European Financial Stability Facility Bill 2010: Committee and Remaining Stages

Section 1 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move amendment No. a1:

In page 4, before section 2, to insert the following new section:

"2.—The Minister shall not rely on any exemption set out in the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and 2003 in connection with a request for disclosure of material relating to the operation of this Act.".

The purpose of the amendment is to subject the Irish part of the operation of this legislation to the Freedom of Information Acts. On Second Stage, I raised the issue of the lack of information about NAMA, the absence of a business plan and the reports in today's newspapers about real estate opportunities and what might happen in regard to Battersea power station and the State's influence on, and participation in, that project as a consequence of NAMA.

I wish to explain to the Minister that the reason for that is central to this Bill. Europe and the eurozone area are experiencing an existential crisis. The markets are now treated as a god — it is ironic that God did not get a mention in the European Constitution but we now have another god in the bond markets. The stabilisation fund, which makes a lot of sense and which the Labour Party supports as an act of solidarity, is in effect a mechanism for putting a floor under countries such as Ireland, but also countries that have been even more in the news, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal which are under threat from the bond markets and may not be able to continue to obtain sovereign debt.

My reflection was on the Irish position. We are approaching the expiry date of the guarantee. We do not know what the debt cliff for Ireland is because we have not been given solid information by the Minister. In discussions last week he suggested that it might be €29 billion, but in answers to questions I put to him in April he suggested €74 billion. I do not know what the figures are, but I believe that as the Labour Party spokesperson on finance, I should have a line of information about the figures. Every other European Parliament has that facility.

Given that we are now part of this protective fund — this aspect is not in the Bill, but it is germane to the general discussion — there will in the future be enhanced EU scrutiny over our budgetary and debt affairs. That is why disclosure about NAMA is so important. Anybody who is assessing the debt of Ireland will not just count the existing debt, but also the debt arising from the bank guarantee and the cost of the bank bailouts, such as the €22 billion put into Anglo Irish Bank and the €3.7 billion put into Irish Nationwide, both of which are goners. That is about €27 billion that we have spent on two bank rescues, and we will be very lucky to see €3 billion of it, between the two banks, returned to us or made available for future banking requirements.

The price of the stabilisation fund for countries such as Ireland is enhanced EU surveillance of both our budgetary processes and our debt burdens. It is difficult to envisage the EU having those powers while the sovereign Irish Parliament does not have the same powers and does not have access to the information flow. Fianna Fáil sometimes carries on as though it were the only party of Government in this country either in the past or in the future. However, we have a parliamentary system and an Opposition, and the Opposition has a right, on behalf of the people, to have an account from Fianna Fáil of the implications for the country of the material that is in this Bill and the implicit commitments.

We are signing up to accept, in this arrangement, enhanced surveillance of our budget process and our debt process. We are doing that with no provision for the Irish Parliament — in particular, the Opposition — to be provided with at least the quality of information that will be made available to an unelected eurozone stabilisation fund management system. Herr Regling, who recently produced a very good report with Mr. Watson, is the new boss appointed by Europe to be head of the commission. He recently said that when he examined our property-based tax breaks, which he identified as a key cause of our collapse, he found, to his amazement, that they were three times larger than those of any other eurozone country. He confessed himself to being astonished at that.

Since the time I became Labour Party spokesperson — that is, from late 2002 or 2003 onwards — I have spent a vast amount of time seeking the truth about property-based tax breaks. I have sought their names and identifications and costings. Here we go again: we are now entering into a new procedure under which, down the road, it is quite possible that various European entities will solemnly advise the Government of Ireland to do this, that and the other with regard to our annual budget, spending, taxes, and debt liabilities. They will communicate in private with the Minister, the Government and the Department, and we will know nothing about it until we hear the announcements on budget day. This is unacceptable in a democracy.

When I spoke last year at the Humbert Summer School in Ballina, I mentioned that we needed fundamental reform, including an office of the commissioner of the budget, which would report to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. That model exists in a number of other countries, including the United States, and there is a similar model in the UK. Otherwise, we will have no information that will allow Members of the Dáil to exercise any influence or control over the consequences of Ireland's signing up to the stabilisation fund. I have said on behalf of the Labour Party that I am in favour of the stabilisation fund. It makes eminent sense to have such a solidarity package. However, it is not a free option for Ireland. It has enormous consequences for how we conduct our monetary and debt affairs as an independent country.

