Thursday, 20 November 2014
Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Report and Final Stages
Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, except the proposer of an amendment who may reply to the discussion on the amendment. On Report Stage each amendment must be seconded. Amendment No. 1, in the names of Senator Thomas Byrne and other Senators, arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1 and 24 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 1:
It is good amendments Nos. 1 and 24 are being taken together because I was not going to press amendment No. 1 in light of amendment No. 24. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Harris. We have had a robust and proper debate in the Seanad. I will not refer the Minister of State back to the events of a year ago but I think he sees the value of the Seanad at this stage. We see the value of the Minister of State who has done a very good job and has shown himself to be a Minister. To be a proper and good Minister is not just to follow a line. He is actually making his own decisions and we appreciate that.
In page 5, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:"(b) in the definition "community hall" by deleting "other than a premises of a club"
and substituting "other than the licensed premises, of a club".".
The Minister of State has come a long way from the language in the amendments on Committee Stage in regard to clubs. We thank him and his officials for the offer of a briefing during the week, which was appreciated, but, unfortunately, as other colleagues said also, we did not have time this week. That is the way these things work and we apologise.
I say all of this without prejudice to what my colleagues in the Dáil might say but as far as I am concerned, amendment No. 24 proposed by the Minister of State deals with and gets to the nub of the issue. It deals with the issue from the point of view of fairness for the community organisations and for any competitors which may be running commercial organisations. From what I can see, there is a good balance there. We are not worried now about clubs renting out their all-weather pitches or gyms to local groups. If they are doing it on a commercial basis, with maybe a manager, and they are competing with a local gym, that is different and we accept that.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Cowen, who first brought this issue to our attention. It must be said that a number of clubs in County Meath, in particular, brought this to his attention, including Ratoath GAA and Ashbourne GAA. I thank the chairman of the Meath county board, Mr. Conor Tormey, with whom I consulted in regard to this Bill. These clubs have played a key role, as have all the clubs in Meath which are affected. I also spoke to Mr. Pat O'Brien of the Meath and district soccer league and asked for advice and input.
The Minister of State has listened and has come a long way and, in fairness to him, I will certainly not press my amendments. I thank him as this achieves a balance. Let us see what the Dáil says but, as far as I am concerned, this amendment does the trick.
I second the amendment and I welcome the Minister's decision in regard to community and GAA clubs. It is something for which I have fought locally. A local club has a bar but the rest of the club house is used for training purposes and has changing rooms so I am delighted with this decision. It may not be relevant to this Bill but will the Minister of State look at community child care centres? They should be exempt from rates. Will he look at that issue at some stage?
I thank Senator Byrne for his kind words. I am not afraid to admit my views last year in a referendum which the Government gave a commitment to hold. I am a democrat, which I hope everybody in both Houses of the Oireachtas is. I found the debate in the House on the first piece of legislation with which I have substantively dealt to have been very productive. I hope that following Report Stage, we will leave this House with a Bill which is better in terms of child care, the issue Senator Moloney raised, sports clubs and addressing the concerns of the Irish Hotels Federation.
We are trying to strike the right balance in this amendment. I listened to the concerns expressed on Committee Stage. The intention here was always to ensure sports clubs, voluntary clubs and clubs, which were not making a profit, were exempt from rates. That had not necessarily been the case for clubs that had a bar. Once a club had a bar, it was paying rates for all of the premises. We are now trying to limit it to just the commercial activity while not doing anything to inadvertently cause difficulties for groups which were already exempt. I think this strikes the right balance and I thank Senators for their comments.
I move amendment No. 2:
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I have never seen a Bill with so many amendments from the Government, so I congratulate him. He gives me a sense that he is listening to us and that the Seanad has a role to play in legislation. This amendment was tabled because the current system only allows a rent review where there is a physical change to a property such as an extension.
In page 6, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:"(i) a decrease in profitability of the company located within the relevant property as evidenced by the owner or occupier of the relevant property to the Commissioner through company records (as per the Companies Acts);",".
There should be a provision to allow all circumstances to be taken on board when seeking a rates review including economic factors effecting a change in value if there is a sharp decline in the profitability of a business. Prevailing economic circumstances should also be taken into account. I hope the Minister of State will take this into account either now or on a later Stage.
I second the amendment. I thank the Minister of State and his officials who offered to meet us during the week to discuss our concerns. While it was not possible, we appreciated the invitation. Like Senator Byrne and others, I also appreciate the openness in discussions with regard to this Bill and the courtesy shown by the Department’s officials in this regard.
There are many closed shops in many small towns up and down the country. There has been a decline in the volume of retail sales in town centres with a movement to out-of-town shopping centres. This was the spirit in which the amendment was proposed.
I thank Senators Quinn and Barrett for this amendment. I have tried to explore and discuss it rationally. The issue of profitability and how it interacts with the rates system was discussed on Committee Stage. I made the point that it is the job of the Valuation Office to attach a value to a building. It is then through other agency interactions that the amount to be paid is arrived at. I also flagged my concerns about linking this process to profitability.
The proposed amendment would allow for a valuation to be altered or revised downwards between revaluations where a decrease in profitability has occurred as evidenced by company records. The legislation currently provides for the maintenance of valuation lists through the revision process and by way of revaluation. Revision is the mechanism whereby physical changes to rateable properties are reflected in the valuation lists, while revaluation takes account of economic factors or the relative change in values between property locations or uses over time. The revision process, by its nature, is ongoing whereas revaluation is periodic.
The legislation provides for regular revaluations no sooner than five years and no later than ten years. This model of revaluation cycles is common in jurisdictions with annual charges on a business property similar to commercial rates. A change in profitability of a particular occupier of a property could arise for several reasons and may in no way reflect a change in the value or the relative value of that property vis-à-visother rateable properties in that rating authority area. Downward revisions of rateable values of certain properties to reflect decreases in the profitability of the occupiers of those properties would advantage or disadvantage other ratepayers over time and undermine the degree of equity and uniformity inherent in the rateable valuation system.
I understand the spirit of the amendment but I do not feel it fits in with the job of the Valuation Office in attaching a value to a building. Accordingly, I cannot accept this amendment.
I thank the Minister of State for his explanation. I understand his concerns that profitability can depend on other items. I know, however, of a case where a property was valued in 2005 but its next revaluation will not take place until 2018. The world will change in that time and profitability could be a factor. However, I accept the danger of taking profitability as the only measurement could present difficulties. I hope the Minister of State will still consider my points before the Bill is taken in the Dáil.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:“3. An occupier shall not be liable for any unpaid rates due to a rating authority if such rates were incurred during the occupancy of the relevant property by a previous occupier.”.
