is stated that a printer's error has resulted in incorrect line references. Does that have legal consequences for the Bill or does it require amendment? Do those numbers form part of the Bill as enacted and will it require an amendment to resolve the problem?
I move recommendation No. 1:
In page 7, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
3.âSection 3 shall not come into operation save by order of the Minister which may only be made after the Minister has carried out an economic and social impact assessment of the introduction of the universal social charge, particularly in respect of those on medical cards or over the age of 70 who were previously exempted from the health and income levies, and has laid the assessment before DÃ¡il Ãireann.".
The import of the recommendation is clear to all. It concerns the universal social charge which I described earlier as being a universally detested charge. The universal detestation with which it is being met will be clear to anyone who has been listening to the radio or knocking on doors because in recent days people have become very concerned as the impact of the charge has hit them in their pockets. The charge is a tax by any other name, replacing the health and income levies but having a disproportionate effect on the lower paid.
In the recommendation we have sought a delaying mechanism by saying that the section providing for the universal social charge should not come into operation save by order of the Minister after an economic and social impact assessment has been carried out. I am conscious that the Minister has made changes to the universal social charge in recognition of the enormous public concern about its impact and has placed medical card holders at the lower rate of the charge. However, those changes do not go far enough to ensure the lower paid are not disproportionately hit. It is contradictory and inconsistent to have kicked the measures to curb property tax reliefs to touch under pressure from a lobby group until after an economic impact assessment while bringing this in with immediate effect. If anything should be deferred pending an economic impact analysis it should be the universal social charge.
The Labour Party has said that if elected we would seek to ease the impact of the universal social charge for those most adversely affected as well as ensuring a rebalancing of the tax system in order that high earners and investors would contribute their fair share in a progressive tax system. The recommendation is moderate. It simply requires that an economic and social impact analysis would be carried out in recognition of the burden the universal social charge represents, especially on the incomes of the lowest paid.
If my colleague allows I would be honoured to second it. It is very much in line with what I have said earlier. There are a series of anomalies. The charge will hit the poorest and most vulnerable sections in society most strongly. The PRSA business was raised earlier. I have been briefed about people who will be brought into the tax net even though they are at or under the level at which a support from the State itself is paid because of their poverty. In other words, their pension would be affected which is absolutely wrong. The amendment meets all those difficulties and gives the opportunity for a review. I strongly urge the House to support it and I am honoured to have been allowed to second it.
The effect of the recommendation would be to reverse the income tax and universal social charge measures taken in the budget. Were the recommendation to be accepted by DÃ¡il Ãireann, its impact would be that the social charge would not be in operation and there would be a substantial loss of revenue to the Exchequer. This country would not be able to fund itself and it would not be possible to pay the salaries of Senators.
I am very disappointed he is not willing to agree to this minimal request that the impact of the charge be deferred until we have seen exactly what will be the impact on the lowest paid and the disadvantaged. The very least we could do is to defer the introduction of such a charge until a review has been carried out.
We do not know yet whether this is part of "The Late Late Show" doctrine and whether the Labour Party would change the measure if elected to office. We know it will not reverse anything that has happened to date, despite all the many eloquent-----
It has been confirmed by Senator Bacik's party on a television programme that there will be no changes to any of the expenditure reductions or tax impositions of the Government. The jury is out on this issue. Judging by what Senator Bacik says, the Labour Party will be repealing the measure, thereby causing a substantial loss of revenue to the State. I wait to see the Labour Party do that.
I move recommendation No. 2:
In page 7, between lines 27 and 28, to insert the following:
"(a) whereby in every instance where "spouse" occurs in this Bill it shall be interpreted as including persons who are legally registered as civil partners;".
This is an attempt to be helpful. It is dealing with the amendments that were consequent upon the passage of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 by both Houses of the Oireachtas. They had certain impacts in terms of inheritance and tax provisions and they hit to the heart of the living experience of a significant body of people in society. I honour my colleagues on all sides of this House and in the other House - I include the Minister in this - who spoke so generously on the original Bill and were anxious to see it brought into effect as quickly as possible. My desk is groaning under requests from people who are in those circumstances to find out when the measures will come into operation. To find out that they will be deferred until the next finance Bill is unsatisfactory.
I made strenuous efforts to find the content of those amendments. My understanding is they have not been drafted. That tells me the degree of significance that is attached to the well-being of the people contemplated under the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010. My clear information was that those amendments have not been drafted. It is for that reason that they are not available.
I accept the country has been in financial turmoil. I have great sympathy with the situation in which we have found ourselves. The Minister has worked all hours of the day and night. Even though I disagree with some of the measures he has taken, I wish to place on record my admiration for his integrity and the way in which he has worked. The situation is that it appears that those amendments have not been prepared and that it will not be possible to put them before the House. I am not certain because of the delays that occurred previously, for example, when the decision of the Equality Authority was reversed by the redefinition of the word "spouse" which excluded same-sex couples and there were repeated delays despite promises from the Minister's colleague, the TÃ¡naiste, Deputy Coughlan. We should do what we can to assist the Government. There might be an intelligent way around the situation instead of seeking to put the whole 150 amendments. I could not possibly do it myself because, as Independents, we have no access to the talents of draftspersons. Instead, I decided to try to do it by examining the definitions. Re-defining the operation of the word "spouse" in the Bill would meet the situation by holding that wherever the word "spouse" occurs, it shall be interpreted as including people legally partnered through the civil partnership Bill. I urge the House to support the recommendation.
I second the recommendation. We have had a long debate on the civil partnership issue over several years. Finally, we took the step which we all welcomed and provided for it legislatively. I do not propose to rehearse all the arguments from that stage. The implementation of that legislation became important and it was believed any issues arising would be dealt with in the course of this legislation. For the reasons the Minister outlined this morning and given the pressure on the Bill, it turns out this will not be the case. We maintain the simplest approach for the Minister would be to accept this recommendation, which holds that in every instance where the word "spouse" occurs it shall be interpreted as including persons who are legally registered as civil partners. This is merely the implementation of the will of both Houses in the spirit of both Houses.
As the Minister stated earlier, the new Government will change certain things and not change other things. This is not an issue of cost but of real substance. Also, it shows a clear commitment. Even if the Minister has some slight difficulties with the wording of the recommendation I call on him to accept it in the sureness and certainty that his successor will introduce the finance (No. 2) Bill and could make appropriate adjustments. In the meantime, the Minister and I would have completed a good day's work and I appeal to him to accept it for all the reasons put forward in the previous legislation. I am pleased to second the recommendation.
I was struck by the argument made earlier by the Minister about the consequence of rushing the Finance Bill and that we must accept that it cannot be the perfect Finance Bill. However, it seems to be a simple recommendation. My question is whether it is effective. Whether we accept this recommendation, we have a duty to provide for the organisation of taxation and for all people to be treated equally. It appears to a non-legal person that the recommendation would have the desired effect and make unions the same. I prefer to believe the Minister would support the recommendation if it can perform that exercise. As Senator O'Toole remarked, it would demonstrate a commitment on the part of the Government to regularising all unions such that they would be treated equally, whether same-sex or heterosexual.