The purpose of the Labour Party amendment is to make this legislation the subject of the Freedom of Information Act. The stabilisation fund is not a federal institution, although it is seeking to have certain powers with regard to finance, budget and debt matters. The sovereign states remain sovereign and, therefore, at the very least, if Fianna Fáil wishes to protect our sovereign democracy, the least we can expect is a right of access to information. That is why I raised the issue of NAMA, which is in effect a secret organisation controlled by its board, the Department and the Minister for Finance.

There is a major story in all the newspapers today about a prominent company in NAMA whose two principals have made announcements that one of their companies posted a loss of €1 billion last year. The company is committed to a project at Battersea power station, and it is suggested in the newspapers that the cost of that development will be between €5 billion and €6 billion.

As the information comes from them and not from the Department of Finance, I am assuming this information is broadly reliable. They have indicated in their statements and information to journalists that they are hoping the Irish Government will allow them create some kind of special purpose vehicle for Battersea power station and it may well be that the Government, through NAMA, will be involved in financing that. There may perhaps be a very solid case for this but I am not initially persuaded.

It seems very odd that this country should be financing the rebuilding of the Battersea power station area and that part of London when, at the same time, there are 400,000 people unemployed in Ireland. I need to hear the argument. Most importantly, the information on this can be given in the public press. I and others here are Dáil spokespersons on finance and we have no idea about the dimensions of the story, how much of it is correct and whether the financial figures given are correct. I know that the same company, CREO, is shortly being listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. I asked the Minister of State a question whether the principals involved in those companies have given guarantees to the Government, in the context of NAMA, or whether they will be able to float off to Singapore and come back when the rest of us have spent the next decade sorting out the effects of the crash.

This is why freedom of information provisions in this legislation are important. It does not necessarily involve a huge amount of information being available. In any event, under the Lisbon treaty — as I am sure the Minister of State's officials will tell him — Europe will be committed to publishing much of this information and making it available. Why cannot Fianna Fáil accept that freedom of information should automatically apply to this legislation and be included in it? If we could understand what is the exit strategy of the guarantee, what is the debt overhang, what are the implications of the Treasury Holdings, REO and CREO announcements on the Battersea power station project in the media today, we might be in a position to evaluate it. As we do not have that information, it leads to people being extremely suspicious and rightly so.

My second example is that last week, the Minister refused to have the economic policies of the Government included in the various reviews or the commission of inquiry. Instead he said he had decided to send it to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service for its consideration. He was very expansive in saying that he would make any documents available, specifically, the minutes of the committee dealing with matters, I understand it is called the domestic standing group. I am waiting for that information but so far I have not received it. The Minister said he would make the Merrill Lynch report available because it did not recommend the blanket guarantee. We know this because both Mr. Regling and Professor Honohan disclosed this fact in their respective reports. We were never told by the Government.

I put it to the Minister of State that had there been more freedom of information to start with, when people like myself raised questions about the state of the banks and questions about the property-based tax breaks, it may have been less comfortable for Fianna Fáil but it might have helped to head off the severity of the subsequent crash. I cannot understand why the Government would not be more than happy to accept freedom of information applying in full to this legislation.

I support Deputy Burton's amendment. Deputy Burton has spoken on the main points. NAMA is not subject to freedom of information legislation. The Government introduced the NAMA Bill on foot of a draft business plan in which the figures were provided by the banks themselves. These figures were not independently verified. We were told there would be a business plan produced by the board but we have yet to see it. It is interesting that the plan will not be produced until the end of this month. The Minister stated in the House today that it will be published thereafter. We have no figures.

The Dáil is due to adjourn for the summer recess on 8 July. There needs to be a proper debate in the House on the NAMA business plan but instead we are getting front page stories in the newspapers which, it is clear, have been leaked. These are issues of concern to the taxpayer. We were elected to represent the taxpayer. NAMA will cost the taxpayer in the order of more than €45 billion. I cannot see how it can make a return of money for the taxpayer. The high-profile company, REO, has stated today it does not know whether NAMA has written off certain issues. Two elements are required. There needs to be a debate in the House on the NAMA business plan so that we can see what is happening. Second, the Minister needs to come before the House to give details in respect of what is in the public domain at this stage. The taxpayer is reading the front page ofThe Irish Times this morning and is asking what is happening. This is not good enough. It needs to be debated in the House.

The bank guarantee scheme is due to conclude at the end of September and there may be an extension until the end of December. This is a guarantee of €440 billion. By sheer coincidence this is the same figure as the figure listed in this Bill, the European Financial Stability Facility Bill. This illustrates the dimensions of the scale of the Irish bank guarantee scheme. This Bill will protect the euro and its €440 billion guarantee scheme. We are a population of 4 million people and with 13% of us unemployed. We need to get real. We need to have a proper debate in the House before the summer recess on the guarantee scheme. The Minister saying he can bring it in by statutory instrument is not acceptable. He is accountable to the House. We need a proper debate.