This amendment was discussed on Committee Stage. This is a rates issue and measures have already been taken earlier this year by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in this regard. The Local Government Reform Act 2014, enacted in January, introduced a repeal of subsequent occupier liability, the effect of which removed the liability placed on new occupiers of properties for up to two years of outstanding rates of the previous occupier. The commencement of the repeal was given effect to in SI No. 146/2014, Local Government Reform Act 2014 (Commencement of Certain Provisions) (No. 2) Order of 2014, and which took effect from 24 March 2014.
While we agree with Senator Byrne’s amendment in principle, we believe its aims have been realised in the Local Government Reform Act 2014.
I move amendment No. 4:
I understand this amendment’s provision may be covered in a similar way in the 2001 Act, particularly in Schedule 2. However, it is better to ensure there is no doubt in this regard and more clarity rather than less.
In page 7, between lines 20 and 21, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 12 of Principal Act
5. Section 12 of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for subsection (5) the following:“(5) The Tribunal shall consist of valuers who have not been involved in the matter previously.”.”.
I have looked positively on this amendment but I do not see a need for it.
The members of the Valuation Tribunal are appointed by the Minister and are independent of the Valuation Office. In general, the members have either a legal or a professional valuation background, as these are the skills-sets most appropriate to the work of the tribunal. I see the validity of this amendment in the current context where appeals are made to the commissioner before a subsequent appeal may be made to the tribunal. However, as the appeal to the commissioner will be abolished in this Bill, that situation will no longer arise. There are also no members on the tribunal who have worked in recent years in the Valuation Office. I am satisfied, therefore, that there will be no one on the tribunal considering an appeal who has been involved in the original adjudication.
I move amendment No. 5:
In the interests of fairness, a person who is the owner of a property or is the occupier should be allowed to seek a review of the rateable valuation of the property. The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland has highlighted this point too. A business value can change very quickly. For example, a petrol station which may get much business could lose it overnight if a bypass is opened on its route. It does not get a revaluation, however. A notable example of this occurred in Urlingford, County Kilkenny. Businesses need to be able to avail of some flexibility and realism when faced with such a situation.
In page 7, between lines 30 and 31, to insert the following:“(3) The rated occupier or owner shall be entitled to seek a review of the rateable value of their property by the Commissioner of Valuation if at any time the value of their property changes.”.”.
We had a system for revaluations in such cases until 2001 which worked very well. In the United Kingdom, businesses are still allowed to seek such reviews. It is a sensible proposal and would contribute to a pro-business environment. Like upward-only rent reviews, I do not agree businesses should be locked into unrealistic rates or rents. Flexibility in business needs to be shown, especially in these tough times.
One only has to look at all the vacant retail units up and down the country, a point referred to earlier by Senator Barrett. Rates are a significant cost in business. If they were lowered and brought to more realistic levels, more businesses could start up. Footfall in our towns and cities would be increased as there would be a much more diverse array of shops to attract shoppers. The viability of vacant retail properties would be increased too. It is a win-win situation. Rates are not likely to be paid if a company cannot even afford to pay them due to poor trade. The amendment will feed into this process by allowing businesses to get more realistic rates that reflect their current circumstances, not rates that correspond to factors in the past. We need to bring back the principle of fairness. This amendment will bring in the principle of a non-restricted right to rate reviews. We had this before and it worked well. I hope the Minister of State can be open to this sensible amendment in some shape or form. It has the potential to set the foundations for more businesses to open up or for existing businesses just to survive. I hope the Minister of State will consider this.
I second the amendment. We are in a dynamic period of economic change, some of which we never anticipated with the recession after 2008.
Petrol stations can be bypassed. The last day, Senators Paul Coghlan and O'Neill mentioned places like Urlingford and Johnstown. Senator Quinn has made television programmes about city and town centres that have gone into decline. There might be a fear that the system would be clogged up with appeals. Senator Quinn spoke in the context of a previous amendment about having to wait for 13 or 14 years. We should not have to wait for that long before we can say it is not happening and ask for a revision. If a provision to that effect were to be observed in good faith by both sides, it could stimulate areas that are in decline. Many Senators have shown an interest in such areas in debates in this House.
I am speaking on this issue because it is affecting businesses throughout Ireland, especially in the Tallaght area. There are units in Tallaght shopping centre, which is in my constituency of Dublin South-West, that have been empty for years. South Dublin County Council was one of the first rateable areas to be subject to revaluation during the boom. The current valuations do not remotely reflect the value of the businesses or the properties. Business people are not taking them up and they are lying vacant. We need to correct this because everybody is losing out. The State is losing out on tax. Small businesses and property owners are losing out as well. The ambience of these centres suffers when units lie empty. They will not be taken up unless the current system of rateable valuation is changed. The provision relating to "material change of circumstances" is much too tight. If one knocks a wall here or adds a bit there, it could be said to be a material change. It does not make sense. I suggest that the relevant section of the Act should be amended to refer to a property that has experienced a "change in economic circumstances" which would reflect the net value. Realistically, what affects business? It is economics. It is not knocking a wall here or knocking a wall there that will affect building and expansion or whatever. Having it only confined to that is much too close. It has to be looked at. The five-year valuation is another thing as well. It is going to be more than five years. I think it should be mandatory to revalue after five years. Otherwise, it can be kicked down the road to ten years. With this one it could be 15 years. Where will Tallaght be if it does not have the mandatory - I hope it is mandatory - five years that is in the legislation? If the Minister of State can do something about the provision that relates to having a discretionary change of economic circumstances within five years, it would be appreciated. It is not working. Everybody is losing out on it at the moment. I will come in again on another section.
I would like to pick up on what Senator Keane had to say. Am I right in my understanding that there is discretion within the local authority regarding start-ups? I was led to believe this was the case some time ago when action was taken in a section of a town in the south of Ireland that was commercially dead. Nothing was happening in that section of the town. I applauded the town manager at the time because he introduced an incentive whereby businesses had to pay half-rates for the first two years. Was that initiative taken by himself or was it allowable under regulation or legislation? He showed great initiative to try to regenerate that section of the town, where many premises which had been closed and boarded up were becoming unsightly. There was a certain degree of take-up on that. Is that in the legislation? That is the question I am asking, or the message I want to get out, on behalf of people who might be considering starting a small business or a new business. Would the local authority be amenable to the possibility of providing for some concession like that? Some people say that if small businesses cannot pay its rates, it should not be in business. The first two years are the toughest years for small businesses. In many cases, the rates bill is the final bill that cannot be overcome. If an incentive could be provided, that would give discretion to the local authority, regardless of whether such an initiative is currently in place. It would stimulate investment and bring lifeblood back into areas in certain towns where business is not being carried out.
