Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Financial Services Sector

Micheál Martin

Question:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the Clearing House Group has met recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39055/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of times in the past year that the IFSC Clearing House Group has met to date in 2013; the issues that were discussed; the actions that have been taken as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39061/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the progress made on the commitment to create 10,000 jobs in the IFSC by 2016; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39062/13]

Gerry Adams

Question:

4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his plans to reform or restructure the workings of the IFSC Clearing House Group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39063/13]

Micheál Martin

Question:

5. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if officials in his Department attended a IFSC Financial Clearing House Group meeting recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39090/13]

Joe Higgins

Question:

6. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he intends to reform the way the IFSC Clearing House Group operates. [40865/13]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent meeting with the Clearing House Group; if it will be meeting before budget 2014; the agenda for this meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40914/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

The IFSC Clearing House Group has met on three occasions to date in 2013; 17 January, 7 March and most recently on 16 May 16. These meetings were chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and were attended by a number of officials from relevant Departments, including my own Department. The minutes for all three of these meetings have been published and can be viewed on either the Department's website or on merrionstreet.ie.

The next meeting of the IFSC Clearing House Group is scheduled to take place on Thursday, 24 October. While the agenda for this meeting has not yet been finalised, the focus of the group throughout 2013 has been on job creation and specifically the further potential for the international financial services sector to contribute to job creation and to address challenge of unemployment. This will continue to be the key priority for the group in the future. The strategy for the international financial services industry in Ireland 2011-2016, sets a target of creating 10,000 net new jobs by 2016. These targets are challenging but attainable.

They require a sense of vision, a determination and pace of implementation, a focus on the specific outcomes which are articulated in the strategy and an implementation process which is flexible and attuned to developments in the operating environment, internationally as well as domestically. The IFSC Clearing House Group actively monitors progress on implementation of the strategy, including identifying any unnecessary barriers which might exist to maximising the opportunities to Ireland from the sector in terms of growth and jobs.

At the last meeting of the IFSC Clearing House Group on 16 May, it was agreed to assess the effectiveness of the IFSC Clearing House Group and make recommendations as to how it could be enhanced to progress the achievement of these job targets and maximise opportunities for job creation within the sector. It was agreed that this would be progressed through a focused engagement within a smaller group composed of the Secretaries General of the Department of Finance and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the chief executive officer of the IDA and representatives of three employers from the international financial services industry in Ireland. Two meetings of this group have taken place to date, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department. The first, on 15 July, identified a range of challenges and opportunities facing the international financial sector in Ireland and discussed how best the current arrangements and structures could support the leveraging of potential job opportunities. The second meeting of the group, on 2 September, involved a further discussion of particular areas of opportunity and considered some specific options with regard to the Clearing House Group structure to maximise its effectiveness in driving the jobs agenda, which is recognised by both public and private sector members as a priority currently facing the country. The IFSC Clearing House Group will be updated on the group's progress at its next meeting on 24 October and if there are any subsequent proposals regarding reform of the group's structure, they will be considered by the Government. Briefings on any relevant developments will also be offered to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.

Finally, it is encouraging to report that in terms of the specific job targets, the IDA pipeline has produced more than 90 investments, with over 7,000 associated jobs approved in the international financial services sector since January 2010. The pipeline into the future remains strong. This year has seen a number of jobs announcements across the sector, including in companies such as Northern Trust, Capita, Zurich and Virtu Financial. I am confident that the work currently under way to improve the workings of the Clearing House Group will contribute to further progress in terms of job creation and the development of the international financial services sector, which remains a vital contributor to the Irish economy.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Publication of the minutes of meetings of the IFSC Clearing House Group tends to happen approximately three months after a meeting, which is not great in terms of transparency, and a much earlier publication of minutes would be very helpful. I am somewhat puzzled by the May minutes, which revealed that the State's top civil servant, as the Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, Mr. Martin Fraser, was described in one publication, was very critical of the Strategy for the International Financial Services Industry in Ireland 2011-2016, which was launched by the Taoiseach and referenced in his reply. Mr. Fraser indicated at the May meeting that the strategy for the financial services centre was now a few years old and that tracking its implementation might become an issue. He made strongly critical comments on the issue and referred to the idea of three representatives from the industry meeting three public sector representatives to discuss "the future of the industry".

