I understand that when the House adjourned last night the transport aspect of the Bill was being dealt with. The Tánaiste was in possession. There are now 41 minutes remaining for this Part of the Bill. We are dealing with amendment No. 43, which is a Sinn Féin amendment. It has been moved. Is anybody offering? I remind the House that amendments Nos. 42 to 45, inclusive, are related and are being discussed together.
Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 43 to 45, inclusive. I believe it is very clear why I cannot do so. The proposers of the motion fully understood that yesterday. I thank the Sinn Féin Members for what was a very reasonable debate, particularly when they were representing the communities in the Border area and describing the difficulties they face in respect of the green cards which will have to be carried if this happens. The proposed section 5A of the Road Transport Act 1978 is an enabling provision which gives the Minister power to make an order should it be required. These provisions were developed as a precautionary measure and may not be needed in the event of an orderly withdrawal or if alternative measures are agreed at EU level or in another international context. Having regard to international bus services, there are a number of scenarios under which it will not be necessary to make an order under the new section 5A. On this basis, it would not be appropriate to require the making of such an order by amending "may" to "shall". The amendment also proposes that an order under section 5A would need the assent of the Dáil. Secondary legislation involves the delegation of power from the Oireachtas, in this case to the Minister. Requiring Dáil assent would be unusual and is not necessary. On a more practical note, such an assent procedure would unnecessarily delay the making of such an order, which could lead to difficulties in the scenario which may need to be addressed by using these provisions, namely, that of a no-deal exit.
I move amendment No. 46:
In page 50, line 34, after “passenger” to insert “transport”.
On behalf of the Government I propose a technical amendment, No. 46. Under the definition of "international road passenger operator’s licence" within the new section 28A of the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 the word "transport" has been inadvertently omitted in paragraph (b). This was an oversight and it is important that it be corrected as otherwise it would be an omission in a key term used in the new Part 2A regarding third country bus services.
I move amendment No. 47:
In page 54, to delete lines 35 to 39 and substitute the following:
“(3) Where the third country body has provided notice to the Authority of an application from a carrier to provide services similar to those referred to in section 28G(6) under the law of that country, the carrier may provide such third country bus services under and in accordance with this Part on and from the date of receipt by the Authority of said notice.”.
I propose this technical amendment, No. 47.
In the Bill, as initiated, this section can be interpreted as placing a statutory obligation under Irish law on a third country body, for instance, a regulatory body in the North. Without amendment, the section would require a competent authority in a third country to provide notice for the NTA in Ireland. This constitutes a statutory obligation which could be challenged by a third country body since it is a body established outside the jurisdiction. Our intention is that bilateral arrangements between Ireland and the United Kingdom will make clear to both jurisdictions their respective responsibilities in relation to third country bus services and the provision of notices, etc. This technical Government amendment means that while the essence of the provision remains, the statutory obligation on the third country body to provide notice for the NTA is removed.
It is a technical amendment. Is it agreed to?
I accept that it is a technical amendment, but I seek clarification. I understand any bus operator in a third country will have to make an application to the NTA as the competent authority for the regulation of bus services from a third country. Is that what the amendment seeks to achieve?
It can make the application to the competent authority, either here or in the third country.
Will they work jointly?
They will work together and exchange information, but the body that will make the decision is the one to which the application is made after consultation.
Will legislation be needed to allow those returning to Ireland from England to exchange their English licence for an Irish one?
Is the Deputy referring to driving licences?
The position is not quite as simple as that. Currently, under the 1949 road traffic convention, drivers from contracting states carrying a valid driver's licence that enables them to drive on each other's roads for up to one year. As Ireland and the United Kingdom are contracting states to the Geneva Convention, this provision applies and will not change following the date of withdrawal. Under Article 24.2 of the convention, a contracting state may require any driver admitted to its territory to carry an international driving permit. However, there is no requirement for drivers with a UK driving licence to produce an international driving permit while driving on Irish roads and that will not change. In addition, there is legislation in place that allows for the recognition of foreign driving licences for exchange purposes. If and when the United Kingdom becomes a third country and there is a no-deal Brexit, there will be the potential for arrangements to be made under section 23A of the Road Traffic Act 1961.
