Consumer Credit (Amendment) Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

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

It has been six and a half years since I brought the Bill before the House. Is it not telling what the then Minister of State with responsibility, the former Deputy Brian Hayes of Fine Gael, told me? He said:

[T]his issue must be examined carefully to ensure the solution proposed does not adversely affect the most vulnerable members of society. This will be the Government's main aim in considering the findings of the examination to be carried out by the Central Bank and by the officials of the Department of Finance.

What has changed except the name of the Minister of State? This Fine Gael Government continues to look for time to examine this issue, but the answer is that it has had enough time and it is time to act.

Let me provide some examples of why we must act. At that time, in 2012, we had the support of Fianna Fáil, Independents and, obviously, the Bill's sponsors, Sinn Féin. Unfortunately, however, Fine Gael and the Labour Party blocked the Bill. Licensed moneylenders continue to charge interest rates of 187% annual percentage rate, APR, such as Colm Keegan, Rossbro Financial, a company called Stalwart Investments or Provident Personal Credit, which is involved in an aggressive campaign targeting low-income and vulnerable individuals. These rates are despicable. They have no place in 2018 and they had no place in 2012, when I originally introduced the legislation.

The Government has tabled an amendment but it is not about protecting the vulnerable or those low-income families. Rather, it is about protecting the moneylenders. I urge all parties to reject it. The Government knows well this law will not pass into being tonight if the Bill is allowed to pass Second Stage. We know it must undergo scrutiny and pass Committee and Report Stages, as well as all the Stages of the Seanad. It is time for us to do that scrutiny and preparation and begin this process of ensuring these astronomical rates are no longer charged by licensed moneylenders preying on vulnerable individuals.

I pay tribute to the Social Finance Foundation and the Centre for Co-operative Studies at University College Cork, UCC, for putting this back on our agenda. Unfortunately, as Christmas approaches, this is a live issue for many every day. The report by the UCC academics cut to the chase of why we must act, when it leaves no doubt as to the economic reality of moneylending. The report said that it facilitates a considerable transfer of resources and potential assets from poor communities to the directors and shareholders of loan companies. Ireland is one of the few countries that still does not have a cap on high-cost lending. Germany's courts, for example, have struck down rates that were twice the market rent, in Finland a rate of 118% was deemed unconscionable, while in Spain a rate of 24% was deemed excessive. We do not have to look so far afield, however, because until 1933, our own legislation deemed a rate of 39% excessive, and allowed the courts to strike it down.

Moneylending at these rates simply takes money from poor families and makes them poorer. We cannot allow another Christmas to come and go without action. I fully understand that there must be alternatives, but the credit union movement serves this country well, having done so for many years. It is prepared to expand its It Makes Sense loan scheme. As evidence of where people can save money by availing of these loans, a loan of €500 from It Makes Sense would cost an additional €15 to repay. In the case of these moneylenders, on the other hand, it will cost nearly €150 more. It Makes Sense is provided by a large number of credit unions. While the official number may appear to be dropping, that is only as a result of a number of mergers of credit unions. I urge all credit unions to take up the scheme.

It was suggested by the Centre for Co-operative Studies and the Credit Union Advisory Committee, whose job is to review the Credit Union Act, that allowing a 2% cap instead of the current 1% monthly rate would encourage those credit unions which are reluctant to take up the scheme, which is an idea that could be considered. It is not a demand of the credit union movement but is worth examining. I would be happy to consider using this legislation to facilitate such a change if it was deemed helpful. It would be a choice for each credit union whether to utilise the extra space as it saw fit.

The Bill is short but it has a profound effect on the 330,000 people who borrow from moneylenders. That is 7% of the entire population in the Twenty-six Counties. Section 1 relates to the APR chargeable on loans issued by moneylenders, and it provides that it shall not exceed 36%. That rate was chosen because it is three times the level that the credit union movement can charge and it keeps broadly in line with what existed in legislation passed by the House many years ago which deemed that 39% was excessive and which allowed the courts to find as such.

Section 2 is simply the citation.

It is straightforward legislation but it will help the 330,000 people who borrow from moneylenders. The amount of outstanding consumer loans is large, namely, €153 million, which is why we need to act. The borrowers caught in this trap are our neighbours, and predominantly women and people from low-income families. They are our family and friends. This year, the Irish League of Credit Unions found that more than a quarter, or 27%, of parents in debt said they have turned to a moneylender at back-to-school time in an effort to cope with the costs, which is a 20% increase from last year. All the research is clear that many people who use moneylenders do not look for other sources of credit. Some 70% of parents in debt have availed of other types of credit. They are attracted by the availability of this credit and many do not consider the APR rates that are being charged.

For many people, this situation is getting worse and worse. The Central Bank has carried out a consultation and done valuable work considering regulations including restricting advertising, forcing moneylenders to provide more information and warnings and improving the professionalism of the people employed in the sector. That is all good work, but the Bill is complementary to it. The Central Bank's idea of adopting the Australian model of a cap based on the level of income misses the whole point. A cap needs to be applied to the interest rates that can be charged by the moneylenders.

The Bill is the option before us, as it was in 2012. The Government proposes a 12-month wait, but what it means is that it has no intention of implementing a cap. It has had six and a half years to consider the issue, having blocked that Bill, but it is now trying to block it again with this manoeuvre.

I am not sure whether Fianna Fáil is supporting the legislation. I do not know if Deputy Michael McGrath was here when I acknowledged that it supported this identical legislation in 2012 and I assume it will do so again tonight. There are things that need to be done as we progress with this Bill. Let us get on with it. I will not be accepting any further delay. We have waited long enough. The poorest families in the State have waited long enough. They are living week by week and many of them fear the knock on the door. Let us take action and ensure that this is the last Christmas that moneylenders will be licensed to charge these outrageous rates of 187% which, coupled with collection charges, increases to 287%.

As my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty said, we debated this legislation six years ago when we introduced similar legislation to introduce interest rate restrictions. At the time the Government turned down the legislation. I remember contributing to that debate at the time. One of the reasons the Government gave was the need to get more information on the consequences of bringing in an interest rate cap. We were told that there would be several unintended consequences which could flow from that. It would have to be examined more carefully and there was a commitment to do so.

