Leaders' Questions

Yesterday I raised with the Taoiseach concerns over the sale of Siteserv by IBRC to Millington following very serious revelations in Department of Finance memos released under freedom of information provisions to Deputy Catherine Murphy and The Sunday Times. The concerns revealed are very grave indeed. I refer to the speaking notes for the Minister's meeting with IBRC on 25 July 2012. In the documents, the civil servants state:

We are concerned that IBRC consider the CBI report compiled on the transaction vindicates their position.

To be clear we are concerned with a number of the decisions taken by the bank in relation to this transaction including

The decision to allow the sale process to be run by SiteServ's advisors

The decision to exclude trade buyers from the process

The timing of the exclusivity period when there were other bids outstanding

The payment of €5m to existing shareholders

1. Is IBRC satisfied that this transaction represented the best commercial outcome for the bank?

2. We want an independent commercial assessment completed for this transaction.

That is what Department of Finance officials in the shareholder unit were saying to their Minister before his meeting with IBRC. They went on to state: "The reputation of IBRC and by extension the State is vulnerable due to the approach taken by the bank in relation to these matters" and that IBRC's "processes should be beyond challenge to protect this".

Essentially, a company that was insolvent and owed €150 million was allowed to run this sale. Some of the shareholders were clients of Davy, which represents an obvious conflict of interest. Davy said to give them €5 million to vote the sale through. It is a handy €5 million, probably the handiest anybody ever earned. Shareholders in a company that was essentially bust got €5 million to vote. Did that not ring alarm bells with the Minister? He met the chairman and CEO. His officials were saying very clearly they wanted an independent review of the transaction. The Minister met Mr. Alan Dukes, chairman of the bank at the time, and Mr. Mike Aynsley, the CEO, and they persuaded him not to pursue the independent review. Clearly, he backed off and the trail ended. Therefore, the Minister did not face them down or do what he should have done, namely, ensure there was an independent review of the transaction. Why did the Minister not insist on an independent review of the transaction?

The Taoiseach said yesterday he did not read the report in The Sunday Times but I take it he has been well briefed at this stage. I asked the Taoiseach yesterday, and am asking him again today, whether the Government will establish a proper inquiry to investigate this deal and concerns the Department of Finance officials had over the operation and management of the IBRC.

I thank Deputy Martin for his question. The bank that was Anglo Irish Bank was the rotten carcass that brought down this country, costing the taxpayer €34 billion. I might add that not one cent was put into it by this Government. The Deputy has asked a number of important questions. The situation was that the actions that were concluded by the board of IBRC were concluded under the old framework agreement, which was set up by Deputy Martin's own Government and its Minister for Finance. The current Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has been very clear in his comment on this that he himself had concerns about decision-making in IBRC, particularly regarding transactions such as the Siteserv company sale. The Minister met the chairman of IBRC and was assured by him that the board, which was appointed by the Government of which Deputy Martin was a member, had reviewed the process and that it was in the best interest of the taxpayer. There was a further series of issues so the Minister met the chairman and chief executive. He had the then Secretary General of the Department of Finance examine this issue further. He also seconded a senior civil servant into IBRC and changed the relationship framework that had been introduced by the late Minister, Mr. Brian Lenihan, and made it mandatory for IBRC to notify the Department of Finance of any significant transactions. When the Minister made all the relevant inquiries, he was satisfied the course of action he took in regard to Siteserv was sufficient.

Critical representations were made following the transaction and Department of Finance officials inquired into that transaction with IBRC management as part of their regular engagement. Following initial discussions, they agreed with IBRC's chairman and CEO, on 31 May 2012, that they would review the transaction involving Siteserv in greater detail to better understand the decisions taken and the impact these decisions had on the process and the final recovery for the bank. On 11 June 2012, following the review, the Department of Finance officials were concerned that IBRC had decided to allow Siteserv to control the sales process rather than itself acting in a primary role in that transaction. In light of those concerns, the shareholding management unit of the Department of Finance recommended that the chairman of IBRC commission an independent review of the transaction, and this was included in a briefing note which was given to the Minister prior to his meeting with the chairman and chief executive.