As the Minister will be aware, this is a big issue in my part of south Ulster and also neighbouring countries. There is a need for a clear message to be sent on what the exact situation will be should Britain leave the European Union without a deal. Thankfully, there are many people who have come back to live in Border counties, be it Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo, Leitrim and Louth, and also in the midlands in Deputy Troy's constituency. We have all had callers to our clinics to inquire about the status of their driving licence post 29 March. The Department needs to send a clear message on what the exact situation will be. Thankfully, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, there has been considerable movement of people on a daily basis across the Border in both directions to access employment and education and health services. Thankfully, nowadays it is our modus operandi not to have borders but to have seamless transition. We all take entitlements such as driving licences for granted as we cross the Border on a daily basis.
I often mention to the Minister in the context of road infrastructure that I travel to and from County Fermanagh in my constituency on quite a number of occasions. If I travel from Cavan town to Clones which is less than a 25-minute drive I cross into County Fermanagh four times. When I travel to other parts of County Cavan, I also travel through CountyFermanagh. Equally, in going about their daily business people living in the three counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Fermanagh cross the Border on a daily basis in each direction. Therefore, we need clarity on the issue. A clear message needs to be sent from the Department in that respect. It would also be useful if it could be sent through the local media.
On a related point, as the Minister may be able to answer both of us at the one time, I reinforce what my colleague Deputy Brendan Smith is saying about UK driving licences being acceptable in Ireland. I understand the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is advising holders of a UK driving licence to swap it for an Irish one while the United Kingdom is still a member of the European Union and before it becomes a third country because it can be done seamlessly and there will be no issues. In that regard, if somebody swaps his or her driving licence now, the date of issue will have an impact on his or her annual insurance premium. I wonder if the Minister or his officials has or have had any engagement with the insurance bodies to ensure such drivers will not lose all of their years of driving experience that they have built up when they transfer their UK driving licence for an Irish one. I understand - the Minister may correct me if I am wrong - the UK Government is providing reassurance for Irish driving licence holders that they will continue to be able to travel and drive in the United Kingdom on their Irish driving licence. There is an anomaly in what we are saying on this side of the Irish Sea compared to what is being said on the far side. Perhaps the Minister might clarify the matter.
Motorists travelling across the Border or to elsewhere in the United Kingdom will need to have a green card. The Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland is advocating that there be a turnaround time of approximately four weeks and advising that those who make frequent crossings - no one is hoping for a no-deal scenario or a hard Brexit - will need to factor in a four-week turnaround time in obtaining a green card or they will not be covered by their insurance. I also understand that, in the event that there is a hard Brexit at the end of the month, if somebody who does not hold a green card is stopped in Northern Ireland, his or her car will be impounded automatically. It is a serious consequence for somebody who will not be carrying a green card. I want to know what the Minister and his officials have been doing to inform motorists of the need to hold a green card. I also want to know why Article 8.2 of the EU motor insurance directive was not invoked. My understanding is that if it was invoked, it would allow the Commission to enable the United Kingdom to remain in the green card free circulation area post Brexit. Has the Minister held discussions with the Commission on invoking Article 8.2 of the 2009 motor insurance directive?
We are dealing with a technical amendment, but I am pragmatic enough to know that these are practical questions the Minister will want to clarify.
They are serious issues and there is confusion and chaos among the public because the Minister has not made any real effort to provide clarity or have them sorted. I am delighted that he could make an appearance this morning, despite the pressures of work. I hope he did not have to skip elevenses. We spoke about this issue last night and the Minister's problem is that it has not been resolved.
Other Ministers have managed to resolve issues regarding their briefs, in particular on the common travel area. They have managed to do it because they put in the effort and time to doing so.
I will not say the Minister does not care but I do not believe he realises just how important these issues are for people living in Border areas and the nightmare it will be, in particular with regard to licences and green cards. Workers will be travelling to work on a daily basis, family members will be visiting each other and tourists will be travelling. If a farmer is driving a tractor across his fields and one field is in the North and the other is in the South will he need a green card? If he has an accident in his tractor will he need a green card? These are the basic day-to-day issues that are leaving people in total confusion as to what they need and what they must do and the Minister has done nothing to resolve it.
