Courts Bill 2016: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

On behalf of the Tánaiste, I want to thank the House for facilitating early discussion of this short Bill, which is primarily intended to avoid potentially serious disruption to court business following a recent Court of Appeal ruling. Such disruption could arise from the need to transfer proceedings already under way before the Circuit Court to the High Court or to commence such proceedings in the High Court, with the risk of additional costs and delay for the parties involved. The Bill contains a series of technical proposals which deal with the consequences of the Court of Appeal’s ruling of 28 July last in Permanent TSB v. Langan, a case stated to the Court of Appeal from the High Court under the Courts of Justice Act 1936. The High Court had sought Court of Appeal direction on a number of legal points concerning the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in cases involving property following a number of earlier High Court rulings that had arrived at differing conclusions and had created legal uncertainty. The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court in cases involving land has been defined in several statutes on the basis of the rateable valuation of the property concerned. These include the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961, the Registration of Title Act 1964 and the Succession Act 1965. Where the rateable valuation is less than €254, originally £200, the Circuit Court has jurisdiction. Where the rateable valuation exceeds this threshold, the High Court has jurisdiction, unless the parties agree that the case may be heard in the Circuit Court. The issue that arose in the Langan case concerned the Circuit Court’s jurisdiction in cases in which the property concerned is not rateable under the terms of the Valuation Act 2001. Section 15 of that Act provides that the categories of property referred to in Schedule 4 shall not be rateable. It includes property such as domestic dwellings, agricultural land and farm buildings.

In the Langan case, the Court of Appeal ruled that where property is not rateable under the 2001 Act because it is included in Schedule 4, the Circuit Court has no jurisdiction to hear proceedings in respect of such property. While the court felt obliged to reach this conclusion, it recognised that the ruling was likely to lead to consequences which were “both unfortunate and unintended”. The court acknowledged that certain proceedings would have to be commenced in the High Court instead of the Circuit Court and that this would simply create additional costs for litigants "and will serve to deprive the parties of access to local courts in the manner in which the Constitution actually intended." The Bill seeks to address these unintended consequences and to avoid disruption of the orderly management and discharge of court proceedings already under way, as well as any additional costs arising from a collapse or withdrawal of proceedings based on rateable valuation.

The Tánaiste has asked me to underline the point that this Bill does not have implications for repossession proceedings in respect of principal private residences and will neither undermine nor erode the rights of such borrowers to due process and the remedies afforded under insolvency law. Under the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2013, the Circuit Court has been given jurisdiction to deal with repossession proceedings involving principal private residences, irrespective of when the mortgage was created, its rateable valuation or its market value. I very much regret that attempts are being made to create a contrary perception. As the House will be aware, a new, innovative mortgage arrears resolution service, Abhaile, was officially launched recently by the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social Protection. Under the scheme, eligible clients are given vouchers to obtain expert advice from financial and legal advisers in order to resolve their debt issues. In addition, they can get assistance in court where needed, have access to solicitors, and get help obtaining legal aid. More than 2,400 vouchers have been issued under the scheme to date in respect of 1,718 principal private residences. A major Government information campaign will be launched in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the scheme.

I will turn now to the detailed proposals in the Bill. With a view to minimising disruption to court business and avoiding additional costs for parties, section 1 provides that where proceedings involving non-rateable property under statutes referred to in the accompanying table have already been commenced in the Circuit Court before the entry into force of this Act, then the Circuit Court shall be deemed to continue to have jurisdiction to hear and determine the proceedings. That will help to ensure continuity and avoid disruption.

Section 1(2) provides, however, that the continuity provision in subsection (1) shall not apply where a court has made a finding that the Circuit Court does not have jurisdiction or where a party to the proceedings has raised an issue of the Circuit Court’s jurisdiction or the court itself has raised an issue relating to jurisdiction. That is intended, in particular, to safeguard the rights of any party to the proceedings that has raised an issue regarding the Circuit Court’s jurisdiction.

Section 1(3) explains the terms used in subsections (1) and (2), while the table that follows subsection (3) lists three statutes in which Circuit Court jurisdiction has been defined exclusively in terms of the rateable valuation of property, that is, section 22(1)(a) of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961; section 18 of the Registration of Title Act 1964 and; section 6 of the Succession Act 1965).