Deputy Burton is correct about the Merrill Lynch report. The report was referred to in Professor Honohan's report. The Merrill Lynch report stated that subordinated debt should not be included as part of the guarantee scheme. However, we see lower tier 2 tucked in at the end of the guarantee scheme. Many of the banks have converted subordinated debt that was outside the guarantee scheme into lower tier 2 and given a guarantee to the bondholders by exploiting the guarantee scheme to make that happen and at a cost to the taxpayer. They have brought subordinated debt, which was not included in the guarantee scheme, in by the back door.

They said this debt was lower tier 2 and would fall under the guarantee.

Who asked for the subordinated debt to be included? It was the banks who asked for this — AIB and Bank of Ireland. Therefore, we have on the one hand a reputable international firm like Merrill Lynch that does not include subordinated debt, but on the other we have two big banks who I presume asked the Minister for the Finance and the Taoiseach for subordinated debt to be included. As a result it has been.

The Government has played a three-card trick in terms of lower tier 2. We need a proper debate that will examine the wide-ranging issues in this regard. Between subordinated and senior debt, there is some €8 billion in Anglo Irish Bank currently. A question must be asked as to whether subordinated debt will be included in the new scheme. It appears it will not. However, will existing senior debt be included? In the context of Anglo Irish Bank, it should not be included. This would create a situation where the bondholders would share in the pain and we would save money on behalf of the taxpayer rather than put more into Anglo Irish Bank. We have already had one flush of the toilet for Anglo Irish Bank and do not need a second one.

We need a proper debate in the House on the business plan for NAMA. We need clarification from the Minister on the REO company and the two high-profile individuals involved in the development of the Battersea Power Station. What exactly is happening in that regard? We need clarity on how taxpayers money is being spent. The issue is accountability.

We also need a proper informed debate on the bank guarantee scheme. We want to analyse it line by line. We have time to do that. The scheme was introduced on 30 September and we backed it. However, we want greater detail on what will happen in this regard in the future. We have the time to deal with that and should use it.

Let us publish the Merrill Lynch report. As early as July 2008, I requested that the CEOs of the main banks would appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service. They told us the banking system was solid and robust. I also called for the Governor of the Central Bank to appear, who also said the system was solid and robust. I asked for Mr. Neary, the former CEO of the Financial Regulator to appear and was told the banks were solid and there were no problems with them. Merrill Lynch stated subordinated debt should not be included. In his report, Professor Honohan questioned whether subordinated debt should have been included and said it has cost the taxpayer money.

The Government is considering the introduction of property taxes and hitting the small man. Fianna Fáil is the big man's party, but we are elected to represent all citizens. People will read on the front page of today's newspapers that some high profile developers are seeking capital from NAMA. Fianna Fáil established NAMA, but there is no business plan for it. If the Minister went into a bank with a draft business plan, the bank would throw it back at him and tell him not to come back until he had a final plan. Irish people are entitled to see a final business plan for NAMA and are entitled to a debate on it in the House. I want confirmation that will happen.

There has been no requirement for the Taoiseach to express his views on the various reports, including the Regling and Honohan reports, that have been produced. The Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service is holding hearings. As Taoiseach and former Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Cowen should agree to appear before the committee. We should not need his agreement for this, but he should appear as a matter of course and accountability. The current Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, should also appear. These hearings should be held in public.

There should also be public hearings for the commission of inquiry. We need accountability and we need to restore the people's trust in the political system. Instead, all we have are leaks here and there to the media about what is being done, with the main players keeping quiet about what is happening. Government policy is dictated by Ministers, not officials. Officials implement policy and provide advice. We need information on the thought processes behind what has happened, particularly with regard to the tax incentive schemes. These were key elements to driving the property bubble over the edge and into the Irish Sea. I support the amendment.

I too support Deputy Burton's amendment. While I am opposed to the Bill, I am realistic enough to know it is likely to be passed this afternoon. It would be a better Bill for having some level of transparency attached to it. I will also support Deputy O'Donnell's amendments with regard to the laying before the Oireachtas of reports on matters connected with the Bill. This would lead to more openness and transparency and to accountability. I support the comments of Deputy Burton relating to events concerning the speculators and the Battersea Power Station. Vast amounts of taxpayers' money will be poured into something on which we have no fine detail. It is critical taxpayers' moneys are not spent until the Oireachtas has had an opportunity to debate the spending of such vast sums. That money could be spent, for example, on the retention of special needs assistants in school and so on.

