Building Societies Bill, 1988: Report and Final Stages.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 12, line 10, after "housing loan" to insert ", made on or after the commencement of section 22,".

In the course of the Committee Stage debate on this subsection Deputy Shatter queried whether existing fixed interest rate housing loans — on this provision coming into operation — could be subject to redemption fees again. This amendment was drafted with the intention not to interfere with the present position in regard to existing housing loans, but, in view of the Deputy's point made on Committee Stage, I am tightening up the drafting to make sure that the relaxation of the ban will apply only to fixed rate housing loans made after the commencement of the operation of the provisions of section 22. The protection afforded by the 1986 Act will be maintained even in the case of fixed interest loans.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 1a in the name of Deputy Quinn. I might draw the attention of Members to the fact that amendment No. 1b is related. Therefore, with the agreement of the House, it is proposed to take amendments Nos. 1a and 1b together for discussion purposes.

I move amendment No. 1a:

In page 50, line 12, after "directors" to insert "at least one of whom shall be a woman".

I indicated earlier that I would raise this matter on Report Stage. I sought advice as to the precise format of this amendment. I am conscious of the fact that on Report Stage in accordance with the rules of the House I can make one contribution only. Therefore, I will endeavour to be as comprehensive and concise as is possible.

The principle is very clear. We had a substantial debate on the issues surrounding this on Committee Stage. The Minister has had advance notice of my intention to table an amendment. I apologise for the fact that, because of its precise formulation, it was not tabled as quickly as I should have liked. However, if one takes amendments Nos. 1a and 1b together, one sees it is quite clear that the principle of at least one third of the directors of any building society as constituted within the framework of the provisions of this Bill when enacted — hopefully within the term of this 25th Oireacthas — will be women.

One might well ask: why do I put forward this proposal? I do so for the following reasons. The first is I believe that the outrageous attempts to date to prevent women from being elected to the boards of building societies — with all the concerted might and apparatus of those institutions and administrations, particularly of one building society — constitute an affront to the majority of our people. It is also an affront to the majority of households, of which women form a critical and, in some cases, dominant part. This has its historical roots in the struggle for representation that a particular person, Muriel Scorer, fought, not merely on behalf of herself but on behalf of all women.

The second reason I put forward this proposal is that, increasingly, with the creation of single adult households — I am endeavouring to use the most technical phrase possible, in many cases because of the failure of Irish society to deal comprehensively with marital breakdown and the formation of second households — the problems with which women in particular are confronted in the first family home, or in attempting to establish a second, are quite substantial. At the highest level in building societies — by that I mean their boards of directors — there need to be people who can relate to, who can empathise and sympathise with, who have friends or who have had themselves direct experience of the problems to which I refer.

The third reason is that, increasingly — and there has been demographic research carried out within the Department of the Environment to underpin this point — we can expect a larger percentage of household formation to emanate from single women, or women as heads of households in a manner that has not been the case historically heretofore. Their needs, in terms of borrowers as well as investors, should be adequately recognised and represented.

I began on a pragmatic basis because I do not really feel the present Government have a commitment to equality to the extent I believe they should or certainly to the extent of my party. The fourth reason I put forward this proposal is a fundamental one of equality. It is about time we structured equality into institutions such as building societies because of their size and importance.

I would ask the Minister to accept these two related amendments, the core of the intent being contained in amendment No. 1b. Amendment No. 1a is a logical extension of the principle, but the principle is one third. There is no shortage of talent and there is no shortage of ability. The building societies themselves have recognised the need to move, albeit at a very slow pace, to try to have female representation on their boards.

If I could anticipate an argument which might come from the other side of the House it would be as follows: it is not for this House to prescribe the manner in which the composition of the board of directors should be composed, therefore, we have no right prescribing the way they should be elected. We have gone into extraordinary detail in sections 50, 51, 52, 53 and so on to regulate the way in which people would be elected, the way in which they are appointed, the way in which they shall retire and so on, but because of an unease in the past, we have given ourselves the right and the power to regulate the manner in which these people are elected so as to satisfy standards of democracy. I put it to the Minister that standards of democracy in 1989 — the last remaining 11 years of this century, and the last year of this decade — require that these standards be extended to ensure equal representation of both sexes.