On 25 July 2012, the Minister met IBRC's chairman and chief executive to discuss those concerns regarding this transaction, which were raised with him-----

(Interruptions).

That was read out last night.

-----by the Department of Finance officials-----

I am trying to get the timeline right for Deputy McGrath.

The Taoiseach is trying to make it up as he goes along.

Given the Minister's concerns, the chairman and chief executive gave strong assurances that the transaction had been thoroughly assessed by the IBRC board-----

That is the script of the Minister of State, Deputy Harris.

Deputy Martin should read it altogether.

-----and that the management and the board were satisfied that the transaction was managed in the best possible manner to achieve the best result for the State-----

Thank you, Taoiseach.

-----including the decision to allow Siteserv to control the sales process. As I said, following the meeting the Minister for Finance requested that a further meeting take place between the former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, Mr. Moran, and the then CEO of IBRC. A further meeting took place in August 2012. The matter was further discussed. At that point with regard to all of the issues I have raised, the transaction had been concluded, notwithstanding the fact that a revised relationship framework and operational protocol had been put in place in March 2012. It was decided following that agreement that a senior official would be appointed from the Department of Finance, making it mandatory that the Minister would be notified of any significant transaction in the wind-up of IBRC. This had the additional benefit of supporting the management team while providing a greater sense of oversight. There was a long relationship between IBRC and the Department of Finance, and the late Minister introduced a relationship framework back in 2009. Essential to that was that a commitment was made that the Department of Finance would not interfere in any commercial decisions IBRC made.

What the Taoiseach is doing is despicable.

That was the framework that was set up-----

We are moving onto a supplementary question.

I asked a very basic question, which was whether the Taoiseach would set up an inquiry into this deal. The Government is hiding behind very opaque language. What the Taoiseach read out was read out last night by the Minister of State, Deputy Harris. What the Taoiseach is saying to me is that Alan Dukes persuaded the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, that it was okay for taxpayers' money to the tune of €5 million to be paid to shareholders of a bust company.

A former Minister.

The taxpayer was already losing more than €100 million on the deal, but it was okay to pay the shareholders €5 million. The advisers to the shareholders were Davy, and it has transpired that some of the shareholders are clients of Davy.

A golden circle.

We could not make this up. It is wrong. Will the Taoiseach call it as wrong? Does he think it was right that the €5 million payment should have been made? Will the Taoiseach give me a straight answer to this question? Why did the Minister not do what his officials wanted done and establish an independent review of the transaction? That is all the civil servants wanted. The framework document the Taoiseach spoke about was finished, and the bank and board were told by Department of Finance officials that they must operate as if it were in place. DG Competition and the troika had asked for a new framework and there is no issue with that. There were 30 drafts and it was going on and on. In fact, officials were very afraid that IBRC was delaying signing off and all of the documents show this. This is well understood. It is not politics but stuff going on between the officials and IBRC. The essential point is an independent review of the transaction. The officials were raising alarm bells of a very serious nature with the Minister-----

-----about this deal but also about more. The Taoiseach could read the freedom of information material in 15 to 20 minutes. It states that the officials at the Department of Finance were "concerned at the number of large transactions that have been poorly executed under the direction of the current CEO. The performance of management in executing these transactions raises the question of the effectiveness of the CEO. The poor management displayed in a number of these items along with the increased level of public concern and political and media scrutiny that they commanded is damaging the credibility of the institution and by extension the State."

Will the Deputy frame a question please?

This was all prepared for the Minister to say to them. The documents also state: "Events over the past number of months have led me to question the effectiveness of the management team in IBRC." They further state: "I expect the Board to ensure that the bank in its approach and operations is operating to the exemplary standards and in the public interest. I am concerned that the reputation of IBRC and by extension the State has been damaged as a result of these events."

A question, please.