The Minister is aware of and does not need a lecture from me on the acute needs that exist in society. I would like to see the €5 billion or €6 billion spent in more creative ways than, perhaps, will be the case. The proposed vast expenditure of money in that regard demonstrates that NAMA is about bailing out developers. This is confirmation of that if it was ever needed.

A preliminary remark — Deputy Burton accused Fianna Fáil of thinking it was the only party of Government. Most of her criticisms begin "Fianna Fáil did" this, that or the other and she rarely states "The Government did" this, that or the other.

It is difficult to notice the Green Party. Sometimes I forget about them. Perhaps I should replace Fianna Fáil with "The dominant party".

The Minister of State, without interruption please.

I am not in a position to accept this amendment. It would have the effect of exempting information under this facility to the existing standard protections of the freedom of information legislation with regard to commercially sensitive or confidential information of various kinds. Recently, we discussed the Freedom of Information Act, and if an amendment was to be made, that would have been the place to do it. I accept the point about the importance of information, but the release of commercially sensitive information must be structured rather than haphazard. Given the way freedom of information works, anybody can request information and what issues is not as structured as we would like.

The Deputy seeks to amend the Bill so that it ignores the terms of the Freedom of Information Act with regard to any request for information regarding loans made under this legislation. The Freedom of Information Act is a tried and tested mechanism for providing access to public information, subject to a carefully designed system of checks and balances, all in the public interest. Any request for information relating to loans under this new Bill can be dealt with effectively under freedom of information, taking account of the various safeguards in the Freedom of Information Act.

The purpose of this amendment, if accepted, would be to exclude the various provisions dealing with commercially sensitive information, agreements with other member states and the State's negotiating position, from being used as reasons to withhold sensitive information. Were the parties opposite to be in Government following the next election, it would be highly unlikely that they would accept the amendments they have tabled from their present position.

Deputy Burton's point about the European Union being an organisation of sovereign states and not a federal state is true. I might point out that under present procedures, stability reports, which effectively are reports to the European Union but which people here also can see and read at the same time, are published with the budget. I have stated in this Chamber previously that the interest of the European Union is overwhelmingly with the macroeconomic thrust of a budget, rather than with individual measures, except in so far as they have a particular impact on that. As is the case at present, in practice there will be a great deal of transparency, certainly once a budget is published, with regard to the transactions with the European Union. In a sense, the question to be raised, not only in respect of our budget but of every other eurozone budget, is whether it is consistent with the stability of the European Union. This already is implicit in the stability reports and programmes that are published with the budget but because of events that have happened, will be thrust forward much more.

If I may stray a little beyond the precise focus of the amendment, I was a colleague of Deputy Burton on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service between the years 2002 and 2007 and on the select committee from 2007 to 2008. I well recall and do not dispute her critical attitude to property incentives. I do not seek any particular foreknowledge or justification but I refer to a point about incentives that the Government did not follow properly. Even when they are given, and some of them, such as those pertaining to urban renewal and so on were very useful for a period, they should not be long drawn-out. They should be put in place and then removed. Moreover, some of the schemes introduced were of doubtful value even in the first place. The seaside scheme is one in question, for which the former Deputy McCreevy and Deputy Kenny dispute the credit. In fairness to Deputy Kenny, Westport looks good but I believe the scheme at Courtown, County Wexford was heavily criticised.

It is about how long such schemes were continued.

Yes. I did not debate that point. However, as was pointed out to Deputy O'Donnell in a recent debate, his party tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill seeking to introduce property incentives for primary health centres. The same lobbyists approached me and while I was polite and diplomatic, I did not bother referring the proposal to the Minister for Finance but told them to take a running jump at themselves because the medical profession in general are well paid and well rewarded. Far too much has been done in this regard. In the vast majority of instances, the beneficiaries of such schemes are those who have, or in the past at any rate had, a great deal of wealth and money. It almost has been a case of trying to sugar the pill of the impact of the taxation system on them, as though it needed to be sugared.

A Cheann Comhairle——

The Deputy might hear me out. It was as though the rigours of a top rate of tax of 41% and so on was much too much for such people to bear. Perhaps there also was an element of a suggestion that unless such incentives were in place here, such people might go to another jurisdiction where they could avail of incentives instead. I believe that Members rightly are highly critical in this regard. Moreover, the love affair with property must be broken once and for all. If it is worthwhile to build things in general, it should not require the subvention or incentivisation of the taxpayer. I acknowledge that when the country was much poorer, 20 years ago or more, there may have been a limited case for a period. The provisions of section 23 of the Finance Act 1981 and the urban renewal schemes did play a role at a certain period. However, it all went on for far too long and this criticism is universally accepted.