We are back six years later debating the legislation again and we are now being asked by the Government to postpone the reading of the legislation on Second Stage for a further 12 months. The Government has had six years to examine all of this. It is now looking for another 12 months. In its amendment to the motion the Government states that it needs time to examine "University College Cork's report, Interest Rate Restrictions on Credit for Low-income Borrowers, which was launched by the Social Finance Foundation (SFF)". That report was launched 12 months ago. It has been sitting in the Department of Finance for 12 months. If the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, has not studied it by now I do not have any confidence that he will study it within the next 12 months.

I agree with my colleague that this is nothing but a fob. The Government has no interest in addressing this. It has not done it in six years and is not going to do it in another 12 months. It is a comprehensive report which I read this afternoon. It is not a very long report. It does not take 12 months to read and act upon. It refers to the issues which the Government highlighted six years ago that needed to be addressed, for instance, the unintended impacts of an interest rate regulation. It goes into detail in the report on that. It says there are eight unintended consequences which could flow from an interest rate cap. It even ranks them for the Minister of State: two are ranked as high impact, four are medium and two are low. It goes further. It tells the Minister of State how to address those unintended consequences to mitigate them or to eradicate them totally. It also makes eight recommendations. The report goes beyond that. It considers the reasons people engage with legal moneylenders, why they do not consider other credit sources, such as the credit union and various other low income borrowing sources, and it goes into great detail on that around the convenience of these moneylenders and the doorstepping – they arrive at the door and collect the money weekly and that is convenient. It even asks if they did not exist what would those individuals who currently access legal moneylenders do in substitution. It states 75% of them would go to their credit union or other similar credit providers.

The report has been there for the past 12 months. I suggest that somebody in the Department read it, take on board the recommendations and gets on with this legislation. For the Government to sit on its hands for the next 12 months is not acceptable. I have no doubt but that in 12 months' time the Government will not act on this. I hope that Fianna Fáil and other parties reject the Government amendment and that the Bill is read a Second Time. If it is read a Second Time it should not engage in the carry on about money messages and try to hold it up on Committee Stage because that is not in the interests of the people that this Bill is trying to address. It is time for the Minister of State to get the finger out and take action. Six years have passed. We are not waiting another 12 months.

I welcome this Bill presented by Deputy Pearse Doherty. As we approach Christmas time, many families across the State are turning to these moneylending companies in order to ensure that their families, and in particular their children, have a special Christmas. This, however, is not something that is unique to the Christmas period. If the car breaks down or the washing machine needs to be replaced many are turning to moneylenders because the high cost of living means many families are living from pay cheque to pay cheque. Unfortunately, the huge interest rates charged by these organisations are driving people further and further into debt. I note that one moneylender based in south Dublin was given a moneylender's licence by the Central Bank in July that allows it to charge 287.72% interest, including collection charges. That is, quite frankly, disgusting.

These companies, charging these disgraceful interest rates, are leeches. They are preying on the most vulnerable in society to line their own pockets. Who are the ones who get stuck in this cycle of debt? The research shows that it is mainly women from low income households and lone parents. Once again, working class women are bearing the brunt of this Government's inaction. There are plenty of other countries in the EU which have placed caps on moneylenders' rates. In fact, we are out of step when it comes to protecting the consumer here. We are one of only seven EU states that have allowed moneylenders to charge whatever they want with no cap.

I hope Deputies from across this House will support this Bill and ensure that some controls are placed on these organisations which make profits from people in desperate situations.

I have dealt with many cases of people in severe financial stress, especially at times similar to Christmas, but often because of Government policy at other times, for example to pay for funerals. They have resorted to legal and illegal moneylenders and have then, because there is somebody calling at the door, availed of another loan and another and they have ended up in a cycle of debt which they do not seem to be able to get out of. This happens in working class communities in particular but anybody who is dependent either on very low pay or social welfare ends up forgoing food and heating and their kids do not have proper clothes and the like. That is the background to this and the type of people in the main who avail of the scandal that is supposedly consumer credit. These are people who provide loans at an exorbitant rate.

They are profiting from the misery of others and tying them in to an endless cycle of debt.

Even with the cap suggested by my colleague, there is a viable business model for consumer credit companies which can still make a profit. In other countries where a cap has been imposed, such companies have succeeded. The Minister of State should think about how much profit they are making in the Irish market. I first asked this question back in the 1990s and have continued to ask it since. I praise my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, for being persistent and raising the issue again. It is an absolute disgrace that the Minister is seeking to delay the Bill. It will be delayed enough in going through the processes in this House and even if it is passed, it will probably not take effect until next Christmas. Rather than delay it until then, the Minister of State should withdraw his amendment and allow the Bill to proceed.

There have been changes in the credit union movement in recent years, some of which are good, while others are atrocious. Many of those who availed of credit union loans in the past are now finding it more difficult to get them. Some minor measures have been introduced such as the It Makes Sense loan that are offered by credit unions, but not enough has been done to promote the credit union system. The Government should have invested a lot more in that aspect of the credit and banking system. I hope the Minister of State will not only takes the Bill on board but that he will also deal with the credit union movement and encourage and support it in a more robust way than has been the case to date.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “That” and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann resolves that the Consumer Credit (Amendment) Bill 2018 be deemed to be read a second time this day twelve months, in order to allow for completion of the Department of Finance’s examination of University College Cork’s report, ‘Interest Rate Restrictions on Credit for Low-income Borrowers’, which was launched by the Social Finance Foundation (SFF), and engagement by the Department with stakeholders, including through the Personal Micro Credit Taskforce set up by the SFF.

I welcome the debate on this issue and the opportunity it provides for us to consider how best to protect people who use moneylenders. Moneylending is defined in and governed by the Consumer Credit Act 1995, as amended. The definition of moneylending contains two key elements, the first of which is that various activities are carried out away from the premises of the moneylender. These activities include the negotiation and conclusion of an agreement and the collection of payments. The second is that the total cost of credit is more than 23% annual percentage rate, APR. Earlier this year the Central Bank engaged in a public consultation process on a review of the consumer protection code for licensed moneylenders. I draw the attention of Deputies to this as it contains a lot of useful information that can inform our consideration of the issue.

The paper shows that there are 350,000 customers of moneylending firms. It helpfully describes three types of moneylending firm. The first is home collection firms, where loans are issued and repayments collected at the consumer's home. The majority of moneylenders fall into this category. The second is firms operating a catalogue business model, where goods are sold by the moneylender on credit, which is operated on the basis of a consumer having a running account, while the third category is other firms. It is fair to say it is the first category that gives rise to the most concern. These are the firms we think of as traditional moneylenders and the paper states approximately 150,000 people are customers of home collection firms.