I have in my hand the documents and one can see the redactions. We do not know the half of what was going on that gave rise to so much concern among officials in the Department of Finance. All of this is from the Department of Finance and has been revealed through freedom of information requests. To be fair to Independent Deputy Catherine Murphy, it took her the guts of a year to get to this stage.

She said it was like pulling hen's teeth.

We are way over time.

I put it to the Taoiseach sincerely that this cries out for a proper inquiry because protection of the taxpayers' interest is at the core of the issue, and it clearly was not protected in this deal. Will the Taoiseach establish a proper inquiry? Does he think it was okay for €5 million to be given to the shareholders?

The Labour lads look worried over there.

The rotten carcass of Anglo Irish Bank brought down this country. It cost €34 billion-----

And the other banks. It was the whole sector.

I thank Deputy Mathews. The Government did not put a cent into Anglo Irish Bank.

You put €5 million into the shareholders' pockets.

Deputy Martin is now questioning the framework he set up.

No, I am questioning a deal.

A sweetheart deal involving a former Fine Gael leader.

I am asking for an inquiry.

The Taoiseach has the floor.

Believe me, that framework was set in place by Deputy Martin's Administration-----

Is the Taoiseach happy with the deal? Answer the question.

-----and he is now questioning that framework.

I hope Deputy Martin is not, and has no intention of, impugning the integrity of the Minister for Finance.

I asked the Taoiseach a question and I would like an answer to it.

Deputy Martin did not say that and the Taoiseach knows it well.

I hope he is not impugning in any way-----

The Taoiseach will not answer the question.

-----the integrity of the Minister for Finance-----

-----who has saved the taxpayers in this country billions over the past number of years-----

Has the Taoiseach listened to me for the past ten minutes?

Another bogeyman.

The situation is as I have outlined, that when the Minister, Deputy Noonan, had concerns about this - it is not a case of the Minister being persuaded by anybody - he was given clear assurances by the chairman and chief executive of the board of IBRC that this was in the best interests of the taxpayer.

Could he not see for himself that €5 million for shareholders was not in the best interests of taxpayers?

He was given those assurances when he asked the questions because of the concerns he had about this issue. I am telling Deputy Martin that the Minister met them and was given this assurance by the chairman and chief executive of the board, appointed under Deputy Martin's Administration. Deputy Martin should understand and appreciate that I do not want anything untoward or wrong about this deal so I spoke to the Minister for Finance this morning. In the interests of everybody here, there will be a further release under freedom of information tomorrow, which I think will include minutes of meetings, or so the Minister informed me, in the Department of Finance which will set out his position very clearly. This is why I know the Deputy does not want to impugn his integrity. From the point of view of a constitutional responsibility and remit for value for money, the Minister is very happy that the Comptroller and Auditor General should look at this. He is completely independent in his analysis of value for money as was the assurance given by the chief executive and the chairman to the Minister for Finance.

No, it is more than this.

This is the issue Deputy Martin raised.

I did not raise it.

If he now does not trust the Comptroller and Auditor General in respect of-----

The civil servants raised it.

Deputy Martin has raised it arising from the minutes of the civil servants. The Comptroller and Auditor General has a constitutional responsibility in respect of value for money for the taxpayer. The Minister for Finance was assured by the chairman and the chief executive that the board appointed by Fianna Fáil, having considered this had given its decision in the best interests of the taxpayer. The Minister is happy the Comptroller and Auditor General and his office in total independence should look at this question of value for money for the taxpayer.

Yesterday, in response to demands for the Taoiseach to initiate an independent inquiry into the sale of Siteserv to a company controlled by Denis O'Brien, he stated he had not been briefed on the issue. He stated he would find answers to these questions. I wish to give the Taoiseach an opportunity today to give these answers. I will outline what we know.