Does this mean the strategy launched by the Taoiseach with great fanfare is now redundant and the Secretary General of his Department has no faith in it? At the same meeting, the assistant Secretary General at the Department of Finance, Mr. Neil Ryan, presented a position paper which was discussed by the 23 members present. He argued that the IFSC's strategy and offering needed a radical rethink. He argued that the IFSC Clearing House Group, as well as the strategy, was stale and not capitalising on where things were going in the future. He expressed the opinion that unless something changed Ireland would be likely to lose jobs to competitors, and told the group of his belief that there should be a new ambitious, coherent and co-ordinated plan which all relevant stakeholders could buy into in order to rebrand and market the industry while building on the skills and expertise already available. There were also contributions from the private sector on the strategy and the issue as a whole.

Approximately a year and a half ago the Taoiseach launched what we were told was a comprehensive, far-seeing vision and strategy for the financial services centre, but it now seems it was nothing of the sort. Will the Taoiseach confirm whether he is drawing up a new strategy, or is the work of the three public sector representatives and representatives from the private sector just to consider the role of the IFSC Clearing House Group? Are they examining the broader issue and a more comprehensive new strategy for the IFSC?

I thank the Deputy for the questions. I do not understand why the minutes would be published a quarter of a year later, and we could certainly do something about that. The Strategy for the International Financial Services Industry in Ireland 2011-2016 was produced by the sector and industry and we were happy to launch it on the basis of the assessment that 10,000 jobs could be created. Deputy Martin is well aware of the growth in jobs from the centre's establishment to the current time.

The world is changing at a bewildering speed and, no more than for any other plan or programme, elements must be updated and upgraded on a pretty regular basis. At the May meeting, the Secretary General of my Department, who chairs the group, briefed it on the detail of the work of the Clearing House Group and offered to present further updates to the committee on request. It is only right and proper that people should assess the way this sector is moving, both here and elsewhere. The purpose of the Clearing House Group is to engage both within the sector and in private industry and public bodies in order to improve the environment for investment and job creation. It was agreed that there should be sharper engagement between the public and private sectors within the group, which is why a number of business people assist the three public sector representatives. They met on the two occasions I mentioned.

People might ask whether this is a secret outfit and who is at these meetings. My colleague Deputy Higgins has spoken about secret groups. The group is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach and involves the Secretaries General of the Departments of Finance and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The chief executive of IDA Ireland is also involved, along with the chief executive of Zurich, the head of global services at State Street and the country executive for Ireland at Bank of America. These people are involved in examining the programme.

The 2011-2016 programme must be considered in light of changing circumstances to see if further improvements can be brought about. It is not a case of drafting a new programme.

No. It is a question of considering what adjustments might have to be made to the financial services industry with regard to attracting further investment, thus creating more jobs and growth. The programme stands and, as the Deputy mentioned, it set a target of 10,000 net new jobs by 2016. From 1999 to 2011, the number of jobs grew from 8,500 to 33,000, as the Deputy is aware, and notwithstanding the difficult international financial environment, IFSC employment has continued to grow. Opportunities are highlighted in the strategy across different sectors, including shared services provision, green financial services, the location of EU hubs, payment and transaction processing, private equity and related development.

The Taoiseach says it does not involve a new strategy but the minutes indicate that is what his Secretary General and the assistant secretary from the Department of Finance want. Mr. Fraser, the Taoiseach's Secretary General, "noted it was clear that something must be done. He expressed his view that Food Harvest 2020 was an interesting model, with a clear strategy, targets and branding behind it". The previous Government had brought the strategy in for the agriculture industry and it has been proven to be a great success. The current Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has adopted the strategy and is working on it. What has emerged from the minutes in May is that a new strategy is essentially being built and worked on. Will the Taoiseach follow through and discuss that with his Secretary General and Department of Finance officials?

The IFSC's president, John Bruton, has called for banking regulation to be kept flexible. Does the Taoiseach know what he has in mind? Does he agree with him on that matter?

I would be happy to engage with the chairman of the IFSC Clearing House Group. In fairness, the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government put together the Food Harvest 2020 Strategy and that has proven to be an outstanding catalyst for growth in the agriculture sector, which I expect to top €10 billion in exports next year. As the Deputy will recall, we have come a long way from the days of the cowboys in the sector who ruined the name and integrity of our industry and our country. That is all gone and we have a high professional standard, which is growing in world importance. No more than that strategy being a huge success, it is important to examine the IFSC strategy to see how that can be improved.

