Ethical Public Investment (Tobacco) Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to prohibit the investment of public moneys directly or indirectly in equity or debt securities issued by tobacco companies.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to introduce the first Private Members' Bill of 2017 to the Oireachtas. The purpose of the Ethical Public Investment (Tobacco) Bill 2017 is to prohibit investment of public moneys directly or indirectly in equity or debt securities issued by tobacco companies. The Bill will end once and for all the practice of the State holding investments in tobacco companies. Everybody would agree that it is immoral for the State to make a profit on the sale of cigarettes and should not be allowed to happen. This is a policy issue the Oireachtas must address and I welcome this opportunity to do so.

It is a health issue as well as a public investment issue. The fact that smoking remains a huge cause of preventable death and disease in Ireland is accepted by everybody. Tobacco costs the State more than €1.5 billion in health care costs and loss of productivity. It kills 6,000 people per annum, which means an average of 16 people a day die in Ireland as a result of tobacco-related cancer and other illnesses. More than 81,000 hospital bed days are taken up treating people with preventable cancer arising from smoking. It is an issue we must take very seriously. I am very pleased Ireland has a very strong tradition in this area. When my party leader was Minister for Health and Children he introduced a ban on smoking in many areas, which has been a measure many countries throughout the world have introduced.

The reason I am introducing the Bill goes back to last July. I am pleased to be Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts and I have taken the view that when I see something at the committee that needs changing and requires legislation, I will introduce legislation to deal with the issue. On 21 July 2016, the NTMA and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund appeared before the committee. We specifically asked them about their ethical and social responsibility policies. They wrote back to the committee shortly afterwards stating ethical investment and other issues focus on aligning investors' social objectives or values with their investment portfolios. They look at issues such as alcohol, tobacco, gambling and ethically compromised companies such as weapons manufacturers. We have legislation which prohibits investment in cluster munitions and antipersonnel mines, which was introduced in 2008. This is the only line of investment from which the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the NTMA are prohibited. I want to extend this to the tobacco industry, which is the purpose of this legislation.

The legislation I am introducing mirrors very closely the 2008 legislation which banned State investment in cluster munitions and antipersonnel mines. As a result of this, I hope it will get smooth passage through the Oireachtas as the format of the legislation has been here before.

I was very pleased to receive correspondence as Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts that in light of the committee's questions on this issue the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will examine the case for excluding certain securities in sectors, and I referred to tobacco in my earlier remarks.

I am pleased that, in Christmas week, it divested itself of its shares in three tobacco companies. That is very welcome. It is reviewing its strategy but it could reinvest on a commercial basis if the case arose again so I want to ensure we have legislation on the Statute Book setting out the policy issue for the fund in the future. I have no doubt it will get full agreement in the House and that of the NTMA itself.

The legislation has six short sections including those relating to definitions, the duty of investors to avoid investment in tobacco companies, and direct investment in a tobacco company. Where the ISIF has an investment in a company that subsequently acquires an investment in a tobacco manufacturer, it must get a commitment that the company will cease dealing with tobacco or the Irish State will disinvest itself of its share. The sections also deal with indirect investment in tobacco companies, and allowing the Minister to bring in the commencement date.

I am grateful for the opportunity to propose this legislation and I hope it will work its way properly through the House in the weeks and months ahead.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

In accordance with Standing Orders, the debate will be adjourned until the next day on which Private Members' business will be taken.

Question put and agreed to.