Like other Senators, I strongly support the recommendation. The passage of the civil partnership Bill, now an Act, was a highlight for many of us during our time in the House. It had support from both Houses. There is support for the measures necessary to equalise the position of civil partners and spouses in tax law. There is a timing matter because the first civil partnership ceremonies are due to take place from 1 April. People need to know their tax affairs will be recognised in law.
The Labour Party has given a commitment that, if in Government, we would seek to introduce these equalisation measures for tax in the finance (No. 2) Bill. We would seek to ensure these measures were in place before the first civil partnership ceremony was conducted. Senator Norris's recommendation is worth supporting and I would welcome the Minister's support for it. It would clarify the intention of any incoming Government which would be to ensure recognition for civil partners in our tax code. While I realise, as Senator O'Toole suggested, the wording might not cover all eventualities because it only refers to this Bill and not other finance and taxation Bills, it would set down an important marker to those contemplating entering civil partnership. Their tax affairs would be recognised and the necessary measures would be put in place to ensure the equalisation of their status to that of married couples.
While I prefer to believe a recommendation of this type would solve the difficulty that arises, I defer to the opinion that if 150 amendments are needed in a finance (No. 2) Bill to make the situation legally watertight, then it seems to be the more preferable option. I hope all political parties commit to passing such a Bill before the start of April. The delay seems to have arisen not so much in the shortage of time allowed for this Bill or the end of this Government but the passage of the original Bill. It is a matter of great regret for me and my party that legislation which we sponsored and encouraged seemed to be subject to greater scrutiny within Government. The provision of parliamentary time was an issue as was the way in which that legislation was debated in the House. Had different treatment been given to the original legislation the necessary provisions would have been included in the Finance Bill.
We are hearing more behind the scenes stories about legislation now, but everyone in the House welcomed the civil partnership legislation. I support the recommendation. It is important that we move as quickly as possible towards the consequences that arise in financial terms and they should be dealt with under a finance Bill. The key question is whether this recommendation will move that process along, whether it would be useful and whether it would work in the interim before more detailed work is done. A total of 155 amendments may be necessary but is this something that would be useful in the period before we get to that detailed stage? Would it serve to highlight the intention and the implications which arise from the civil partnership Bill?
I support Senator Norris's recommendation. I refer to the remarks of Senator O'Malley and the Minister this morning. It is terrible that we are rushing the legislation in this way. During the week, I spoke on the Order of Business in respect of this part of the Bill. I am greatly saddened that we are not dealing with the civil partnership Bill. The Minister may not have been aware - I have been - how much a part of the framing of the civil partnership Bill his contribution was when he was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. When it passed all Stages in the House last June, the members of the Gallery, which was full, gave the Chamber a standing ovation such was the ground-breaking nature of this legislation. Senator Norris suggested the 150 amendments have not been drafted yet. Is this because it was decided that this part would be left out when the Minister met with the spokespersons on finance from the Opposition parties? Was it the Minister's decision to leave it out or was it a collective decision? I am somewhat surprised and annoyed that this has been left out of the Finance Bill because we were all at one on this matter.
I wholeheartedly support Senator Norris's recommendation. It is important in terms of interpretation that where we have "spouse", it would mean a partner. The Minister is a legal man. Where the word "spouse" appears, could we replace it with "spouse-partner"? Is there any reason we cannot have "partner" alongside the word "spouse", rather than rely on an interpretation? We are all aware that interpretations may change from time to time. It is courageous of Senator Norris to introduce the recommendation because it is holding, useful and meaningful until the finance (No. 2) Bill is introduced. If there is a change of Government and it is of the configuration that the media would have us believe, that is to say, a Fine Gael led Government with-----
I find myself not in a position to support this recommendation although I do not suspect for the same reasons as the Minister.
I also find it odd to hear sweeping references to every Member in this House being in favour of the civil partnership legislation passed last summer. I am sure Senator Hanafin feels like me that we have been cast into the cellar of Seanad memory.
It may be, of course, that the debate on the legislation in question was run through so fast that some find it difficult to recall how some Members felt.
This recommendation probably teeters on â if not falls over â the brink of unconstitutionality. The Minister rightly expressed some caution this morning about whether another amendment would impact on the status of the Finance Bill as a money Bill. I would also express a similar caution.
The blanket association of the term "civil partner" with the term "spouse" might very well be a justiciable matter. It may lead to the argument that there is an equation being made between civil partnership and marriage. On the other hand, it may be argued that giving similar tax status to civil partnerships as is given to marriage could be such a legislative device that would be accepted by the courts. That would certainly be the intent of the Government and the majority but not a unanimous one of these Houses.
It is appropriate this matter has arisen on the day the Finance Bill is being rushed through the Oireachtas. The civil partnership legislation was also rushed through and I was accused of filibustering at the time. At the time, Senator Regan reminded me he had to speak for two hours on an amendment for another Bill.
Senator Regan is to be congratulated on his attention to detail.
At the time of the civil partnership legislation, there was a degree of ill-will shown to those who had objections to the Bill and sought specifics on it. There was also a desire to have press conferences and other unseemly and unparliamentary activities.
The reason I raise this is that I would have liked to have had the opportunity during the civil partnership legislation to put on record how much I would support the granting of certain rights and privileges normally associated with marriage, including in the area of taxation, to non-marital situations. For example, there are cases of people living in a mutually dependent situation, loving and caring for each other with one making sacrifices to their own detriment for the other. It might well be agreeable that a house should be inherited tax free in such cases. However, providing that for same-sex partnerships envisages the imposition of an inequality on other types of relationship situations such as, say, carers or siblings.
The problem is we never got to debate this properly, a regrettable matter. For that reason, it would be all the more inappropriate today if we were to insert this blanket recommendation without properly debating whether it should apply to civil partners only or if there are other categories of relationship to be considered. I do not see how we can put this recommendation without having the debate we never had during the summer.
I believe that not accepting this recommendation is a failure of the democratic process. While there were several abstentions on the civil partnership Bill, it was overwhelmingly passed by both Houses. I am disappointed that on the last day of this Seanad we cannot be magnanimous in accepting this recommendation.
I was one of the strongest supporters of the civil partnership Bill, so much so I was put up on one website as Gay-Friendly Senator of the Year. While I would like to say I unequivocally support this recommendation, to do so would be hypocritical. I resent the way this Bill has been rushed through this House. It is not the Minister's fault but of those who chivvied and worked up a big media ran-tan to rush it through. I must confess ignorance that I do not know whether this recommendation would work. When one is in a state of ignorance, one has to seek superior authority. I must, therefore, be guided by the Minister and accept that incorporating civil partnership in the Finance Bill would require 151 amendments.
These will be my last words in this House as I do not intend to be around here much longer. I have had a baptism of fire with politics. Edmund Burke once said he had engaged in many great projects with great men that were not improved by the meanest man in the room, as he had something to offer. Imagine how much better this Bill would have been with the benefit of the best minds in Ireland working on it. Already in the few rushed hours in this House, we have seen Senators bring to the surface and amplify subtleties in this legislation. How much better would this Bill have been if it had been given its proper passage of several weeks more?
The responsibility for rushing this legislation largely resides with the Labour Party. It postures as the progressive friend of the gay community and yet allows a Bill like this to be rushed through with various rights steamrolled over. Shame on the Labour Party. Shame on them.
