This is one of the most significant sections in the Bill and one that has had a great deal of publicity and which received quite a lot of discussion in the other House.
I should like to refer to the speech made by the Minister's Parliamentary Secretary when he introduced this Bill to the Seanad a few days ago. What he said is relevant to what I propose to say on this section. I quote from his speech:
The 1942 Act also gave the Central Bank the general function and duty of taking such steps as it deems advisable from time to time to safeguard the integrity of our currency and ensure that in the regulation of credit the aim shall be the welfare of the whole community.
That sentence was repeated later on in his speech. When he came to consider Part IV of the Bill, and specifically section 43, he went on to explain the purposes of the section. He said:
There has been some misunderstanding of this provision. What is intended is solely a technical change. The existing position is that the 1927 Currency Act established a fixed parity between the Irish pound and the pound sterling. Under this provision, the exchange value of the Irish pound, while remaining the same as against sterling, automatically follows changes in the value of sterling, vis-á-vis other currencies.
This position is inconsistent with the obligations arising from our membership of the International Monetary Fund. At a later stage in his speech he goes on to say:
The present Bill will remove the contradiction between that Act and the 1927 Currency Act. As I have already made clear, the question of devaluation of our currency in relation to sterling does not arise. The Government have no intention whatsoever of changing the existing parity with sterling and the policies we are committed to following will ensure that no such eventuality will arise.
I would suggest with all due respect to the Minister that, if the Government are so emphatic that the situation will not arise where there will be any change in the parity between the Irish pound and sterling, then it is unnecessary to include this provision in the Bill. There have been, from time to time, suggestions that we should change the parity of the Irish pound and some years ago there could have been strong argument advanced in favour of this. But with the development of our trade with Great Britain over the intervening years, nobody can envisage that in the years ahead the bulk of the trade of this country will go otherwise than to the sterling area, particularly to Great Britain. Any doubts there might be about a possible devaluation, or possible change in the parity between the Irish pound and sterling in the future, would be removed if this section were removed from the Bill.
The Minister may correct me if I am wrong, but as I see it there is nothing to prevent the Oireachtas, as such, passing an Act at any time if it should be found necessary in the national interest and in the interest of the community as a whole to vary the parity of the Irish pound with sterling. Returning again to the words of the Parliamentary Secretary, this Bill has been drafted with the interests of the community very much in the forefront of the Government's mind. I should think the representatives of all the people, that is the Members of the Dáil and the Seanad, should decide if an important step such as this should be taken. It should not be left to the Government of the day, who may be in office by a small majority. A drastic step like this should be one which only the Dáil and Seanad should decide by majority vote.
Frankly, I am not enamoured by the reason given in the Parliamentary Secretary's speech: that it is purely a technical matter. If we did not write this into the Bill, would it make any fundamental difference? In view of the Government's emphatic assurance, and I accept this, that no change in the parity of the Irish pound and sterling is visualised either now or in the future, and that the Government are committed to following policies that will ensure there will be no change, I do not see the reason for writing this in. It gives a sense of uneasiness; and in our very open economy nothing should be written into the laws of the land which might suggest, in any way, that we were departing from a well-established precedent in regard to our currency.
While I do not completely rule out in the years ahead, because nobody can attempt to see into the future, the possible necessity of a change in parity, that change should be left to the Oireachtas to decide and to put into effect. I do not wish to talk too much about the Partition issue but anything that would suggest that we were moving away from the practice in the North of Ireland would be an undesirable step. That would not prevent me from making a change if a change were necessary. The point I wish to make to the Minister is that, in view of the Government's very adamant attitude to any possibility of a change in the years ahead, this section, to my mind, is unnecessary. It should be excluded from the Bill.