We know Siteserv was sold off for €45 million at a cost to the taxpayer of €105 million. We also know the same legal adviser acted for both the purchaser and the seller, and that the shareholders and the director got a backhander of €5 million. We know this thanks to the dogged persistence of Deputy Catherine Murphy. We also know the bid from Denis O'Brien's company was not the highest one, and that the Department of Finance was concerned about these matters and the Minister was briefed in detail on them. Officials recommended that the Minister ask the IBRC chairman, Alan Dukes, to conduct a full and independent review of the sale. That is the first question. Why was this not done? The Taoiseach said he spoke to the Minister for Finance this morning. Did the Taoiseach ask him why he did not act on the recommendations of the officials?

Another response secured by Deputy Catherine Murphy under the freedom of information provisions is an internal memo from civil servants in the Department of Finance stating that they were concerned at the number of very large transactions, over €100 million, that were poorly executed. The second question is what these very large transactions were. GMC-Sierra, which is a subsidiary of Siteserv and also linked to Denis O'Brien, was subsequently given the largest contract to install the controversial water meters across the State, making millions of euro in profit for private individuals on the back of the water charges proposition of Fianna Fáil, endorsed by Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the great visionary project of Irish Water. There are three questions, but the key question is whether the Taoiseach will initiate a full and independent inquiry into these matters.

I thank the Deputy for his questions. As I have already said, having spoken to the Minister for Finance, whose integrity I am sure Deputy Adams does not want to impugn, the Minister changed the framework following concerns expressed to him by his officials. He met with the chairman and chief executive, had the Secretary General of the Department of Finance go further into it, appointed a senior official at assistant secretary level, and made it mandatory that the board of IBRC inform the Department of Finance of any financial transactions of significance. This was not the case prior to that. The framework set up under a previous Administration did not require that, and a specific provision was included that the Department of Finance would not interfere in any commercial activities of the board of IBRC. The Minister changed that.

That is not true.

In respect of the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Minister in regard to value for money, the Minister was given assurances by the chairman and chief executive of IBRC. The Minister is happy that the Comptroller and Auditor General examines this completely independently in the interests of the taxpayer, taking into account the issues raised by Deputy Adams.

It is not often I feel I can advise the Taoiseach, but he is handling this in exactly the same way as he handled other issues, dragging it out and drip feeding it bit by bit. I asked three simple questions. Why was the recommendation for Alan Dukes to initiate a fully independent review not acted on? The Taoiseach did not answer the question. What were the other transactions of over €100 million that gave concern to Department of Finance officials? The Taoiseach did not answer this question. I asked whether the Taoiseach will hold a fully independent inquiry into the matter, and he did not answer. The reason this came to public attention, aside from the sterling work done by Deputy Catherine Murphy, is that one of the bidders complained. That is why it came to the attention of the Department and the Minister. The issue goes to the heart of the relationship between governance in this State and big business, whether it involves a Fine Gael and Labour Party Government or Fianna Fáil. This concerns compliance and subservience to the golden circles and the elite, the links to all of this and the despicable attitude which contrasts with the Government's dealings with ordinary citizens who are impoverished, unemployed and scattered throughout the globe because of the Government's austerity policies. IBRC was a bank made up of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, two corrupt, failed banks that cost the people €34 billion, which this Government has pledged to pay in full.

The former chairman of IBRC is the former leader of Fine Gael. Siteserv owed IBRC €150 million and it was sold for €45 million to a company owned by Denis O'Brien. It wrote down the debt by just over €100 million and shareholders received a €5 million backhander from the sale. That is incredible, given that the company was effectively bust.

Will the Deputy put a question?

Siteserv, via GMC-Sierra, emerged as one of the contractors for water meters for the flagship enterprise Irish Water. Arthur Cox acted as solicitors for both Siteserv and the company owned by Denis O'Brien. I will put the question again. Why was the recommendation by the Department of Finance to the Minister that Alan Dukes initiate a fully independent review of the sale of Siteserv not acted upon? What are the other transactions of over €100 million? Did the Taoiseach ask that of the Minister for Finance this morning? If not, why did he not? Will he initiate a fully independent inquiry into these matters?

