I welcome many aspects of this Bill, which contains many important provisions. I want to highlight the decision made to dissolve the Dormant Accounts Board and transfer of its functions and capacities back into the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. In this era, when we need to ensure taxpayers' money is spent as well as possible, such moves must be welcomed and form an essential part of what Fine Gael said it would do at the last general election.
In making this change, we must acknowledge the work the board was doing is not going to go away. The work was crucial for the implementation of the spending of dormant accounts in that area. It is important we ensure that work continues from a different place in the Department and if needs be some of those involved in doing the work will have the opportunity to continue that work, albeit in a different place. We can make the mistake in dealing with rationalisation of State bodies of assuming that because the body will not be there in the future, the work it did was unnecessary or will disappear. The work will continue, it just must take place elsewhere.
I also welcome the focus in the Bill on the Minister being compelled to draw up an action plan each year on the use of dormant accounts. This is similar to some arrangements already in place on the use of disbursement schemes and putting together these plans will be done in consultation with other Ministers. It is my understanding that a copy of the plan and a document supporting it must be laid before the Houses and I hope that will offer an opportunity for us to debate it.
I say that because we are all aware of the great work the board has done in our constituencies and the activities it has funded. It is important that use of money, where it is coming from and how it is spent are maintained and that we ensure the activities funded by the board in the past continue to receive funds regardless of how the new scheme is implemented and regardless of where it is sourced from.
My constituency colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, asked a question about the status of the dormant accounts inspection reports, their contents and if they would be available to the Minister. The answer indicated there were no plans to publish the reports and that the Minister himself, at that stage, had not seen the report. I believe that report contains information on the number of different institutions that participate in the dormant accounts fund and the contribution they may or may not have made to that fund each year. In the context of this Bill and the work of the Dormant Accounts Board being moved back into the Department, I want to see this being reviewed and looked at. It is appropriate that citizens have an understanding of where the money is coming from, who is contributing it and, in the context of taxpayer investment in the banking system, access to it. Also, the variety of institutions that are capable of contributing to dormant accounts is larger than we would suspect. It would be helpful for evaluating the operation of the scheme and in the name of transparency that these reports, or their main conclusions, be made available to the public so people can understand where the money comes from and who contributes what. I understand some of the reluctance around the publication of the reports might involve the fact that they are produced as part of the regulatory role of the Central Bank. If aspects of them are commercially sensitive or that might impede on the ability of the Central Bank to deliver its regulatory role, I would still hope other parts of the report, particularly on who is contributing what and where the money comes from could be published.
Credit unions do not contribute to the dormant accounts fund. There were good reasons for this at the time and I understand that at the moment the credit union movement faces many challenges of its own and is looking at changes that will take place in its structure and regulation. At the very least, given the change that is taking place on policy on dormant accounts, this should be reviewed to understand if the decision that was made by the then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, is still the right decision and if not, why not. Looking at this from outside the sector that manages dormant accounts, if a particular form of account, regardless of where it is held, meets the definition of dormant as laid down in legislation, I cannot see why that money cannot be sourced from any institution, credit union or otherwise.
I ask the Government to consider the provision on what happens to funding if it has not been claimed in an account after a certain period of time. As this Bill moves through the Dáil, I would like to find out if the money reverts back to the State if it is not used in the dormant accounts fund or lies in a dormant account beyond a certain period. I am unsure where that stands at present.
A feature of the Bill is that all of the powers of the Dormant Accounts Board are being moved back to the Department and the Minister. If other sources of funding become available in the future, I would like consideration to be given to providing the Minister of the day - by means of the introduction of a statutory instrument under the provisions of this Bill - with the ability to classify particular accounts and stores of wealth as meeting the definition of what constitutes a dormant account. He or she would then be able to bring such accounts or stores of wealth within the framework of dormant accounts and trigger the steps that are necessary for the money they contain to be spent in good ways across different communities.
As stated at the outset, I welcome both the measures contained in the Bill and the steps the Minister will be obliged to take to ensure the work being done in this area will continue. I touched on four areas which, in the context of the legislation and the change that is going to be taking place with regard to how dormant accounts are dealt with, I would like to be the subject of discussion. One of the points I raised relates to what will happen to the moneys involved after a certain period and I would appreciate some clarity on this.