Deputies will also be aware that the register of moneylenders which is available to the public on the Central Bank's website sets out details such as the maximum APR, the maximum cost of credit and the collection charge, if any, on the loans that can be offered by individual moneylenders. The register shows the maximum APR each firm is permitted to charge and the APR including the collection charge. It has been the subject of comment that the highest APR rates are 188.45% and 287.72%, including the collection charge. Less noticed is that the lowest APR rate is 24.3%. It is important to be aware that the Central Bank has licensed moneylenders for a range of APRs, rather than focusing only on the highest rates. The bank also points out that since assuming responsibility for the regulation of the sector in 2003, it has not permitted the maximum APR charged by each moneylender within the sector to increase, nor has it allowed practices such as pay-day lending to enter the Irish licensed moneylender market.

It is important to bear in mind that the consumer protection code for licensed moneylenders provides several important protections for customers of licensed moneylenders. There are requirements in relation to advertising, warning consumers that the loans are high cost, issuing statements to consumers, knowing the customer and product suitability, rules for cold-calling and error resolution, complaint handling and record keeping, arrears handling and debt collection. In addition, the Consumer Credit Act 1995 also provides:

A moneylending agreement shall be unenforceable against the borrower if it provides that the rate of charge for the credit may be increased or that any additional charge, other than legal costs, may apply in the event of a default in the payments due under the agreement.

As Deputy Pearse Doherty observed when introducing the Bill, the Central Bank did not go into the issue of a cap on the rates which may be charged. However, it did state one of the challenges we faced in considering rates charged by moneylenders was finding a balance between the availability of credit for consumers who did not have access to legitimate credit elsewhere or who did not use other regulated credit providers and the provision of short-term unsecured loans at what could be a high cost. It observed that for small amounts of credit and those consumers with an impaired credit history, there might be limited alternative credit options available to them. It made it clear in the consultation paper:

Lower interest rate ceilings could therefore be ineffective and counterproductive and could result in excluding low income households that have repayment capacity from regulated lending, even at the high APRs charged by licensed moneylenders. Consequently, were lower interest rate ceilings introduced, there could be a risk that consumers would not view other regulated lenders as an alternative form of finance, but instead seek to avail of credit from unlicensed moneylenders.

I understand that in 2019 the bank expects to finalise and publish regulations under section 48 of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013 to replace the existing code. That sets the regulatory framework in which moneylenders operate.

Let us look at the report prepared by UCC on behalf of the Social Finance Foundation on interest rate restrictions. The purpose of the research was to examine the extent and variety of interest rate restrictions within the European Union and beyond, with a view to assessing the appropriateness of introducing restrictions in the Irish market, given its specific circumstances and financial environment. The report acknowledged that a restriction on interest rates would force existing moneylending firms to re-examine their business models and that this was likely to result in some people no longer being able to access credit from moneylenders. The report states the personal micro credit scheme offered by some credit unions is emerging as a credible and affordable alternative for social welfare recipients. It includes three key recommendations., the first of which is that the Government introduce restrictions on interest rates for moneylenders. The second which is crucial in the context of the proposed Bill is that the restrictions be conditional on the credit union movement committing to and being enabled to serve the community currently serviced by the moneylending firms, subject to adherence to prudent credit guidelines. The third is that, in consultation with the credit union sector, the Department of Finance consider increasing the 1% monthly cap on interest rates for credit unions for this type of lending to cater for its significantly greater cost.

Looking at the credit union charge, section 38(1)(a) of the Credit Union Act 1997 prescribes that the interest rate on a credit union loan shall not at any time exceed 1% per month. Any change to this primary legislation is a matter for the Minister for Finance, the Government and the Oireachtas. As the Deputy may be aware, the interest rate ceiling on credit union loans has been subject to recent discussion in a number of fora.

The Credit Union Advisory Committee, CUAC, the statutory committee, the function of which is to advise the Minister for Finance on matters related to credit unions, published a policy paper on this issue in December 2017 following a survey of credit unions. In its policy paper on the loan interest rate cap the CUAC recommended that credit unions be permitted to charge an interest rate on loans greater than the current ceiling of 1% per month and proposed that the cap be raised to 2% per month. This change would provide credit unions with greater flexibility to risk-price loan products and in so doing might create an opportunity for new product offerings.

It is important to note that CUAC's recommendation to increase the loan interest rate ceiling would not mean that credit unions are required to raise their loan interest rates; rather, they could apply their own interest rates within the parameters allowed. The policy paper is available on my Department's website.

Second, the CUAC report implementation group, a group established to oversee and monitor the implementation of recommendations from the CUAC report, has also considered the issue of increasing the interest rate cap, as recommended in the CUAC policy paper. This group is chaired by the Department of Finance and is made up of one member from each of the credit union representative bodies - the Irish League of Credit Unions, the Credit Union Development Association, the Credit Union Managers Association and the National Supervisors Forum, as well as a member from the Central Bank. The implementation group is currently in the process of finalising its final report, which will be published shortly. Following publication of the final report, I will review the implementation group's recommendation on the loan interest cap, along with the CUAC recommendation already received, and consider if any legislative changes are required while bearing in mind the recommendation of the UCC report.

It would be wrong not to consider the other two recommendations together since one is dependent on the other. The report is very clear that interest rate restrictions should be conditional on the credit union movement being able to serve the community currently serviced by the moneylending sector. As the report acknowledges, the personal micro credit, PMC, scheme and the "It Makes Sense" loan are a step in the right direction. However, only 50% of the credit unions in the country currently participate in the scheme, and the percentage varies from county to country.

From discussions with the Social Finance Foundation subsequent to the publication of this Bill, it is clear that an APR of 36% for home credit customers would likely make the home credit business model unprofitable, resulting in the probable exit of many, if not all, moneylenders from this market. The interest rate restrictions report and Social Finance Foundation are explicit that this must only be considered when there is confidence that an alternative mechanism exists. As we have seen, the credit union option is not yet sufficiently widespread to be a viable nationwide alternative. Based on the information in the Central Bank consultation paper, approximately 75,000 customers of the 150,000 customers of home collection moneylenders could be left without access to credit. It would probably be even higher if people on low incomes who cannot access the PMC scheme are taken into account. Would this mean they turn to illegal moneylenders or would they just do without? We do not know the answer to this question but it should be a serious concern to everyone. Even if the numbers turning to illegal moneylenders is a small proportion, let us say 10%, this legislation would result in forcing 7,500 people into the clutches of these criminals.