I thank all Senators for their contributions. I thank Senators Quinn and Barrett for proposing this amendment. I will begin by reading the formal response. An occupier already has the right under section 27 of the Valuation Act 2001 to seek a review or a revision of the rateable value of his or her property. A rating authority may also apply to the valuation commissioner for a revision of a valuation, as may another interest holder in the subject property or an occupier of another property that appears on the valuation list. The legislation currently provides for the maintenance of valuation lists by way of the revision process and revaluation. Revision is the mechanism whereby physical changes to rateable properties are reflected in the valuation lists, while revaluation takes account of economic factors or the relative change in values between property locations and-or other uses over time.
As I said earlier, the revision process is by its nature an ongoing one, whereas revaluation is periodic. The legislation provides for regular interventions to take place no sooner than five years and no later than ten years. It cannot take 15 years. It will happen after five to ten years, as opposed to 15 years. Changes in the value of an existing property arising from structural alterations, the subdivision of a property into two or more separate properties or the amalgamation of that property with one or more rateable properties are provided for in section 28 in the Valuation Act 2001. This is the revision process.
I do not want to be disingenuous. I take the point that this does not encompass all of what Senator Quinn has raised in his amendment. Changes in value arising from economic factors are captured using the revaluation process. I made the point on Committee Stage that the Valuation Bill cannot address all the issues and challenges. Obviously, some issues are valuation issues, some are commercial rates issues and some fall within the remit of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the local authorities. Our job in a valuation sense is to attach a value to the building.
While some of the suggestions are interesting, they could have unintended consequences. I will give an example that relates to South Dublin County Council, which was mentioned by my colleague, Senator Keane. Obviously, there has been a significant change in value. One would imagine the same thing applies to all properties in that rating authority area. If we were to revalue all of South Dublin County Council, the actual rate in euro could end up increasing. If we reduce our valuation due to economic circumstances, it will end up transferring to the existing business. The Senator is right. We could reduce the valuation to try to get somebody into an empty unit, but the pie would stay the same for South Dublin County Council. Ultimately, an existing rate payer would end up paying more. Every time somebody wins, somebody else loses. That is the balancing act we are trying to perfect.
As I said in response to the previous amendment, this Government's efforts to get rid of back rates under the Local Government Act have been a help. Until quite recently, if someone tried to occupy the properties in Tallaght mentioned by Senator Keane, not only would they have had to pay the rates, they could have been left with the back rates from the previous occupier as well. That has been repealed since 24 March last.
We do not have a role in the area about which my colleague, Senator Sheahan, asked. I am not placed to answer the Senator's question other than by clarifying that this area is not covered by this legislation. I imagine it is a matter for the local authority. I can raise it with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. It is an important point to raise. It is clear that this is an issue of concern for Senators, Deputies and the Government. I just do not feel we are best placed to deal with it in the context of the Valuation Bill. I will certainly pass on to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, the concerns of Senators on all sides about what happens when there is a sudden change in the viability or profitability of a business.
I would like to make a final point. I think Senators used the same example I used, which relates to what happens when a filling station is bypassed. It is important to note that I introduced a new amendment on Committee Stage - it was amendment No. 45 at the time - to include a new section 29A in the Valuation Act 2001. This measure will give the commissioner additional authority to address anomalies on the valuation list. It provides for exceptional circumstances where a decision by a revision manager not to change a valuation could lead to inequity. That could happen if one were operating a busy filling station that was bypassed and, all of sudden, people were not passing one's business any more. There are extra provisions in this legislation that have not previously existed.
I understand the point the Minister of State makes. The concern here is the length of time it takes for something to happen, for example after a bypass is built. I should not be talking about a specific petrol station all the time. There are many other instances. It is a typical example and is very easily understood.
The difficulty is that reviews of any kind do not happen quickly enough and by that time the business is gone out of business. The result is that the State and the local authority loses and the local people lose because they do not have that. If we are to keep that business alive, decisions must be made far more quickly, but I accept the Minister of State's point. If he passes it on to the Minister responsible, hopefully we will find a solution to it in that way. On that basis I will withdraw the amendment.
This is a technical amendment that clarifies the list to be referred to for the properties in a rating authority area that are the subject of a revaluation. As defined by the legislation, a valuation list is a list that has been compiled as part of a revaluation exercise. An existing valuation list is a valuation list that existed before the commencement of the Valuation Act 2001. Not all rating authorities have undergone their first revaluation at this stage. The list of a rating authority that has yet to be revalued is technically known as an existing valuation list. Section 19(2), which tasks a person with valuing everything on a list, must refer both to a valuation list and an existing valuation list, so it is merely a technical amendment.
This amendment is a correction of a typographical error in a cross-reference between sections that are being inserted by the Bill. At present, the reference in 26A is to section 26D(2). This would only allow the occupier to make representations on a proposed valuation in limited circumstances. The intention is that all occupiers whose valuation is being determined using the new occupier-assisted procedures will be entitled to make representations on a proposed valuation. The reference should, therefore, be a broader reference to all occupiers who are part of the occupier-assisted valuation process and we are trying to fix that.
The amendment seeks to substitute the words: "any interested party or company" for the words: "a person, in respect of any property in relation to which he or she is an interest holder". Our concern is that "interest" has a number of definitions and Senator Quinn's one is broader. Asking whether a person has an interest in a property usually means whether he own a piece of it or if he is an interested party. That is the distinction we are trying to make.
I second the amendment. The aim is to bring clarity to the area, to ensure that any person or company that has an interest in the property has a right to appeal to the tribunal. The word "person" may be understood to be a company, but this amendment aims to clear this up. I think it makes sense to have it.