As it behaves now, so it will behave in any future Government. If Fine Gael finds itself in government with the Labour Party, it must watch its back at all times.
The Minister for Finance is a class act. Fianna FÃ¡il made a big mistake in not making him its leader.
I agree with Senator Mullen that there was not unanimity in this House on the civil partnership Bill and that some of us voted against it.
In the event of allowing the tax breaks suggested, what would be the cost to the Exchequer?
Those of us who voted against the civil partnership Bill found ourselves at the receiving end of vile comments. I understood then how some gay people must feel when they too find themselves at the receiving end of such comments. It was an interesting experience. Unfortunately, there are extremists on every side.
I understand the motive behind Senators Norris and O'Toole's recommendation. However, the Finance Bill is being rushed through the House not because of Fine Gael and the Labour Party but because Fianna FÃ¡il could not manage to work properly with its coalition partners.
The Taoiseach's inability to communicate with his government partners is the reason this legislation is being rushed through the House today. We can find common ground with Senators Feeney and O'Malley in respect of the fact that if the recommendation cannot be accepted, it must be incorporated in the finance (No. 2) Bill. Those in the Green Party deserve great credit and praise for the fact that, in conjunction with other members of the Government, they had the courage to pilot the civil partnership legislation through the Houses. To paraphrase the former Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, it is never too late to do the right thing.
We must always err on the side of the people. Senator Fitzgerald questioned whether we will achieve what is envisaged in the recommendation and that matter must be addressed. It is important that the consequent changes to the civil partnership Act should be brought forward. There is agreement among the majority of Members to the effect that the spirit and intention behind the recommendation should be supported. It would be wrong for anyone to suggest that Fine Gael and the Labour Party were responsible for the Finance Bill being fast-tracked through the Houses.
I wish to signal my party's support for the recommendation in Senator Norris's name. When what became the civil partnership Act was debated in the House, we were assured the Finance Bill would contain measures designed to ensure equality for same-sex partnerships. I am disappointed the Minister has not had time to ensure the relevant provisions could included in the Bill in a satisfactory way. I recognise, however, that the time available for doing so was limited.
I assure the House that my party will introduce the necessary provisions as soon as it is elected to Government. The Labour Party has a long, proud record on the issue of bringing forward civil partnership legislation. I remind other Senators that when they were spending their time lauding ex-taoisigh such as Deputy Cowen and Deputy Bertie Ahern-----
I remind the House that I supported what became the civil partnership Act when it was being debated. However, I also supported some of the amendments relating to it that were lost. One of the amendments I wished to support was that to which Senator Mullen referred. I think the Senator is correct in saying that if we are going to make an exception for civil partners, then we must ensure we also include other loving couples. I refer, for example, to people who could be siblings, children and others. Senator Mullen is correct, on this occasion, in stating that what is proposed seems too simple a solution to the problem before us. I understand from the Minister that it is intended to overcome the problem to which I refer in a more subtle way in the finance (No. 2) Bill.
My views in respect of this issue are well documented. On a personal basis, I regret that a guillotine was applied - when we were discussing a fundamental issue of freedom of conscience - in respect of the civil partnership legislation when it was debated in the House. We must be extremely careful when we are making social change. Society is founded on the relationship of marriage, in respect of which benefits obtain within the taxation and social welfare codes as a result of the child-centred nature of the institution. Any dilution of that represents a retrograde step for society in general and also for the State. We must be careful. Why do we give tax breaks to those who are married? The answer is that, traditionally, one parent worked while the other remained in the home to look after the children. It was, therefore, essential to provide such tax breaks in order to ensure the family was protected.
I have misgivings with regard to individualisation, which was introduced to try to encourage women, particularly those were working in the home, to enter the employment market and fill the abundance of positions that were then in existence. The economic position is completely different now. I would have preferred if the opportunity had been taken to abolish individualisation at this point.
If we are talking about giving to two adults who work and who have independent incomes, tax breaks similar to those which apply in respect of married couples, then questions arise. I am no lover of the Tory Party, but I encourage people to consider the evolution of thinking that is taking place within both the establishment and the Government in Britain at present in respect of the priorities relating to family values and family issues. Much of the evolution to which I refer is based on the research that has been carried out in Britain in respect of this matter. We are discussing this matter in a vacuum because qualitative assessments or evaluations relating to it have not been carried out in Ireland. Before we begin to move in the direction of replicating the rights enjoyed by those who are married for those involved in other relationships-----
My argument relates specifically to the recommendation before the House, which proposes that those in same-sex relationships be termed "spouses" and that they should enjoy the same benefits as people who are married. As a number of previous speakers pointed out, there are siblings and other individuals who are involved in loving relationships, who share houses etc., and who are completely ignored by the State. The circumstances in which many of these people live are far worse than those in which same-sex couples live. For example, some of them are not in a position to work or whatever. This matter must be considered in a holistic way, particularly if we are to arrive at solutions which will address an issue relating to those in same-sex relationships but which will not undermine the institution on which our society is based, namely, marriage.
I welcome the spirit in which Senator Norris tabled this recommendation. I understand why the Senator tabled it. However, Senator O'Malley raised a very relevant point at the outset of the debate on this recommendation of which sight has been lost in the subsequent discussion. She inquired as to whether the recommendation achieves the purpose for which it is intended and whether it is technically effective. Unfortunately, it is not technically effective.
I have no intention of taking away from the work done by whomever advised Senator Norris in respect of the recommendation, which states, "in every instance where "spouse" occurs in this Bill it shall be interpreted as including persons who are legally registered as civil partners". However, the Bill does not cover the tax code. As a result, it does not address, in a comprehensive way, the issues - such as those relating to gifts and inheritances - that arise in respect of capital acquisitions tax. I would have thought that these issues are fundamental in the context of the category of people to which the recommendation relates. What is proposed would not provide these individuals with the kind of tax arrangement to which they are now entitled by virtue of the enactment of the legislation.
I do not believe I should discuss the merits of civil partnership. I am very proud of the fact that when I served as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I prepared the bulk of the civil partnership legislation and brought it to an advanced stage of readiness. I had discussions with many individuals, including Senator Boyle, in respect of that particular subject. The fact is, however, that the Houses have voted on the principle of the issue. I do not believe, therefore, that we should re-embark on a debate on that principle. The matter that was required to be dealt with here was the consequential implementation of the necessary tax changes. When the legislation finally came before the Houses, I recall, as Minister for Finance, being consulted on the matter and realising that it was not possible to mix money Bill provisions with those contained in the civil partnership legislation.
The matter under discussion will fall to be dealt with in the next finance Bill. It is a matter of regret to me that it is not being dealt with in the legislation before the House. That is because the necessary material is not yet ready. It would have been ready within a matter of weeks. Let us be clear about the matter. Seanad Ãireann is sitting today because the Government and, in fairness, the Green Party, wanted it to do so. Fine Gael and the Labour Party took the view that the Seanad should only devote one day to its consideration of the Bill. That was their stated decision in the discussions which took place in my Department.