The purpose of section 2 is to provide a mechanism whereby the market value of land which is the subject of existing Circuit Court proceedings and which will be continued under the provisions of section 1, may be determined. Subsection (1) provides for the lodging of an affidavit in which a party states that to the best of his or her knowledge or belief the market value of the property does not exceed the threshold. A rebuttable presumption mechanism will ensure that any disputes as to the market value of the property can be resolved.

In section 3, under both section 10(5) of the Family Home Protection Act 1976 and section 140(10) of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010, the District Court has jurisdiction in certain cases in which the rateable valuation of land is less than €25. Such proceedings are also affected by the Court of Appeal ruling in cases of non-rateable property. In order to ensure continuity in these cases, section 3 provides that the District Court shall have, and be deemed always to have had, jurisdiction to hear and determine the proceedings. That shall not apply, however, where a party to proceedings or the court has raised an issue concerning jurisdiction. I should point out that it was agreed in the context of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 that District Court jurisdiction in cases involving land would be discontinued on commencement of section 48 of that Act. Following the commencement order which I intend to make to coincide with enactment of this Bill, the District Court will no longer have jurisdiction in proceedings involving land where its rateable valuation is less than €25. It will continue, however, to have jurisdiction in the case of chattels up to a value of €15,000.

Section 4 inserts a new section 53A into the 2004 Act. It contains a new rebuttable presumption mechanism whereby the value of property will be presumed to be below €3 million for evidentiary purposes. However, in the event of a dispute as to the alleged market value, a party may adduce evidence that the value of the property exceeds €3 million and that proceedings should be brought before the High Court rather than the Circuit Court.

Section 5 amends several sections of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 in order to provide that the existing right to apply to have proceedings under those provisions transferred from the Circuit Court to the High Court will only apply where the land involved has a market value above €3 million. This change will, following the making of relevant commencement orders, bring the right to apply to have proceedings transferred to the High Court into line with corresponding provisions in other family law legislation, namely, the Family Home Protection Act 1976; the Judicial Separation and Reform Act 1989; the Family Law Act 1995 and; the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996). Subsection 2(b) will replace the existing text of subsection (10) of section 140. As already stated, the District Court will no longer have jurisdiction in proceedings involving land where its rateable valuation is less than €25 but will continue to have jurisdiction in the case of chattels up to a value of €15,000, similar to its jurisdiction under the Family Home Protection Act 1976.

Section 6 is a technical provision which substitutes a new text for subsection (3) of section 60 of the Valuation Act 2001. It will now provide that production to a tribunal or court of a certificate issued under section 67(4) by an authorised officer shall be sufficient evidence, until the contrary is proved of the matters stated in the certificate. At present, this subsection does not include a reference to section 67.

Section 7 states that rateable valuation thresholds are in use not only to determine Circuit Court jurisdiction but matters unrelated to jurisdiction such as, for example, eligibility to acquire freehold title in accordance with ground rents legislation. Under the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (No. 2) Act 1978, the ground rent tenant’s right to acquire the freehold arises in certain cases where the amount of the annual ground rent is less than the rateable valuation for the property concerned. In order to facilitate continued exercise of this right and continued use in various other contexts, for example, in cases of non-rateable property, section 67 of the 2001 Act allows the Valuation Office to issue a certificate of rateable valuation to the ground rent tenant in the case of non-rateable property, that is, property included in Schedule 4 of the 2001 Act. In order to preserve this important mechanism, and continued usage of rateable valuation in matters unrelated to Circuit Court jurisdiction, it is proposed to insert a new subsection (2A) in section 67 of the 2001 Act. It clarifies that the certificates issued under that section are based on the value of other comparable properties appearing on valuation lists existing prior to the roll-out of the new valuation system under the 2001 Act.