The Minister did have advance notice of his intentions in this matter and I thank him for the manner in which he has dealt with that. We discussed the matter at some length on Committee Stage. I was hoping that the Deputy might have reflected upon his intention and perhaps decided that it was not proper to pursue it at this time in this legislation for the purposes which he has outlined.

In the course of the Committee Stage debate, both Deputy Quinn and Deputy Shatter referred to the lack of female representation on the boards of building societies. They suggested that there should be a provision in the Bill requiring that each building society would have at least one woman amongst its directors. I said then that I could think of two women who were directors of societies, and, since then, I took the trouble to check it out. I would now like to inform Deputies that five of the ten building societies have a woman on the board. I was hoping that, had Deputy Quinn sought that information and realised that half of our building societies already had female representation on their boards, he would have considered that things were moving properly in that regard. The position is not quite as bad as was suggested, or as was thought, by Deputies last week. It has improved significantly in the past few years. That is not to say that I would be completely happy with the present state of affairs as to female representation on the boards. Like the Deputies, I too would like to see women more strongly represented. However, I do not believe that these amendments are the right way to go about it.

You would be surprised.

A statutory intervention of the type proposed in these amendments would be a serious interference with the democratic right of members to elect as directors the persons that they consider most suitable. Building societies are private sector institutions——

Which we are purporting to regulate.

——the directors of which are elected by the members to run the society on their behalf. I believe in allowing the members to do their own choosing. That is the ultimate in democracy——

What good is that?

——and to direct them to do certain things for certain people would not be in accordance with the true principles of democracy, as seemed to be enunciated by Deputy Quinn in his original proposals.

They are not State bodies where directors are appointed by the Minister. Had that been the case, Deputy Quinn's argument would have much greater validity. Yet legislation on State bodies has not gone as far as these amendments. It seems extraordinary that the Deputy would be pursuing the matter now for the private sector when he has not been pressing the issue in the State sector, where, obviously, we would have a better opportunity of considering his proposition.

I did it.

I am sure the Deputy will wish to pursue that matter again at a later time so far as the State bodies are concerned, but why he would jump into the private sector to pursue his point of view at this time I cannot understand.

The Housing Finance Agency Acts do not require that there should be even one woman on the agency board, let alone one third of the directors. This agency is in the same line of business as the societies. I think the Deputy has overdone it so far as amendment No. 1b is concerned. Be that as it may, in an election as we have in the appointment of building society directors, any statutory requirement of the kind suggested is fraught with difficulty. Take the position in this House as a good analogy. We would all like to see more women elected to the House——

They will get a chance shortly to do that.

——and we speak about that every time an election is talked about but it has never been seriously suggested that there should be some legislative requirement that any proportion of the seats be reserved for women, because to do so would be a serious interference with the democratic process. I have never heard Deputy Quinn, nor any other Deputy, suggest that it should be laid down in legislation that so many women would occupy the seats of this House, irrespective of any other consideration. We can encourage women to take a more active part in political life, to take a more active part in institutions of any kind, and we can encourage and facilitate the election of women in societies, but we should not try to impose that on the members.

The provisions in the Bill — and this is worth repeating — strengthen the democratic procedures for director elections in societies. If women members of societies wish to elect fellow women to the boards, they will, of course, have a better opportunity now of doing so than they ever had before. The legislation goes quite a distance to make that possible, and I think that was conceded by Deputy Quinn on Committee Stage. The democratic procedures for the holding of elections are being laid down in legislation in a very tight way and that will ensure fair play and the highest standards so far as the election of directors is concerned.

I would like to encourage women heads of households to get involved in that process and I think they will. Now they will recognise that the new statutory regulations laid down for the election of members to become directors of these institutions is fair and above board for all. In fact, we go even further than that, we are going to have independent supervision of those elections. That is a major feature that has not been highlighted outside yet, and it is an innovative provision. The report of that supervision will have to be made to the Central Bank, which will have to be satisfied that the election of directors is not just seen to be fair, but is fair.

