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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 Nov 2010

Vol. 721 No. 3

Other Questions

National Archives

Jimmy Deenihan


51 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance his plans to create a data centre for cloud computing to exploit the potential of cultural archives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36734/10]

At the outset, I should point out that a great deal of cultural material is already available on-line and accessible by any person through the Internet. Examples of this include the 1901 and 1911 censuses which have been made available by the National Archives at; the digitisation of church records which have been made available by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport at; a searchable database of approximately 80,000 records of key Irish manuscripts and periodicals made available online at by the National Library of Ireland; and a searchable database of artefacts made available by the National Museum at There are indeed many more examples from these national cultural institutions and from other institutions that are grant-aided or funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

Cloud computing is a relatively new and developing area of information and communications technology, ICT. It is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources such as networks, servers, storage, applications, services, and data that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. However, it is still a relatively immature development in that there are considerable issues to be worked out. Examples of these issues include the security of applications and data, most especially in the context of Government data protection obligations; the performance and reliability of the cloud computing platforms and associated networks; the need to avoid vendor lock-in on proprietary platforms which could make access to information and the cost of the service prohibitive or bad value for money; and the fact that commercial and revenue models for Government's needs have not yet been fully developed by the market.

My Department is satisfied that cloud computing is a key component of the future of ICT in the public service. To that end, officials of my Department are actively researching and trialling cloud computing solutions with all of the major ICT vendors in the market and are discussing the issues I mentioned at the highest levels in those companies. I should point out that the issues I have highlighted are of equal concern to colleagues in other EU member states and in US state governments. However, we believe that over time they will be resolved, and that we will be migrating to cloud computing platforms that are appropriate for the public service on an incremental basis in the coming years, an approach we believe will be common with other Governments.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Of course the conclusions reached with respect to cloud computing will be available to all public bodies for all data and information needs — not just cultural material — because this aggregation of all needs should aid in making cloud computing provision a value for money proposition.

Migration to cloud computing is unlikely to require the development of a data centre by the public service. The primary idea of cloud computing is that computing facilities including hosting, electrical power, cooling, processing, storage and communications would be provided as a service and that customers would not need to engage in the development or management of this infrastructure. In any event, public bodies would be able to leverage the extensive ICT accommodation facilities they have already rather than need to develop new ones.

I am sure the Minister is aware that a commitment was given in the Croke Park agreement that cloud technology solutions would be looked at immediately and that progress would be made before the end of this year. It would appear that at the recent public service IT seminar people were asking questions but no one was there to answer them. I do not think the Department of Finance was represented.

A question please.

There seems to be an overall lack of direction. I am sure the Minister is aware that there is immense interest throughout the world in our cultural history and heritage, much of which is in cold storage. Is there a possibility that cloud technology could be advanced to reveal this to the world and provide access to it? It has major implications for our future.

We are developing such a strategy. It is important to emphasise that it is not necessary to use cloud computing to make cultural material available online. A great deal of cultural material is available for free on the Internet already. This is a very important point. We have all seen the huge interest in the census material from the turn of the 20th century and it is perfectly accessible online. Cloud computing is very important; it is a new way of providing computing facilities in which computing becomes a service. My Department is involved in the transforming public service agenda in developing this. The UK Government has announced a high-level strategy; it intends to use cloud computing and to develop a Government cloud for that purpose called the "G-Cloud". However, the UK Government has not announced how it intends to do this or the timeframe for doing so. Its plans are aspirational. My Department has already put in place an equivalent to the planned G-Cloud. This is "Government networks", which is a countrywide high-capacity highly resilient infrastructure that allows public bodies to interconnect with each other relatively easily and cheaply. In addition, it facilitates shared access to high bandwidth Internet access and direct access to a wide range of centrally shared systems and services.

In view of the potentially wonderful achievements with cloud computing, and I think Microsoft in Ireland as well as various Departments are heavily involved, and given that Anglo Irish Bank is, whether we like it or not, one of the most expensive cultural acquisitions ever made in the history of the State, does the development of cloud computing offer an opportunity for the Minister to deal with the civil servants — well, they are civil servants — namely, the former employees of Anglo Irish Bank who seem to have the encryption codes for accessing data?

This is not captured in the scope of the question.

No, Deputy please.