Section 8 contains a proposal to rectify a technical error in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2015 where failure to provide a negative condition in section 170A(3Xa) means that the subsection as enacted has the opposite effect to what was intended. It means that whatever conclusion An Bord Pleanála may come to in its assessment of whether a proposed amendment to a strategic development zone, SDZ, planning scheme is minor or significant in nature, it must under the current provision ask the planning authority to make the amendment in line with the procedure laid down in section 169 of the Act, in effect triggering the full procedure for adopting an SDZ planning scheme in the first instance. The proposed amendment will enable An Bord Pleanála to adjudicate on and amend approved SDZ planning schemes in carefully defined circumstances, such as very minor changes or changes not affecting the broad objectives of the planning scheme. That was the intended purpose of section 170A.

In section 9, several provisions in the Licensing Acts, one of which dates from the 19th century, contain requirements in respect of the rateable valuation of licensed premises. In each case, the rateable valuation of the property concerned must be considered by the court in the context of granting a licence for the sale intoxicating liquor. These provisions have in common the fact that they were enacted prior to the introduction of planning legislation and their objective was to ensure that certain minimum standards were met by licensed premises. In the case of the Beer Licences Regulation (Ireland) Act 1877, section 2 requires that such premises are rated "in the sum of fifteen pounds or upwards". In the case of the Tourist Traffic Act 1952, section 44(1)(b)(ii) provides that the rateable valuation of holiday camp premises shall not be less than £200. The licensing law provisions referred to in section 9 have been overtaken by the detailed planning provisions of the Planning and Development Acts and may now be repealed.

This is an important but essentially technical Bill which seeks to deal with the unintended consequences of a Court of Appeal ruling. I commend it to the House.

The Bill is about extending the jurisdiction of one of our courts, namely, the Circuit Court. It is important, however, to identify what are the different jurisdictions that operate in our courts system, as sometimes we, as Members of this House, take it for granted that the public is aware of them. There are two courts of local and limited jurisdiction in our legal system. They are the District Court and the Circuit Court. The District Court is one of the courts of local and limited jurisdiction established under Article 34 of the Constitution. It is local because the country is divided into 23 District Court districts based upon geography. The District Court is limited, in civil matters, because, in general, a party cannot take a claim in the District Court if that claim is worth more than €15,000.

We also have another court of local and limited jurisdiction in our courts system, and that is the Circuit Court. The Circuit Court is a local court because the country is divided into eight circuits based upon a larger geography than the District Court districts. The Circuit Court is limited in civil matters in respect of the value of claims that can be made because one cannot bring a claim in the Circuit Court if that claim is worth more than €75,000.

There are many advantages to the ordinary citizen of this country in being able to access justice in courts of local and limited jurisdiction. It means that if one is brought before the courts for a minor criminal offence, one can have that offence dealt with summarily and quickly in a District Court in one's locality. It also means that if one wants to take an action in our courts for a sum of damages, say, in excess of €15,000 but less than €75,000, one can do that by instituting proceedings in the Circuit Court and ensuring that one can have one's case heard in the circuit where one lives as opposed to having to come to Dublin to have one's case heard in the High Court. The advantages of taking a claim in the Circuit Court are that it is quicker and less costly than the High Court. That is to the advantage of all litigants in that they can have their cases heard more quickly and in a cheaper fashion. It would be unfair if litigants were required always to go to the High Court, even in circumstances where they had small claims.

The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court derives from statute. Unlike the High Court, it does not enjoy the full original jurisdiction that the High Court enjoys to deal with all matters concerning issues of justice. The Circuit Court can only exercise powers that have been given to it by this Oireachtas. Under the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961, the Circuit Court has jurisdiction to deal with matters relating to land provided the rateable valuation of the property does not exceed €253.95. That is the old translation of the £200 that existed at the time the 1961 legislation and its subsequent amendments were introduced.

The Valuation Act was enacted in 2001. Section 15 of that Valuation Act expressly provided that domestic premises shall not be rateable. The House will be aware that many years prior to that a decision was made that domestic properties would not be subject to rates but it was only in the Valuation Act 2001 where this was definitively set out for the first time. Section 3 of the 2001 Act defined domestic premises as properties "which consist wholly or partly of a premises used as a dwelling and which is neither a mixed premises nor an apart hotel”. Accordingly, since the Valuation Act 2001, the Circuit Court did not have power to hear cases concerning land where that land was a domestic premises because such land is not rateable under the 2001 Act. In effect, from 2001, the Circuit Court did not have power to hear cases concerning land. However, we need to take into account that there were subsequent laws introduced giving the Circuit Court power after 2001. Those other statutory developments since 2001 that gave the Circuit Court jurisdiction in respect of certain land cases need to be identified.