However, while Deputies Burton, O'Donnell and Morgan, have legitimate questions and concerns about the operation of NAMA and the guarantee scheme, they must be pursued in their own right. I do not believe they justify the inclusion of this amendment, which relates to the operation of the European Financial Stability Facility Bill.

By way of clarification, the tax incentive schemes were continued for too long and a premium was always paid on top. If a particular residential property was tax designated, there was a premium on the cost of that house. Two by-products arose from that. A young couple or ordinary person who bought a house on such an estate was completely compromised because effectively, they were paying over the odds. In addition, this had the effect of increasing the overall cost of housing on the general market. Tax designated houses were built that probably should never have been built and it all has crystallised in developer debt and in unaffordable mortgages being taken out by ordinary people. The latter now are the people who are in negative equity and those responsible for the construction of the former are the developers who have gone into NAMA and who are being helped by the taxpayer.

As for the particular instance of the primary medical centres, it is a stand-alone issue that has no knock-on effect on the wider economy. These tax incentives had implications for debt with the banks in respect of schemes being built and implications for ordinary mortgage holders who paid over the odds for houses. That fuelled the property bubble at a time when it should have been counter-cyclical. It was pro-cyclical in the extreme.

I thank the Minister of State for his interesting reply. It is helpful that we would reflect on tax incentives. It is obvious that they are meant to be used in depressed economies or to address non-activity. They should be fully costed and the dead weight involved in them should be clearly set out. They should also be for a limited period. They have their place in terms of financial measures but given the degree to which they have become discredited, one of the things the European Union review group will do when it arrives in this country is look askance at them. One needs to be careful strategically. That is where the Department of Finance and the Minister have fallen down badly. As the jewel in the crown in terms of tax incentives we have a lower rate of corporation tax with which not everyone agrees, but given our island status is in my view and that of most parties in the House something that is strategically important in attracting and retaining investment.

That is another reason to have public information. Corporation tax is the important incentive that this country should retain as a priority. My guess is that following both the Regling and Honohan reports that when the EU review group visits on the kind of missions that will be carried out as a consequence of the legislation this would be one of the first areas it will examine. If I was on the review group, that would the first area I would examine. In his reply to a question posed in the committee by a Fianna Fáil member to Mr. Regling about whether the country had failed, Mr. Regling got quite philosophical and asked how we could have failed when the average income in the country is still above the EU level. That spoke volumes about his mindset in terms of what he thought was this country's capacity for taking more in terms of pain and cuts.

The various parties in the Dáil are competent in regard to information. The Department of Finance does not have to think that the Members of the Opposition are children from which all information is to be hidden and it is only to be dragged out. However, if I become Minister for Finance next week, then I am to be the repository of all information. The approach to information is childish. It may be that the Department would say its only duty is to advise the Minister of the day but given the changes that are implicit in the Bill and the EU oversight that is coming, we must do some hard thinking about structural, institutional change both within this House and within Government as to how we respond to the new situation.

It is obvious that we must try to reduce the debt burden because all the indications are that the bond markets, the gods, are spooked and they will not get over that probably for a considerable period. Therefore, we will be subject to a great deal of scrutiny. Some of the people within the EU are really strong deficit hawks. That means they do not mind seeing mass unemployment continue over a long period. They want draconian fiscal austerity. To quote Senator Eoghan Harris, they almost want to see "the blood on the blouse" to show that the country is taking the hit. There is another school of thought among economists who are largely described as being doves in terms of their views on the deficit who believe that unemployment and maintaining the social fabric of society in the long run is the more important issue. In the end we may have a compromise between those two views. Social democrats take the second view. If one has continuing mass unemployment and all the destruction that that implies, the eurozone will not last either.

Let us remember that the European Union was created to end wars where European workers went to battle against each other. That is what the European Union is about. The Minister of State has argued about why the Bill should not be included under the terms of freedom of information legislation. That is a mistake. This country prospered particularly well from the time we as a country opened up. Ministers are fond of talking about our cultural heritage, especially post-Farmleigh. However, we should remember that for many decades of the early years of this State the remarkable thing about our cultural heritage, which is so important to everyone, is that most artists felt they had to go outside this country in order to prosper, have freedom to write and express themselves. Since the early 1990s, especially since the election of Mary Robinson as President, we have had an opening out and a confidence building within society which partly produced our economic success. We are now saying we should go back and identify our strengths.