Cloud computing is all about capturing and sharing data. I went to a seminar on it.

That, no doubt, will require a separate question.

The Minister identified cultural tourism as a major means of job creation in this country. My understanding is that unless we have this form of technology in our centres of excellence we will not be able to capitalise fully on the vast resources that are in storage at present and that need to be digitised and revealed or exposed to the world. Will the Minister ensure we have some form of direction because it seems we do not have any at present? This is the feedback I am getting. Irrespective of what the Minister states about the UK Government, it is looking at a policy and a pathway whereas we do not seem to have one here. We have always been recognised as a country at the cutting edge of technology. Unless we embrace this technology we will fall further behind.

Examples of this already in operation include the e-Cabinet and the e-Estimates systems, the centralised HR management system for the Civil Service, the Financial Shared Services Centre operated by the Department of Justice and Law Reform in Killarney and the centralised provision of death notifications. Considerable progress has already been made in this area. However, let us be clear about this type of technology and what the precise ambition is, because it is an ambition shared by many Governments worldwide, including those of the US and UK, as well as ourselves. It is to provide a form of technology that is far more secure in terms of the protection of the information embodied in it. This is not of necessary application in the cultural tourism area, although I agree with the Deputy that cultural tourism should be promoted in every possible available outlet.

The other point to be made about this particular technology is that the provision of cloud computing will be a major shift in the provision of computing services and that is the future of ICT in the public service. However, it is an immature market at present with many issues to be developed.

We are making very poor progress today I have to say.

Is oth liom é sin.

Fiscal Policy

Jack Wall


52 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Finance when he will set out the total fiscal adjustment necessary in each of the years 2011 to 2014, inclusive, in order to achieve the 3% of GDP deficit target by 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41644/10]

As the Deputy is aware, in recent weeks the Government has restated its commitment to achieving a general Government deficit of 3% of GDP by 2014. More recently, it has concluded that a total consolidation of €15 billion is necessary over the next four years in order to achieve the target. A significant front-loading of this adjustment has also been signalled and a consolidation package of €6 billion has been decided upon for 2011. In his recent visit, Commissioner Rehn noted that our assessment was appropriate and agreed that significant front-loading was required.

The four-year budgetary plan, which is being prepared, will be published later this month and will set out the budgetary and economic strategy for the period out to 2014. It will provide details of how the adjustment is to be made each year so that we achieve a general government deficit of 3% of GDP by the end of 2014. A crucial part of the plan will be enhancing Ireland's growth potential and making the necessary structural reforms will be key in this regard.

Last week, my Department published a technical information note on the economic and budgetary outlook in advance of the publication of the four-year budgetary plan. That note outlined the emerging economic and budgetary outlook in order to enhance transparency and inform the public ahead of the publication of the four-year plan later this month.

The note detailed the emerging economic and budgetary position for 2010 and provides an assessment of the economic and budgetary outlook for 2011 and for the medium term. The position was based on assumptions regarding the impact of a consolidation package of €15 billion over the next four years.

As I indicated, the Government has decided upon a consolidation package of €6 billion for next year. On a technical basis, the information note projected that this would result in a general government deficit in the range of 9.25% to 9.5% of GDP next year. The information note also provided an estimate of the deficits in later years, on the basis of the remainder of the total multi-annual package of €15 billion being indicatively assigned to each of the years. While decisions have yet to be announced regarding the breakdown of consolidation between expenditure and revenue, for the purposes of producing economic forecasts it was assumed that the bulk of the adjustment will take place on the expenditure side in 2011 with a ratio of expenditure to revenue measures weighted 2:1 applying over the course of the 2012 to 2014 period.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

However, the Government is still considering the design of the multi-annual consolidation schedule. Details on the composition of the adjustment for 2011 and the extent and composition of the measures over the remaining years of the forecast period will be announced in the four-year budgetary plan.

It is important to note that the targets that the four-year budgetary plan will set will be reviewed annually and action will be taken in the event of any departure from the path outlined towards achieving the target deficit of 3% of GDP by the end of 2014. In addition to setting out a multi-annual budgetary strategy, the four year plan will also outline a programme of structural reform, which will help to restore competitiveness and support economic growth.

