Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed) [Private Members]

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am not really sure where I was in my contribution. Perhaps the Minister of State might remember.

I do. The Deputy was in Brazil or somewhere else.

While I find the legislation disappointing, I was at great pains to explain that I was as fond of overpaying for tickets as anyone else. In fact, I absolutely hate paying above the odds. I remember being outside the old Lansdowne Road stadium in the early 1980s when tickets were being sold at an awful price and I could not afford to buy them. I got a fellow to give me a leg up onto the wall and then the roof. When I jumped down, I was seen by a garda who chased me as fast as he could. I ran up the ramp of the south terrace and the place was jammed. I put my head down to knee level and went right down into the terrace as fast as I could. Of course, the garda never caught me.

I remember another day on which I could not get a ticket and decided to try my luck. I went through the turnstile as if I had a ticket and gave the man in it a tenner. He let me in as it was a tenner for him and he did not mind one bit. One could probably have called it bribery.

I remember attending the World Cup final in 1982 when Italy played Germany and won 3-1. Rossi, Tardelli and Altobelli were the three scorers and it was a powerful win. I did not have a ticket, but on the Saturday evening it was announced that tickets for the game, to be played on the Sunday afternoon, would go on sale at the stadium at 8 a.m. on the Sunday. When I went there at approximately 7.45 a.m., without exaggeration, the queue was 2 miles long. I did a count and there were about 6,000 people queueing for the 1,500 tickets available. I went up to an Italian fellow who was fourth in the queue and asked if he knew how many tickets he would be allowed to buy. He could speak a little English and said he did not know. I told him that he would be allowed to buy four and asked how many he needed. He only needed two. I suggested he buy four and told him that I would give him 50% above the price of the other two. Lo and behold, I got the two tickets I needed, unlike most of the people who had been queueing since the middle of the night. One could have said it was also bribery, but I would resort to using any trick to get a ticket for a football match.

To return to the subject of the Bill, the primary responsibility of any Government is to take the best care possible of those most in need of help. I would say the same about legislators. We should be putting all of our energy into dealing with issues such as the price of housing and dealing with homelessness. Worrying about who can charge extra for a ticket should be down the list of our concerns. This legislation is not workable and will only drive touting underground. Making it illegal will not work. As I said, it is illegal to sell drugs in Ireland, but there would be less drug use if they were legal. Driving something underground does not work. This is poor legislation. As legislators, we have a responsibility to make better use of our time.

Amusing as Deputy Wallace's stories are, it is regrettable that we have to spend time dealing with a useless piece of what I call "soundbite legislation". I am getting sick at the number of times we have had to deal with such legislation. I am awaiting the introduction of a Bill dealing with apple pie, something to which no one could possibly object but which would not bring apple pie to anybody. This Bill will not deliver regulation of ticket touting either. We are told that it will make it illegal to sell tickets for what are called "major sporting, musical or theatrical events" in venues with a capacity of more than 300 people at more than face value. The Minister of State has said the 300-person limit will be raised to 1,000, just to make it really clear that nobody is really interested in what happens in small-scale venues or the grassroots arts. It is all about big ticket events. I am not really sure why the arbitrary 300-person limit was included in the Bill in the first place. Is it the case that the promoters of the Bill want to see tickets for small gigs being sold at an exorbitant price? What is the reasoning behind it? If we are to ban above-cost ticket touting, I do not understand why we would not ban touting across the board. Why make a distinction? The only goal in having an arbitrary cut-off point seems to be to tell small-time artists and their fans that they do not really matter. It is an unnecessary kick in the teeth for them. The music industry is suffering as a result of this domination. It is all about the big events and the media hype. As a result, bands no longer tour in the way they used to. They no longer travel around the country in a tour bus. They play in one large venue and that is it. The way in which the entertainment business is being organised does not harness creativity and waters down the experience of attending a live music event. That is a debate we could be having.

I go back to the random cut-off point of 300 which is soon to be raised to 1,000. That tells us something about from where the Bill comes. It springs straight from the hullabaloo about tickets for big events such as the U2 concerts in Croke Park or the all-Ireland finals when tickets sell for thousands of euro. It is very amusing to see a Government that absolutely loves to charge Opposition Deputies with populism come here with legislation such as this. As Deputy Wallace said, there are 4,000 children throughout the country who do not have a home. The number of homeless families has quadrupled in a decade. It is conservatively estimated that there are 10,000 people in the country who do not have a roof over their head, yet we are here talking about this legislation. Last night the Government and Fianna Fáil decried Sinn Féin's stunt of tabling a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. People in glasshouses really should not throw stones.