I will conclude. I consider it worthwhile to detail some of the work that needs to be undertaken before we take this option. We need to consider how to persuade the other approximately 50% of credit unions to take part in the PMC scheme, given it is crucial we have a truly nationwide scheme available and we currently do not. We also need to consider how to cater for individuals on low incomes who are not social welfare customers since the PMC scheme only works for social welfare recipients. We need to analyse the sector in more detail to see the impact that setting interest rate restrictions is likely to have on the various types of moneylenders. We need to examine illegal moneylending as far as we can.

I was not in this position six years ago. The Deputy's criticism is fair and it is a valid point that this should have been dealt with a lot sooner. The Deputy knows if I give a commitment, I will stand by it. I will look at this to try to improve the sector. While I cannot promise we will be able to do it in the timeframe suggested by the Deputy, nonetheless, I give that commitment.

I wish to share time with Deputies Eugene Murphy and Cahill.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin for bringing forward this legislation and for highlighting once again this issue, which is to the fore as we come up to Christmas. As has been said, however, licensed moneylenders and the services they offer are used throughout the year.

We need to do far better in this area. The Minister of State needs to accelerate the reforms and all of the steps he believes need to happen before he would consider the type of change proposed in this legislation. I have thought about this issue carefully. I have read the report and I acknowledge what it says in regard to the other measures the Minister of State needs to bring forward before bringing in such a cap. On balance, it is our view that this Bill should proceed to the finance committee and it should pass Second Stage today. The Bill would benefit from the normal scrutiny. We should take the opportunity, as a committee, to bring in some of these moneylenders, such as Provident, as well as MABS and the Social Finance Foundation, and to hear the different perspectives.

We believe that, in principle, there should be a cap. The rates being charged are exorbitant and the reality is people are using these services for a number of reasons, in particular convenience. Given somebody is calling to the door with the cash, it is easy and straightforward, but it is horrendously expensive. People are also using licensed moneylenders because of the lack of an alternative. The Minister of State spoke about the credit unions and the personal micro credit scheme. The figure of 47% for the percentage of credit unions participating in the scheme is not good enough. The Minister of State needs to ask and very quickly answer the question as to why that is the case. I know from talking to credit unions directly that the issue is the cost of administration. These are small loans. Because of the burden of regulation, the amount of staff time involved and the small amounts being repaid, we cannot expect them to do this at a loss.

The Minister of State needs to sit down very soon with the credit union movement, the Central Bank and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection in regard to the personal micro credit scheme. It has to be a priority to get full coverage across the country. If it means accepting the recommendations from the Credit Union Advisory Committee about increasing the monthly cap to 2%, perhaps that is what needs to be done. It is something we are seriously prepared to consider supporting if it results in this scheme reaching full coverage throughout the country, with the result that we can direct a lot of the business currently being done with licensed moneylenders into the credit union movement.

Credit unions are the answer. However, the reality is that because of the one-size-fits-all approach to regulation which is being applied to them, many are struggling to adapt to the new reality and to the burden of regulation. The movement is making great strides to modernise, bring in new services, invest in technology and improve governance, but it needs help. A strong message to the Minister of State is that the personal micro credit scheme is not good enough when fewer than half the credit unions are rolling it out at present.

The Minister of State quoted from the report which has been highlighted a number of times in the debate. I join with others in complimenting the work of the centre for co-operative studies in UCC, and in particular Mary Faherty, Olive McCarthy and Noreen Byrne, who completed this report on behalf of the Social Finance Foundation. It examines interest rate restrictions on credit for low-income borrowers and is a very comprehensive report of 114 pages. The Minister of State is correct when he says the report states:

The introduction of any interest rate restriction regime requires an accompanying infrastructure that will serve as the mainstream alternative to the moneylending sources of credit. The overall remit of policy, legislation and regulation should be to encourage and support existing alternatives, such as credit unions, including their PMC loan scheme, which are currently the only and practical alternative. Any interest rate restriction regime should be coupled with a limit on other fees and charges and a limit on the total cost of credit, with the rules carefully designed to avoid circumvention through the introduction of other ‘innovative’ fees and charges.

That is one example of where the Bill can benefit from scrutiny. Just introducing an interest rate cap and leaving the door open to these moneylenders to increase dramatically the collection charges will not have the desired effect.

It is an issue which needs to be examined. I note the collection charges some moneylenders impose. Marlboro Trust DAC imposes a maximum collection charge of 14 cent in the euro and Jordan Estates imposes a charge of ten cent in the euro. While some are lower, the likes of Provident has no collection charge but its APR is 187.2%, which is remarkable. In reality, those who are stuck and need money for Christmas, a holy communion or other special family occasion or to deal with an emergency in the family are desperate and will avail of credit at these rates. The difference might be an extra fiver or tenner a week, which people do not see as a huge extra when they are faced with desperate circumstances. However, over the course of 26 or 52 weeks, it adds up to a very substantial interest burden.

I highlight a few other issues. When one considers what licensed and illegal moneylenders are doing, one notes the security risk imposed by the amount of cash people are going around with. There is no limit whatsoever on the quantum of cash staff working for moneylenders can have in their vehicles or on their persons as they go from house to house. That creates an obvious risk for the staff but when I have raised the matter by way of parliamentary question, the Government's response has been that it is a health and safety issue for the company whose duty it is to protect employees by putting security measures in place. That is not good enough.

Further, there is currently no limit to the number of loans any individual can have out with moneylenders at any point in time. A person could have multiple loans at the same time either with the same moneylender or different ones. It exposes that person to an unacceptable scenario and an unacceptable level of dependence. While the code states that moneylenders may not offer unsolicited pre-approved credit facilities, I have spoken to people who have worked in the area and say the provision is being flouted left, right and centre. It is done in person when staff are collecting repayments on a loan which is coming to an end. They offer a further pre-approved and unsolicited facility. There is no doubt that is happening and it would be useful to know what level of enforcement is undertaken of the rules by the Central Bank.

We did not have the advantage of having the Minister of State's script circulated but I tried to listen closely to what he was saying about the initiatives and review under way. To be frank, they are not enough and I do not have confidence they will be speedy enough. For that reason, Fianna Fáil will support the Bill tomorrow and will not agree to defer Second Stage for 12 months. None of us wants to see a situation in which people are forced into the hands of illegal moneylenders. The Minister of State highlighted that concern and it is a genuine one. People who need money will get it from somewhere. If they are completely desperate, they may well turn to illegal moneylenders in the absence of licensed moneylenders or credit unions being in a position to lend. It is a danger we must examine by way of pre-legislative scrutiny in circumstances in which the illegal sector is without control and unregulated. We have no handle on the scale or extent of it but we know it is prevalent, in particular in disadvantaged communities and especially in the cities.