IFSC Ireland is a collaborative venture between the major industry associations, the Institute of Bankers in Ireland and the Stock Exchange to market and promote the IFSC at international level and they appointed Mr. Bruton as president. In that capacity, he has attended both marketing and promotional efforts, including visits to the UK, continental Europe, north America, latin America and Asia. He has worked closely with IDA and IFSC firms to continue to attract inward investment and support business development and opportunities. His role is complementary to that of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. The IDA supported his appointment and provides administrative facilities for him. The authority works closely with Mr. Bruton and the bodies involved in IFSC Ireland. I am not sure of the detail of his recommendations but clearly they could be voiced through the chief executive officer of the IDA who sits on the board of the Clearing House Group.

He wants more flexible regulation.

I will advise the Deputy if there is any advance.

The Taoiseach said in his earlier reply that a process of assessment was ongoing and a subgroup had been established to do that. He further said there had been two meetings. It is clear from the May meeting of the Clearing House Group that the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach was critical not just of the direction but of the structures of the group. From Sinn Féin's point of view and from the point of view of anybody who watches the way politics works and the relationships between power groups in this State, the minutes can only deepen concern because the big players in the financial and legal worlds have access to the highest echelons of the Government and the most senior civil servants. I cannot imagine an anti-poverty group or a group campaigning and lobbying for hospital facilities having the same consistent access.

The minutes indicate that the industry lobbied successfully for a series of taxation and legal incentives and exemptions to be included in the Finance Act 2013, including incentives for research and development, changing the tax treatment of investment funds, exemptions to capital acquisitions tax for foreign firms and changes to the taxation of foreign dividends for firms with branches abroad. In some cases, legislation was drafted by representatives of multinational companies and then put to the Department of Finance for consideration. It has been estimated that 21 separate measures contained in the Finance Act 2012 had been sought by the Clearing House Group or its subgroups. This should be compared to the propositions put forward by people who depend on public services. I am sure the Taoiseach is inundated by groups putting forward worthy pre-budget submissions. One of the Clearing House Group submissions included a tax break for multinational executives. This was put forward by multinational companies. The Government may or may not restructure or change the programme, although the Taoiseach said at this point he would not. However, he has to take on board concerns because, on the one hand, the Government is imposing austerity on ordinary working families while, at the same time, giving tax exemptions to big earners. Who is dictating policy? What has changed from the time Fianna Fáil was in government regarding these well connected vested interests? Will the Taoiseach assure the Dáil that the same mistakes are not being repeated by his Government? When can we expect to see the outcome of the process of assessment being undertaken by the subgroup? It was agreed this would proceed in May but it is now October. When can we see what it proposes?

It is a good and healthy exercise that there be criticism when that is the view of somebody on a body such as this. That can be healthy in the sense of saying we may have to adjust, change or move along to make it better. My interest here is that whatever we do should be in the interest of creating jobs and job opportunities because that is where the future lies.

Pre-budget submissions are made to different Ministers before they set their ceilings with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Budgetary submissions are a matter for the Department of Finance. I understand that the Department has received three submissions in regard to budget 2014 from the four IFSC strategy working groups and they refer to propositions for the development of the financial services sector. They are all being considered in the context of the budget. The Department has received 330 pre-budget submissions and, therefore, in that sense, there is nothing unusual about that be they from public or private sources, communities, agencies or organisations. I get lots of correspondence from people who are qualified to make a point and some of them attempt to draft suitable amendments to existing Bills, whatever their proposition might be. At the end of the day, the Government has a responsibility to act collectively in the interests of putting together the fairest and most equitable budget we can, given all the circumstances that apply.

The Deputy asked what is different. The number on the live register in September 2013 was 408,670, which is 26,000 lower than in August 2013, 20,600 lower than September 2012 and 28,000 lower than September 2011.

I asked the Taoiseach when we would get sight of the plan to be produced by the sub-group that is looking at-----

I am sorry. The next meeting is on 24 October. I am sure there will be a briefing about what will emerge from that. Arising from Deputy Martin's comment, I will seek that the Minister publish it at an earlier time if that is at all possible.