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, made it clear the option for addressing the issue is under Article 8 of the EU motor insurance directive and the EU can give a waiver to Britain and the North for the requirements of green cards, as it did with Serbia in 2011. However, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has made no attempt whatsoever. It is hard to credit, given the problems this will cause for people, that he has put in no real effort. Everybody knows he should have been pushing the EU to get the waiver but he did not do so. He has let everybody down by not doing it. When we think about the problems this will cause, it seems the Minister is completely blind to the sensitivities around this issue. I knew from the time I asked him at a meeting of the transport committee about the green card that even on the basic points regarding when it was due, whether people would have to pay for it and how many would be required the Minister had to be prompted with the information. He did not come in with all of the information. This tells us he did not have the inclination, the care or the concern to look into it so that he would be across it and would make representations to the EU on the common travel area. If other Ministers could resolve issues in their brief but the Minister did not, it sums it up.
I remind the House that according to the order of the House yesterday we have one hour for transport issues and 23 minutes remain before I put the question. As we did yesterday, we may have it completed before then.
I thank Deputy Munster for her contribution, which had echoes of every contribution she ever makes.
I wonder why. It is down to the Minister.
I must respond, now that she is here, to some of what she has said. Last night, we had a very sensible discussion about green cards with two of Deputy Munster's colleagues, Deputies Pearse Doherty and Ó Snodaigh. They were mature, sensible and constructive. As I said, I thought what they were doing before the Deputy came in last night - and she was late again today - was something very constructive. We could not agree to what they were doing because it was not in our power but they were representing their communities extraordinarily well. They were like thoroughbreds in a horse race. Deputy Munster came in, as she normally does, like a donkey in the last race at the last fence.
She upset the whole apple cart.
I ask the Minister to use parliamentary language.
That is disgraceful.
On that, if the Minister wants to get personal-----
That is all the Deputy has done for the past ten minutes.
-----if it masks his overall incompetence-----
Deputy Munster has been personal.
He is the Minister in charge and he has not done his job.
If he wants to get personal to mask his incompetence, that is fine. I can take it but the reality is-----
Deputy Munster, please. I will deal with this.
-----the Minister has not done his job. He is a disgrace.
I will deal with this. There is co-operation all around. I was in the Chair for a long time yesterday. We have made progress and I ask the Minister not to invite interruptions and to use parliamentary language. We have 21 minutes so let us use them to answer the practical questions that were asked.
I want to say this because it is important that we are constructive and I agree with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
Forget about the word "donkey".
It was just an analogy.
It may well be but-----
It was a destruction of a very good argument-----
-----it does not sound good.
-----made by her colleagues and, as is so typical, she came in and ruined the debate by-----
-----making accusations and statements which are simply inaccurate. First of all, and this is relevant, she said that for some reason I had been responsible for the green card amendment being ruled out of order and she had to be corrected by the Ceann Comhairle on it. She is long enough in the House to know the Minister does not make rulings on the green card or on amendments. She deliberately misrepresented-----
The Minister has not made any effort.
Deputy Munster, please. The Minister without interruption.
The Minister did not make any effort at all on the green card issue.
She went on to say, and she said it again here today, without any justification and no evidence, that we had made no effort whatsoever on the green card issue. That is just simply untrue. What does she base it on? She bases it on nothing-----
No. Other Ministers have managed-----
-----because representations have been made consistently about the green card issue by the Department, the Government and officials.
Not by the Minister.
They have represented Ireland well on that issue and have represented the case that the green card is unwelcome and we do not want it. Of course we do not want it but it is an EU decision.
What did the Minister do to prevent it?
We take every opportunity we get to ask the EU to remove it. The Deputy comes in here and says nothing at all is being done. She is speaking from the basis of total ignorance-----
No, the Minister's record-----
-----because she never asked the question. Now she has the question answered, she does not like it. It is typical.
The Minister did nothing.
The Minister, without interruption.
It is most important in an issue of this sort that we have a mature debate and we do not throw wild accusations around and we ask questions and get answers, as the Deputy is entitled to do. She is democratically elected and entitled to answers. When she makes statements like this about the Minister ruling something out of order, it is just nonsense. When she makes statements about the Government and me having made no representations, it is rubbish.
The Minister put in no effort.
They have been working tirelessly to do precisely that. The green card is something we have not yet achieved-----
Because of the Minister.
-----but we will continue to work for its removal at the earliest possible opportunity.
It is three weeks away.