On the right to appeal to the tribunal, the commissioner is a very powerful person and I am looking for an appeal from the commissioners to the tribunal. Is that in the Bill at the moment? I do not think it is. Everybody should have the right of appeal from a commissioner to a tribunal. If the Minister of State could make a statement on that, it would be worthwhile. When an appeal is made and the person is not satisfied, as most people are not, it is usually because of a change in economic circumstances. Any person looking at the Bill at the moment who has a decision to make will have to make it on the basis of a material change in circumstances, which means bricks and mortar. Economics is not taken into account. One might get more sense by appealing to a tribunal but that is the main thing I see happening.
One can appeal to a tribunal, but I am just getting clarity on that because it refers to an earlier section. On the amendment, the current legislation entitles a broad set of persons to lodge an appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. Those entitled would include rating authorities, landlords, an interest-holder in a property and other ratepayers in the rating authority area. In the context of the valuation rating system, an interest-holder in a commercial property is more meaningful and conveys a degree of ownership, whereas an interested party may be someone who is just interested and in no way affected by the rates liability of that property. I see what the Senators are trying to do, but we do not want unintended consequences where there is confusion as to who is an interested person as opposed to an interest holder. The valuation system is already unique in that it gives third parties the right to appeal against an evaluation. The term "interest holder" is more precise and yet sufficiently broad to achieve the objective and it obviates the possibility of vexatious appeals. Therefore, I do not feel the need to broaden the scope of those entitled to appeal.
In response to Senator Keane, everybody have a right to appeal, right up to the tribunal.
The Minister of State has explained that very well. I still have a concern over it and I think it would have been better to have "any interested party", but I understand the position the Minister of State has taken, so I withdraw the amendment.
Government amendment No. 9: In page 19, to delete lines 9 to 12 and substitute the following: “value of the property concerned that accords— (a) with that required to be achieved by section 19(5), or (b) in the case of an appeal from a valuation made under section 28, with that required to be achieved by section 49.”.
I pay tribute to Senators in this House, to my own officials and to the interest groups, particularly the Irish Hotels Federation and the Society of Chartered Surveyors, for their interaction on a subject that generated much debate in this House on Committee Stage, namely, the interpretation of the new section 19(5) and whether an occupier's right to appeal was in any way restricted. In recent weeks there have been a significant number of engagements between officials and the relevant stakeholders. Legal advice has also been obtained. The result of the engagements and advice received is this amendment to section 37 which is being inserted to remove any doubt that may exist about the jurisdiction of the Valuation Tribunal regarding the method to which it may have regard in its determination of the value of the property. This wording makes it clear that the Valuation Tribunal is not restricted in any way on the method to which it chooses to have reference, regardless of what method the valuation manager used in determining a value in the first instance. I understand this wording has been drawn up in consultation with stakeholders and I am pleased to be informed that it allays their concerns in this area. Once again, I thank everybody for a constructive engagement. I hope we have put concerns beyond doubt and that we have what is perhaps a more robust section.
I want to speak on this because it was a huge bone of contention throughout the debates and, in fairness to the Minister of State, he has removed the issue as a problem, certainly in my reading of it and in other people's reading of it. The requirements are there but the subsection being inserted, subsection (4), changes it significantly and I hope any court in the future, when interpreting this legislation, would see the changes that were made and the intentions behind them. If we were dealing with Irish Water now, we would be calling this a U-turn or a climbdown, but what has actually happened is that there has been a proper debate. We have teased things through, as have the Minister and the people who are interested in the legislation, and it shows how a parliament should be working. If every Minister dealt with legislation the way the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, has done so, we would not have the problems we see every day in the Dáil because they are ramming everything through. They are not listening to people, and we saw that with Irish Water yesterday. The opposite has happened here and there has been huge engagement with it. That is without prejudice to what the Dáil might say, what changes it might make to it and what concerns it may have. As far as I am concerned, there has been a full and proper debate on this legislation which has resulted in changes. There is this old bone of contention, namely that we did not actually make the amendments that are changing the legislation, but the Minister of State has brought in these amendments directly as a result of debate that has taken place here. He has listened to the concerns, and I welcome that and the changes that have been made. I welcome this new legislation and certainly will not be holding up its passage in the Seanad.
Government amendment No. 10: In page 20, line 3, to delete “received the appeal.”.” and substitute the following:“received the appeal. (4) For the avoidance of doubt, neither subsection (1)(a) or (2)(b)(ii) (so far as it relates to section 19(5)) nor section 19(5) shall require the Tribunal to achieve the determination of the value of a property concerned by reference to any particular method of valuation and the Tribunal may arrive at its determination by reference to whatever method of valuation or combination of methods of valuation as the Tribunal, in its discretion, may deem appropriate.”.”.
I move amendment No. 11:
This amendment aims to get the Minister to review the definition of "material change of circumstances" or MCC as it is called. I suggest the material change of circumstances, as contained in section 3 of the Principal Act, is much more reflective of the needs of business. As I stated previously, the current system only allows a rent review when there is a physical change to a property, such as an extension to it. There should be a provision to allow all circumstances to be taken on board when seeking a rates review. These should include economic factors that effect a change in the value or if there is a sharp decline - Members have talked about the profitability of the business. However, there should be a provision for a change of circumstances of the business and not simply an extension or a building change.
In page 22, between lines 37 and 38, to insert the following:
“30. Part 12 of the Principal Act is amended by inserting after section 55 the following:“55(A). (a) The Minister may introduce a legislative mechanism for a review of rates based on changes to value of a property from any cause.(b) The Minister may make regulations in relation to the procedure to ensure a national evaluation of rates every 5 years.”.”.
In addition, there should be a mechanism to get rates reviewed every five years at a minimum and the second part of the amendment aims to get progress in that area. I realise it may be late in the day to introduce such legislative mechanisms at this stage but something can be included in the Bill to get some impetus into this area and I believe it is worthy of consideration. While I would like to think it could be accepted now, I wish to hear the view of the Minister of State.
While I will not say any more on this matter, I ask the Minister of State to give serious consideration to this amendment because this measure will work, particularly for many businesses nationwide. As it must work, I ask the Minister of State to consider it seriously.