Section 101 of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 gave the Circuit Court jurisdiction to hear cases concerning properties which are subject to a housing loan mortgage. All houses, therefore, which are principal private residences and subject to a housing loan mortgage, could, because of section 101, be heard in the Circuit Court. However, that legislation only applied, as legislation generally does, prospectively so it was the case that only housing loans granted after 1 December 2009, when the Act came into force, were covered by the 2009 legislation, namely, section 101, which allowed those cases to be heard in the Circuit Court. Housing loan mortgages granted before 1 December 2009, therefore, could not be pursued in the Circuit Court but every claim in respect of a principal private residence concerning a mortgage granted after 1 December 2009 could be pursued in the Circuit Court.

We then had a further development in 2013 when section 3 of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act came into effect. Under section 3, the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court was extended to cover mortgages in respect of principal private residences created before 1 December 2009. Therefore, under that legislation introduced in 2003, any case in respect of principal private residences before 1 December 2009 could be brought in the Circuit Court.

It is important to identify what those two statutory provisions mean in respect of people's principal private residences. What they mean is that because of section 101 of the 2009 Act and section 3 of the 2013 Act, any cases in respect of housing loan mortgages for principal private residences, namely, what we call the family home, can be brought in the Circuit Court. This Bill will have no impact in extending the powers of the Circuit Court to grant repossession in respect of principal private residences. This Bill will make no change to the entitlement people have to go to court in the Circuit Court in respect of houses that are principal private residences.

However, the law at present is that there is now a situation where domestic premises - not principal private residences but investment properties - which have mortgages on them created before 1 December 2009 cannot be pursued in the Circuit Court. They can, however, be pursued in the High Court. This legislation will alter cases that can go before the Circuit Court but it is incorrect to present it as though if these cases do not go before the Circuit Court they can go nowhere. They will go to the High Court and the effect of that is that we will have greater delay and more expense imposed on both sets of litigants.

It was because of this statutory gap that the Court of Appeal in the decision of PTSB v. Langan, which was decided on 28 July 2016, ruled that the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to grant repossession in respect of the six investment properties that were the subject matter of that Court of Appeal decision. It is important to remind ourselves, and I do not want to go into the details of that case, that the properties that were the subject matter of the Court of Appeal decision were six investment properties that were being rented out. It did not nor could it relate to principal private residences or what we refer to in this House as the family home. The reason the Circuit Court did not have jurisdiction to deal with those cases, according to the Court of Appeal, was because each of those six properties was a domestic premises which had mortgages on them created before 1 December 2009. However, if that case before the Court of Appeal had involved a principal private residence, or what we call the family home, the court could not have decided it in the way it did because since 2009 and 2013, and the statutory provisions I referred to earlier, the Circuit Court already had jurisdiction to deal with those issues.

As a result of the Court of Appeal decision, there are now some unfortunate and unintended consequences. It will mean, as was stated by Mr. Justice Hogan in the Court of Appeal decision, that proceedings in respect of such premises will now have to be commenced in the High Court rather than in the Circuit Court. To whose possible advantage could that be? It will simply mean that litigants will be exposed to greater legal costs by having the case taken against them in the High Court as opposed to the Circuit Court. It will deprive litigants of access to their local courts in the manner in which the Constitution actually intended.

The reason we set up courts of local and limited jurisdiction was so that people from those areas would, in cases of a certain value, be able to have their cases heard in those areas. I do not know to whose possible advantage it is if those individuals now have to come to Dublin to have their cases heard in the High Court.

Those are the facts of the principal proposal in this legislation. This is not legislation that will have any impact on, or change in any way, the Circuit Court's jurisdiction in respect of principal private residences. That needs to be stated repeatedly. It is legislation that will impact those who have investment properties which had mortgages created on them before 1 December 2009 and which are not principal private residences. Therefore, only a small group of properties will be affected by this new legislation, if enacted by the House, and those will be investment properties that are not principal private residences but in respect of which mortgages were created before 1 December 2009. Even if this legislation is not enacted, it does not mean that we are helping any vulnerable group regarding the prospect of repossession proceedings. Such proceedings in respect of those properties will still be permitted but the repossession hearings will take place in the High Court instead of the Circuit Court. In my opinion, there is no advantage to anyone being exposed to a more expensive and slower process.