Let that be put on the record. To say I did not answer the Deputy's questions at the last committee meeting is just nonsense, as is everything else.
The Minister was prompted.
The Deputy asked one question that I did not answer because I did not know the answer. It was about whether people would be prosecuted in Northern Ireland if they did not have a green card. The answer to this is I do not know and nor does the Deputy or anybody else because it is a decision for the PSNI. I will not under any circumstances predict what course of action the PSNI will take in that situation. I say, quite rightly, I do not know. If the Deputy knows the answer she should get up and tell the House but she does not know.
The Minister was prompted with answers to every question asked.
I remind the House there are 17 minutes left and I have observed there are many other practical questions. Let us use the 17 minutes because I will have no choice but to put the question then.
As part of its contingency planning, the Government has raised this matter directly with the European Commission, seeking agreement from it to set a date from which green cards would not be required. The setting of a date is possible under Article 8.2 of the motor insurance directive. The Commission has not given agreement to date and the Government continues to pursue the matter with it. The Commission advised the MIBI and the international Council of Bureaux that it is keeping the matter under close and constant review as part of its Brexit preparedness work. This is very important. Ireland has had discussions with the European Commission regarding Article 8 of the insurance directive but the final decision is with the Commission and Ireland is still pushing on that issue. We do not like it, and we have made it quite clear we do not like it, but it is there and we must live with it for the moment. We will push against it as hard as we can.
On Deputy Troy's issue, insurers and insurance brokers have advised they will begin issuing green cards to policyholders any day now.
I believe they have begun to issue them or will do so in March 2019. As preparation, the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland, MIBI, has printed green cards and distributed them to these organisations. It has indicated that approximately 1 million green cards have been sent to insurance companies and brokers. It is a matter for insurance brokers as private commercial organisations to determine whether there will be an administrative charge for the issuance of green cards. I answered this question already but I will answer it again. The Deputy said I did not answer it at the last committee meeting. I did. I answered questions on fees quite specifically. Neither the Government nor the Central Bank of Ireland has the power to regulate charges which may be made in this regard. It is an unwelcome development, but it is example of prudent advance planning on the part of the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland and the wider insurance industry.
It is important to remember that the green card is used as proof of insurance. People have been making a mistake in this regard, though I am sure Deputy Munster has not. It is not an insurance policy in itself. The vast majority of Irish motor insurance policies already include cover for travel in the UK. In such cases, drivers will continue to be insured to drive in the UK even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. However, they will need to carry a green card as proof of insurance if no other agreement is reached within the European Commission in the meantime. Not all policies may include such cover in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In that eventuality, drivers who may be travelling to or through Northern Ireland or Great Britain should check their motor insurance policies. If in doubt, they should check with their insurers that such travel will be covered. Enforcement of the law on motor insurance is a matter for An Garda Síochána. If a person is driving a UK vehicle in this jurisdiction following a no-deal Brexit he or she may be required by An Garda Síochána to produce a green card as proof of insurance. Driving uninsured is an offence. If a person who should have a green card does not, this may cause difficulties in proving that they have insurance. That is carefully worded. It is for the authorities in Northern Ireland to determine what enforcement measures regarding green cards might be taken in Northern Ireland in the event of the UK exiting the EU without a deal.
A clear message has been fairly well-publicised by the Road Safety Authority, the Department and the insurance bodies. The issuance of 1 million green cards reflects sudden and urgent demand. Adequate numbers of cards will be issued. I take the point that we need to use all outlets to make sure everybody knows they should get green cards.
In answer to Deputy Smith, I note that people resident in Ireland who use UK driving licences should seek to exchange their UK licence for an Irish licence before 29 March. This is advice is going out from all quarters and I think it is fairly well-known at this stage. We will put alternative arrangements in place post Brexit when the UK is a third country. To cover that particular point, visitors to Ireland with UK driving licences can drive on their UK licences in Ireland for up to 12 months. In the meantime we fully expect that perfectly adequate reciprocal arrangements will be made.
The Minister's last point was that the Department and other bodies are advising people to swap their licence before the end of this month. Is the Minister satisfied that there will be sufficient personnel to deal with the upsurge in applications for new driving licences? Will these applications be processed in a timely manner?