I put it to the Minister of State that censorship in the early decades of the State was not the best way of growing this country. Opening up and opening out to freedom of information is always difficult. All of us know about the pesky freedom of information requests about how many times we signed in using the fob. It can be terribly irritating, especially for people who find it one more burden. Equally, the principle of freedom of information is quite liberating. It has been for this country. I accept the Minister of State is not a free agent in terms of his own view of how this issue might be dealt with but it merits consideration if we are to get, as it were, into recovery mode as a country and as a society.

On that last point, I said in my initial reply and I sincerely hold the view that information does need to be supplied and more information should be made available. However, the other end of the scale is that we all suffer from an overload of information too so it is a question of distinguishing the wood from the trees. In general, I agree with the opening up of information. Lemass had a striking phrase about piercing the green curtain, the argument being that we were too much of a closed society where debate was in a narrow range and any breach of consensus resulted in experiences such as that suffered by Hubert Butler who experienced semi-ostracisation. That was the experience of some of our writers.

Freedom of information legislation results, in effect, in the random release of information according to requests that may be made from any source. I accept we need more information but it must be structured around the specific area related to the Bill. We have made progress. Deputy Burton is aware that, for example, the papers of the tax strategy group are released post-budget.

To return to Deputy O'Donnell's point about incentives, I accept houses were built where they should not have been built. That was obvious in my capacity in the OPW when observing the effects of last November's floods. As part of the sub-prime debate in the United States it was evident that it was not just wicked right-wing capitalists that favoured the development of the sub-prime mortgage system, it was also people with Democrat or social democratic instincts who wanted to make available to the widest number of people the possibility of owning their own home.

That is also what has in general motivated public policy. It is the case that practically all incentives for house ownership push up house prices. Perhaps we should have realised it sooner or, having realised it, acted on it sooner. The real beneficiary of an incentive may not be the nominal beneficiary. That is why schemes that were attractive in the early 1980s, such as the grant of £1,000 for first-time buyers, fall into the category I describe.

Mortgage interest relief is to be phased out completely by 2017 — I believe that is the correct time. It is because the schemes, while they appear to be helping people, are not actually doing so. They are, as Deputy O'Donnell correctly said, simply pushing up market prices with no real benefit to the purchasers. We have learned that and are perhaps acting upon it somewhat too late in the day.

Deputy Burton acknowledged the instinct many people have to prioritise addressing unemployment and the social fabric over debt. My instincts are in the same direction. However, the problem is that if most countries rightly or wrongly move in another direction that requires a focus on the consolidation and reduction of sovereign debt, we have limited scope to move in a direction of our own without causing a crisis of confidence. Deputy Bruton is probably correct in her conclusion, namely, that there must ultimately be, perhaps on an ongoing basis, a compromise between the two different points of view. The assault on the euro by the markets earlier this year made it necessary to accord higher priority to debt reduction. The legislative measure we are discussing today is a direct result of it.

We must determine what freedom of action we have. It would be wrong to say the Government has no freedom of action because there are always choices. At the same time, freedom of action is not always as unlimited as it sometimes may appear. I am not suggesting for one moment Deputy Burton is arguing it is; it am just referring to appearances in debate.

To return to the essential point, information release is important but it must be structured. In the opinion of the Government, freedom of information provisions do not comprise the suitable vehicle in this context. This legalisation is only ultimately about the European financial stability facility. It is not about any other issue.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendments Nos.a2 and a3 not moved.
Section 2 agreed to.
Sections 3 and 4 agreed to.
SECTION 5

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, subsection (1), to delete line 33 and substitute the following:

"5.—(1) No later than two weeks after receipt of the quarterly basis report from the EFSF to the euro-area Member States under Article 13(3) of the EFSF Framework agreement as set out in Schedule, on the outstanding claims and liabilities under the Loan Facility Agreements, EFSF Funding Instruments issues and the Guarantees, the Minister shall lay the report before Dáil Éireann.

(2) In respect of each reporting period the Minister shall, as".

I will speak to amendment No. 1 but will make reference to all the others because they are quite similar. They are amendments on reporting. Article 13(3) of the framework agreement requires the company to submit a quarterly report to all the member states. I ask that the Government place the report before the Houses within two weeks of receiving it. That is pretty straightforward.

As referred to in the Euro Area Loan Facility Act, the European Commission's quarterly report to member states should be laid before the Houses within two weeks of receipt by the Government.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, seek a breakdown of figures, not just aggregate figures but also individual guarantees and advancements, and information on whether guarantees have expired. Thus, we would have detail on each member state every six months.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, pertaining to section 5, deal with moneys received by the State up to the end of the relevant period. Amendment No. 8 requires to be reported the full schedule of future guarantees that may be issued or expired that the Government is aware of, in addition to a "schedule of contribution by the state to the capital and other costs of the Company and any other expenses incurred". This is to know what we are spending on share capital and general running expenses.