As a party, Fianna Fáil takes the view that urgent reforms are necessary. The Bill forms a very good basis on which to examine the issue closely and effect change. That is what we want to see. It is unacceptable that no cap is in place. The Minister of State gave a reply which has been provided in reply to parliamentary questions previously. He said the licence issued to the moneylender sets out the maximum the moneylender is permitted to charge and includes details of duration, maximum APR, maximum cost of credit and the collection charge, if any, which can be imposed. However, there is nothing in legislation and there is no cap in the Consumer Credit Act as things stand. That is why the amendment has been tabled. There is a cap on credit union lending, yet we have no cap for moneylenders who are charging interest rates at APRs, including the collection charge, of well over 200%. In fact, I see from the list on the register that rates of close to 300% have been imposed. It is outrageous. We must try to establish why so much business is being done in this sector. When one looks at the figures, it is hard to believe so much business is being done with licensed moneylenders. It is big business and it is very profitable.

While the credit risk and overheads are high in what is a labour intensive business, we must do more to bring about great choice and improve and make more accessible the available alternatives. It is simply not on that our citizens are paying up to 300% APR in respect of loans they take out at what, in very many cases, are points of crisis. They are being exploited and taken advantage of. The State, the regulator, the Government and the House must act. That is my message to the Minister of State. We will support the Bill proceeding to the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach and look forward to engaging fully in pre-legislative scrutiny and the making of changes in this area.

I support the Bill. I spoke earlier this evening to Deputy Pearse Doherty and am glad Fianna Fáil is supporting the legislation as a party. It is extremely sad that in the run-up to Christmas, there are people in every small and large town who tonight and in the coming days will take out small loans to cover certain expenses. They will pay very dearly for those loans. I have come across a number of situations over the years which have involved these moneylenders. Moneylenders do not give out money for the good of their health. They are out to make money. We must look after people who are in very difficult circumstances and who are sometimes afraid to speak out. They may quietly make contact with an illegal moneylender and take out a loan for family reasons. In recent months, I came across a person who borrowed €600 with an APR of 187%. It is extraordinary. I have the facts of the case. In other cases, I have seen people paying out 80% or 90% interest on those loans. We must get back to ensuring credit unions can look after those people. In some areas, credit unions which could once have looked after people locally face increasingly complicated circumstances. The administrative burden imposed on them by the State and the Central Bank is definitely causing difficulties and people are suffering.

It is unacceptable that we cannot bring this issue under control as legislators. This type of lending is widespread, in particular at this time of year. It is a type of predatory lending. It is illegal and the people involved are predators. I recall speaking to someone a few months ago about the experience she had some years ago when she encountered family difficulties. She had four children. She had to get a loan from one of the loan sharks but ran into difficulty even though the repayment was only £10 a week.

It might seem a small sum but it was enormous for that lady. While those moneylenders did not threaten the woman with violence, they turned up every single evening, day after day, week after week, month after month. It was mainly her kids who answered the door. The moneylenders would ask repeatedly whether their mother was in. The kids witnessed all of this on the doorstep. That is appalling intimidation. That woman was afraid to go into her credit union or her bank. We were able to get something done for that particular person. We put her on the right track and on the right road. We got her out of a very difficult situation. There is example after example of similar cases all over the place.

Loan sharks use blackmail constantly to frighten people. Some loan sharks threaten violence on people if they fall into difficulty with a loan. We cannot have that happening to any of our citizens. I could give the Minister of State many more examples of cases I have come across both since I became a Deputy and when I was a member of the local authority. It is really important that we support Bills being brought forward such as this one this evening. I hope the Government will co-operate with it. We should pursue this vigorously because this type of situation should not have to go on month after month and year after year before being solved. It should be solved in a matter of months at most because, as I said, people are constantly suffering out there.

Coming into January and February there will be people unknown to us scurrying around the place trying to pay off those moneylenders. They will be paying exorbitant rates of interest. These are usually the type of loan sharks who call to one's door offering credit or who offer credit over the telephone. If people were to think about that they would realise it is not really the normal way in which credit is offered. People should be really wary of individuals who call to their doorsteps. Of course if they get a person in once they will keep coming back. There are poor families in this country who have been caught in this web year after year and who have suffered a lot of financial hardship because of that.

Sometimes we do not think of the little things but I know of a woman who, in the very recent past, had to borrow in excess of €3,000 to pay for the cost of a funeral. We abolished the funeral grant because people in authority did not think people used it any more. She did not get help off the welfare officer. As I said, the funeral grant, as it was known, was withdrawn. That put enormous stress and strain on that family. Unfortunately, there were issues within that family and there was no money. That happens. That is the reality of life. Not everyone on this earth is as lucky as some. Those situations exist and they are very real and very challenging. Most people who use those types of moneylenders are afraid and ashamed to talk about their situation. They are even ashamed to talk to their politicians about it. I believe it is getting harder for credit unions to give loans to some of those people. From what I know and from what I would have been involved in, in the past credit unions were the saviours for many of those people.

I know the Minister of State means well. I urge him to withdraw the amendment, to support the Bill, and to let this go forward as quickly as possible.

The last speaker made a lot of sense in what he said. We are having this debate at 10.30 p.m. and it is supposed to finish at 11.30 p.m. It is almost like a dirty secret. I do not know about the rest of the Deputies but I think it is embarrassing that this practice is still going on in 21st century Ireland and that people are being forced to go to moneylenders and, in some cases, illegal moneylenders to try and get a loan. Like other speakers tonight, I also spoke on Deputy Doherty's Bill back in 2012. I pointed out the urgency of the Bill and yet here we are, six years later. I am sitting here tonight thinking about the number of families that have been destroyed in that six-year period. I do not know about the Ministers of State, but I know of many families that have been caught up in this situation. Strangely enough, some of them probably would not thank us for putting forward this legislation because they see these moneylenders as a last resort and do not see an alternative. However, six years later the exorbitant rates moneylenders are allowed charge still go unchecked. Under the current arrangement moneylenders are allowed to charge up to 287% APR.