Second, the Minister did not answer the question of what engagement he or his officials have had with insurance companies on the possible consequences for people's insurance premiums, given the fact that they will now be driving on new Irish licences that have only been issued this month. Will their previous records be recognised? We all have heard anecdotal evidence that people who have driven in Ireland previously come home after a year or two abroad and find all their past records are null and void and are not taken on board. They are effectively first-time applicants from an insurance perspective. What engagement has the Minister had with the motor insurance industry to ensure that the insurance premiums of people who transfer their licences will not be affected?
As the Minister knows, I have spoken on a number of occasions about the availability of driving licences to asylum seekers. They are not available to asylum seekers in Ireland. They are available in the UK, and there are a small number of asylum seekers here who have UK licences. I assume they will not be able to transfer them. Perhaps the Minister could clarify.
I refer to the huge efforts the Minister and his officials have made around the green card and in trying to invoke Article 8.2. Perhaps he might share with us some of the replies he has received to the efforts and the submissions he has made on this issue. It is strange that other countries have benefited from this. The House should know who is trying to block or prevent the invocation of Article 8.2 of the motor insurance directive.
The Minister says that he cannot be responsible for what the PSNI in Northern Ireland does. The bottom line is that, just as in the Republic of Ireland, the Legislature makes the laws. The Garda and the PSNI implement the laws. If the law of the land states that a driver must have a green card and the penalty for not carrying one is the impoundment of their car, we cannot criticise and say we do not know what the PSNI is going to do. We do know what it is going to do. It is a huge issue for people who go across the Border very frequently. I welcome the fact that the Minister has said he will continue his efforts to push for the UK to remain in the green card free circulation area. Does he have a timeline for when he hopes to have this matter resolved?
I remind Members that there are only eight minutes left. I am sure the Minister wants a couple of minutes to respond.
I wish to make a very quick comment. I thank the Minister for his reply. Will he clarify the conversion of the British licences? I am not exactly clear on that. He also mentioned that reciprocal arrangements would be put in place. Will the British authorities do that by regulation or will legislation have to be put through Parliament, which is obviously a time consideration? We cannot have an interregnum during which people do not have their licences up to date or in order. That is the concern of our constituents and of people living in the Border area and much further afield.
Deputy Troy referred to copies of correspondence regarding the interventions, meetings etc. that the Minister has personally undertaken on the green card issue. I asked for these at the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport a couple of weeks ago when I inquired whether the Minister had personally made interventions concerning a dispensation for people in Ireland. I have not got anything back as of yet. Will the Minister furnish us with those documents? I have waited two weeks to get them and I have got nothing.
Before we finish this section, I note there is another amendment which Deputies will have an opportunity to put. There will be no debate on it. I refer to amendment No. 45.
To be absolutely clear, the laws upheld by the PSNI are not made in this House. I cannot influence the attitude the PSNI takes to the green card in any way.
It is a requirement.
It is a separate jurisdiction.
It is up to it what it does with it. We have made no bones about our opinions on the green cards. We do not like it. We do not welcome what is happening in that regard, but it is a matter for the MIBI, and in commercial terms it is probably prudent. In political terms it is something which we deplore, but it is not something we can influence outside this jurisdiction.
Because the question has been repeated, I wish to say categorically once again that my officials and I will take every opportunity to press the European Commission so that the life of the green cards is ended as soon as possible. That is our ambition. That is what we wish to do. The suggestion that there is some sort of lack of will or energy on our part on the issue is an accusation made out of total and utter ignorance. It is unnecessary and unhelpful. The European Commission is well aware of our views on it. I am certain that these representations have been made frequently and will continue to be made until the green card is removed or some other solution is enacted. That is what is going to happen. We are united on this issue and it is a pity that there should be any division introduced. We are united in that we wish to see the green cards removed. We see them as politically difficult to accept altogether, but to suggest that somehow because they remain there, there is a lack of action, will or energy is not true. It is not going to happen. That process will continue.
There is ongoing engagement by my officials with the Commission on Article 8, including recently when a very high-level delegation came to Dublin. Intensive talks have been going on between my officials and the European Commission on this issue and other issues on an hourly, daily and weekly basis. This is not something which is being neglected. It is being pursued with as much vigour as is possible. It is fair to say that an enormous amount has been achieved, which we see in the Bill in terms of buses and in other areas to ensure the smooth running of transport between Northern Ireland and southern Ireland, even in a no-deal scenario. That is what this is all about. Not everything is resolved, but we are going to ensure that the trains and buses will run as normally as possible on 29 March, even if we have a no-deal scenario, which we hope we do not have.