The key purpose of the four-year budgetary plan is to demonstrate to all, both within and outside this country, that we are serious about dealing with the problems we face, that we are continuing to address them and that there is a credible route to prosperity and budgetary sustainability over the coming years. The four year budgetary plan will be published later this month and the budget for 2011, to be published on 7 December, will effect a significant element of the plan.

Will the Minister give the House a date for the publication of the four-year plan? As part of the sharing of information offered by the Minister to the Opposition I have asked the Minister and his officials on previous occasions if the Minister can provide the Opposition with the template for the four-year plan. He must know this by now. Despite requesting this information for the past three weeks, the Labour Party has not received it.

Has the Minister or Fianna Fáil any proposals for growth measures to counter-balance fiscal austerity? The Labour Party has published very detailed proposals which have been nationally and internationally assessed to provide for a strategic investment bank using a small proportion of the moneys in the National Pension Reserve Fund for infrastructure and for innovation and small and medium enterprises.

We cannot have a full debate on all these matters now and I am anxious to facilitate a number of Deputies.

In brief, the four-year plan will be published later this month. The precise date is a matter for the Government. With regard to a template for the four-year plan, I presume Deputy Burton is referring to a general outline of the plan. The Government will have to decide on the plan and it will then be published. In regard to growth measures, of course the four-year plan will be underpinned by credible growth measures.

Has the Minister or anybody within his Department or the other Departments conducted an analysis on the impact of the reductions to be announced on budget day?

A brief question, please, Deputy.

I wish to clarify my question.

We do not need clarity on the question.

It seems to be the case that the Department has not conducted any analysis into the micromanagement of these reductions. While there might be a cost saving now there could be a potential massive cost for the State in the future.

In the course of every Estimates process every Government does a very detailed economic assessment of the impact of particular measures. There are political choices to be made. For example, were we to abolish entirely our overseas aid budget, it would have no effect on the Irish economy but it would be a very retrograde step, in my view. This is an example of an area of expenditure where there is no return to the domestic economy but there is an important international moral obligation shared, I hope, by all of us in this House. In making a detailed assessment——

Which is, in fact, a return.

——of what is appropriate in connection with particular reductions in expenditure, of course in the Estimates process the Government has regard to the relevant economic impacts. I noted that Commissioner Rehn, when asked yesterday for his personal opinion and based on his experience in Finland, made the point that education and innovation are of particular importance to an economy like ours when we are engaged in a fiscal correction.

I apologise for missing the first part of Question Time as I was attending a committee. Had the Minister taken the opportunity to ask Commissioner Rehn if he will extend the 2014 deadline for bringing the deficit within 3% of GDP within the Stability and Growth Pact? Has the Commissioner given the Minister an undertaking that this is not achievable within that date, as is the majority view here?

No, Commissioner Rehn did not suggest that at all. He suggested that his assessment was that the €15 million overall target was appropriate and that the most important issue of all was the front-loading of the €6 billion correction. He communicated that opinion in the Irish broadcast media, as I understand.

Did the Minister ask him about the date? Did he ask him to extend the 2014 deadline?

There was no discussion about the date because the figure of 2014 was in fact agreed in 2009 when Ireland was given a long period — the longest period of any member state — to correct its deficit, in recognition of the fact that our difficulties were——

They were different figures then.

The figures on the fiscal deficit were not all that different in 2009.

I call Deputy Brian Hayes.

I ask if I may give way to Deputy D'Arcy.

I would rather the Deputy did not do so, in as much as I am trying to facilitate other Deputies and Deputy D'Arcy has only asked a supplementary question.

An act of generosity should be recognised.

I will allow Deputy D'Arcy very briefly.

I am surprised at the Minister's response. When I put that question to the Secretary General of a Department at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts and to the Minister's officials from the Department of Finance, they said no in-depth long-term analysis had been done on reductions.

What does the Minister mean by his reference to later in the month with regard to the publication of the four-year plan? We were given to understand previously by him and by his officials that it would be published in the middle of the month, which is next week. Since then the Donegal by-election has been announced. The Labour Party put serious proposals to Commissioner Rehn yesterday for investment in infrastructure such as public transport and roads, in school building and development. This is what the Finns did when their banking system crashed. We also made proposals about innovation in small and medium enterprises. Is there any hope that the Government has any belief in the future of the country and that it intends to invest anything in it? Is there any investment strategy to offset fiscal austerity?