That is okay. The Taoiseach gave me a thesis on budget submissions. I understand the process. The problem is that some groups have more weight than others. I have been lobbying for profoundly deaf children to get cochlear implants. I have spoken to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health about it privately on a number of occasions. I have written to the Taoiseach about the matter on numerous occasions and I have raised it in the House. I made a pre-budget submission on the issue. However, we are still no nearer knowing whether the Government will provide a small amount of money for children to avail of a service that they would have as a matter of course if they lived in the North or were British, French or German. The service is denied to children in this State. That has been my experience for the past eight or nine months and the parents have had to deal with it for much longer than that. Last year 21 separate measures that had been sought by the Clearing House Group or its subgroups were contained in the 2012 Finance Bill following the budget . Balance is required. There must be access for citizens, particularly those who need the comfort and protection of the State who need to be helped, as opposed to those who are given access and are able to get their proposals for making a lot of money accepted. That is grand; we are not against that. It is all to the good if it can help to lift and employ people, but not at the cost of ordinary citizens.

The Taoiseach said the next meeting would be in October.

It will be on 24 October.

Yes, but what we need to know in this Chamber is what precisely is being planned or proposed. One must ask whether such powerful groups should have the type of access they enjoy. The fact that the Secretary General is critical of the structure is an indication that something is wrong.

It is not the case that anything is wrong. There are four working groups. The IFSC banking and treasury working group is concerned with banking, asset finance and corporate treasury, together with taxation issues which arise for all areas of the international financial services industry in Ireland. The IFSC funds working group considers the administration and management of investment funds and examines the future of the funds industry in Ireland. It involves recommending legislative, regulatory and taxation initiatives, co-ordinating the marketing effort between IDA Ireland, the Government and industry and maintaining awareness of the impact of international developments on the competitiveness of the industry. The third group is the IFSC insurance working group, which considers issues of relevance to continued development and expansion and increased competitiveness in Ireland as a reputable centre for the provision of insurance products and services. Finally, the IFSC asset management pension funds working group considers issues of relevance to the development of a broader-based institutional asset management business in Ireland. On the pensions side, the role of the group is to promote Ireland as a prime location for the centralised management of pension funds. A subgroup deals with the non-bank finance funding structure. The subgroup considers the role of the IFSC in relation to non-bank sources of funding.

Deputy Adams made an important point, namely, that some representations carry more weight than others. I appreciate that he raised an important point about cochlear implants. Deputy Adams is the elected leader of his party. People might say the leader of a party making a proposition to the Department of Finance for consideration in the budget is in a powerful position. Deputy Adams is in an elected House, in the same way as Deputy Martin or whoever is in charge of the Technical Group, and he has the opportunity to raise a sensitive and important issue of that nature that is personal. The capacity to say that publicly in this forum carries its own weight-----

We need results.

-----in comparison to that of users of other disability services - for example, a person who is blind or has sight difficulties who says he or she cannot afford to get a bigger computer keyboard, for example. In some cases, people are required to pay the full charge, which could be for small amounts. We must examine how to treats all propositions fairly. Deputy Adams can raise his issue every month because it is an issue for him and the people he represents, but someone who does not have that capacity must have his or her case reflected on fairly as well. It is the challenge of Government to ensure the situation is as fair as possible.

There is no comparison between a big financier and a-----

Deputy Adams made the point about corporations or the financial services sector making representations. There are 33,000 people working in the IFSC.

Those corporations have very good access to Sinn Féin in North America.

They funded many a banquet there. The list is quite revealing.

I was about to come to that.

That is a complete distraction.

Deputy Martin is jealous.

I cannot rival Deputy Adams in the United States in terms of the big corporations that finance his party.

That is true.

The Taoiseach should conclude.

Deputy Adams has a cheek to come to the House and talk about access to the Government for a sector that provides 30,000 jobs.

Not at all. It is perfectly right to raise it.

Yet in his fund-raising in the United States Sinn Féin has gone to those corporations and received $1.7 million.

Members should settle down, please.

Deputy Martin made an important point. Deputy Adams was flown across the Atlantic.

I am not talking about that. I am talking about fund-raising.

I am glad Deputy Adams is in good form.

A total of 330 submissions have been received on the budget. We have to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together and put together the best, fairest and most equitable budget according to whatever flexibility exists to channel it where opportunities and jobs can be created. I assure Deputy Adams that there is nothing inherently wrong in the system. It is a strategy that was produced and launched in 2011 and 2012 and has been updated and adjusted to ensure that it caters for changes that have happened since. This area is moving at a bewildering speed and it is only right and proper that there should be that kind of analysis. I hope when the reports are available that if it is necessary to update the committee that will also be done. There is nothing to hide.