This legislation, however, opens up the important issue that still affects thousands of people in this country, namely, the fact that there are individuals in their homes who are unable to meet their mortgage repayments. Those people need the assistance of this House and the Government. We are not talking about people who have investment properties and who want to be able to hold on to them, we are referring to individuals in their principal private residences or family homes. Those people continue to be under significant financial pressure. They will remain so until such time as the Government and this House make a decision as to what can be done to ameliorate their position. There is no point in people suffering simply because they cannot afford repayments on their properties. We need to restructure their loans. In the previous Oireachtas, members of my party, including Deputy Michael McGrath and Deputies Thomas Byrne and MacSharry, both then Senators, introduced a variety of legislative proposals that were of benefit and to the advantage of individuals who find themselves in such a position. When a Member of the Seanad, Deputy MacSharry introduced the Family Home Bill 2011. It did not get any support from the previous Government. Deputy Michael McGrath introduced the Mortgage Resolution Bill 2013. It did not get any support from the Government. What we need to recognise is that the solution for individuals who find themselves in mortgage distress is not in trying to present to them that their problems will be solved if a certain item of legislation is stopped from going through. We need to provide coherent solutions for those people so that they can get themselves out of the mortgage distress in which they find themselves.

I should also point out that we need to reform our legislation in respect of the courts in general. If a person is searching for where he or she should go to discover the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court or the District Court or how to get into the High Court, he or she must look through a library of books to find it. I would urge the Minister that we need to start the process of consolidating one complete courts Act so that citizens of the State will be in a position to know themselves - without having to go to the expense of seeking out lawyers or looking at the legislation - what they are entitled to do in individual courts, what is the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court, what type of cases can be brought in the High Court, etc.

In light of what I have said, Fianna Fáil will be supporting this legislation.

I am not too sure who is speaking after me.

There is no one listed to speak after the Deputy.

I will pick up on a point the previous speaker, Deputy O'Callaghan, made about the number of people on whom this legislation, if passed, will have an impact. As he indicated, it will be a very small number. It is those with investment properties who are renting who will be affected. While nobody wants to see increased costs in cases of home repossessions - whether it is a family home, an investment property or a rent-to-buy property - the one element missing from the debate, perhaps not so much tonight but in general, is what happens to the individuals within those properties. We must be aware of that when looking at any legislation that, realistically, will facilitate the introduction of a process which will be cheaper for the person who is bringing a case - under the Bill, that will be somebody who owns an investment or a rent-to-buy property - but which will also make much quicker in the context of the repossession of the home in question. The latter could mean that a family which is renting the property from the landlord could also face a much quicker eviction. The burden will be greater, therefore, on that family, particularly if there are children involved.

While this legislation deals with one aspect of the matter on the basis of a Court of Appeal case, Permanent TSB v. Langan, we need to have a broader debate on how we are dealing with family home mortgages in arrears. Obviously, the place to do so, as the Minister of State - a former justice committee Chairman - will be aware, would be in the Committee on Justice and Equality.

As we consider this matter, it is clear that there are, at a minimum, three different Departments to which it relates. There is the Department of Justice and Equality, from a legal point of view, the Department of Finance, due to the financial aspects, and the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, for which the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is responsible. I do not know what kind of co-operation or discussions are taking place at Cabinet between the Ministers responsible for those three Departments in order to rectify the position. It has been made a priority in the programme for Government. One of the commitments in the programme for Government is that the issue of home repossessions will be dealt with. To date, however, concrete proposals in that regard have not been forthcoming.