To be clear, the Green Party agreed to the Saturday sitting. Seanad Ãireann's revising function is its most important function because issues of principle are decided upon in DÃ¡il Ãireann, by and large, and if the Seanad disagrees on a principle with the DÃ¡il, the DÃ¡il has the power to reverse the principle after 90 days in the case of a Bill other than a money Bill, and if the Seanad recommends the rejection of a principle, it can be rejected by the DÃ¡il. One of its major functions is the work of revising, which is why the Government took the view it would be valuable in the context of a final provision to have a day considering the Bill in detail in the Seanad.
As it happened, it gave my officials an opportunity to go through the whole Bill to see whether there were other matters they wanted to have corrected. While they did not want to have anything corrected, that is not the point. They got the opportunity to do what they would not have otherwise have had the opportunity to do had the Seanad considered all stages on Friday. I am simply explaining the history of why we are sitting on a Saturday. I am also making the point that were we to have sat another week, it might have been possible to bring together the 150 amendments Senator Norris would require to effectuate his intention.
If one accepted the recommendation at face value, all it would do is provide for this wherever it occurred in this Bill, not elsewhere. As one can see from the provisions of the Bill, that would be limited enough. It had been my intention to include legislation in the Bill in regard to the tax treatment of civil partners, but those legislative changes had to be deferred to facilitate the accelerated timeframe for the drafting of the Bill. Again, they are not fully ready yet. Senator Norris raised the issue and I want to give the precise official reply on it, which is as follows. I am advised that the draft legislation has already been largely prepared. As I stated in the DÃ¡il on Tuesday last and in my Second Stage speech in this House, it can and should be dealt with speedily by the new Government. Indeed, it may well be dealt with by the outgoing Government, with agreement after the election from the other parties in order that it could be expedited even further. If the Bill had been undertaken in the normal timescale, the civil partnership provisions would have been included.
I cannot support the recommendation because the relevant changes to this Bill with regard to civil partners will cover income tax, capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax and stamp duty as well as dealing with any necessary changes needed to all other taxes and duties. It is better to legislate in a comprehensive way for the changes required rather than have piecemeal amendments inserted at this stage to particular parts of the 2011 Bill when we will still have to revisit the whole subject in a comprehensive way.
I want to give the assurance to anyone who is entering civil partnership that it is intended that the legislation, once passed, will apply as respects income tax for the whole of this year and subsequent years, and as respects gift tax, inheritance tax and capital gains tax from 1 January this year.
I am giving notice of that now. By doing so, I am giving power to the Legislature in some weeks time to use those dates. As Members know, when the Minister uses certain words in a formula like this, it creates the capacity to legislate retrospectively. I am saying this now, on the record of the House, in order that the Senator's recommendation has not been in vain. He has given me the opportunity to say it will apply with retrospective effect, which is also of value.
The Revenue Commissioners are working on adapting their various systems and, for the information of the House, I would like to give some information in this regard. The Revenue Commissioners have constituted a project group to oversee all aspects of their activities in regard to the introduction of civil partnership and the provision of tax treatment of civil partners equivalent to that of married couples. The group traverses all of Revenue and involves the following: identifying all relevant items of legislation requiring adaptation, which work is said to be largely done; gearing up Revenue customer services in terms of awareness and updating of leaflets, forms, counter services, telephone and online services, both PAYE and self-employed; capital acquisitions tax; reviewing collection customer services for civil partners; reviewing all Revenue material on www.revenue.ie; adapting IT systems to cater for civil partnerships; and raising awareness at human resources level to cater for Revenue staff who are interested in civil partnership. The training branch is extending training services to include training for civil partnership, and the regional and large cases divisions are covering front-line staff and providing local expertise. While I am not sure the involvement of the regional and large cases divisions will warm the heart of any civil partners who come to their attention, they are focusing energies on them as well.
The Revenue website has a message in this regard which states that to facilitate the accelerated timeframe for passing the 2011 Bill, the legislative changes to give effect to the taxation changes have been deferred until after the formation of a new Government. The Revenue website states that the draft legislation has been prepared, although my official advice is that it has been largely prepared, and includes all necessary changes together with the proposed date or dates on which such changes take effect. In general, all changes will have effect for the year of assessment 2011. It is important to note that until the legislation is passed, existing provisions continue to apply. The Revenue website will continue to be updated as more information becomes available. Of course, based on what I have just said, it will be possible when the legislation is enacted to give it retrospective effect.
I welcome very much what the Minister has said, his gracious manner of doing it and the significant additional information he has placed before the Oireachtas. For that reason, I believe it was worthwhile tabling the amendment. I have been here the entire day for recommendation after recommendation, as has the Minister. From my point of view, and some of my colleagues agree, in terms of its practical effect, the Minister's announcement that this will be capable of retrospection and will have legal effect because of the words the Minister has uttered in Seanad Ãireann today makes this the most important contribution in the entire debate because it will actually have an effect, even though my amendment will fail. I am not worried by that because the sense of it has been strongly endorsed by all sides of this House, although not unanimously. That is very important and I thank the Minister very much for it.
I do not believe it will be necessary to call a vote on this recommendation as it would be futile because the vote would be lost. I do not believe in pyrrhic victories. We have won the most important moral victory here today.
I am delighted we have done so. I am particularly heartened the Minister had an opportunity to make this contribution towards the end of his period in office as Minister for Finance.
Regardless of whether I agree with them, I am delighted the stirring words of Senator Eoghan Harris echoed around this Chamber.
It was a remarkable contribution and, while I did not agree with everything in it, my goodness, that kind of rhetoric is what we need in this House. I hope he will find an opportunity to stand, perhaps even in a constituency close to my own heart.
I will. The Minister made generous reference to my advisers. Perhaps the inadequacy of the amendment would have indicated my adviser consisted of myself. I was only attempting to have this matter ventilated in the kind of way it has been and to see whether I could tease the Minister into making that kind of statement. I am very glad he did so.
It raised some other issues with which I would like to deal. It was stated that guillotines were involved, which was not the case. What was involved was a filibuster. I am glad to have the opportunity-----
Some 75 amendments were tabled, all with exactly the same wording. Vote after vote was called, with the facilitation, regrettably, of some of my colleagues. That could not possibly have added any intellectual growth to the argument. If that is not a filibuster, I do not know what is.
I want to address another matter which comes directly from this, namely, the question of the constitutionality of this amendment and the word "spouse". My colleague is quite wrong in what he said about its constitutionality, and this can be easily demonstrated. If it were not so, it would not have been necessary for the former Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Mary Coughlan, to intervene to reverse the definition that existed which was capable of being interpreted in this way. There is no question whatever of a lack of constitutionality, although having heard from the other side of the House a lament for those days in which a woman's place was in the home, I am not surprised we have the same kind of antediluvian antics from people who were opposed to this.
I am very glad this matter has been raised. It would, perhaps, have had a slightly better chance if we had thought - we did, but it was too late before bringing the recommendation before the House - to insert the words "in addition to all other related Acts" in this Bill. However, I was glad that, even though the word "spouse" did not appear with the frequency that might have supported my recommendation, it did at least appear a couple of times. How embarrassing would it have been if I had tabled this recommendation and the word "spouse", for technical reasons, had not appeared in the Bill at all?