The Government has great faith in this country and its capacities and in the future of this country. I certainly have faith that we can overcome our difficulties and resolve them. Our underlying economic performance has been very strong throughout this recession. For example, our exports on a year-on-year basis increased by 6% this year. There is tremendous resilience in our labour force. I acknowledge we have real difficulties in the banking sector and in our public finances and we are addressing them. With regard to the Labour Party proposals for investment and the Fine Gael proposals on the adjustment, I would be delighted to receive a copy of these proposals and have them assessed by my Department.

As to the date for the announcement of the four-year plan, I indicated at an earlier stage that we intend to publish it in mid-November.

Then Donegal happened.

If I may finish, it has been delayed until later November. The Deputy is incorrect; it is not contingent on the date for the Donegal by-election. It will be later this month. It has never been suggested by either the Government or myself that the Donegal by-election has anything to do with this because that is not the case. The Government is finalising the Estimates process for the budget and when this is completed, the Government will consider the plan. As Deputy D'Arcy pointed out, the economic impact of both the plan and the budget is of crucial importance and the Government must take the utmost care in drawing up the plan.

Departmental Staff

Jim O'Keeffe


53 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide a breakdown of the staffing levels in his Department; if he considers them to be adequate and fit for purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41534/10]

I have circulated with the reply a table outlining the breakdown of full-time equivalent staffing levels in my Department at the end of October 2010. I will recite the numbers. The Department staff consists of one Secretary General; one Secretary General on the public service side; three second secretaries; 12 assistant secretaries; 50.1 principal officers; 128.95 assistant principal officers; 51 administrative officers; 81.39 higher executive officers; 50.2 executive officers; 26.63 staff officers; 97.83 clerical officers; 23 service officers; two service attendants; one chief medical officer; one deputy chief medical officer; two physicians; three nurses and 6.66 teachers. This makes a grand total of 541.76 whole-time equivalents.



Sec. Gen


Sec Gen PSMD


Second Secretary


Asst. Sec
















Serv. Off


Serv. Att




Dep C.M.O


Occ. Physician






Grand Total


I am happy to tell the Deputy I am very satisfied with the performance of my Department, particularly in light of the extraordinary demands placed on it in the period since I came to office. During this time there have been significant challenges to meet in terms of attempting to stabilise the country's finances, to restore confidence in its banking system and to ensure that the country can re-establish its competitiveness.

My Department has recently retained the services of a number of staff with economic expertise to advise on economic policy issues and the changes within the structure of the Department that have been made have demonstrated the flexibility of the Department to deal with particular challenges faced by it in challenging and changing economic circumstances.

I am deeply appreciative of the professionalism and dedication of the staff at my Department in the very demanding circumstances we have faced, and are still facing, in the context of the difficult decisions this Government had to take and which and future Governments will have to take.

As the Deputy is aware, my Department is the subject of an independent review process which will presumably have implications for the structure of the Department and its skill base, and which I hope will report before the end of the year. The independent review group will undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the systems, structures and processes of the Department of Finance relating to those elements of budgetary, economic, financial and public service management relevant to its role.

I will focus on my main concern, the banking expertise or the lack of it within the Department, principally during the height of the lending boom when billions of euro were being shovelled out by the banks. As I understand it, there have been improvements in the Department in the past 12 months in regard to the banking side. There has been an increase of 50% in staffing and a number of experts, including a banking analyst, a banking accountant, a legal adviser dealing with financial services matters and a senior economist, have been put into that section.

I have two issues, given the importance of the bank issue for the future of this country. How was the Department left without all of this necessary expertise during a time of a major explosion in bank lending, which seemed to happen on an unregulated basis? Is the Minister satisfied with the additional expertise he has acquired on the banking side in his Department and is the Department fully fit for purpose for the future?

I am satisfied that my Department has augmented the expertise available to it in this area, first, through my decision made earlier this year to delegate certain functions to the NTMA, which has a recognised expertise in money matters and has also developed an expertise in regard to banking matters, and, second, through additional recruitment within my Department, to which Deputy O'Keeffe very fairly referred. The Department has recruited the services of four experts from the financial services area through a combination of direct employment and secondment from both the private and public sector. In 2009, the Government approved the appointment of a banking analyst with extensive knowledge and experience in the banking field on a three-year employment contract. In addition, the Department has recently secured the services of a banking accountant for a period of 12 months through an agreed secondment arrangement, with no cost to my Department. The Department has engaged an expert in business and legal studies and a master's accountant. The Department has also engaged on secondment from the Office of the Attorney General a senior legal adviser to the Department solely on financial services matters. All of those matters have been attended to in terms of the current arrangements and I look forward to the report of the independent review group to see whether any further strengthening is required.