Deputy O'Callaghan highlighted at least two items of legislation that would have afforded home owners protection. Both were brought forward by his party but neither secured the support of the previous Government. My colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty brought forward the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Bill in 2013, which would also have addressed some of the concerns that have arisen. If it had been passed, it would have levelled the playing field between banks and home owners by making the repossession of family homes a less attractive option for banks. It would have increased, from two months to six, the length of time the court can adjourn a case to allow for a personal insolvency process take place. It would also have empowered the courts to perform a reasonableness test on whether the banks had really exhausted every possible option or whether they had declined any proposal from a personal insolvency practitioner and complied with the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. Further, it would have ensured that before any repossession was ordered by a court, all of the grounds I have outlined were satisfied. There were, therefore, three items of legislation by means of which my party and Fianna Fáil tried to address this issue. In my opinion, these brought forward concrete proposals to try to examine at the entire area of home repossession in a holistic and constructive manner. Not one of the three Bills proceeded past Second Stage. I understand that is politics. It is in the nature of Government to rarely support Opposition Bills. If that is the case, the Government should at least bring forward its own proposals. We have not seen them yet.

The Government has tabled this Bill out of concern, as the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said, that the Court of Appeal ruling has the potential to seriously disrupt the operation of the courts by requiring a range of property-related court proceedings to be taken in the High Court rather than the Circuit Court, thereby increasing court-related costs for the parties and delays in the determination of cases.

As the previous speaker and I have said, a much wider debate must happen here. If the Government is serious about implementing some of its proposals in the programme for Government, it could have taken the opportunity to address some of those concerns in this legislation. I realise that this Bill focuses on a particular court ruling. In the absence of any commitment on the part of the Government to address the other issues, however, it is difficult for us to support it. There will be an opportunity on Committee Stage to take on board some of the proposals contained in the Bills brought forward previously by Fianna Fáil and Deputy Pearse Doherty. The Minister should examine some aspects of those and consider whether they can be incorporated into this Bill. In my opinion and that of my party, there cannot be a situation where costs are reduced for those taking cases in respect of repossessions but where this has the knock-on effect of accelerating the process. If this legislation is passed, families in rent-to-buy properties could find themselves being forced to vacate the property quicker than they had anticipated had this legislation not been in place.

I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of widening the scope of the Bill on Committee Stage. It might not be the correct legislative measure in which to do it but, failing that, before Committee Stage the Minister must announce some concrete proposals for families who are struggling with mortgage payments, to show that the Government will address more than this court ruling. Many families see the slowness of the Government to address their concerns, yet a legislative measure can be drafted, introduced and passed in a short period in order to address some of the concerns of those who have invested in buy-to-let properties. Families see very little support and few options for them as owners of principal residences. We must send the correct message. When the Minister replies to the debate he should state that those concerns will be acknowledged, at least, by the Government. There should be a commitment that they will be addressed, if not in this legislation, then as quickly as possible.

I will speak briefly on the Bill. The Minister said it is a technical measure relating to the outcome of a Court of Appeal ruling in Permanent TSB plc v. Langan. There is much public concern about the implications of this Bill. While the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2013 gave the Circuit Court jurisdiction over repossession cases involving principal private residences, the detail of this case relates to what has been described as domestic premises where people who had buy-to-let mortgages were in default and a lender was seeking to repossess the premises.

The significant problem is that there are tenants in those buy-to-let premises. This is a huge area of concern. There is no need to tell the Minister that if these cases can be processed more quickly through the Circuit Court and lead to repossession, the first thing the bank will seek is vacant possession of the property. This will add to the crisis we already have with housing and homelessness across the State. The matter must be addressed and perhaps the Bill offers an opportunity to do so. While the Bill clears up the jurisdiction issues and makes the process a little easier for banks, we must consider the families and tenants who will be affected by this. If the repossessions proceed more quickly and lead to people being evicted from the properties, it is every bit as significant for people to lose a rental property and end up homeless as it is for people to lose their family home and end up homeless. The Minister should use the opportunity of Committee Stage to consider drafting amendments to the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act or other Acts to allow for the protection of tenants in these properties as well. Surely it would be in the interest of the lender who gains possession of these properties to maintain a tenancy and benefit from the rent that the tenants were paying to the previous landlord. That would be in the interest of everybody in society.