When the Dáil resumed last month after the Christmas recess, we were told that the decks had to be cleared to deal with Brexit. We were told that only the most pressing items of legislation would make the cut this session, that everything else had to be put into cold storage, yet here we are debating a Bill dealing with ticket touting. It really gives us some idea of the Government's priorities at a time when nearly 1 million people are on HSE waiting lists.

In December, the Court of Appeal ruled, on foot of an appeal brought by Graham Dwyer, that our data retention law provides for a general and indiscriminate data retention regime. There is a very real chance that one of the most high-profile persons accused of murder in the history of the State will walk free. He will do so because the Government did not take the advice of a Supreme Court judge whom it appointed to look at our data retention laws in 2017 and informed us that our data protection laws were in need of radical change. They were not changed and we are not changing them now. I see no sign of the Government even stirring to save us from this. I do not see any Bill amending our data retention laws on the priority list for this session and we are not debating such legislation here today either. Instead, we are here dealing with somebody wanting to buy tickets to a concert or some other event - seriously.

On Second Stage, the Minister signalled that she would bring forward a range of amendments on Committee Stage. From trying to marshal and push the Coroners Bill through these Houses - not just in the lifetime of this Government but in the lifetime of that which preceded it - I know how absolutely, incredibly slow and difficult the process of getting amendments drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, can be. I would like an assurance from the Minister of State that the amendments under debate at present are not going to be given precedence over the Report Stage amendments to the Coroners (Amendment) Bill, which the same OPC people are supposed to be helping to draft. We are three years waiting for mandatory inquests into maternal deaths. Three years waiting for something that everybody in this House agrees is a priority, yet the drafters and amendment merchants are still plugging away. It had better happen soon and this legislation, with all the amendments the Minister has flagged, had better not lead to it falling down the pecking order.

The point is that it is a tortuous process. Countless Private Member's Bills have passed Second Stage. There are 69 of them before various committees, most of which require money messages from the Government. Issuing such messages is something only the Government can do. Of course, money messages will not be forthcoming, not because they are bad Bills - most of them are a hell of a lot better than that before the House - but because the Government believes it can marshal and bully its way through. We talk about democracy in other countries and yet this stifling goes on here. Very few Private Member's Bills pass through all Stages. It is pretty regular now that the only ones that are getting through are from the Government benches, like the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill to which Deputy Wallace referred, a complete nonsense that will achieve absolutely nothing. That is not the way in which things should be done. Sinn Féin had a ticket touting Bill in respect of which the Government would not issue a money message and now we are here discussing this nonsense. That is new politics - Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's priority. This is the first Bill in the history of the State presented jointly by Government and Opposition, or the confidence and supply parties or whatever, and it relates to ticket touting. All those involved should all be absolutely ashamed of themselves.

I find it grimly amusing that the arch free marketeers of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are full square behind a Bill that places a price cap on a commodity. This tells us something about priorities. They would sooner die than put a price cap on a good like housing or the price of a child going to primary school but they are very happy to intervene to keep the price of tickets for rugby matches down. When it comes to housing, their attitude is, "Sorry about that now, supply and demand, the State cannot be interfering with the market." If I did not laugh, I would have to cry over this. The Government flat out refused to introduce rent caps but now it is falling over itself to put a cap on the resale of tickets for football matches. Are the Deputies opposite actually serious about this? Refusing to introduce rent caps has pushed countless people into homelessness. Refusing to put a cap on concert ticket prices will not put people into homelessness because they cannot cobble together a few bob for a resale ticket to see U2.

What is more ironic is that the Bill is going to do nothing to address the fact that Irish people are charged exorbitant prices for tickets in the first instance. If dealing with ticket prices was the priority, the Government could start with that because it might actually be able to do something about it. Fatboy Slim is playing in the 3Arena the week after next. Ticket prices run from €51.50 to €61. A few weeks later, he is playing in Utrecht in the Netherlands. There, the tickets are €28, nearly half the price for the exact same gig. Drake is playing in the 3Arena in April. Ticket prices start at €79 and go up to €276. To see the same artist in Belgium, people will pay from €56 up to a maximum of €106 for premium seats. The Government should be asking if the touts are the real rip-off merchants here. Should this not be the aspect to focus on if it really wants to bring down the cost of tickets?