Deputy Adams is the ultimate hypocrite. He comes in here week after week with his bleeding heart, talking about links between everyone else and, as he says, a despicable attitude towards ordinary people. Deputy Adams has consistently refused to answer questions about his own goings on or his party's goings on or links with many dubious characters over the years.

No, I have not.

Of all people, Deputy Adams should not come in here and accuse the Minister-----

I have a mandate to be here.

And it is just as good as the Taoiseach's.

The Deputy has a mandate, but he is not fulfilling it and not telling the truth about a range of issues on his own side. It is a different argument. The Deputy should not come in with his mandate and accuse the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, of deliberately hiding something the public should know.

I did not accuse him of anything.

This Government got rid of the rotten carcass that was Anglo Irish Bank. That cost the taxpayers of the country €34 billion, and the framework set up in respect of IBRC was set up by the previous Administration. The Deputy asked a number of questions and, in response to Deputy Martin, I said that the Minister met with the chairman and the chief executive-----

We know this. The Taoiseach should answer the question.

Can we have one voice?

He was given clear assurances as Minister for Finance that this matter was properly assessed by the board of IBRC. He changed the framework that applied at the time and appointed a senior civil servant from his Department to make it mandatory that the Department of Finance and the Minister for Finance be informed of decisions made by the board of IBRC in the winding up of the bank.

Can the Leas-Cheann Comhairle hold the Taoiseach to account?

In order to clarify it for everyone, the Minister for Finance has no objection, under the responsibility of the totally independent office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, to have this examined in the context of value for money for the taxpayer, which the Minister was given assurances about by the chief executive and the board of IBRC.

That is too limited. Was it okay to pay the €5 million? There were a number of large transactions.

In all his hypocrisy, I assume Deputy Adams accepts the complete independence of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the integrity of the Minister for Finance.

I am moving on to a serious and urgent issue that dominates the work of many of us in the House, especially in the Dublin and greater Dublin areas. I am talking about the issue of housing. We see individuals, couples and families facing rent increases of anything from €100 to €400 per month from landlords.

It is not because major renovations or adjustments have been made to the accommodation, it is because it is a landlord's market. There was a great urgency and energy about the meetings called by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, before Christmas, but last month saw the largest ever monthly increase in the number of families living in emergency accommodation in Dublin. In March, on 60 occasions, there was no accommodation for families assessed as being homeless.

Inability to pay market rent is identified by many organisations as the reason for this. That includes the low maximum rent levels under rent supplement. Last week in a reply to Deputy Ó Cuív, the Tánaiste outlined the new protocol under which people are dealt with on a case-by-case basis by community welfare officers. Some 4,000 cases were renegotiated. They were the lucky ones, but I am not sure that is the most efficient or dignified way to deal with this issue. What about those who did not get their cases renegotiated? Many of them had to resort to topping up the rent using some of their social welfare payment. We know that is against the rules for rent supplement, but it also eats into the household income. It brings the household income below the minimum level and will eventually lead to further homelessness and further pressures on the accommodation supply. There are at least 90,000 people on social housing lists and rent supplement is the only option for them until the new housing comes on stream. In January 2009, the rent supplement rate for a family with two children in Dublin was €225 a month higher than it is today. I am asking for a reality check on rent supplement and on the carte blanche that landlords have to increase rent, which is partly caused by the mortgage repayments of the buy-to-let landlords, and also that we take account of prevailing market conditions.

The Government is acutely aware of the problems Deputy O'Sullivan raises, not just in Dublin but in other locations around the country, particularly the larger towns and cities. That is why the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has set out a whole strategy to deal with social and affordable housing, with a €4 billion programme between now and 2020 to deal with the provision of 35,000 new dwellings over the next few years. No matter what happens, the situation cannot be dealt with until adequate numbers of houses, apartments and accommodation blocks are provided. That is why the pressure arises here.