On a more detailed level, Deputy Quinn's amendments would not sit too well with other important provisions in the Bill governing the appointment of directors. For example, the fundamental requirement at section 50 (1) requires that all directors be elected to office. The amendments would also be inconsistent with subsections (2), (3), (8) and (10). Therefore, the amendments could not be inserted without a full reconsideration and extensive redrafting of sections 50 and 51. Futhermore, the transitional position would have to be provided for too. Deputy Quinn, being a good legislator, recognises when he puts that into context with his suggested amendments — so far as the rejigging of the whole framework of sections 50 and 51 is concerned — that that would be an extraordinary change.

You could give a full day to it next week.

I have to say that the House has been most helpful in getting this legislation to where it is. That will surely be seen as a serious effort on the part of the House, irrespective of the other legislation put through the House.

If the atmosphere does not break——

If Deputy Quinn's attitude towards the processing of legislation from my Department had prevailed upon some of his pals who sit behind him but who are now not to be seen on those benches and who I hope will be non-existent before too long, we would have got a lot more of our legislation through. It is a pity we could not have got that accommodation during the few late sittings when we spent much time discussing things. I am sorry for going off on a tangent, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but it is worth saying that we spent many hours discussing things but could not even get through one subsection of a section.

Does the Minister think he will not be here next week?

I will be here and the Government will be sitting next week. Has Deputy Quinn considered what will happen if no woman presents herself for election? Where a man and a woman are nominated for election and the proportion of women on the board is less than one third, are the members to be deprived of exercising their right to vote?

The details can be worked out.

Deputy Quinn's objective is laudable and I have to accept that he is doing it in the best interests, as he sees it, of the future of the building society movement, but I am afraid his proposal is not practical at this time. I recognise, of course, that there is an increasing number of women as heads of households but there is nothing to stop women from getting more involved and seeking positions through the democratic process, which is now been laid down in a very fair and equitable way. As the years go by, I hope they will seek office and have greater representation. We have come a fair way and half the societies have female representation on their boards. Hopefully, that will increase as time goes on, but in the meantime I ask Deputy Quinn to recognise that it is not possible and it is not a practical step to what he suggests at this time.

I think the spirit of what Deputy Quinn is trying to achieve should be accepted by the Minister. It is not necessarily the function of Opposition spokespersons to act as draftspersons but it is up to us to point out the deficiencies. Clearly Deputy Quinn's amendments underline a serious problem and one that was highlighted in a controversial way in the case of recent battles by one lady who wanted to establish herself on the board of a building society. I would prefer to deal with this issue and the general question of representation on boards by means of a Bill which would cut across State, semi-State and private companies generally, which would deal positively with the issue of discrimination and would not necessarily single out the Building Societies Bill as the only or indeed the exclusive vehicle that would deal with the question of women directors. I would prefer that there would be a broad analysis of the understatement of women's contributions in the economic and infrastructural sector to try to redress that balance. I support that general principle. I do not believe that the intention of the amendment is anything other than laudable. It highlights what is a serious problem. I am often struck by the under-representation of women, not just on boards but at all levels. I recall an occasion when, for my then party, I was handling a Bill to deal with rape and when Deputies, including myself, were disadvantaged because of the under-representation of women. I think this is something that Government should address globally and without apology to any section of our society. It is an important issue.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity, as it may be the last opportunity one gets for the moment, to thank the Minister for the manner in which he has dealt with the debates in which I have been pleased to participate. I have always found him to be helpful, constructive and indeed genial. While conceding little ultimately, he has conceded where he has thought such concessions were genuinely in the interests of the Bill. I would prefer in a properly structured Oireachtas to deal with the minutiae of such issues in another forum which would be to the side of the main House and this would allow us to make speedier progress. The reason we do not get more legislation passed is highlighted by the manner in which some stages of the Bill were handled by some of the people referred to by the Minister and indeed by one or two to whom he did not refer.