I will end on a positive note. I thank my colleagues for supporting this recommendation and, in particular, the Minister. It is a positive and an historic recommendation, but I will withdraw it in the light of what the Minister said.
I move recommendation No. 3:
In page 31, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
"(11) Each specified institution shall be required, within 3 months from the passing of the Finance Act 2011, to submit to DÃ¡il Ãireann details of bonuses paid to its officers, employees or contractors between 30 September 2008 and the date of passing of the Finance Act 2011, including the amount of the bonuses in each case.".
Colleagues will see that this recommendation has been modified somewhat from the one we put forward and withdrew on Committee Stage. We are now proposing that it be inserted in section 3 of the Bill which deals with the universal social charge.
The Minister had some concerns as to the relevance of this issue in the context of a finance Bill. However, it appears he has rendered it entirely relevant by his introduction of a provision in section 3 as a means of taxing bonuses. If there is any question of shoehorning a matter into the finance Bill, the Minister has led the way in that regard by shoehorning, for good reasons, the issue of bonuses in order that they can be taxed in the manner which he proposes.
Recommendation No. 3. I am proposing to insert a provision in section 3, rather than the stand-alone recommendation proposed on Committee Stage, to take account of some questions raised about its relevance and bring it more into line with the Bill in terms of its structure and scheme. It deals with the issue of information on bonuses being paid by the specified institutions. The Minister will see that we have adopted the phrase "specified institutions" which is in line with the provisions of section 3. We are also dealing with the limit of â¬20,000 because that is the figure provided for in the section. The recommendation is entirely in line with the scheme of section 3 and the Bill.
The basis for this proposal is that there should be information available to the DÃ¡il on the bonuses being paid. I do not propose to rehearse the issues relating to bonuses as there is a wide degree of consensus on that substantive issue. This recommendation proposes that information be made available by the specified institutions to the DÃ¡il not within 30 days as we originally proposed but within three months. In all the circumstances, I respectfully suggest this proposal is narrow enough in its remit and not something that could be regarded as disruptive to the workings of government. It would be a requirement imposed on the specified institutions to bring forward this information and submit it to DÃ¡il Ãireann. For that reason, I commend the recommendation to the House.
When the recommendation was moved on Committee Stage this morning, I generally spoke in favour of it but said I believed the wording and placement were incorrect. I am satisfied that the wording has been dealt with and the suggested inclusion of the recommendation in section 3 conveys the sense of what Members sought to achieve on Committee Stage. I am happy to be a sponsor of the recommendation.
I support the recommendation. The reason many of the banks and financial institutions are either owned or majority owned by the State is the reckless decisions made in a short period of time. Many of these decisions would have been based on the bonuses being achieved for the work being done by the individuals concerned. The fact that the Government moved very slowly on this issue when it first arose has led to a poor public relations outcome for it with regard to bonuses paid to bankers. I hope this recommendation will be passed and that the Minister will move quickly on the issue as it is an important one. He has acted on the taxation issue, but it is important, from the point of view of the accountability of institutions which we own, either partially or fully, that the Houses of the Oireachtas have an idea of what is happening in them.
I support the recommendation. As we discussed it at length this morning, I will not rehearse the arguments. The Minister will recall that I said I had a difficulty with the workability, not the objective, of the original recommendation. Senator Alex White pointed this out too. I am particularly pleased that this recommendation refers to the details of the bonuses paid, which I consider important. It is not just the quantum of the bonus paid but where it originated and how it was implemented. This is a positive, progressive and worthwhile recommendation and I hope the Minister will accept it. It is helpful and would not create a cost for the State. It would be seen that we were listening to ordinary folk on the street.
I support this important recommendation, one that has been well worked out in terms of openness, accountability, transparency and all the other buzz words used. People are entitled to know the amount of bonuses paid. It is desirable and in the public interest to have this information. I would have had a greater difficulty if there had been a broad brush attempt to restrict completely the type of bonus paid. While that is, clearly, applicable in the Irish situation, particularly in those institutions which have let the country down so badly, it is nuanced. With regard to the operations of certain international companies in the International Financial Services Centre and so forth, we do not wish to drive capital out of the country. It is not an insult and does not make a great difference to the people if international companies wish to pay the global rate to their employees. We must maintain employment in the International Financial Services Centre in so far as possible. I, therefore, strongly support the recommendation.
As I said this morning, there is a great deal of anger among the public about the bonuses paid. Undoubtedly, they were not deserved. From now on, there will be a major tax on such bonuses, which is most welcome.
Senator Norris expressed concern about bonuses being acceptable in certain situations, if I understood him correctly, but the recommendation is not about that; rather it is about accessing information on something that took place in the past. It is about eaten bread, that is, money paid out in the period between 30 September 2008 and the passing of this Bill.
I said this morning that I had concerns about the retrospective nature of the recommendation and that while it contained something useful, it might be in the wrong place. I am still convinced that is the case and that there is something not quite right about it. The recommendation is investigative. It is the type of investigation I support, but it is an issue I would prefer to have teased out at an Oireachtas committee. I am open to correction, but I do not believe it is the role of legislation merely to facilitate the outing of certain information, however desirable it might be, on an event that took place in the past or a loophole which we have now moved to close in legislation.
I am not convinced of the merits of the recommendation. I am not convinced about what it would do beyond information gathering. The Green Party supports it and I certainly would like to call the Government's bluff and see a recommendation go from this House to the DÃ¡il. However, it would be demeaning to the Seanad if we were to do that with a recommendation that was not worthy of consideration in the Lower House. I do not believe the recommendation meets that test. Although I deplore the payment of bonuses inappropriately and would support an examination of information being made available on the payment of such bonuses in the past in an appropriate forum, this is not the moment or the place in which to facilitate that investigation. In fact, I do not believe it is the role of this legislation to seek to achieve that now.
I think the Minister will agree that the information about bank bonuses has come out in a drip feed manner in recent years. The public continue to be horrified at the information that has been emerging. As a majority shareholder in many institutions, does the Minister have access to all the information in respect of bank bonuses?
This recommendation is important and it has merit. In answer to Senator Mullen, I would say it makes an explicit link between the date of the bank guarantee and the date of the passing of the Bill in respect of the information that is required on bankers' bonuses. It will have a chilling effect on the payment of such bonuses in the future. It is also information the public deserves to know concerning those State-supported credit institutions that are specified in this recommendation.
The only merit I see in this recommendation is that it would delay the general election by a number of weeks. The recommendation is clearly not a money Bill recommendation. That has been clear since this morning. That is not a matter for the Chair in this House. The Ceann Comhairle would have to make a ruling on that in due course because he determines that particular issue by way of certificate. This Bill is certified to be a money Bill. Were it to go back to the other House and were it not to be so certified in the context of the consideration of this recommendation, then a committee of privileges would have to be established under the Constitution to determine the issue. This involves the President and the usual constitutional procedures. That would lead to a considerable delay.
It is very attractive. We are all against original sin. We are all against bonuses. I heard Senator Twomey mention the fact that we had been very tardy about this and that this was a problem with our public relations. We were not tardy about this at all. Within a few weeks of the guarantee being given, the necessary statutory orders were adopted in both Houses providing that no more bonuses could be paid. That has been the position in 2009 and 2010. I explained earlier today that any bonuses which had been paid had been paid on foot of retrospective vested rights that were already in existence. This recommendation seeks to find out all the information about them. Quite an amount of information has already been in the public domain and there is nothing to stop an Oireachtas committee probing further into that, as Senator Mullen outlined.