The Deputy is aware of the pilot schemes with the housing assistance programme, which mean that people will not lose their entire social welfare benefit when they get a job, and the opportunity for community welfare officers to make individual arrangements where this applies, as she mentioned. Dublin City Council rejected one of the decisions the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government had made in respect of further temporary accommodation in O'Devaney Gardens. These are ongoing problems. The argument about increasing the rent supplement plays even further into the hands of landlords. That is why it has been necessary to allow community welfare officers to increase the rent supplement being made available in individual cases when people are in trouble. Everybody understands this and nobody wants to see what has happened over the last five or six years continue. We cannot, and will not be able to, deal with it until more houses and accommodation are built. In that respect, I am glad to see that the construction sector is moving. It is up by 11%.

The programme has been set out by the Minister on behalf of the Government, with money on the table. The construction industry, the contractors and the builders must now get moving. It also requires the planning authorities to give the go-ahead for many of these schemes. There is no argument about the sincerity of the cases Deputy O'Sullivan raises or the difficulties people have. Nobody wants to see families in hotels or bed-and-breakfasts when they should have the opportunity to have their own home. That is where the focus of Government has been and decisions have been made to allow this to happen but like everything else, it cannot happen overnight. The change in the code of conduct in circumstances where people are in trouble and are being moved out by a landlord where community welfare officers may increase rent supplement in individual cases is a measure to tide us over for a period of time. It is not where we want to be. This cannot be sorted out until sufficient accommodation is provided in Dublin or other cities and large towns around the country.

If the strategy were working, we would not see increasing numbers of people ending up homeless. That is the reality. Rent supplement should not be used as a mechanism for market manipulation. The current arrangements are not keeping rents down. If rent supplement is not being re-examined, one must consider intervention at the other end, namely, some kind of rent management or rent control. I am struck by two ironies. One is that €5 million is going to these shareholders mentioned earlier, when that €5 million could do so much for the housing and homeless situations. I am also struck by the irony that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, issued a fine policy statement on parenting and family support last Monday week. It outlined the Government's commitment to better outcomes for all children. It stated: "supporting parents and families is the best way to improve outcomes for children". How can we equate that fine, idealistic statement with what is happening? There are 911 children in emergency accommodation in Dublin, and over 1,000 if we take in the greater Dublin area. Those children are being moved from their homes, their friends and, in many cases, from their schools, so they must change schools or must travel long distances back to their school. They are away from their after-school activities and supports. It is having a negative effect on the mental and physical well-being of those children. The current system cannot continue. It is heart-breaking to listen to people facing homelessness and particularly to listen to their children. There is a need for front-line services to be able to act before these families and individuals become homeless. There is a need for another emergency meeting. I was with the Minister yesterday when he opened state-of-the-art accommodation in the north inner city. That took 15 years from conception to inception. Families cannot wait 15 years. There is a need for more emergency measures now to prevent more people becoming homelessness.

I agree completely with the Deputy. It is not justified in any circumstance that people should have to wait that long. I cannot stand over that. The property market in general has not returned to any kind of normality following the total collapse of this system some years ago. In the greater Dublin area, we will have to provide serious numbers of new houses, apartments and accommodation for people. At one end of that, the Minister has already notified local authorities of their allocation for social housing and the opportunity to get building those accommodation units while at the other end, there are opportunities for the private sector to build serious numbers of houses to cater for the demand.

However, the Minister has made it clear that he will not legislate for rent controls. These have very adverse consequences and if such legislation were even contemplated, landlords would inevitably tend to raise rents now in anticipation of it. Arrangements have been made for advance notification and for discussion with the community welfare officer if that is necessary where a person becomes aware a landlord wants to move him or her on. In those cases, individual arrangements can be made for particular increases in the supplement to deal with the circumstances. However, if the Government decided to legislate for rent control, the situation would be worsened and rents would be higher.

The answer is to deal with the accommodation problem, namely, the lack of houses. On the social end of that, the Government has put its money on the table and given instructions to the local authorities while at the other end, the opportunity is there for the private building sector to get down to work. We need to see an increase from the 8,000 houses completed last year to 25,000 a year.