I thank Senators Quinn, Barrett and Keane, who I acknowledge feel strongly on this matter. At the outset, I accept it is the job of Members in Parliament to get into the nitty-gritty of legislation and I am pleased we are doing that but the overarching aim of the Bill is to modernise the valuation process and to speed it up. The enabling of outsourcing will be a really significant step forward in speeding things up and collectively, all Members are correct that it is taking too long to carry out revaluations. This is a significant bugbear of business people and indeed of the Government. While I do not wish to repeat myself, some of these issues are crossing over, in that there is a theme and a thread to the amendments tabled by Senator Quinn and for good reason. However, the current legislation, that is, the Valuation Act 2001, provides for the rate of valuations of all rateable properties within a rating authority to be reviewed periodically to reflect changes in value arising from economic factors. The resultant valuations are all published on the same date and become effective for rating purposes at the same time. As Members are aware, this process is called revaluation and as I have outlined, the legislation provides for the valuations to take place between five years and no later than ten years after the first revaluation has taken place. This model of revaluation cycles is common in jurisdictions with an annual property tax similar to rates. I have already outlined a separate process called revision.
The proposed amendment envisages a review of a valuation of an individual property arising from a change in economic circumstances that would not be in keeping with the principle of valuation in this and other jurisdictions in which provision is only made for changes in the value of the property arising from alterations to the property. I fear that any alternative would introduce significant volatility in the rating system. It is important to note this system yields the astonishing figure of €1.3 billion annually in funding to local authorities. The amendment could also delay further the national revaluation programme, would be challenging to implement and more than likely would result in the introduction of an economic valuation system no longer based on property valuations but that would be a type of audit of the economic business sector that would be totally unsuitable for application as the base for local government funding.
I accept that some Senators might put forward a compelling case for moving to such a model but I am outlining my view that it would be a significant shift from the purpose of a valuation model. It is imperative to maintain certainty and predictability for ratepayers, for local authorities trying to plan the provision of local services, as well as for other stakeholders between revaluations, which is a fundamental principle of the rating system. Fluctuations in the economic performance of a company or other entity in the occupation of a property would not be measurable in a real estate context and would prove almost impossible to implement in a fair and equitable way. The physical characteristics and features of a property are the only criteria that actually can be surveyed and quantified on a uniform basis in arriving at rates. This is also a fair point because if one gets into the profitability level, how does one compare a butcher's premises with that of a jeweller, rather than just looking at physical characteristics? The use of business values and buoyancy may be used for the assessment of other taxes, such as VAT and corporation tax, but not for a local valuation-based property tax.
Arising from what I see in my own constituency, I strongly believe we must get better at revaluing and doing so efficiently. The overarching aim of this Bill and the provision of outsourcing will arrive at that point. I contend that Members should allow the legislation to pass, the outsourcing to bed down and the process of revaluation to be examined. Members should then examine the timeframes, that is, the five to ten years, at another time. It is something that should be kept under review.
Government amendment No. 12: In page 22, to delete lines 38 to 40 and in page 23, to delete lines 1 to 9 and substitute the following:“Amendment of section 56 of Principal Act 30. Section 56 of the Principal Act is amended by substituting for subsection (1) the following:“(1) In this section—‘appropriate year’ means the financial year immediately following the effective date in relation to the valuation list that, for the time being, stands published in respect of the area of the rating authority concerned; ‘consumer price index number’ means the All Items Consumer Price Index Number compiled by the Central Statistics Office; ‘consumer price index number relevant to the appropriate year’ means the consumer price index number most recently published by the Central Statistics Office before the effective date mentioned in the definition of ‘appropriate year’ in this subsection; ‘consumer price index number relevant to the preceding year’ means the consumer price index number lastly published by the Central Statistics Office before the day that falls 12 months before the day on which the consumer price index number referred to in the preceding definition is published; ‘preceding year’ means the financial year that immediately precedes the financial year mentioned in the definition of ‘appropriate year’ in this subsection.”.”.
These are technical changes to the section that provides for the limiting of the aggregate amounts of rates that a local authority can collect in the year after revaluation. The order is made to assure ratepayers that a revaluation is about rebalancing the rates liability among ratepayers to reflect modern values and not about increasing the rates take. The amendments proposed will ensure that a rate limitation order does not simply apply to the first revaluation in a local authority area but can be made in respect of all subsequent revaluations. It also simplifies the definition of an "appropriate year". The other changes relate to the calculation of the consumer price index, CPI, quotient that is applied in the calculation of the maximum rate amount. The current wording may be ambiguous and this new wording is being proposed to clarify the calculation. Consequently, I view these amendments as being technical.
These are minor amendments to the new Part 12A, which provides in primary legislation that all land and buildings previously held by the Minister for Finance are transferred to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I flagged these amendments on Committee Stage. The first is a correction of a simple referencing error. Sections 56A, 56C and 56D referred to the commencement of section 35 of the Valuation (Amendment) Act 2014 and these references should be to section 31 instead. The second amendment is to change the reference to "Minister" in sections 56A, 56C and 56D to "Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform". The Valuation Office will be merging with Ordnance Survey Ireland and the Property Registration Authority and the new entity, to be known as Tailte Éireann, will be the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The functions of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform under the Valuation Act 2001 shortly will transfer to the Minister for Justice and Equality. However, the functions in the new Part 12A will remain with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, which is why this minor change is being made. It arise for the purpose of clarity.
This is a correction of a simple cross-referencing error. The Bill, as published, would have inserted a section 26H but after amendments made on Committee Stage and with consequent renumbering, there no longer will be a section 26H. The references in section 65 should be to section 26G and that is the purpose of these amendments.
Government amendment No. 23: In page 27, to delete lines 19 to 22 and substitute the following:“(b) in paragraph 4—(i) by substituting for subparagraph (2) the following:“(2) The Tribunal may, where it considers it appropriate, determine an appeal on the basis of written documentation submitted to it without holding a hearing under paragraph 5 of this Schedule.”, and(ii) by inserting after subparagraph (3) the following:“(4) The Tribunal shall cause that judgement to be published by such means as it decides are appropriate (and the Internet may be the means of such publication).”,”.
This is a relatively simple amendment to try to remove any doubt about the Valuation Tribunal's entitlement to publish the judgments of the tribunal. The tribunal does currently publish judgments and has an implied discretion, even a duty, one would argue, to publish them. The publication of judgments has not been questioned but it has been advised that the tribunal be provided with express statutory powers to put the matter beyond doubt and this Bill is an appropriate place to do that.