The Taoiseach is as adept as his second last predecessor at muddying the waters and losing the essential in a ball of cotton wool when he tries to justify the unjustifiable.

To equate the IFSC Clearing House Group and its influence with a Deputy raising in the House an issue pertaining to some constituent or vulnerable group in society is derisory. Any reading of the minutes of the IFSC Clearing House Group shows one immediately that the group is a "who's who" of the main players in the financial markets in this State and further afield. I refer to the banks, financial institutions, powerful multinational corporations and the legal and financial consultancy groups that advise the powerful financial institutions, particularly on persistent and consistent tax avoidance in this State, to the detriment of our people. They have ready access to the most senior representatives of the Government in the Taoiseach's Department and in the Department of Finance.

This means that those whose speculation caused the disastrous crash in the State have had and continue to have permanent access to the most powerful institutions in the State to advance their own interests. The IFSC Clearing House Group is not a clearer but simply an institutionalised, gold-plated lobbying facility for the most powerful, private and profit-seeking financial institutions. It gives them unprecedented access. We know the group writes and presents legislation. It is then duly and obediently put into some of the finance Acts to provide for its members' interests.

Is it any wonder the Taoiseach, and Deputy Martin and his colleagues when they were in government, would come into the House and claim they would lay down their lives in the trenches in arguing there should not be a cent extra in corporation tax on the financial institutions in question? Is the hold the institutions have over the right-wing political parties who form the Government not clear? Does the Taoiseach not agree this is capitalist corporatism at its most blatant? Does it not show that, under the domination of Fine Gael and Labour, and under Fianna Fáil and the Green Party before them, democracy is perverted?

Contrast the circumstances with those in other sectors of society. One should consider the unfortunate victims of Priory Hall who lost their homes due to rogue developers who are entertained by some of the institutions that are prominent in the IFSC Clearing House Group. The individuals had to beat down the walls of government to get talking to the Taoiseach. Can the unemployed walk into the heart of Government Buildings and have immediate access to the Taoiseach and write laws for urgent job creation measures? The answer shows the disparity that exists. This institution works in such a way that it serves as a distortion and perversion of any concept of real democracy. It is indefensible.

I do not share the Deputy's view. The very fact that he can be elected to this House properly by the people and stand up here speaks for itself. That is the democratic wish of the people in his constituency and he is sent in here to represent them and articulate his views which, I assume, they vote for. That is not a perversion of democracy but the result of the people's vote. Therefore, I do not understand the Deputy's point of view.

The Deputy referred to muddying the waters. Is he not the fellow who was going around with his tweet asking who are the members of the secret group that was meeting all summer. In response to a question, I read out the names of the so-called secret group. Therefore, I hope I make it clear now that this does not muddy the waters. Deputy Higgins can take the cotton wool ball to which he refers and throw it up against the haystack he was throwing it up against a number of years ago, but this time it will bounce back and might even bite him.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Correct. The Deputy's memory is good; he does not suffer from amnesia.

Deputy Adams said that some propositions carry more weight than others. I was trying to deal with his point on whether a proposition for the Department of Finance submitted by a person who suffers from difficulties with sight receives the same consideration as the proposition of the leader of a party who wants to raise an issue of sensitivity regularly? The job of the Government is to reflect these matters as fairly as possible.

Deputy Higgins should note that it is only right and proper that the main employers of more than 30,000 people should be able to engage with the Government. I have made no secret of the fact that I am interested if they can create one job, ten jobs, a hundred jobs or a thousand jobs. Business has access to government purely in the sense of talking about opportunities for job creation and economic growth. That is where the future is for every other constituency and the country.

It is important that the local community council, entrepreneur and person setting up a business – there are 1,800 per month now – be able to articulate their cases for improvement in that sphere to the Government. I make no apology for that as the process is wide open and all is recorded.

I do not accept the Deputy's contention that democracy is being perverted. We have made it perfectly clear that the only tax that can be levied on companies here is on income generated here. As we know, Ireland, during its Presidency, prioritised files that took action against tax fraud, tax evasion and aggressive tax planning. There were a number of significant achievements in that regard. We do not meet any of the criteria set out by the OECD in its definition of a tax haven. We abide by both OECD and EU rules on harmful tax competition. For example, to avail of our competitive 12.5% rate, economic substance and economic presence are required. Thousands of companies demonstrate these.