Section 6 provides for an amendment to section 4 of the Euro Area Loan Facility Act 2010. Amendment No. 9 seeks that the quarterly report received from the European Commission under Article 10(3) of the intercreditor agreement as set in Schedule 1 be laid before the House within two weeks of its receipt.

I seek that the six-monthly report by the Government give a detailed breakdown, and not just aggregate figures, of the moneys repaid by Greece and of the advances. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 concern advancements to Greece and amendments Nos. 13 and 14 concern moneys received. Amendment No. 15 seeks the insertion of "schedule of expected future moneys to be advanced by the state".

What I seek is in line with amendmenta1, tabled by Deputy Burton. I require information and disclosure. There is nothing in this context that should not be in the public domain. The information will be received by the Government. In the interest of accountability and transparency, the quarterly reports by the European financial stability facility company on financial stability should be laid before the Dáil two weeks after their receipt. The European Commission’s quarterly report should also be laid before the Houses two weeks after its receipt.

I seek a breakdown in respect of the European Financial Stability Bill for individual guarantees — individual amounts for individual member states. In terms of the Euro Area Loan Facility Act 2010, we would get a breakdown on individual advances and repayments, and one might say future repayments or advances for Greece.

These are reasonable administrative amendments. I hope the Minister will accept them in the spirit they are intended and that they will be accommodated and taken on board by Government.

On behalf of the Minister, I thank Deputy O'Donnell for his constructive suggestions. The amendments cross sections 5 and 6, but at the same time they all are broadly in the same direction. I am not necessarily going to painfully read out the reply to every single one, but will give him the broad thrust of the reply.

Is the Minister of State accepting them or not?

I will come to that. Unfortunately, not.

On amendment No. 1, Article 13(3) of the EFSF Framework agreement provides for quarterly reports from the EFSF to the member states. It is not possible at this stage to be specific about the detailed content of such reports and it is possible that some elements of reporting may contain confidential or commercially sensitive information. That said, it would be the intention to incorporate as much detail in these reports in so far as these reports are publicly available and we will endeavour to ensure that Deputies are informed accordingly.

Taking amendments Nos. 2 and 3 together, the provision in the Bill allows for full details to be provided on guarantees. In respect of an individual beneficiary country, a funding programme will be approved and guaranteed at the outset. Although the loans will normally be issued in individual tranches, some elements of the guarantee will be issued in advance of the others. It is, of course, intended to report fully and timely on all such aspects.

In the case of amendments Nos. 4 and 5, I want to explain that under this facility the company will be responsible for raising funds to provide loans if needed to member states. Ireland, as such, will not be making advances to member states, and Deputy O'Donnell well understands that. However, information provided on EFSF funding programmes will, of course, identify any implications for Ireland and other member states as guarantors and we will endeavour to ensure that Deputies are informed accordingly of such loans.

In the case of amendments Nos. 6 and 7, I confirm that the existing provision under section 5 will include all of this information where relevant. Full and comprehensive reports will ensure that the Dáil is kept fully informed. While appreciating the detail of Deputy O'Donnell's proposals, we are satisfied that it is already accommodated and for that reason, I cannot accept the amendments.

On amendments No. 8, Deputy O'Donnell will appreciate that it may not be possible to anticipate all future developments under this facility but it is intended yet again to provide full information on all future transactions connected with approved programmes for any beneficiary member states and related loan facility agreements. It is not possible at this stage to be specific about the detailed content of such reports, and again it is possible that some elements of reporting may contain confidential or commercially sensitive information. That said, it would be in the intention to incorporate as much detail in these reports in so far as these reports are publicly available.

This section of the Bill sets out the basic legitimate requirements to ensure the House is kept informed, not only on any guarantees issued but also on the operation of the EFSF company, of which a EFC representative will be a director. It is the intention to give Deputies as many details as possible and for that reason, I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment.

On section 6, amendment No. 9, there is provision for quarterly reports from the European Commission to the lenders. It is not possible at this stage to be specific about the detailed content of such reports, and again there may be confidential or commercially sensitive information. Subject to that caveat, however, it would be the intention to incorporate as much detail in these reports as publicly available.