From listening to previous speakers, it appears that much of the impetus behind the Bill comes from what we could call the industrialisation of ticket touting, or large-scale ticket touting. This has happened thanks to advances in technology and the concurrent explosion of ticket resale sites. That is a fact. As I understand it, tickets go on sale and then appear minutes later on a resale site for a higher price. The Bill targets the people doing the selling and leaves the websites alone. Let us see if that makes any sense. The people who run these resale websites do not do it for the good of their health; they charge a transaction fee for each ticket sold. In the case of Ticketmaster, it had two bites at the cherry until it shuttered Seatwave. Ticketmaster got a transaction fee when it sold the original ticket and then got another transaction fee when that ticket was sold on. No doubt when Ticketmaster sets up its "fan-to-fan" ticket exchange, it will continue to charge transaction fees. If Seatwave is anything to go by, those ticket transaction fees will not be cheap. In one case I know of, for an Electric Picnic ticket costing €285, the transaction fee was €52.99. That was after Seatwave had already charged the seller a 10% success fee. The word "racket" springs to mind.

The sad thing is that the Bill is not going to stop any of this. If its sponsors were actually serious about ending the industrialisation of touting, they would be banning resale websites from charging resale or transaction fees. They are not doing that. There is absolutely nothing in the Bill to stop me from setting up a resale website tomorrow, writing a computer script to snap up a few hundred tickets for the next big gig in Croke Park and flogging them all at face value on my resale site with an added 50% or 500% transaction fee. The Minister has indicated that she is going to bring forward amendments to prevent bots from being used to buy tickets in bulk. Is she really? Given that there is no commonly agreed definition of bots and that the people who use them are smart enough to disguise their use, that is not going to get her very far at all. Even if by some miracle, the Government manages to do what no-one else in the world can do, it would take two minutes for someone to pay a bunch of lads in Bangladesh tuppence ha'penny to go in and snap up the tickets manually. There are loads of other ways around this legislation and I am not going to repeat the points made by Deputy Wallace last week. Someone could get their ticket at face value and then pay €700 for access to the pen, or a reseller could legally add in a lunch and stick on a few hundred euro for that.

This Bill is not going to stop touting. It will change touting, of course, but it will not stop it. That is not the intention. This is just to get a cheap headline, that is all, yet Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are the people going on about populism. They are wasting our time because this is not even going to work and, particularly when there are some really serious matters that the State needs to get to grips with, it is highly regrettable. The list is too long to deal with here.

It breaks my heart that we debating legislation relating to ticket touting on the same day that Philomena Canning felt she had no choice but to go public with the fact that she is dying from ovarian cancer in the hope that she can persuade the HSE to settle her case so that she can afford to buy Pembro, the cancer drug. It makes me angry beyond words that this brilliant, caring and powerful midwife is being denied free access to this drug because she has "the wrong type of cancer". If she had cervical cancer, she would be receiving Pembro, but she does not. It is a thundering disgrace that the Government has entirely and arbitrarily created a two-tier system of "deserving" and "less-deserving" cancer patients, and that it has done so as a PR exercise. Philomena Canning has been left to suffer. She may die. We could be discussing matters of that nature. This woman has given her life in the service of other women. Her livelihood was destroyed by the HSE when it suspended her with no notice in September 2014. The High Court upheld the suspension, but, ahead of an appeal, both Ms Canning and the HSE commissioned a number of expert reports into the cases at issue, all of which stated that she had acted entirely professionally. As a result, the HSE dropped its appeal three days before the scheduled hearing. Her indemnity insurance was reinstated, but the HSE went on to conduct a systems analysis into her practice and found that she had made administrative errors-----

The Deputy is straying a long way from the Bill.