We participate constructively in the international response. During our Presidency, we had a very strong and conclusive discussion at European Council level. There was a genuine response to the fact that legislation has not moved as fast as the digital world on this matter, and that a very strong international response is needed. Our corporate tax rate, 12.5%, has been always a stable cornerstone of our attractiveness as a location for foreign direct investment. This will continue to be the case. The Deputy is aware of the changes that occur in other jurisdictions. A product may be manufactured here and sold in another jurisdiction while intellectual property rights may belong somewhere else. Different criteria apply in each jurisdiction. We can only tax what is raised here in Ireland.

The Deputy mentioned Priory Hall. This was a scandal. I do not believe, however, that every single developer or contractor should be branded in the same way as those who put together Priory Hall. It is not just in one instance that negligence or incompetence occurred because there were systems failures along the line. Deputy Martin raised an important point about Horizon 2020 and the agri-sector, which has increased in international integrity. We produce food to the highest standard. We have a grass-based agri-economy and it will be worth more than €10 billion next year.

I now call Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

I have a supplementary question.

I might get back to the Deputy, but I must call other Deputies, including Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett, Kevin Humphreys and Peter Mathews.

How much time is left?

There are only 16 minutes remaining.

The Taoiseach should keep his replies short.

In fairness to Deputy Higgins, the first two questioners were allowed to ask supplementary questions. Will we not be allowed to ask supplementary questions?

The other Deputies also tabled a number of questions.

I wish to ask a very brief supplementary question.

That is fine but I ask the Deputy to be brief because I wish to give other Deputies a chance to speak.

If symphysiotomy survivors had been able, over the past 25 years, to have a monthly meeting with the Secretary General of the Taoiseach's Department or the Secretary General of the Department of Health and other powerful institutions of this State, they would not have been still trying to get justice up until very recently for the tragedy they endured and the injustice that was done.

Does that not make the point, loud and clear? On the question of Priory Hall, the point I made in that regard was also about access, which the Taoiseach deliberately chose to try to avoid.

I ask the Deputy to explain that point.

Does the Taoiseach think, given what was going on during the bubble, that there is only one Priory Hall in this State?

Unfortunately, there are very many. What does that mean? It means that people are living in potential fire traps all over this country. They do not know it and the Taoiseach does not know it. He could do an enormous favour to them, in the context of avoiding a tragedy in the future, by having a national audit of fire safety in every one of the major apartment complexes that were constructed during that period. I will leave it there in deference to other Deputies.

These are the reflections of Government, Deputy Higgins. I think, in the context of the serious issue of symphysiotomy, that if the Government is prepared to listen, one does not need monthly meetings. I am far more interested in outcomes and action than in having monthly meetings about such issues. In fairness, a number of Deputies here raised the question of the Magdalen laundries and the women who worked there and that process was put in train. Their stories were heart breaking and there are others like them out there. It is not a matter of having monthly meetings about such serious and sensitive issues. If the Government has the capacity to listen and to act, we can deal with a range of sensitive matters that have not been addressed for far too long.

I have sat in houses, as have many other Deputies, and seen husbands and wives tearful over the fact they have mortgages on homes with cracks in the walls, doors that will not close and floors that are lifting because of pyrite. This is another issue we have to deal with. In fact, if the truth be told, practically every political carpet I have lifted in the last two and a half years was covering a series of very difficult situations. I could put it in different language, I assure the Deputy. Sometimes these things have to be isolated, dealt with and finished, in people's interests. It is very simple really. If we had a system of having independent clerks of works on these jobs with the authority to say, "Sorry, what you have built there is not in accordance with the requirements, knock it", that would take out rogue operators in some areas and the word would spread very quickly that such operators will not get away with it in Ireland. I met with representatives of the Construction Industry Federation the other day. There are some very good contractors and builders who were never in NAMA and who want to be trusted to build what they say they will build, so that those who buy, either in the commercial or residential sectors, can be happy in the knowledge that they are getting a safe building that was built in accordance with proper regulations and standards. They do not want any more Priory Halls, a wish which myself and Deputy Higgins also share.

I am not one for saying tick the box and have another monthly meeting. I am all for dealing with these issues, making decisions and moving on.