Government amendment No. 24: In page 28, to delete lines 12 to 22 and substitute the following:“ “4A. (1) Any building or part of a building used exclusively for community sport, and otherwise than for profit and not being the premises of a club for the time being registered under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act 1904.(2) In this paragraph ‘community sport’ means sport, the principal participants in which are—(a) inhabitants of the locality in which the building concerned (or part of the building concerned) is situate, (b) inhabitants of localities neighbouring the first-mentioned locality, or (c) in the case of sporting activities involving teams and with the consent of those responsible in the first-mentioned locality for organising sporting activities in that locality, persons from any geographical area.4B. (1) Any building or part of a building used exclusively for community sport and otherwise than for profit, and being the premises of a club for the time being registered under the Registration of Clubs (Ireland) Act 1904, but not including any building or part of a building—(a) used on a regular or occasional basis for the sale or consumption of alcohol or in conjunction with the sale or consumption of alcohol, or (b) used directly or indirectly in the generation of income, not being—(i) club membership fees, (ii) income received from community organisations for the use of the building or part for community purposes, or (iii) income received from participants in community sport for the use of the building or part for the purposes of community sport.(2) In this paragraph ‘community sport’ has the same meaning as it has in paragraph 4A of this Schedule but with the modification that, in the case of subparagraph (1)(b)(iii) of this paragraph, the definition of that expression in that paragraph 4A shall be read as if for ‘the principal participants in which are—’ there were substituted ‘the principal participants in which are, ordinarily—’.”,”.
This amendment is the one I am most eager to implement. I have heard from Senators on all sides of the House about this matter. Senator Keane has taken a particular interest in this area and has spoken to me about it. Senator van Turnhout also raised the issue on Committee Stage as, I think, did Senator Byrne. I acknowledge the calls from Senators on Committee Stage for a more favourable rates treatment of child care providers. Since the conclusion of Committee Stage I and the Department officials have considered the valuation and rateability of child care in detail. I have been determined to try to do something. It has not been easy to get this right but what we are doing today is a very constructive step forward for the child care sector. This is not the first time this issue has been considered but it was the subject of a comprehensive review, including consultation with relevant stakeholders.
In this Bill we are dealing mainly with technical amendments to facilitate the acceleration of the national revaluation programme and to make changes to correct deficiencies identified since the Valuation Act 2001 came into force. We have to respect sound valuation and rating principles, one of which is that occupiers of a property who operate with the intention of making a profit are rateable. I am therefore working within tight constraints. That is the purpose of valuation. If one operates to make a profit one is rateable. Therefore, the flexibility for exemption from rates is limited. The rate system cannot be seen as a means of support for a particular sector. As has been said in the past, where the State wants to, and can, support a sector it can do so in many policy ways. This is what the State does in giving substantial and quite correct direct supports to the child care sector. It may not be sufficient. One would argue it never is but any meaningful response is not to be found in a rates exemption. That would make only a minor contribution to the sector but would involve breaking fundamental valuation and rating principles.
I have put significant work into this with the officials and stakeholders and I propose to extend the exemptions for child care to those that operate on a not-for-profit basis. I hope this will be welcomed on all sides of the House. I am doing this to bring greater equity and clarity to the not-for-profit sub-set of the child care sector. The application of the rates system by local authorities regarding not-for-profit child care is inconsistent and the distinction between charitable providers who are exempt and not-for-profit providers can be a subtle one that wastes the resources of not-for-profits, which are already busy providing vital community services, by challenging their status before the valuation tribunal. This is an improvement to the system.
I recognise that it does not go as far as those who argue for an exemption for the whole child care sector would like, and I can understand that argument. For the reasons I have outlined, however, I cannot acquiesce to that. I think my proposals today are a welcome and positive step forward. My understanding is that there could be up to 1,000 not-for-profit child care providers in the country and if this amendment is passed I hope it will bring consistency to their treatment and make absolutely clear that they are exempt from rates.
I wholeheartedly welcome this change in the legislation for the not-for-profit sector, particularly because it serves many people who cannot afford to pay for early childhood care and education. The State has provided only one free pre-school year, which is educational. Education should be provided from the womb to the tomb, but particularly between the ages of three and six, as it is in every other European country. I welcome the amendment which helps the people who really need the early childhood pre-school care and education because they cannot afford it.
The sector could be divided between the for-profit part, which covers the ages from four to six and the early childhood part, the crèches, which do not make a profit. One could say the people who work there do so voluntarily to provide what the State should provide as other states in Europe do. Sweden provides 33%. Those providers should get some recognition. If the for-profit providers were analysed it would be found that the care for three to six year olds makes a profit but the care for nought to three year olds does not. A specific recommendation from the troika this year was to ensure that Ireland had more child care. This is one of the ways we must go about it. Let me not do down the good announcement for the not-for-profit sector but there is more to do.
Senator Keane makes a very compelling argument. The provision of child care is a policy objective on which we have to do better, which I think is agreed by all parties.
The valuation element has a very small role. When I had an opportunity in this Bill to engage with Senators on all sides of the House I was asked to find out how much one could do. This was not originally envisaged when the Bill was published. We have managed to rectify an anomaly whereby councils interpreted not-for-profit differently. This caused considerable stress. I met some of the not-for-profits who, as Senator Keane rightly says, provide child care for families which are often under financial pressure. They have better things to do than be stressed out by local authorities considering their not-for-profit role. We have already had an exemption for charitable child care providers and for the early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme only. I saw the not-for-profit sector as the next obvious grouping.
While I am not unsympathetic to the argument or the difficulties and challenges in the child care sector, extending a rates exemption to those who provide a service, or aspire to provide a service, for profit would be seen as inequitable by other rate payers. If a business is set up for the purpose of making a profit, regardless of whether it makes a profit, is it right for the State to intervene and decide which profitable or potentially profitable business is more worthy of an exemption? That would be quite a move away from the valuation system. I have no doubt that this debate will continue and I hope this amendment brings welcome relief to approximately 1,000 child care providers around the country who give a very important service on a not-for-profit basis.
Government amendment No. 26: In page 28, to delete line 29 and substitute the following:“ “Exchequer”, and (d) by inserting the following after paragraph 20 (inserted by the Health Service Executive (Financial Matters) Act 2014):“21. Any land, building or part of a building used exclusively for the provision of early childhood care and education, and occupied by a body which is not established and the affairs of which are not conducted for the purpose of making a private profit.”.”.