In regard to the historical position, again, I am not in a position to answer that question today. The Deputy will appreciate these matters are under investigation and have already been examined in Watson and Regling report.

The Minister's reply was interesting. Normally, the distribution of grades in a Department is a pyramid when graphed. The Minister's Department seems to be more of a cylinder. If it was an Army unit, the Minister would be accused of having far too many officers and too few soldiers.

Are there staff in the Department who have been seconded from the private financial sector? If so, how many, what are the terms of their secondment and what protocols has the Minister in place to avoid conflicts of interest?

Again, I will undertake to furnish the Deputy with that information. There are some individuals involved. While I am briefed with detailed matters in that regard, it would be better if I communicated by letter with the Deputy.

How many qualified professional accountants with professional experience and statisticians are employed in the Department of Finance? How many staff, other than the one assistant secretary of whom we all know, have experience working as economists in the private sector or in other sectors?

Does the Minister feel he got value from the €33 million he is reported to have spent on the services of three professional firms at the time of the banking crisis — one firm of accountants, one firm of lawyers and one firm of financial advisers?

As I understand the matter, the bulk of that was arranged through the NTMA. In regard to Deputy Burton's other questions, I will give her the precise information she wants in regard to the professional qualifications of members of my Department.

Public accounting and the conduct of public accounts is a speciality in its own right, distinct from private accounting.

There are many individuals in my Department, the Deputy will be glad to hear, who have a knowledge in regard to the preparation and publication of public accounts which is far more detailed than the awareness any private accountant would have.

Are there any professional accountants in the Department other than banking accountants——

The Minister indicated he would check that and revert to the Deputy.

I presume the answer is "No".

It is not. I said I would furnish the Deputy with the details.

If the Minister will allow me, the Minister indicated he would check and revert to the Deputy on that matter. I call Deputy Morgan.

The Minister should answer the question.

Will the Minister confirm that the Department will follow whatever direction is given by its political boss at any given time, and, therefore, if it looked the other way during the banking crisis, responsibility for that is clearly with the political master of the Department at the time?

That is a very big question.

The Minister is responsible for the Department. In our constitutional system, the Minister is always responsible for the conduct of the business of a Department, and responsible and accountable to this House for how the business of the Department is transacted. Of course, in some matters, that can be pushed to an absurdity where a Minister is criticised because a set of paper clips was ordered which was a waste, or whatever. Clearly, the Minister does not authorise expressly the purchase of paper clips in a Department.

It is a bit bigger than that.

We are talking about the purchase of banks, not paper clips.

That said, the Minister is responsible for fundamental issues of policy in a Department — no one contests that.

I am delighted the banking expertise in the Department has been strengthened considerably during the Minister's tenure in office. Some might say it is a like closing the stable door after the horse and many billions have bolted. Who will take responsibility for the fact we did not have that expertise in the Department when it was so badly needed during the height of the banking boom?

There was extensive experience and expertise in banking matters in the Department at all stages. Of course, the officers with that expertise and experience within the Department could also draw on the expertise of the Central Bank and the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, as it was then known.

Banks Recapitalisation

Joan Burton


54 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the reason the promissory notes issued in respect of Anglo Irish bank, Irish Nationwide and EBS carry coupon rates ranging from 4% to over 6%; if consideration was given in structuring these notes to the use of zero coupon notes; if consideration was given in structuring these notes to the use of shorter term money, rolled over at more attractive interest rates, as was the case with the National Assets Management Agency bonds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41624/10]

I refer the Deputy to my earlier answer to Priority Question No. 47. The purpose of the promissory notes issued to the institutions referred to in the Deputy's question is to enable the State to provide them with the necessary capital to meet regulatory capital requirements in a way that ensures that the cash burden on the Exchequer over a period of years is manageable. The promissory note structure was designed to achieve the most efficient financing outcome for the Exchequer and corresponds to that of a conventional Government bond. Under their terms the notes have fixed annual cash flows and a fixed redemption profile. This meets the Exchequer's objective of having certainty of cash flows. The coupon rates on the notes are set by reference to yields on Government bonds at the time of issue. This feature explains the variation in the coupon rates referred to in the Deputy's question.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House:

In order to meet their primary objective, it is essential that the notes are valued at their nominal or face value in the financial accounts of the recipient institutions. The notes must, therefore, bear interest at the appropriate market interest rate to ensure that the current value of the cash flows equates to face value. Any lower coupon, set, for example, as suggested by the Deputy, at a zero or short-term money market rate — as applies to NAMA bonds — would under the applicable accounting standards result in a fair value adjustment to the face value of the promissory notes in the financial accounts of the recipient institution. In order to compensate for this and ensure that the relevant institutions fully met their regulatory capital requirements, a very substantial increase in the face value of the notes would have been required.

As set out in the technical note published on my Department's website on 4 November last, which accompanied the publication of the information note on the economic and budgetary outlook 2011-14, the terms of the promissory notes will provide that no interest will be chargeable in 2011 and 2012. It has been confirmed with EUROSTAT that, as a result, no interest will be recorded on the promissory notes in those years, on either a cash or accrual basis. This means that the general Government balance for 2011 and 2012 will be unaffected by interest payments relating to the promissory notes. A higher rate of interest will be chargeable for the remainder of the period beginning in 2013 onwards, so that the cumulative amount of interest paid over the period of the promissory notes will remain at an average rate sufficient to allow the promissory notes to be recorded in the institutions' balance sheets at face value, notwithstanding the zero rate of interest charged in 2011 and 2012.

I will repeat the question I asked earlier, which the Minister did not have an opportunity to answer. Is the Minister still committed to issuing further promissory notes to the tune of approximately €9 billion at the interest rates which now prevail, which today are 8% and which, even if the rates fall back a bit, are still likely to be over 6%. Strategically, is this the best approach for Ireland? The Government was able to issue bond notes at 1.5% in respect of the banks and NAMA and there are provisions for a zero coupon rate on promissory notes. I am sure the Minister's officials have advised him of the effect of that. Has he considered the issue? It will mean an additional interest charge of approximately €700 million per year on the €9 billion at current rates. That is not to be sneezed at.

What is the position in regard to the former Anglo Irish Bank employees who will not share the encryption codes for accessing its records? Does the Minister propose to take action and has he entered into discussions with the bank's management?

That is worthy of a separate question and cannot be asked without notice.

I am not in a position to deal with the issue of encryption codes.

It is a separate issue.

The Government is committed to meeting the capital requirements of the relevant institutions through the issue of a promissory note and plainly such a note will require to be issued before the end of the year. The capital figures have already been disclosed in the announcement on 30 September. As I indicated in my supplementary response to the previous question, I am open to constructive suggestions about how the interest structure in the notes can be devised. However, any such interest structure must carry credibility in terms of the core objective of providing for the capital requirements of the institutions concerned.

In regard to NAMA bonds and the zero coupon rate, that was a different arrangement and the EUROSTAT treatment has been very different. We discussed that issue at length during our parliamentary debates on NAMA.

If the Minister had not taken the interest holiday on the promissory notes, what would be the extent of the estimated correction for 2011 on the budgetary side?

I do not have the information before me but as I understand it, the figure for 2011 is 0.8%.

It is 1.4%. It was on the table.

In Stability and Growth Pact terms the impact on the general Government balance as a proportion of GDP will be between 0.8% and 0.9%.

We are coming close to the €7 billion the Minister's officials never intended.

Given that the Minister is open to reconsidering the promissory notes, I strongly recommend that he do so. I suggest that he consult widely on the issue because the €31 billion for which we are on the hook is precisely what is dragging the country down. How can we regain the confidence of the bond markets until this issue has been mitigated?

I do not accept the Deputy's analysis of our current market difficulties in the context of the promissory note arrangement. It has been made clear to the markets that the promissory note arrangement is the accounting treatment of the problem. The cashflow implications of spreading the loss over an extended term have been fully explained and are understood in the markets. I do not accept her assumption that it is the sole cause of our difficulty in the markets. I am open to constructive suggestions not on the principle of the issue of the notes but on the structure of interest embodied in them.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.