The Minister of State keeps talking about Uisce Éireann, but we have asked him to deal with other State agencies. It is not about whether the Minister of State, or any other Minister, is getting additional powers to sell off State assets. As the sole shareholder in the company owned by the State, obviously the Minister of State has the power to sell State assets unless he is prevented from doing so by legislation. The Bill creates a framework whereby advice can be sought from the agency to examine the disposal or reorganisation of State assets. The legislation allows the Minister to outsource the selling of the State assets to the agency. That is provided for in section 19. It allows the Minister of State to sell the ESB and to engage project management in respect of the sale of the ESB. The Minister of State can, by direction, give the authority to project manage it under section 19(3) of this legislation. The Minister of State must publish the direction issued in a manner he sees fit, but Members of the Dáil and Seanad do not have to be consulted because it is not an order.
If this had to be done by order, it would have to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and would have to allow them the opportunity, if they so wished, within 21 sitting days, to pass a resolution which would annul the order. However, it is a direction rather than an order, which means the Minister can, through the way we are structuring the agency, use the power he has had up until now to ask it to project manage the sale, disposal or reorganisation of any State agency. It is not about the Government retaining power, which means this will not make a difference. What we are saying is that we fear what the Government may do to our State assets. I do not believe or trust the Government or the Minister in regard to what they might do with State assets, because I know their agenda. I know the party the Minister of State belongs to is a party that believes in privatisation. We know the sale of State assets was part of its agreement with the troika. We know where the Fine Gael Party is coming from and we know its ideology on this and, fair enough, it has a mandate to express that ideology. Sinn Féin knows Fine Gael has the larger mandate and can decide what will be done with State assets, but we want to ensure the legislation gives the Houses of the Oireachtas the respect they deserve by allowing them at least to debate the issues. We may lose the vote because of the numbers and the Whip, but at least the legislation should allow for the Houses of the Oireachtas to have a direction such as this laid before them, with the potential of annulment. I refer to a direction issued in regard to State assets, the issue I have been speaking about up to now and which I also raised on Committee Stage.
Under section 42, there is another direction that I consider a scandalous part of this legislation. The section concerns a direction to invest assets of the fund in specified securities of a credit institution or to underwrite or otherwise support the issue of any kind of securities of a credit institution. Therefore, section 42 allows for directed investments to be made by the Minister into banks or credit institutions that are in trouble and provides that the agency must comply with a direction issued under this section. Again, this direction will not be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and will not be debated in this House, unless it is "with the consent of the Government". We do not trust the Government.
On Committee Stage, I asked the Minister of State how many times the previous Fianna Fáil government had debated the injection of €31 billion of promissory notes into Anglo Irish Bank. On three separate occasions a promissory note was issued, but none of them ever came before the House. The Minister of State has asked his officials whether these were supported in the House, but the issuing of a promissory note never came before the Houses, because the Government of the day was not required to lay such a direction, or whatever it was, before the Houses or to seek their consent or approval. The Minister of State may be mixing up the promissory notes with the issue of the guarantee. The promissory notes, with €31 billion going to the most bust banks in the country, were not required in legislation to be debated here. Perhaps the Minister of State would say that if he was standing here now dealing with that legislation, the issue of a promissory note should at least be debated before the Houses of the Oireachtas. My point here is that if the Government, or any future government, decides to privatise the ESB, Coillte or Bord na Móna, and decides to use section 19(3) to allow the agency to project-manage that process, this should come before the Houses. It should be up to the Members to bring that resolution to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Also, if a future government decides to use this money, this should come before the Houses. This money comes from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and is supposed to be for the security of pensioners into the future. This is money that is supposed to be there to deal with the pensions time bomb we face. It is public money. However, if a Minister decides that because the banks are broken and because we want the ATMs to continue working, we should inject €2 billion into a credit institution, and if he can do that under section 42, the least we deserve is that the direction being given by the Minister be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and that the Members be given the power to annul that if they can garner a majority in either House.
The question is this: what does the Government have to fear from proper oversight and accountability? If it did not fear oversight and accountability, it would have no problem with laying such directions before the Houses of the Oireachtas or in giving the same provisions that apply to orders to directives. If it did not fear proper oversight, it would have written this legislation in such a way that a direction to inject our money into banks in the future would be an order and in such a way that the privatisation of a State agency would be an order. However, at the core of these sections is the attempt by the Government to evade the type of scrutiny, oversight and transparency that has been so badly lacking in the past number of years. The Government wants to continue down the same road. That is the crux of this. The Government asks us to take it in good faith and to agree that it will behave responsibly with the powers it has. That is fine, and I believe the Minister of State is genuine in what he is saying and that he does not intend to fritter away the State's assets on broken banks in the future. However, legislation is about putting in protections. It is not about protecting against the Opposition, but about establishing protections for citizens of the State. This protection would allow us the ability to have a debate. The amendment would not give an automatic right to a debate, but it would give the right for Deputies elected on behalf of the people to red-flag an issue. It would give them the opportunity to say an issue is of such magnitude that they believe the direction should be debated in the Seanad or the Dáil and that if the power of their argument was so strong and convincing that they had a majority, this would annul the provision, but would not affect anything that took place within the previous 21 days.
I am passionate about this because it is about transparency and real political reform. We talk about political reform all the time - it is a buzzword here - but unless we allow for more scrutiny and transparency, we should all just go home and let the Government govern the way it wants. Sometimes it seems that is what is happening. Some of the Minister of State's responses have been like that, saying the Government is not giving itself any extra power and that it has a majority anyway. We know that. What is the point? We know this legislation is going to pass and that the Government will not accept any amendment. However, we are here because sometimes the Government comes up with bad legislation and sometimes the debate process is important.
I strongly commend this amendment. At the bare minimum, the Minister of State should look at the directions that can be issued under this legislation, which have severe consequences. There is some validity in his argument that every small direction that can be issued to the agency in regard to the performance of its duties may not need to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. However, there is no big deal with laying anything before the Houses. Laying something before the Houses does not mean there will be debate on it. It is up to Members to look at what is laid before the Houses and consider whether there is an issue that should be examined more closely. If the Minister of State wanted to bring in an amendment of that sort, that would be some sort of compromise. Sections 19 and 42, however, are two cases in which the directions that can be issued are of such potential magnitude that respect should be given to debate, to the Government's political opponents and to the Houses of the Oireachtas by allowing these directions to be laid before them and to be annulled if the majority so wishes.