We know the people who go to these lenders. It is the desperate, the poor and credit-starved individuals who are out of their minds with money worries who are forced to use moneylenders. I do not think anyone who has an alternative goes to them. Many of these people are out of work. They are the low-paid, the marginalised, the disadvantaged, and those who have little or really bad credit. As we heard earlier, most of them are women. Despite the recovery, the so-called moneylenders are booming. Their exorbitant interest rates need to be regulated and targeted now. I welcome the fact that Fianna Fáil is supporting the Bill's progress. Moneylenders' interest rates need to be capped as soon as possible to stop the misery they are causing people. That is what this Bill is about.

These loans keep people in a cycle of poverty. For many it is a way of life. That is the sad thing. The people who are pushed into using these moneylenders are cash-poor. They have to borrow for joyous occasions as well as for sad occasions. We know of the weddings, births and communions but, as we have heard, they also have to borrow for deaths or for crises in the family such as a family member getting sick. In some cases they even borrow for simple things like medication. Many take out loans because their children are under pressure in their communities. We all know about this. Some children cannot afford the trainers or the clothes and get slagged in the school. All parents want the very best for their children. Second-best hand-me-downs, particularly coming up to special times such as Christmas, are not an option for many. They do not want to tell the kids they cannot afford a pair of shoes or football boots. The common denominator in many of these families is guilt. They feel guilty that they have not been able to provide on a more regular basis for their children.

People spoke about the credit union. Its school survey revealed that one third of those surveyed were getting into debt to meet rising back-to-school costs. The survey suggested that the average cost of sending a single child back to school is now €999 for a primary school pupil and €1,379 for a child in secondary school. How are parents on the average industrial wage, a low wage, or less than the living wage supposed to pay for this? The alternative they see is going to these moneylenders. We are straight after September when kids go back to school and now we are into Christmas and the pressure it puts on families. This time of the year is filled with worry and stress for the poor and the vulnerable. We cannot just hope that people will not use these moneylenders. We need to act and to regulate them. That is only part of the solution; we have to have alternative routes.

Some of them were mentioned tonight. One of them is the credit union movement, which has 255 branches across the State. They are in a perfect position to provide small loans for people. That needs to be publicised. There is the micro credit loan or the new "It Makes Sense Loan" from the credit union which offers small loans and much lower interest rates to borrowers. There is a wide coverage for these loans but it is not available across all credit unions. These loans have a maximum interest rate of 12%, and the loans offered are under €2,000. They are specifically aimed at those in receipt of social welfare. Householders need to know that they will be protected against unscrupulous moneylenders and that fairer alternatives are in place.

We must also address the issue of illegal moneylenders from whom the poor and vulnerable seek to borrow, which may not been touched on. When was the last time we read of an illegal moneylender being charged and convicted before the courts? I could bring the Minister of State to many a post office in my constituency, and he would probably find them in his own area, where moneylenders operate. They are not outside the post office but have their agents outside them. Some of them are also drug dealers and they collect money. They hand out cards and books to people on their way into the post office to collect their welfare payments and collect money from them on their way out. It should not be too difficult for the Garda to follow up on that activity. I know of people who have been violently attacked because they have not been able to make the massive repayments due.

People who have information about illegal moneylenders should make it available to the Garda so that a conviction can be pursued, but it is difficult for people to give evidence in those cases. Cameras are installed outside post offices and perhaps there should be further monitoring. We should be proactive in closing down such activity.

We need to act on foot of this Bill. It not good enough to be acting on it six years after it was originally introduced. There is a responsibility on us to act. This is an embarrassment. We do not talk about this issue when we go abroad. It is not something of which we as legislators should be proud. Nobody in this State should be proud of the fact that people are paying up to 287% in interest rates to illegal moneylenders. It is wrong and it must stop, and it should stop from tonight.

The next speaker is Deputy Martin Kenny who is sharing his time with Deputy Pat Buckley.

I thank Deputy Pearse Doherty for bringing forward this Bill. It is clear where and the way in which this issue has the most impact in our society. The main people who will deal with these moneylenders are women because they are the ones who sort out the household budget. Often it is around the managing of that budget that much of this borrowing takes place. Women borrow to purchase a new washing machine when the old one breaks down or the car breaks down or a child is going to college or they need to get a deposit for a house. The moneylender steps in to cover those expenses.

We have been commemorating suffrage and the fact women got their rights one hundred years ago. Economic independence for women is something Countess Markievicz and those people at that time wanted to establish. That is what missing in all of this. What we are talking about here is a debt trap but really it is a poverty trap. It is people in poverty who end up in these situations. They may not even think they are in poverty. They are people who have decent jobs but cannot make ends meet because of the high cost of living in our society. We debated a Bill on the high cost of rents and evictions earlier. All of these elements are interconnected. Many people who have work are in precarious employment but have very low income. All of that is incurring a cost on our society. There is a cost to poverty. There is interest on poverty. There is almost a compounding of poverty. That is what happens in these situations. If a family is short of money, the parents, for example, will not be able to send their child to a dental practice for dental hygiene. The child will then develop a problem with their teeth and will have to go to a hygienist and then to an orthodontist, but where will the family get the money to cover the cost involved in such dental care?

Many of these people are just one crisis away from everything going up in smoke. They are under a great degree of pressure, including mental health pressure. They know that in the small community in the housing estate in which they live, every Thursday evening there is somebody who goes around door to door collecting money and offering a loan. It is an easy opt-out and they take it. The moneylender comes back again six months later and offers the person a loan for something else. People get into this trap and they cannot get out of it. They become smothered by it.

People in abusive relationships, and again it is mainly women, are vulnerable. The husband may be drinking and his wife cannot get money when a crisis arises and moneylenders feed on that. They target that. They can smell it and they go for it. It is absolute greed. There cannot be any excuse not to accept this Bill or to kick it down the road for a while. I concur with the Minister of State that he is genuine about addressing this issue but it should not be deferred for a year. If it was his mother or sister who was in this situation, would he leave addressing this issue for a year? I think not. That is what we need to realise. One hundred years ago women went out and said that they wanted economic independence, a better future for their daughters and granddaughters, and now their granddaughters are in this situation today and the Government is saying it will leave addressing this issue for a little while. It has been left long enough.

The essence of this issue is that poverty has become a policy. If poverty is the policy, then that policy is driving those people who make their money on poverty. That is what is at the core of all of this. The compounding of poverty, interest and debt on a sector of society that is at the bottom and kept at the bottom must change. While we are dealing with the specific issue of the interest rates and how these people are doing this, it is connected to all the rest of it. There is a charge against the Minister of State's Government because we are dealing with this issue. We should not have to be dealing with it because these moneylenders should have no market for the product they sell. That is the reality. If we had a society that was functioning properly, there would be no market for this.