I have been raising the issue of the Clearing House Group since I was elected to this Dáil. During the past two and a half years when this issue has been raised, the Taoiseach has been throwing sand in the eyes of the people of this country and the Members of this House, in trying to cover up the fact of an extraordinary level of privileged access to his office and his Government for some of the financial and corporate giants who played a critical part in wrecking not just this economy, but the global economy. They continue to get that access while the groups the Taoiseach has just mentioned do not get access. Throughout the summer, I have been engaging with a survivor of the Magdalen laundries who is enraged at the fanfare surrounding the Government's apology to the Magdalen laundry survivors because when she applied to the education fund that was promised to allow her to access third level education and rebuild her life, she was told that the fund was closed and is not accepting applications. Where is the Clearing House Group for her? What of the man in Dún Laoghaire for whom the Taoiseach obtained a wheelchair a few years ago? He needs a new wheelchair and has been banging down my constituency office door, pleading for one. Where is his Clearing House Group? Where is the Clearing House Group for all of the disability groups and the representatives of workers who pleaded with the Taoiseach for the last two years not to cut vitally-needed resources and not to impose further cuts and austerity on working people, the poor, the unemployed and single parents? Where is their Clearing House Group? Instead, there is privileged access for unbelievable players in the financial markets. It is in the minutes of the meetings. One reads the minutes and one sees names like BoAML. I was trying to figure out who is BoAML - it is Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch was at the absolute heart of the American financial collapse.

Even after everything that has happened, US federal regulators have forced Bank of America, Citibank, Merrill Lynch and so on to pay $8.5 billion in fines after a review of foreclosure abuses, paperwork errors and botched loan modifications that had robbed tens of thousands of American homeowners of their homes between 2009 and 2010, yet we are taking advice from these people. They ask for tax breaks for their companies in areas such as investment funds, capital acquisitions tax, research and development, for executives to send their kids to private schools and so forth. They get them, while groups representing workers, the disabled and single parents plead with the Government not for tax breaks but for no more austerity. Meanwhile, this gang, up to its neck in the global financial crisis and still up to dirty tricks as found out by US regulators, gets exactly what it wants from the Government. It is extraordinary.

What we have discovered from the May minutes is that the representative from the Department of the Taoiseach has stated this is not working. We get down on our knees and give them everything they want, but it is not even working. The representative then tells the Clearing House Group that we need even more radical measures. What does that mean? Does it mean that we have to give them even more tax breaks against the background that they are not even paying 12.5% in corporation tax and some are paying no tax? Any fair person, knowing that the majority of people are being screwed by austerity, stealth taxes and charges, would suggest these guys should pay a little more in extra tax. However, the Government, in budget after budget, gets them to pay less, which does not even deliver jobs. Will the Taoiseach, please, not throw mud in the eyes of the people by claiming a move from 14.6% to 13.6% in the unemployment rate is as a result of the policy of getting down on our knees in front of these people? It is due to the fact that 120,000 people have left the country in the past three years. For every job the Taoiseach comes in here to announce with a fanfare - which I welcome - the reality is that jobs are being lost day in, day out, as he knows well. The GNP, gross national product, figures tell us the reality of what is going in the economy, not the inflated GDP, gross domestic product, figures that relate to the profits of these guys in the Clearing House Group. They are doing well because they have privileged access to the Government and the Taoiseach does whatever they ask, while the rest of the people are screwed to the floor. Give us the Clearing House Group and the bailout for the people. Stop protecting these guys, as has been done for the past decade.

That would be a good speech on the back of a lorry in Mulranny.

It is the truth-----

It is in Dáil Éireann.

-----and these guys are exempt from the lobbying register.

Thank you, Deputy Mathews. I realise it is in Dáil Éireann. Where was the clearing house for the 300,000 people taken out in terms of being liable for the universal social charge, USC? Was it the financial services sector? Where was the clearing house that dealt with the Magdalen laundry women? Was it the financial services sector?

Where is the education fund for the Magdalen laundry women?

Where was the clearing house for those who said we could not have more income tax increases? The fact is the Government listens to the people to balance the situation where jobs can be created, while the most vulnerable get the opportunity, in so far as is humanly possible, to have comforts and services provided for them by the State. I do not accept the Deputy’s assertion that the clearing house operates only at the higher level. The Deputy does not have any imprimatur to claim he represents the strata of society that only has difficulties.

I hear the very people with difficulties every day and week, as I receive e-mails and letters from them. I hope in some small way that I can act, as the Deputy calls it, as a clearing house for some of them. The Government, across its spectrum, represents an attempt to look after those who are vulnerable, who should have a clearing house to see to it that their old age pensions are not cut, their facilities are not taken away or their income tax is not increased. The clearing house should not be afraid to point to an opportunity to create jobs. Was it not a good development that 26,000 came off the live register in August?