-----not medical errors. These are the issues. It is a case that has arisen. Unlike the previous four medical reports, the experts in this case were administrators who do not have medical qualifications. This woman was basically deprived of her livelihood. There are huge questions in respect of this case. Ms Canning has been dragged through a four-year discovery process by the HSE and her time has run out. She is dying, unfortunately, of cancer. We need to rip up the HSE policy of deny, defend and waste time that has devastated the lives of so many people. If one good thing could come from this afternoon, it would be if the Minister of State asked the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to intervene on Philomena Canning's behalf with the HSE in order that she can get the settlement she deserves before it is too late.

Instead, we are here talking about ticket touts. It is in indictment of the so-called confidence and supply agreement that this situation has arisen and that this Bill is the best that the Government can come up with. I am actually genuinely embarrassed for the Government. Deputy Rock went out on the plinth with a cardboard cut-out of what was supposed to be a ticket tout but what looked more like a flasher in a raincoat and a hat. Deputy Rock was kicking him. If any of us did that we would be condemned for inciting violence by kicking another human being. This pathetic stunt was carried out in order to get publicity for a Bill that is not only not a priority in the real lives of people but does not even scratch the surface-----

The Deputy is well acquainted with stunts.

-----of the problems with ticket prices in this State. It is a sham Bill in the tradition of a number of sham Bills that have come from this Government. It is becoming a little scary, and shows that the Government has lost the plot. We have had to endure the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018, which was put forward by the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, which had no impact because it brought in a type of mandatory discretion as well as a judicial opt-out. The headlines proclaimed that the Government would deal with unfair sentences for sex crimes in legislation, but the Bill did not do that. It merely created the illusion that the Government was doing something about that issue.

The Deputy is wandering from the Bill.

This Bill is in the same tradition. It puts up a headline. People do not want to be ripped off for concert tickets. Of course they do not. This, in a very populist way, suggests that ticket touting is being got rid of and that overpriced tickets and excess fees are being dealt with. The Bill does not do that. There are absolutely loads of ways around this legislation. It is really regrettable that this Bill has made the cut at a time when the decks were supposed to be cleared to deal with Brexit. Only the most important legislation was to make the cut, but the very fact that the Minister of State announced, without enough detail, that there are going to be substantial amendments to this Bill means automatically that she knows it is faulty and that it is going to have to be substantially redrafted. The Government knows that redrafting takes a huge amount of time and that amendments take forever. This nonsense is not going to progress. It is before the House to create cheap and populist headlines. When there are so many important issues to deal with, this is a bad indictment on this House. We are often told that legislation like this sends a signal. What signal does it send? It signals that this is a really useless place that does not pay sufficient attention to the job that we were elected to do, which is to bring forward good legislation that stands up to scrutiny. Instead, we bring in poor legislation. I mentioned the data protection Bill; it will leave this State liable for huge charges and might result in a convicted murder being released because the judges were not listened to in the first instance. Poor law does not serve any of us well. It is regrettable that we are here debating this matter.

I do not want to waste time. I have been a Deputy for the past 18 years and have seen an awful lot of time being wasted. For example, there were two hours of debate last night during which more constructive work could have been done.

I thank all Deputies who spoke on the Bill. This is a democratic system and everyone is entitled to speak. That is the whole idea of electing legislators. Overall this was a very well informed and constructive debate. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, would like to express her appreciation for the work of the Deputies, particularly the work done by Deputies Rock and Donnelly in bringing forward the Bill, and, of course, Deputy Quinlivan, for the commitment they have shown to tackling the practice of ticket touting. Deputy Clare Daly might note that this is an example of three different parties working together on something constructive.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, welcomes the broad expression of support for the Bill by Deputies. She agrees with the strong sentiment expressed by Deputies that ticket profiteering must be tackled in the interests of sport and music fans throughout Ireland. It is wrong for people who have no commitment or no contribution to make to sport of music to profit from the efforts and talent of sportsmen and women and from artists and entertainers. The Minister will consider carefully all of the points raised by the Deputies, including those made by Deputies Clare Daly and Wallace. A number of these points, such as those concerning the powers to be granted to An Garda Síochána, the proposed exemption for voluntary and community organisations and the liability of websites that host ticket listings, are under consideration by the Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and may be the subject of amendments to be moved on Committee Stage or on Report Stage.

The Minister looks forward to working with the House on Committee Stage and on Report Stage. There is a lot of work to be done on this Bill, including the many amendments that the Minister or the Deputies can propose in the Bill.

I will not delay or waste any more time talking. I have dealt with the points raised in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.