Under the confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael measures are supposed to be introduced to achieve the result of protecting people in tenancies and allowing them to keep the roof over their heads. The Government should aim to ensure that this can take place, rather than just facilitating the courts and making it easier for the owners of the loans to gain possession. I ask the Minister to address that and to outline how we can take steps to ensure that, as a result of this Bill being passed, nobody will be made homeless, thereby adding to the number of homeless people and those sleeping in hostels and hotels, which is a disgraceful situation that appears to get increasingly worse. At least we could do something positive through this Bill to prevent that happening in the future.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions to the debate. It is important to stress that the Bill does not have implications for repossession proceedings in respect of principal private residences. Under the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act, the Circuit Court has been given jurisdiction to deal with repossession proceedings involving principal private residences. This Bill will not change that and will not impact on the rights of borrowers to due process and the various remedies afforded by our insolvency laws.

The Government has put in place a number of protections for borrowers in respect of principal private residences. The Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act grants the court the power to adjourn proceedings to allow a borrower to examine the possibility of making a personal insolvency arrangement under insolvency legislation. In addition, a new court review process has been introduced under the Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Act 2015 in which a decision by a lending institution to refuse a proposal for a personal insolvency arrangement drawn up to resolve a home owner's debts, including the mortgage on their principal private residence, can be reviewed by the court.

A new nationwide mortgage arrears resolution service, Abhaile, which was launched recently provides free independent expert advice to home owners in mortgage difficulty. This innovative scheme, which can be accessed through the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, provides a home owner with expert advice from financial and legal advisers to identify sustainable solutions in mortgage arrears cases. Since its launch over 2,400 vouchers for legal and financial aid have been issued by MABS in respect of 718 principal private residences. I urge those who are worried about mortgage debt on their homes to contact MABS and start the process of putting in place solutions to their mortgage arrears which will enable them to remain in their homes.

I will briefly address the issue of rateable valuation and market value. It was the intention to commence relevant sections of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which changed the Circuit Court's jurisdiction from a rateable valuation basis to a market value basis, shortly after the commencement of the 2004 Act. This was not done because the expected roll out of the new valuation system under the Valuation Act 2001 was delayed. Following the enactment of amending legislation in 2015, I am satisfied that the conditions now exist for the commencement of those sections of the 2004 Act. A commencement order to bring them into effect is being drafted and will come into operation at the same time as the commencement of this Bill.

The Courts Bill 2016 is a short technical Bill which is designed to address the implications of the Court of Appeal's ruling in the case of Permanent TSB plc v. Langan. Its primary objective is to avoid potentially serious disruption to court business following the Court of Appeal ruling. I wish to avoid situations where proceedings already under way before the Circuit Court would have to be transferred to the High Court or where, as a result of the ruling, proceedings would have to be commenced in the High Court rather than the Circuit Court. Such situations will only lead to disruption of court schedules, delays in the proceedings and, ultimately, higher costs for the parties involved. In the absence of legislation on this issue the Court of Appeal ruling will have the effect, as acknowledged by the Court of Appeal, of depriving parties of access to local courts in the manner in which the Constitution intended.

For the information of the House, the number of mortgage accounts for principal dwelling houses in arrears fell further in the second quarter of 2016.

This marks the 12th consecutive quarter of decline. A total of 82,092, that is, 11%, of accounts, were in arrears at the end of the second quarter, a decline of 4.5% relative to the first quarter of 2016. The number of accounts in arrears over 90 days at the end of June was 57,571, which is 8% of the total, reflecting a quarter on quarter decline of 3.6%. This reflects the eleventh consecutive decline in the number of PDH accounts in arrears over 90 days. All maturity categories of arrears, including the over 720 days category, declined in the second quarter of 2016. This category recorded a fourth consecutive decline, having fallen for the first time in the third quarter of 2015. A total of 120,614 PDH mortgage accounts were classified as restructured at the end of June. Of these restructured accounts, 88% were deemed to be meeting the terms of their current restructure arrangements, the highest level since the series began. The largest increases in restructures were, again, recorded in the categories of arrears capitalisation and permanent split mortgages.

Issues relating to the protection of tenants in investment properties are not within the scope of the Bill, but I will ensure that the Deputies' remarks are made known to my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, who, as Deputies know, is implementing a comprehensive housing action plan.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 17 November 2016.

Sitting suspended at 7.55 p.m. and resumed at 8 p.m.