The Bill is in essence a good Bill. I think it has been welcomed by everybody. However, I have no doubt that if you went through it line by line again, there would be some elements that could be improved. The issue highlighted by Deputy Quinn is one that I would like to see improved, a I think everybody here would. If the Minister has a proposal which would deal with this issue, either in this Bill or right across the board, we would support it. Having said that, I hope the Bill has a speedy passage and that it is effective in ensuring that this area is regulated in the way the Bill seeks to do, which is in accord with the public interest. I wish the Minister well in the Bill's passage through the Seanad and in any other exertions which might befall him in due course.

Amendment put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 57; Níl, 69.

  • Barnes, Monica.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Begley, Michael.
  • Birmingham, George.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Colley, Anne.
  • Cosgrave, Michael Joe.
  • Creed, Donal.
  • Crotty, Kieran.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Desmond, Barry.
  • Doyle, Avril.
  • Dukes, Alan.
  • Durkan, Bernard.
  • Enright, Thomas.
  • Farrelly, John V.
  • FitzGerald, Garret.
  • Fitzpatrick, Tom.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hegarty, Paddy.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Hussey, Gemma.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Keating, Michael.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kennedy, Geraldine.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McCartan, Pat.
  • McCoy, John S.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Mac Giolla, Tomás.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Naughten, Liam.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Pattison, Séamus.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheehan, P.J.
  • Sherlock, Joe.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Taylor-Quinn, Madeline.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Abbott, Henry.
  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Barrett, Michael.
  • Brady, Gerard.
  • Brady, Vincent.
  • Brennan, Matthew.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Seán.
  • Conaghan, Hugh.
  • Connolly, Ger.
  • Coughlan, Mary T.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Daly, Brendan.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • Dennehy, John.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fahey, Frank.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Fitzpatrick, Dermott.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Flynn, Pádraig.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Power, Paddy.
  • Reynolds, Albert.
  • Roche, Dick.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Stafford, John.
  • Swift, Brian.
  • Gallagher, Denis.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Hilliard, Colm Michael.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kirk, Séamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Lynch, Michael.
  • McCarthy, Seán.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • Mooney, Mary.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael J.
  • (Limerick West).
  • O'Dea, William Gerard.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Keeffe, Ned.
  • O'Kennedy, Michael.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • O'Rourke, Mary.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Tunney, Jim.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Walsh, Seán.
  • Woods, Michael.
  • Wright, G.V.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Howlin and Quinn; Níl, Deputies V. Brady and Browne.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment No. 1b not moved.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 76, line 19, to delete "a reliable" and substitute "reliable".

This amendment will improve the drafting and there is no material change in the meaning, so I ask the House to accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 105, line 15, after "freehold" to insert "or leasehold".

This amendment is necessary because the words "or leasehold" were inadvertently left out of the provision in the Bill when it was published.

Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 114, line 33, to delete "election" and substitute "re-election".

This is a drafting amendment to make the wording of subsection (11) consistent with subsection (13). The amendment makes no difference to the meaning of the provision, that is, for the purpose of section 50 which relates to the appointment of directors. A director will for the purpose of this Bill be regarded as having been elected to the office of director either (a) on the date of his or her first election or (b) on the date of his or her last re-election as the case may be.

That is very appropriate.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 5 in the name of an tAire. Amendment No. 6 is related. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 may be taken together by agreement. Agreed.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 122, line 3, to delete "to a direction" and substitute "to the direction".

Amendment No. 5 is a drafting amendment. As "the direction" is referred to at the start of the paragraph, the appropriate reference in line 3 is "the direction". Amendment No. 6 is another drafting amendment along the same lines as amendment No. 5.

Prepositions.

As "a direction" is referred to at the start of the paragraph, the appropriate wording in subparagraph (b) is "the direction".

Amendment agreed to.

For the technicality, amendment No. 6 has to be formally moved.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 122, line 30, to delete "a direction" and substitute "the direction".

Amendment agreed to.
Bill received for final consideration and passed.
Sitting suspended at 4.40 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.