The credit unions are part of the answer and we know that but the problem here is the problem of poverty. While we know we will always have a certain level of that, unfortunately, we have far too much of it. The rest of the people who sit around the Cabinet table who deal with issues of income disparity, the housing crisis, the hospital crisis, the healthcare crisis and all such matters feed into all of this for the people who are struggling the most. It is all a reflection of all of that.

The issue at stake is greater than the one we are discussing tonight, but what we are discussing now must be brought into focus. We cannot continue to kick this down the road or to avoid it. Reports will appear while the Bill is going through Committee Stage and being dealt with properly. I appeal to the Minister of State to listen to us. It is clear that the Bill will pass. Fianna Fáil will support the Bill and we support it. I expect the vast majority of the House will support it. For the sake of the people who are suffering, it is only right for the Minister of State to withdraw the amendment and support the Bill.

I usually do not make a request until the end of my speech but I urge the Minister of State to withdraw his amendment. As Deputy Martin Kenny said, the amendment will not be accepted anyway as the Government will not have enough support. The reason I ask is because I want to take a different angle on tonight’s debate.

I congratulate Deputy Pearse Doherty on introducing the Bill. Poverty and debt and the compounding of poverty through debt are literally killing people. I want to talk about the effect debt is having on mental health and the need to regulate to mitigate that effect. The real response however is to eradicate poverty. That is Sinn Féin’s objective and should be the objective of any Government or confidence and supply agreement worth its salt.

According to Mental Health Ireland, debt can be a considerable burden. It can cause anxiety and seriously affect our sleep, which has many knock-on effects. It can affect our mood and energy levels and many other areas of life such as family and career. Mental Health Ireland notes that all of these things can in turn contribute to a person's debt problem, so the cycle continues and worsens. Ireland clearly has a serious problem with debt. The root cause of this problem is the poverty which is going unchecked by this Government and the inability to provide affordable housing and other basic services. Poverty destroys people's mental health.

Last year, a Samaritans report found that inequality was driving people to suicide. We all know that poverty was the real issue. In turn, through a destructive mix of poverty, debt and mental ill health, whole families and communities are being torn apart. Research on poverty and mental health has found that suicide rates in Ireland are two times higher in the most deprived areas than in the less deprived areas. Low paid workers have higher rates of suicide. People who are unemployed are two to three times more likely to die by suicide than those in employment. Working class men, living in the most deprived areas, are up to ten times more at risk of suicide than those in the highest social class, living in the most affluent areas. As the director of Samaritans Ireland, Deirdre Toner said, each suicide statistic represents a person. An employee on a zero hour contract is somebody's parent or child. A person at risk of losing his or her home may be a sibling or friend and each one of them will leave others devastated and potentially more disadvantaged if they take their own lives. Last week, a report in England found serious links between poverty, debt and suicide. It showed more than 100,000 people a year in England tried to take their lives due to debt.

The severity of the behaviour and the policies of the lenders and their debt collectors was also noted, as was the major impact on the mental health outcome of those who sought to borrow. Many of those in debt and experiencing anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation had borrowed to keep up with essential utility payments and rent. I know that this is very similar to what is going on in this country. We know that the same parasitic vultures operate here, many being British companies. Families all over the country are running up small debts with big interest rates that could be their undoing. They are not doing this out of greed but to have a nice Christmas, put a turkey in the oven and have a few nice presents under the tree for their children. These are not things for which the punishment should be more hardship. If the law does not protect these families, then it is worth nothing. If our society, economy and Governments continue to create these conditions, then they are worth very little.

This is a simple Bill. It will cap interest rates at 36% APR, which still sounds like a lot. We are dealing with the kind of unscrupulous companies which can charge nearly 300% APR and a Government that has allowed them to do it. I ask the Minister of State again please to support this Bill and give peace of mind to those facing debts this Christmas and in 2019.

As previously said, it is very useful to have this debate. I have listened carefully to everything that has been said. In an ideal world, no one would have to pay the extremely high rates of interest charged by moneylenders. Others have said that the only thing worse than high interest credit is no access to credit at all. I argue that forcing people who are at a point of crisis, as Deputy Michael McGrath rightly described them, to avail of illegal moneylending is an even worse scenario.

We will press the amendment because it will give the Department time to consider and evaluate the interest rate restrictions report and consult with others to have an evidence-based approach to the development of public policy on moneylenders. In considering that policy, we will not separate the recommendation that rates be restricted from the proviso that these restrictions are to be conditional on there being a reliable alternative to licensed moneylenders. Key to that is getting the credit union movement to commit to serve the community currently serviced by money lending firms, subject to adherence to prudent credit guidelines. As said in the opening speech of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, the work that needs to be done in this regard includes considering how we will persuade the approximately 50% of other credit unions to take part in the personal microcredit, PMC, scheme and how we will cater for individuals on low incomes who are not social welfare customers, since that PMC scheme only works for social welfare recipients. We need to analyse the sector in more detail to see the impact that setting interest rate restrictions is likely to have on the various types of moneylenders and to examine illegal moneylending as well as we can.

The Social Finance Foundation, which has been identified by Deputy Pearse Doherty as a source of his motivation in bringing forward this Bill, has told us that it would be premature to fix an interest rate for moneylenders in advance of this work being concluded. We are not convinced that a fixed rate cap is the only answer available to us. It is a blunt approach to a highly nuanced issue. I appreciate that we are considering the principle of the Bill and that the justification for the rate could be considered later. I wish to highlight that putting a fixed rate in primary legislation means that it can only be amended by primary legislation. While Deputy Doherty's proposal is succinct and clear, the situation in real life with regard to what people have to deal with daily is much more complex and worthy of more detailed consideration before we proceed further. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has said that he acknowledges that there is a problem which needs to be addressed and that he will act with urgency in arriving at a solution that works in everyone's interest.

I intended to address some technical issues related to moneylending and such. I am disappointed that the Minister of State is pressing his amendment. He will not win that. He will call a division on something he will not win. Fianna Fáil has indicated its support for the Bill. With the Sinn Féin votes, Fianna Fáil votes and those of others which I am sure there will be, the Government will be defeated. The Minister of State says the Government needs time to address this. My colleagues brought forward this legislation in 2012. Fine Gael has been in government for seven years and has not addressed this legislation at all.