The Road Safety Authority, RSA, is giving priority to the exchange process for UK licences. In response to Deputy Troy, it wants to give as long as practicable for people to get their licences. Deputy Troy asked twice whether we had talked to the insurance companies to ameliorate the effect on premiums in certain situations. He will find that it is a matter for the insurance companies. No-claims bonuses are based on driving experience and are not linked to the licence issue date. I am not an expert in this field, but I think he will find that is the major factor which affects insurance premiums and their price.
The Minister said the conversion of licences would be processed as speedily and efficiently as possible, but in the event that there is a delay in the post and a licence is not processed in advance of 29 March, will it be honoured or will it be declared null and void?
I wish to get clarity. As the Minister is aware, 90% of the agricultural product in this country is exported either to Great Britain or through Great Britain on to France and other European countries. Will the Irish licence of those lorry drivers be accepted in England if they are stopped by the police? My concern is to ensure that they can travel freely.
The answer to Deputy Scanlon is “Yes”, as to whether the Irish licence will be accepted in England. In response to Deputy Troy, people will be all right if the application for conversion is in the system by 29 March.
The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with a resolution of the Dáil: "That the amendments set down by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to Part 10 and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, and in respect of each of the sections undisposed of in the said Part, that the section or, as appropriate, the section as amended is hereby agreed to."
That completes our deliberations on transport. We now move on to Part 11, which involves amendment of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 and comprises sections 76 to 78, inclusive, and amendment No. 49. There is one hour for the debate on this Part.
I move amendment No. 49:
In page 61, line 14, to delete “may” and substitute “shall, with the assent of Dáil Éireann,”.
The Bill has been hailed as a no-change Bill and we are aware that much work has been done on the convention on social security. Credit is due to the many people involved in ensuring the convention was agreed. What is the status of the convention at this point? Various processes are in place in this State and in Britain. The Minister referred to a 21-day period in which the British Government would engage in a consultation process before the convention would be signed.
My second question relates to the fuel allowance and the winter fuel payment. That is an issue I have raised previously. We are not sure about the changes involved to such payments because there is no reference to them in correspondence or the legislation. I have sought clarity on the issue a number of times from the Minister. For example, I sent her a letter last week seeking clarity on what will happen. There is much fear about the fuel allowance and the winter fuel payment. Currently, more than 31,565 people living in this State receive the winter fuel payment from Britain. The number of recipients of the payment has been increasing annually. In 2011, there were just 6,810 people in receipt of the payment. Will the Minister provide clarity because there has been complete radio silence by her on this?
I have asked her on a number of occasions now for clarity on it, so can we just get that clarity first and foremost?
Before I call the Minister, are any other Members indicating? I call Deputy O'Dea on the amendment.
We are dealing with section 77 of the Bill. It is significantly different from the heads we discussed at committee on the basis that the convention will cover social insurance payments. The remainder - the reduced section, as it were - will deal with social assistance, so that will still be covered by legislation, whereas social insurance will be covered under the convention. In this regard, I ask the Minister again, where are we with the convention? Have the British ratified it? Will it come into operation on 29 March? If not, what happens then, given that we have dropped the legislation that would have been operable had the convention not come in? Furthermore, does section 77 cover the full range of social welfare payments in respect of which we have a reciprocal arrangement with the UK? Is any payment excluded because we did not decide to continue the reciprocal arrangement?
I also wish to ask the Minister a question about private pensions. I know that this section deals with State pensions - that is, pensions payable by the Department for Work and Pensions or, on our side, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection - but the latter is the Department that has responsibility for statutory provisions relating to pensions, both public and private. The Minister will be aware that reports persist that Irish people, people who are resident here and who are in receipt of private pensions from UK organisations, may have to open sterling accounts, which of course we would all be extremely concerned about. I think the suggestion was that some sort of banking arrangement needs to be put in place to resolve this issue. On behalf of these people, I seek reassurance from the Minister for reassurance on this point or at least an update on what the up-to-date position is.