As shareholder of the two main banks, I have obtained an amount of information, although I must say that the process of eliciting that information can take time because there is quite an amount of it. The amount of information sought in this recommendation is absolutely extraordinary. Acceptance of this recommendation would mean that information would have to be provided concerning all employees of the credit institutions in respect of bonuses they may have received. This would cover staff from the low paid to directors, covering persons such as those working in call centres who largely rely on commission for their income. A enormous number of persons would be discovered in any disclosure. It would be an intrusion into the privacy of a great many of them, which would be fundamentally unfair, and there would be possible constitutional doubts about it. Given the scope of this exercise, I fail to see how it could be completed in three months. That is all I have to say about the recommendation at this stage.
Section 531AAD(2) as inserted by section 3(1) contains an exclusion which states: "This section does not apply in respect of a relevant employee to whom or in respect of whom relevant remuneration of not more than â¬20,000 is awarded during a tax year." The exclusions in the section would apply equally to this particular provision in respect of information. This is information being made available to DÃ¡il Ãireann. If there is a concern as to whether this would be worthy for certificate from the Ceann Comhairle-----
I do not usually get chirpy about this sort thing, but the Minister has raised an extremely important issue in respect of whether this should be certified as a money Bill. That matter can be dealt with in the DÃ¡il in the next hour but it cannot be dealt with here. If there is a question mark over whether this particular aspect could or could not attract a certificate from the Ceann Comhairle, that can only be resolved there. It ought not to constrain this House in putting through a recommendation we think is important. If the Minister has that concern, he can raise it in the DÃ¡il this evening and it can be dealt with. If there is a question mark over the certificate, it can only be resolved there.
It does a disservice to this House at this late stage to say essentially that we cannot pass a recommendation in respect of such an important question, because of a constraint that can only be dealt with somewhere else. Let us have our debate in here.
It is in here as a recommendation and the Minister can deal with it in the DÃ¡il. The DÃ¡il is ready to sit at 8 p.m. and any concerns of the Minister can be raised there. I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will make a ruling, as he is required to do. That should not constrain the Members of this House from passing this perfectly reasonable proposal.
There has been very little objection of substance by the Minister to what is being proposed here. He is annoyed with it, but that is fine. This is the business we are here to do. We are an important element of the Oireachtas and there is strong support for this proposal, although I do not know whether there is majority support. We should not be told with a wagging finger that this must be dealt with under the rubric of a money Bill, that it has nothing to do with the Minister and that it must be dealt with in the other House. Let it be dealt with in the other House.
I did not say that, but there are important implications about whether a Bill is a money Bill. If a Bill is a money Bill, the President is obliged to sign it. If the Bill is not a money Bill, the President can refer it to the Supreme Court for advice on constitutionality. Therefore, there is a significance in respect of a money Bill outside this House. It is clear, from the point of view of the public interest, that this Bill is enacted as quickly as possible. The risk of a presidential reference would be a serious issue that I would have to consider as Minister were the Bill to be declassified as a money Bill.
It is not simply a matter of me wagging my finger at this House; far from it. We have not even considered how the Seanad has to reconvene in the event that the recommendation is that the Bill is not a money Bill. All the other recommendations could be accepted by the DÃ¡il without further reference to the Seanad. There is a question about this recommendation, which is whether the Seanad would have to meet again to consider the consequential recommendation, because it would be then be an amendment from the DÃ¡il. It is not a matter of wagging fingers. There are serious constitutional issues involved in changing this Bill. The Chair cannot give a ruling on it here and it would be determined elsewhere. I accept that. The Senator is entitled to make his points, but I am also entitled to make mine.
The fundamental point remains. Much of this information has already been provided by way of reply to parliamentary questions. One major institution has had to apologise for the inaccurate supply of information for parliamentary questions. It is quite open to the incoming DÃ¡il and Seanad to provide for some form of investigation through an Oireachtas committee. All that machinery is in place and we are risking the Finance Bill 2011 on this issue. It does not make much sense to me. I do not believe the electoral mileage the Senator will generate from this really justifies the distance he is running.
Exactly. We are talking about a question of the status of the Bill. If we want to have the political stuff, we can have that as well. Has the Attorney General raised a concern in respect of this recommendation or is the Minister flying on this one himself?
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 25 (Ivana Bacik, Dan Boyle, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Maurice Cummins, Mark Dearey, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, David Norris, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Joe O'Toole, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Feargal Quinn, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Against the motion: 26 (Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Terry Leyden, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, Rónán Mullen, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Dominic Hannigan and Alex White; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson..
Recommendation declared lost.
I move recommendation No. 4:
In page 167, line 7, to delete "accounting periods" and substitute the following:
"a company which sets up and commences a qualifying trade".
This is another technical recommendation which I propose in order to correct oversights in the Bill. Previous amendments have been rejected.
Section 486C of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for relief from tax for certain start-up companies. There is a three-year tax exemption for start-up companies which do not earn profits of over â¬320,000. There have been changes in that provision so that at the end of the three-year period companies must now pay a certain amount of PRSI to create certain employment, which is laudable.
The question is whether it was intended - I do not think it was - that this would have retrospective effect, that those who started a company in 2009 or 2010 would now find that they have additional conditions to meet which were not in place when they first availed of this scheme. It was a three-year tax break whereas now they find, having established a new business, that they have conditions retrospectively applied to them. That is by reason of section 34(2) of the Bill, which states: "Subsection (1)has effect in relation to accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2011."
I would point out to the Minister that there is reference in the Bill to "a company which sets up and commences a qualifying trade in 2011". I think that provision was intended to be carried forward generally.
The recommendation is not to have the reference to accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2011, but rather to have reference to a company which sets up and commences a qualifying trade beginning on or after 1 January 2011. The recommendation is designed to correct what I think is an oversight regarding a retrospective effect, which is apparent from the wording of this provision and which was not necessarily intended.
This is a highly technical issue. Senator Regan suggests there is a retrospective aspect to revising the basis on which the relief is granted for companies already eligible for relief in respect of a trade set up last year or a previous year. I would not accept that this is the case as the changes apply only for accounting periods in the future.
Companies which began a qualifying trade in 2009 or 2010 will obtain relief on the old basis for profits earned in accounting periods commencing before 2011. There is no question of reducing the relief for these earlier accounting periods. If that is Senator Regan's concern, I can address it. He might want to clarify that.
That does not deal with it. Companies which started in 2009 or 2010 would have three accounting periods in which they would have a legitimate expectation to be exempt from corporation tax. It was for a three-year period. By virtue of the provision referring to accounting periods beginning on or after 1 January 2011, they are caught by the provisions of the change in this section. The wording should be changed from "accounting periods" to "a company which sets up and commences a qualifying trade", beginning on or after 1 January 2011.
The main burden of Senator Regan's party's criticism of the Finance Bill has been that it has not done enough to focus on jobs. In fact, the proposal as formulated does just that because it states that in future, the relief can be claimed where a job creation element is involved.