On amendments Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, I confirm to Deputy O'Donnell that the existing provision under section 6 will include all of this information where relevant and feasible. This section of the Bill sets out the basic legitimate requirements to ensure the House is kept informed. It is the intention to give Deputies as many details as possible and this is implicitly provided for under the wording in the case of both Acts which refers to a report to the Dáil that includes certain information but is not limited to such information. For that reason, I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment.

On amendment No. 15, the loan agreements are based on quarterly disbursements to Greece. It is not possible to provide an expected schedule of future moneys at this stage but overall Ireland's expenditure over the three year period cannot exceed €1.5 billion under the terms of this Bill. The intention is that according as conditions improve, Greece will be in a position to return to the markets and that the full amount of the loan facility might not be required. That said, a degree of front loading of our commitment may arise but this does not affect the overall limit. For that reason, I cannot accept the Deputy's amendment.

Are we going to try to dispose of all of these amendments?

I will have a brief word and then we will go through them.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. My view is purely that the Minister should provide for precisely what should be disclosed. I take the spirit in which the Minister of State is putting it forward but I will be pressing the amendments.

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, subsection (1)(a), line 37, after “period” to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual guarantee issued or expired to member states, confirming the amount guaranteed and conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, subsection (1)(b), line 39, after “period” to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual guarantee issued or expired to member states, confirming the amount guaranteed and conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, subsection (1)(c), line 41, after “period” to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual advancement to member states, confirming the amount, the cost of funding to the state and conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 5, subsection (1)(d), line 2, after “period” to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual advancement to member states, confirming the amount, the cost of funding to the state and conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 5, subsection (1)(e), line 4, after “period” to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual amount of money received by the state, confirming the amounts of moneys, the date received and other conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, subsection (1)(f), line 6, after “period” to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual amount of money received by the state, confirming the amounts of moneys, the date received and other conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 8:

In page 5, subsection (1), between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

"(g) schedule of expected future guarantees to be issued or expired together with expected future moneys to be advanced by the state, specifying dates and amounts of guarantees and moneys and applicable conditions,

(h) schedule of contribution by the state to the capital and other costs of the Company and any other expenses incurred in relation to the EFSF Framework agreement during and up to the end of the reporting period.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 5 agreed to.
SECTION 6

I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, to delete line 22 and substitute the following:

"4.—(1) No later than two weeks after receipt of the quarterly basis report from the European Commission to the Lenders on the outstanding claims and liabilities under the loan facility Agreement under Article 10(3) of the inter-creditor agreement as set in Schedule 1, the Minister shall lay the report before Dáil Éireann.

(2) In respect of each reporting period the".

Question, "That the words proposed to be deleted stand", put and declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 10 is in the name of Deputy O'Donnell. Amendments Nos. 11 to 14, inclusive, are related to amendment No. 10, therefore, amendments Nos. 10 to 14, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 5, line 28, after "period" to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual advancement, confirming the amount of the loan, the net disbursement amount, the term, the redemption schedule, the interest rate payable by the borrower, the funding costs for the state, the disbursement date and any other conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 5, line 31, after "period" to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual amounts of moneys received by the state, confirming the amount of moneys, the date received, and any other conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 12:

In page 5, line 34, after "period" to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual advancement, confirming the amount of the loan, the net disbursement amount, the term, the redemption schedule, the interest rate payable by the borrower, the funding costs for the state, the disbursement date and any other conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 13:

In page 5, line 37, after "period" to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual amounts of moneys received by the state, confirming the amount of moneys, the date received, and any other conditions applicable".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 5, line 42, after "period" to insert the following:

"giving a breakdown of the aggregate in respect of each individual loan outstanding, confirming the amount of the loan, the net disbursement amount, the term, the redemption schedule, the interest rate payable by the borrower, the funding costs for the state, the disbursement date and any other conditions applicable and any changes in conditions since last reporting date".

Amendment put and declared lost.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 5, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:

"(f) schedule of expected future moneys to be advanced by the state, specifying dates and amounts of moneys and applicable conditions.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.
Section 6 agreed to.
Sections 7 and 8 agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Question, "That the Title be the Title to the Bill", put and declared carried.
Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank Deputies for their co-operation in the passage of this legislation. Their deep and legitimate concerns about matters that stretch beyond the scope of this Bill can be addressed with the Minister in an ongoing manner.

I thank the Minister of State and hope his positive attitude will ensure a proper debate in the House on the bank guarantee scheme, which amounts to €440 billion of taxpayers' money. That is the same figure as the amount in the European financial stability facility in respect of all euro member states. I hope the NAMA business plan will be debated in the House so that we can have a proper discussion on what the taxpayer is being asked to do.

Question put and declared carried.

The Bill will now be sent to the Seanad.