As for the amendment itself, I notice that the legislation gives the Minister the right to introduce orders. I acknowledge that the next section we will deal with gives the Minister the right to introduce regulations. The usual provision in respect of regulations is that there is another section stating that any regulations must be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and will come into operation within 21 days if a resolution annulling those regulations has not been passed by the Oireachtas in the meantime. What is the position on orders? My understanding is that section 287 of the 2005 Act, which this legislation proposes to amend, makes provision for reciprocal arrangements. Subsection (1) allows the Minister to make such orders as may be necessary to implement any of those reciprocal arrangements. I take it that reciprocal arrangements have been made with all other EU countries and the EU itself, that an order has been made to that effect and that power was given back in 2005. What, then, is the Minister proposing here exactly? Is this just about providing for the situation in which the UK becomes a third country in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
Perhaps the Minister might clarify those few points.
Are any other Members indicating? If not, I call the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty.
May I just clarify something before I start? I appreciate that we will stop at 12 noon. Am I speaking just to the questions that have been asked of me or to the amendment? The Deputy who moved the amendment did not speak to it.
The debate is on the amendment, but if there are questions that might be relevant-----
Shall I speak to the amendment first and then answer the questions?
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I just wanted to-----
The Deputy is quite right. The debate will adjourn at 12 noon until we resume in the afternoon.
I will speak to the amendment first and then maybe get to the questions.
I do not propose to accept the amendment to section 77 of the Bill. Section 77 provides for an amendment to section 287 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 regarding the continuation of a whole range of social welfare payments. Section 287 is the section of the 2005 Act that allows me, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to enter into bilateral arrangements with other countries. The amendment set out in section 77 of the Bill provides for, among other things, the insertion of a new subsection (3) into section 287 of the 2005 Act. The purpose of this new subsection is to enable me, the Minister, if necessary, to make an order with regard to the way in which arrangements under this section interact. Such arrangements may cover a number of issues, such as the recognition of contributions paid in other countries, which, it is to be hoped, will now include the United Kingdom.
As Deputies will be aware, due to the unique nature of the common travel area and the associated rights and privileges it provides and will continue to provide for Irish and British citizens in one another's countries, it was agreed that Ireland and the United Kingdom would formalise the pre-existing common travel area social protection arrangements in a legally binding agreement. This agreement was signed on 1 February. Under the terms of the agreement, all existing arrangements regarding recognition of, and access to, social insurance entitlements will be maintained in both jurisdictions. This means that the rights of Irish citizens living in Ireland to benefit from the social insurance contributions they have made while working in the United Kingdom and to access social insurance payments if resident in the United Kingdom are protected and vice versa. The agreement is subject to ratification processes in both Ireland and the United Kingdom, which are under way. I confirm to both Deputies that the Irish Parliament yesterday passed the convention. The convention on social security is in a resting period of 21 days within Westminster. This resting period will finish on 19 March. The United Kingdom's Privy Council will meet during this resting period to allow any submissions on behalf of Westminster parliamentarians to make towards the social security contribution and will be dealt with during the resting period. We are still on track in this regard. While I am confident that the process, having completed its passage here in Ireland, will complete its passage in the United Kingdom before 29 March, we must be absolutely certain that the current arrangements can continue even if all the necessary steps in the ratification process are not completed by that date.
That is the purpose of section 77. The provisions of the Bill on this matter have been carefully drafted on foot of extensive legal advice to ensure we have absolute certainty about the making of social welfare payments in the event of a no-deal exit and the security of those payments. Amendment No. 49 introduces a number of legal concerns and ambiguities around the process for the making of the necessary order. This makes it unclear how the amendment would operate, what my obligations as the Minister would be in light of it, and what the Dáil would be required to do. My concern is that it would leave the process vulnerable to challenge and, in doing so, create unnecessary risks around the continuity and the certainty we are all looking to provide. Furthermore, if our agreement is ratified by the United Kingdom Parliament by 29 March, as we expect, then the order envisaged by section 77 will not be needed in any event. Therefore, it is not appropriate for me to be obliged as Minister to make such an order by replacing the word "may" with the words "shall, with the assent of Dáil Éireann" as, fingers crossed, it is to be hoped that the need to make the order will never arise. It is for this reason alone that I propose not to accept the amendment.