They left the country.

Would the Deputy not welcome this? I met some of his supporters in Killiney the other night, but I could not understand what they were saying. I understand they were operating on his instructions. They were a sort of clearing house group under the trees.

No one operates on my instructions.

Was it a meeting RTE could not record?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett seems to be under the assumption that only financial corporate giants have the opportunity to engage with the Government. It is far from that. They have to deal with the full spectrum of society. I make no apology where 30,000 people are employed - men and women, some of whom are from the Deputy’s constituency - that they should have the opportunity to assess the environment for that business. Is there anything wrong in improving the atmosphere and the environment for a sector in which we might have 40,000 or 50,000 employed? Last week I visited a financial institution in the Dublin docklands, which is going to quadruple the number of its employees from 60 to over 200 in the next few years. I recently visited a data content storage facility in Blanchardstown, where the same will happen. Reports indicate that industry will grow by 15% to 17% in the next five years. The people employed in that sector can be from anyone’s constituency. Is there anything wrong with providing the opportunity for employment? I make no apology for being an assistant in creating a clearing house environment in which these sectors can thrive and prosper.

When I have the opportunity to engage with other leaders at European level, they tell me that they look at Ireland as listening and wanting to make decisions, despite the difficult economic circumstances, that will help the people to have employment and careers. That is good practice. The Government should operate as a clearing house for the people and give them the opportunity to change the environment in order that employment can be created. It is not a case of throwing sand in the eyes of anybody. It is a case of opening doors where everyone, from a single person to a company or a corporation, is entitled to tell the Government it has a suggestion that might improve the position on employment. We are not going anywhere unless we create employment, grow the economy, provide confidence for the people and give them a chance to stay at home, if that is what they want to do.

The Taoiseach is not doing a very good job in that respect. Why are they excluded from the register of lobbyists?

When I asked the Taoiseach that the minutes of the Clearing House Group be published, he did this. Will he publish the minutes of the sub-committee and working group on the Clearing House Group? It was mentioned that there would be a review of the Clearing House Group and the Taoiseach’s Department’s engagements with it. Will that also be published?

I also agree with Deputy Kevin Humphreys on the publication of these reviews. What I have witnessed in the past half an hour is sad. This is Dáil Éireann. I invite the Taoiseach to listen and harness the passion and energy of Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett’s ideas. John Perkins, the lead economist in Chas. T. Main consultants from the 1970s to the 1990s, the most powerful consultancy firm to the world’s corporatocracy, wrote about the companies exactly like those described by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett.

He is in good flow.

-----and was rightly castigated by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Daily Telegraph.

We are taking questions to the Taoiseach.

It is coming now.

The Taoiseach may answer that one.

I will respond to Deputy Kevin Humphreys. I will see to it that the review is published and will return to him on the other items he mentioned. I have no problem in listening to the passion of Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett. I hope he listens in return.

Since the Deputy has moved to his current position - move he has - he has changed his tune.

I was placed here.

The Deputy speaks about a lovey-dovey attitude here.

Deputy Peter Mathews was not talking about his relationship with the Taoiseach.

This is the Dáil, the people's House. Deputies Richard Boyd Barrett and Joe Higgins are perfectly entitled to give out to me if they wish.

They are not giving out to the Taoiseach.

They are perfectly entitled to do so and make their comments on, as Deputy Peter Mathews calls them, the consulting corporate doctors.

The Deputies are not giving out to the Taoiseach. He is not listening.

The Deputy is often an articulate and vehement speaker and loses the listening mode to others. I have known him for a long time-----

I have known the Taoiseach for an equally long time.

The Taoiseach should not get personal.

The Taoiseach prefers the giving out to the lovey-dovey.

-----and I respect his work in finance for so many years.

The Taoiseach did not say that to Deputy Peter Mathews when he recruited him for the last general election. He has a different tune now.

However, now that Deputy Peter Mathews has become an acquaintance of Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett I am perfectly entitled to engage with him.

We are trying to serve the people.

I am as open to meeting the constituents Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett mentioned as I am to meeting the corporate consultancy doctors to whom Deputy Peter Mathews referred because it is all open and recorded, unlike what happened in the past.

The Taoiseach deserves a medal for filibustering.