I wanted to talk about some technical matters relating to the Bill but will not do that now because I want to talk about the people affected by this. Deputy Crowe referred to people in his constituency in the local post offices. That can be seen in my constituency too. One can see people, mostly women, who are outside the post offices at the time to collect their payments. The book is handed out to them. It is ongoing. Gardaí know about this. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of it. They come into my constituency office and tell me. We have legal moneylenders and illegal moneylenders, and a situation where very vulnerable families are very close to a crisis. Many might get themselves into a crisis which they cannot get out of. The moneylender then comes again. Some people may not have been educated as most of us have been. They do not understand interest rates or how they work. They have a bill to pay and Christmas is coming, a First Communion is coming, or there has been a death in the family and somebody comes and makes it seem easy to borrow money, and the family does not realise the extent of what they will be paying back. The Minister of State should reconsider his amendment. There is no point in him pressing it. He will be defeated in a division. I do not know why he would do that. He can press his amendment but he will be defeated and that is pretty pointless.

I want to express my concern about Deputies from different parties who have not turned up. I understand it is a Private Members' Bill but moneylending affects all of us. I am sure it arises in every constituency office across the State. The Labour Party voted against this in 2012. One would think that they would have had some contrition since then, would have come in, made amends and spoken in support of the Bill. Hopefully they will vote for it when the Minister of State presses his amendment.

I want to talk about the credit union It Makes Sense loan. It is a loan specifically aimed at those in receipt of social welfare payments. It is available in participating credit unions across the country, including many in my constituency in Limerick. When this loan was initially launched, I contacted all the credit unions in my constituency and urged them to do it. Many took it up. Others could not do it, as was referred to earlier, due to the documentation they have to fill and the lack of return they get for it. I encourage every credit union across the State to participate in the loan scheme.

Credit unions are the backbone of many local communities and the first point of call for people who are in financial distress. These small loans, which are provided at affordable rates in comparison with the loans provided by rip-off moneylenders operating across the State, legal and illegal, have the potential to tackle moneylenders. For example, for a loan of €500 repayable over six months a moneylender might charge almost ten times as much in interest as a credit union. In this regard, a borrower can save more than €134 or €5 per week on a credit union loan in comparison with a loan from a moneylender, legal or illegal. According to the credit unions moneylending is worse at back-to-school time in particular. Escalating school costs are causing more than one quarter of parents to get into debt as they resort to moneylenders to purchase basic items to enable their children to return to school.

The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, should be ashamed of himself that he proposes to press his amendment. I again appeal to him to withdraw it. Once again he is failing the vulnerable people in our society. As Deputy Pearse Doherty explained, the amendment is not about protecting the vulnerable, it is about protecting the moneylenders. I urge the Minister to withdraw his amendment and to support the Bill.

Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil d'achan Teachta a labhair ar an ábhar seo agus faoi choinne na tacaíochta a thug an mhórchuid acu faoi choinne an Bhille seo, go hairithe an tacaíocht ó mo chomhleacaithe i Sinn Féin agus ó Deputy Michael McGrath agus an Teachta Murphy ó Fhianna Fáil a labhair ar son an Bhille.

I acknowledge all of the contributions to this debate and I welcome the support which Fianna Fáil has pledged to the Bill and its opposition to the Government's stalling amendment. As I said in my opening remarks, six and a half years is sufficient time to consider this issue. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has asked for another year to analyse a report which he has had for a year. Even if the report had never been published, we as legislators know the issue in terms of the fleecing of customers that is happening in every part of our communities, most particularly in those that are economically disadvantaged and deprived. This is not a secret. The issue has been debated in this House in the past and it has been raised continually in terms of access to credit yet the Minister of State argues that he needs more time. Organisations such as FLAC, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others have told us time and again, as if we needed to be told in the first instance, that the rate of 187% interest being charged on loans, primarily targeted at low income families and females, particularly single mothers, is extortionate. This is not just about the interest rates. The practices that surround some of this moneylending are not acceptable. It is notable from all of the studies that have been produced that for many of those trapped in this cycle of loans the practice is inter-generational in that children are borrowing from the same loan shark as their mothers and grandmothers. This is the reality. One loan rolls over to another and so on and while money lenders are not supposed to provide unsolicited loans this is what happens. Neither are they supposed to sell other goods but that is what happens. The books are full of these types of activities.

I had the unique opportunity to look under the bonnet of one of these prominent loan sharks, Provident, which is a major loan shark in the Irish market. I did so because five people who worked for Provident - although not directly because Provident organises its staff in a way that they are self employed - had provided me with a huge amount of documentation which showed the illegal activities that were going on within that moneylender, licensed by this State. These were activities that preyed on vulnerable people and provided for roll-up of loans. There were also serious issues in terms of documentation, including identifying documentation. It was clear that the practice that existed in Donegal was widespread across the country. In 2013, I brought that information to the Central Bank and following an investigation by the bank it found against the company and fined it the miserly sum of €110,000. All five individuals lost their positions as a result of that investigation. This type of practice continues. What we learned from the documentation is that this practice is based on aggressive lending and target-led bonus schemes and this is why these loans are being pressed on individuals.

The Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, needs to read his brief. Nobody is forcing anybody into the hands of moneylenders. If one looks to what happened across the water in terms of the restriction on pay-day lending, it is clearly stated in the report, which the Minister of State would know if he had read it, that there is no evidence that anybody accessed illegal money lending as a result of that provision. He would also know that the vast majority of people suggested that they would access credit from elsewhere, including the credit unions and other sources that are legal. If the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, is so concerned about illegal moneylending, let us beef up the prosecutions in that regard. When I introduced this Bill in 2012 not one illegal moneylender had been prosecuted. There has been a number of investigations since but the action is pitiful in terms of what is happening in our society.

This Bill makes sense. It is about protecting people. It challenges the Government to stop protecting the vested interests in terms of moneylending. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have previously used the phrases rip-off lending and fleecing and said that this is not acceptable. It is extortionate. Now is the time to act. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to withdraw the amendment. It is not fair and it is not right. We know what is happening. We have a duty in this House to protect vulnerable people from being preyed on by this industry. Now is the time to act.

I commend those members who supported this legislation. I am disappointed with the Government benches for proposing this stalling mechanism six and a half years after this Bill was originally voted down by Fine Gael and the Labour Party.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 13 December 2018.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13 December 2018.