Government amendment No. 27: In page 29, to delete lines 21 to 28 and substitute the following:“Transitional provisions (sections 42 to 44) – general statement as to their effect, including clarification as to their scope 40.(1) Sections 42to 44provide that, in respect of certain cases in which steps under the Principal Act have already been taken before the relevant date, the Principal Act shall have effect in its un-amended form, but this is subject to sections 42(2) and 43(1). (2) Unless the contrary is provided by sections 42to 44, the fact that a step under the Principal Act had already been taken before the relevant date shall not in itself prevent the Principal Act, as it stands amended by this Act, from having effect in relation to the case concerned. (3) In particular, the Principal Act, as amended by this Act, shall, on and from the relevant date, have effect in relation to any case in which, before that date—(a) a valuation order has been made, and (b) no copy valuation certificates (relating to properties situated in the rating authority area specified in the valuation order) have been issued under section 26 of the Principal Act.(4) In this section “relevant date” has the meaning assigned to it by section 41(2)(d).”.
These transitional provisions are required to clarify whether the Valuation Act as it stands, prior to the enactment of this Bill, or the Act as amended by this Bill, will apply to cases that are already in the system so to speak. The basic principle being followed in these transitional provisions is that if a decision has been taken and communicated to the person concerned prior to the enactment of this Bill, the unamended Act will apply right through to the conclusion of that case, even if this will involve many more steps, including appeals to the commissioner of the tribunal or the courts. For new cases entering the system after the commencement of this Bill, as enacted, the amended legislation will apply.
Government amendment No. 28: In page 29, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:“Transitional provisions – interpretation of sections 42 to 44 41. (1) Where, in any provision of sections 42 to 44, it is provided that the Principal Act shall have effect in its un-amended form, the provision shall be read as meaning that the Principal Act shall have effect as it had effect immediately before the relevant date (as defined in subsection (2) for the purposes of those sections). (2) In sections 42to 44—(a) a reference to a copy valuation certificate, under a particular section of the Principal Act, is a reference to a copy of a valuation certificate, provision for the issue of which is made by that section; (b) a reference to a word or expression that is also used in the Principal Act shall be read in the manner in which it is to be read by virtue of the Principal Act; (c) “application for revision” means an application for there to be exercised, in relation to a property, the powers conferred by section 28 of the Principal Act; (d) “relevant date” means the date of commencement of the provision of this Act that amends the provisions of the Principal Act that are relevant to the steps taken in the cases mentioned in section 42, 43or 44, as the case may be.”.
Government amendment No. 29: In page 29, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:“First category of transitional cases – where copy valuation certificates issued under section 26 of Principal Act 42.(1) Where—(a) a valuation order has been made before the relevant date, and (b) one or more copy valuation certificates under section 26 of the Principal Act, relating to properties situated in the rating authority area specified in the valuation order, have been issued under that section before that date, then, on and from the relevant date, the Principal Act shall, in its un-amended form, have effect in relation to— (i) the copy valuation certificates, and (ii) the eventual valuation certificates issued under section 24 and the valuation list, published on foot of that order, but this is subject to subsection (2).(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to section 24 of the Principal Act which section, as amended by this Act, shall have effect in relation to the matters referred to in that subsection.”.
Government amendment No. 30: In page 29, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following:“Second category of transitional cases – where one or more of the steps in revision process have not been completed 43. (1) Where, before the relevant date—(a) an application for revision has been made, and (b) there has not been issued to the applicant a copy valuation certificate, or a notice, under section 29 of the Principal Act,then, on and from the relevant date, the Principal Act, as amended by this Act, shall have effect in relation to that application (including all steps and stages consequent on that application). (2) Where—(a) before the relevant date—(i) an application for revision has been made, and (ii) there has been issued to the applicant a copy valuation certificate, or a notice, under section 29 of the Principal Act,and (b) there has not been issued, before the relevant date, a valuation certificate or notice under section 28 of the Principal Act to the applicant,then, on and from the relevant date, the Principal Act shall, in its un-amended form, have effect in relation to that application (including all steps and stages consequent on that application).”.
Government amendment No. 31: In page 29, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following: “Third category of transitional cases – where valuation or revision process completed but time for appeal has not elapsed or appeal not fully determined 44. (1) Where, before the relevant date, there has been issued to a person a valuation certificate or a notice under section 28, 33 or 40 of the Principal Act or a valuation list has been published under section 23 of that Act (and the case does not fall within section 40(3)), and—(a) before that date there has not elapsed (in relation to the relevant person’s entitlement to appeal), as appropriate—(i) the period of 40 days specified in section 30(1) of the Principal Act, (ii) the period of 28 days specified in section 34(2) of that Act, or (iii) the period of 28 days specified in section 40(5) of that Act,or(b) before that date—(i) the relevant person has appealed against the matter concerned to the Commissioner under section 30 of the Principal Act but the Commissioner has not determined the appeal, or (ii) the relevant person has appealed against the matter concerned to the Tribunal under section 34 or 40 of the Principal Act but the Tribunal has not determined the appeal,then, on and from the relevant date, the Principal Act shall, in its un-amended form, have effect as respects—(i) the relevant person’s entitlement to appeal (and the entitlements and obligations of any other person), and (ii) all steps and stages consequent on any such entitlement being invoked,in relation to that valuation list, valuation certificate or notice. (2) In this section “relevant person” means the person to whom the valuation certificate or notice referred to in subsection (1) has been issued or, as the case may be, any other person referred to in section 30(1).”.
I sincerely thank Senators on all sides of the House, my party spokesperson, Senator Sheahan, Senator O'Keeffe and Senator Hayden, who led for the Government, Senator Byrne who led ably for his party, Fianna Fáil, Senator Reilly, who is not here but who contributed, and Senators Quinn and Barrett for their engagement. I know Senator van Turnhout could not be here today but made an important contribution to the child care debate as well. This House certainly put me through my paces. I very much enjoyed it - largely. We have better legislation at the end of this process than we had at the beginning of it. I sincerely thank everyone for that. I also sincerely acknowledge the great work of my excellent officials sitting with me here today and in the Visitors Gallery. I know all of the Senators who dealt with them found them extremely open and amenable to talking through aspects of the Bill, and I acknowledge the significant engagement they undertook with the interested bodies, like the Irish Hotels Federation and the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland. That engagement has led to better legislation. I hope it has shown Parliament in a good light, where we have worked constructively. I thank the Seanad for the passage of this legislation.