That is to misinterpret what I said. I specifically stated that it is laudable to have a job aspect to this relief. However, it is not intended - I do not believe it can be legitimately intended - to apply retrospectively to companies that qualified for this exemption when they started business in 2009 or 2010.
There now is mutual comprehension between Senator Regan and I but I do not accept it is retrospective to change the terms in the future to give a greater employment focus on the relief.
The Seanad Divided:
For the motion: 30 (Dan Boyle, Martin Brady, Larry Butler, Ivor Callely, James Carroll, John Carty, Donie Cassidy, Maria Corrigan, Mark Daly, Mark Dearey, John Ellis, Geraldine Feeney, Camillus Glynn, John Gerard Hanafin, Eoghan Harris, Terry Leyden, Lisa McDonald, Paschal Mooney, David Norris, Niall Ó Brolcháin, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Francis O'Brien, Denis O'Donovan, Fiona O'Malley, Ned O'Sullivan, Ann Ormonde, Feargal Quinn, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Against the motion: 20 (Ivana Bacik, Paul Bradford, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Ciarán Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Maurice Cummins, Paschal Donohoe, Frances Fitzgerald, Dominic Hannigan, Michael McCarthy, Nicky McFadden, Rónán Mullen, John Paul Phelan, Phil Prendergast, Eugene Regan, Shane Ross, Brendan Ryan, Liam Twomey, Alex White)
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Maurice Cummins and Eugene Regan..
Question declared carried.
We have just had the last vote in the Seanad before the general election is called on Tuesday, even if the Minister tried to call our bluff on the bankers' bonuses. The legacy of former taoisigh Deputies Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen and even the new boy, Deputy MicheÃ¡l Martin, is not the finest period for this country or for the DÃ¡il and Seanad.
Senator Twomey should be honest. He supported the Bill; Fine Gael wanted it brought in. Without Fine Gael and Labour Party support, this Bill would not have been passed. We should be thanking Fine Gael and the Labour Party for the fact the Bill is going through the Oireachtas.
The Minister is not solely responsible for what has happened to our economy. Former taoisigh Deputies Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen and former Minister Deputy MicheÃ¡l Martin have collective responsibility for what has happened to the economy in the past three years.
Members on the Government side should stay quiet when other Members are speaking. There has been a sense of arrogance displayed by Government representatives during the day. Perhaps they should stand up and make speeches themselves if they wish to do so.
I conclude by thanking not just the staff of the House, but every civil servant in every Department for the work they do. I wish the Minister well. The problem with our political system is it is very adversarial and we acknowledge that in the debate. That is how the system works.
As someone who has been here all day and who has taken part in all of the discussion on the Bill, I would like to act in accordance with the traditions of the House and pay tribute to the contributions of Members on all sides of the House, who made this important debate come alive. Every side of the House was involved - Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Fianna FÃ¡il, the Green Party and Independent Members - and together we have made a contribution to the Bill to which the Minister listened. I say this in a non-partisan way, but I regret that we could not affect the universal social charge. This is an issue that is deeply worrying and I hope the positive sentiments expressed by Members regarding the most vulnerable people in the country will be made good by the incoming government. Members have certainly given hostages to fortune here on the record of the House.
I have voted with my colleagues on every recommendation, but I am realistic and know if I had voted with the Government, it would not have made any difference. Unlike one vote where one of my colleagues made a difference, my vote did not make a difference. However, I wanted to give moral support to the operation of politics in this country, which is important. It was necessary that this Bill go through, since the gun had been put to our head and it had to be passed. I very much wish there had been more reflection - I almost said "mature reflection" - on this matter. However, I accept what the Minister said and would like to place that on the record. I accept that the civil servants involved in the preparation of the Finance Bill worked hard on the amendments which flowed from the passage of the civil partnership Bill, but there was not time to have them prepared for this. I was told the amendments were not prepared, which was technically true, but it is important to make it clear this makes no slur on the civil servants. They were working hard on the issues and a matter of a week or two would have meant they would have had the amendments prepared.
We need not feel that we have wasted our time here in empty debate, because many points were taken up which will be adhered to by the incoming government. One thing has happened, namely, that those people who will enter into civil partnership when the Act commences in April will be in a situation where that will be made retrospective. Therefore, they will not be penalised in taxation terms. I salute the Minister who, with his legal knowledge, went to the trouble of placing that on the record of the House so that it can be done. This may appear small to some people, but it was a factual and real achievement of this House, which will have an impact on people's lives. That is what policy is all about. Without those amendments, the civil partnership Bill would be to a certain extent an empty letter. It would give people licence for a party or celebration, which is wonderful, but it would not give them any practical advantage or increase in their human and civil rights. I think we have done a good days work and I hope we will end in amity and dignity and go out to fight the election on issues rather than personalities.
I agree with those sentiments. There is much with which I disagree with regard to what the Minister said today in respect of our debate on the Bill. However, if all goes to plan on Tuesday, we will have a considerable opportunity to debate and contest all of those questions in the coming four weeks. That is where the debate belongs at this stage. This Oireachtas has come to an end. There should be an element of dignity when the Oireachtas or any House of Parliament finishes its business, which is what we are doing. Significant work was done today and yesterday in this Chamber on this Bill and careful consideration was given to it. Somebody mentioned "mature reflection", which recalls another era, but we are about parliamentary business here and the Minister has a good appreciation of parliamentary business and its importance. I thank him for that. I want, in particular, to thank the officials in the Department of Finance for their careful approach to the business at hand.
This is probably the last occasion where we will have an opportunity to say goodbye. On behalf of myself and my colleagues in the Labour Party, I wish the Cathaoirleach well. I do not know what his intentions are, but if he intends to run for election again, I wish him well. I thank him for his co-operation and for the great sense of humanity he has demonstrated in the Chair.
I have seen that humanity not just publicly across the floor, but also in other business we have had to transact, not all of which was easy. The Cathaoirleach has carried out his duties with great flair, understanding and decency and deserves the thanks of the House. I mentioned yesterday that the Clerk and Clerk Assistant deserve our thanks and appreciation, as do all the people who work in this building and support us in the work we do.
I have tended not to thank Ministers when they come to this House, because I think they are only doing their job. Also, I do not believe most of them expect to be thanked in that sense, although common courtesy is important. Ministers and Ministers of State are doing the job the people have entrusted them with and do not require to be thanked at the drop of a hat. I am sure the Minister understands what I mean and that not thanking him is not meant as a discourtesy.
I wish my colleagues on all sides of the House well, both those who are retiring and those running for election to the other House. Mention was made of the DÃ¡il constituency of Dublin South earlier and it was suggested another candidate will arrive into it. We are thinking of renaming the constituency Terminal Two, because there have been so many arrivals and departures to the constituency in the past year and a half. However, we will have that election.
Today's session, on a Saturday, has been an historic occasion. The passing of the Finance Bill is good reason why the Seanad exists and can work well. This has been a difficult process, marked by the contents of the Bill in which none of us can take any great pleasure. If we were all to be honest, the passing of the Bill does a favour for the incoming government in allowing it avoid much of the heavy lifting and difficult decisions that have now been taken and that will be made as a result. I hope that is admitted eventually, if not before the election campaign, because history needs to record such facts.