I was informed by my colleague, Senator Leyden, that when legislation is passed, the spokesperson is invited back to the office for a brandy or a whiskey. Those days are over, I think, at this stage. One feels like that after the lengthy passage-----
The Minister of State was not the Minister for the entire passage of this Bill. For the record, I will go through what happened with this Bill. It was published in 2012 and nothing happened for a year. Just before the referendum on the Seanad in September last year, it came to the House for Second Stage. Serious concerns were raised across all sides of the House. Senator Coghlan, being in industry and business himself, was also heavily involved on the Fine Gael side, as well as the spokespersons. We raised serious constitutional concerns at that stage in the Seanad. At that time, it is fair to say, the Government looked at it again, spoke to the stakeholders, and came back on Committee Stage. Deputy Harris had just that day been appointed Minister of State and he came into the Seanad. Perhaps he would have benefited from a little bit more time before that. However, we were not satisfied on Committee Stage and we called many votes to indicate our displeasure with what was being put forward. In fairness, on Report Stage, it is clear that the Minister of State's officials and the stakeholders have had a significant input into this Bill.
I have been critical of the pre-legislative discussion by committees, describing it as a waste of time on occasion. However, it would have been hugely beneficial in this case. The discussions that took place between the various interest groups which were to the benefit of the Bill should have taken place in the open at a committee. In future, that is where this type of discussion should happen. I am not imputing anything. I worked with all these people myself and discussed things with them. However, it would have worked better in that forum. I am not sure the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform would have had the time to deal with pre-legislative scrutiny of this sort of legislation. However, it would have been of benefit because these issues would have come out into the open, been discussed, and other organisations who did not do anything about this Bill but whose members would be affected by it may have got involved. In truth, very few organisations representing members came forward to give suggestions and they spent money getting legal opinions on this that will, as it happened, benefit many other businesses whose representative bodies did not make any contact with me, for one. I do not know if they contacted the Government.
That is the process we have gone through. We have a better Bill, although it still has to go to the Dáil. This was a Seanad Bill, and in talking about the Seanad, not many second houses of parliament can initiate legislation let alone amend it significantly in the way we have done here. It has shown what Parliament can do, but the system can be improved further. I support this Bill as it goes forward. It is acceptable. It changes the system a bit. I thank the chairman of the Meath county board, Mr. Conor Tormey, Mr. Pat O'Brien from Duleek soccer club and the Meath and district league soccer club, with whom I consulted on the amendment on Committee Stage relating to sports clubs. They came back with feedback. They are very grateful for the changes made on that today.
I compliment the Minister of State and his officials. We can hold up this Bill for the way it has been enhanced. Senator Byrne can be obstreperous the majority of the time. On this Bill, however, he has been more than co-operative and his engagement has been very positive as well. One has to say that there is better legislation as a result leaving this House going to the other House. Again, the Minister of State has to be complimented because, as Senator Byrne has said, he had just been appointed and he was landed with this. I am sure there are some far more senior Ministers who would not like to be handling this. It is very technical.
One thing sticks in my mind, and Senator Byrne is very strong on this. Negotiations were ongoing with the relevant parties and bodies while the Bill was going through this House, and we saw the fruit of that. That was very positive. The Minister of State must be commended on the way he does his work.
I found it very interesting to get involved in this Bill and to seek help, particularly that of the Minister of State's officials. I was hoping to see them yesterday, and while I could not make it on that occasion, I appreciate the offer of help. It is a much better Bill now than it was when it started. It has come about from the work the Minister of State's officials and this House have put into it, but more than anything else from the reception the Minister of State has given it. He certainly has an ability to listen to what is being said and to take into account many of those things. It is a better Bill. It is going to improve. Some changes can still be made in the other House. That is the Minister of State's responsibility on that occasion. We in this House can look back on this Bill and say it has left here in a better state than it was, and it could even be improved again. That is very much due to the efforts of the Minister of State and his officials and the Members of this House.
I thank the Minister of State. Perhaps people looking on might think we are indulging in a moment of self-congratulation. I think otherwise. It is important that we put on the record that when a Minister listens and there has been a collaborative effort with people who had issues, ideas and thoughts, it results in better legislation. No set of officials, no matter how hard they work or how experienced they are, and they are experienced, can possibly come up with all the answers. No Minister can either. We are constantly berated here, there and everywhere for not listening, not co-operating and not collaborating. Neither is it the case that Senator Byrne is obstreperous all the time.
It is an example of the fact that people who oppose do so less violently, more carefully and more constructively when somebody is listening. A better result is obtained. If there was ever a lesson in the value of collaboration, we have seen it here with this Bill, and particularly, as the others have pointed out, where the Minister of State arrived in and was flung in at the deep end. He has taken the time and the effort to listen. We all appreciate that, not just for the value for this Bill and this House but for the value placed in Parliament in general. We will hold it up as an example and perhaps encourage others to take this example and follow it.
I echo what Senator O'Keeffe and others have said.
The Minister of State showed mastery of his brief and his officials were most courteous in dealing with Members. He showed flexibility in changing times in business and he appreciated the role of sport in Irish society. As he said, he made a gesture, in so far as he could in this Bill, towards the problem of child care, which we must address across a range of Departments. I thank the Minister of State who I think I said took to this like a duck to water on the first day he came to the House. He mastered this, which is to his credit.
Normally, every Member does not thank the Minister but I could not let the opportunity go by without saying that I read last week that no Opposition amendments are accepted in the Dáil. The Seanad has shown, in particular today, that it can make better legislation, which will go to the other House. We have two ears for listening, but only one mouth, and the Minister of State demonstrated that today. I congratulate him, in particular in regard to the child care issue. We did not get everything we wanted but the Minister of State is still listening. We hope for the best down the road. This is a good day for the Seanad and I hope the press takes note of that as well as of the bad things that happen in politics.
I sat in on most Stages of this Bill and listened with great interest. I come from the legal profession and I found it very interesting because, over the years, I had many battles with the Valuation Office in Ely Place, if it is still there. I express appreciation to the Minister of State and his officials on the way this Bill was dealt with. I think it is the first time I have ever commented in my position as Leas-Chathaoirleach. The debate was very open and transparent and it epitomised what can be achieved where there is robust debate and when a Minister and officials listen and take things on board. There were several amendments to the Bill and the Lower House will find it very difficult to improve on what has been achieved here today and on other days.
I compliment my colleagues on both sides of the House who, in some instances, engaged in robust debate. However, it dignifies the legislation when debate is allowed. The Minister of State has a very fresh approach, which I, as Leas-Chathaoirleach, would like to acknowledge. It does this House proud when we have a fruitful debate. It is also the case that more legislation could be initiated in the Seanad. I wish the Minister of State well. The Bill will now pass but it was important to make those comments.