The passing of the Bill has been difficult in the sense that tempers get frayed, voices are raised and things are said, not always in this Chamber, but sometimes nearby. It is not always understood that having left Government, some Members are part of an independent and capable party that will on occasion make independent decisions. This is something that seems beyond understanding currently, but I hope this will pass. I do not want to leave this Chamber being confronted and told directly that my party is responsible for the state of the country. Knowing that is a story and narrative that has gained currency, the challenge for us in the Green Party as we face the electorate is to say we have done what we have done in Government, believing it to be the right thing to do for the reason that it was in the best interest of the country. If the people decide otherwise, as democrats we will accept that. We have been happy and proud to contribute to the work in this House and to the workings of Government. If that is misunderstood, history will record its verdict.
I support the comments made by Senator Alex White with regard to the Cathaoirleach, the staff of the Seanad, the leaders of the political groups and the Leader of the House, with whom I enjoyed a fairly cordial working relationship, which lent itself to the proper organisation of business in the House.
I hope the incoming Administration understands that the House has 90 days of life left and they should be working days. Legislation has been published on which debates have started and the House can complete their passage for the incoming DÃ¡il. I like to think the incoming Administration will use the House to further such legislation.
I thank the Minister and his officials for their work and the manner in which business was undertaken over the past two days. I acknowledge all the contributions made. I note with some satisfaction that the Bill was not taken with an eye to an election that is around the corner but with an eye to the next generation and doing what is right for the country. That is what I would expect Fianna FÃ¡il to do consistently.
I thank the House for its consideration of this Bill, which is important. When discussions took place last Monday in my Department about the progress of the Bill, my party and the Green Party, which I fully acknowledge was outside government, insisted upon the Seanad sitting on a Saturday. That was important because it meant the debate in the Seanad was not truncated to one day in its consideration of all Stages of the Bill. Senator Norris illustrated one way how it was of value that the House sat to consider the Bill in detail.
I have always found the Seanad's consideration of legislation in detail to be a valuable constitutional provision. In the context of the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Bill 2010, which we were criticised for rushing before Christmas, there was no detailed, substantive debate in the DÃ¡il on it whereas the Committee Stage debate in the Seanad dealt with half its provisions. That, I understand, was of considerable assistance to the Council of State when it had to consider the issue of advising the President of its opinion on whether she should refer the Bill to the Supreme Court.
All this points to the fact that in the contemporary debate about the utility of a second House, there is real value in a second House. There will be a public focus on this issue in the months after the general election because the issue has been raised and it is inevitable that action will be expected by the public on this issue in the course of the next DÃ¡il. It is politically inevitable at this stage, given the issue was raised by the Fine Gael Party. It will not get away with electing a vast number of Senators and then pretending it will not change the Seanad or with coming to an arrangement with another party whereby it will not change the Seanad and using that as a get out of jail clause. Seanad reform will happen.
There have been many reports down the years but no action. Seanad reform will now take place and the public will not tolerate a party which enters government and dishonours its word on this particular subject. That is my view and it is something that faces us all. I have commented on this in recent days when I was free to comment on a leadership issue. The House will have to be reconstituted. It may have to be made smaller but it must continue as an important dimension of our Constitution, which provides a reflective capacity for legislation.
With regard to the Bill, I thank all Senators for their co-operation. I also thank my staff in the Department. They have worked incredibly hard in recent years. There are different branches in the Department. Some officials work on tax, some on banking and some on expenditure but all of them have worked extraordinarily hard in recent years. I have noticed a note of criticism entering public debate about the Department of Finance and the officers of the Department such that somehow they are unworthy of the positions they occupy or that they do not perform their duties with the diligence one would expect of public servants. That has not been my experience. They work extraordinarily hard. They have had to work under more pressure than even those of us in public life who know the pressures that apply to Ministers and Oireachtas Members. The pressures exerted on those men and women in recent years have been extraordinary because of the economic collapse which came upon us in summer 2008 and the necessary and essential responses that were required of the Government to deal with that. I pay tribute to them as well.
I do not want to enter into political debate because, at this stage of the proceedings, it is my understanding that it is not time for such debate. There will be plenty of scope for political debate in the weeks ahead. The Seanad will continue to operate for 90 days and I expect it will continue to have a number of important functions to perform in regard to legislation. I have raised the issue with Senator Quinn as to whether we can deal with the Construction Contracts Bill 2010 after the election because it is a matter I am anxious to see expedited. There will have to be all-party agreement on that because, following the poll, it would not be appropriate for the Government to convene the Seanad to consider a Bill. However, it is worth reflecting on and I am willing to do that in the interim period. If this commanded all-party agreement in the House, it would result in a Bill being recommended to the DÃ¡il.
The incoming Government will have a number of urgent measures to address because we are bound by the EU-IMF programme. Legislative measures related to the banks will have to be adopted and they will be the first items of business for the next Government and the outgoing Seanad will necessarily have to deal with them within the 90-day period. This is, therefore, not the death knell of the Seanad, though it may be the death knell for Senator Alex White if he is successful in his contest for a seat in the DÃ¡il. I was amused at his description of Dublin South. I have always called Dublin South, Dublin South-East and DÃºn Laoghaire the Bermuda Triangle of Irish politics because political aircraft seem to take off and disappear there at very regular intervals.
I might have an opportunity to contribute in the Seanad on one more occasion but, lest I do not, I thank Senators for their co-operation generally during my time in office in the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Finance. I have always found their contributions lively and balanced. I saw an outbreak of political debate developing this evening. Senator Twomey is entitled to that at the end and so am I.
As Leader, I wish all Members the best of luck, particularly those standing for the DÃ¡il. I thank everyone for their co-operation. I thank the Cathaoirleach for the way he has guided us. I also thank the Clerks to the Seanad, the group leaders and the Whips. I thank, in particular, the Government Whips, Senators Wilson and Glynn as well as the Opposition Whips, Senators Cummins and Hannigan. I also thank the Deputy Leader, Senator Boyle.
We had a productive Seanad for almost four years. We have more than 90 days to go and the Seanad will sit again on at least one or two occasions to take business that has to be debated.
With regard to Seanad reform, I would like to see reform of the DÃ¡il and the Seanad take place hand in hand. One cannot have one without the other. Today and yesterday the Seanad proved its worth again to the people through the thorough scrutiny of legislation and the brilliant contribution made by our Minister of Finance. It is a pleasure and an honour to have worked with him down through the years. I wish him well in his own campaign and I look forward to working with him for many years to come.
In case the House does not sit again before the general election, I express my thanks to the staff of the House, particularly, Ms Deirdre Lane and Ms Jody Blake and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Burke, for his help and co-operation at all times. I thank the recording staff and the press for their work. I also thank the Minister and his staff who have spent the past two days with us to process the Finance Bill. I wish all Members well for the future, particularly those going forward in the forthcoming general election and Seanad election.
On an evening such as this, I would particularly like to remember those Members who passed away during this Seanad, the late Senators Peter Callanan, Tony Kett and Kieran Phelan. May they rest in peace.
Go n-Ã©irÃ an bÃ³thar libh.