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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Jul 1985

Vol. 108 No. 13

Combat Proverty Agency Bill, 1985: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
In page 10, subsection (1), lines 6 to 8, to delete paragraph (b) and substitute the following:—
"(b) elected as a member of either House of the Oireachtas of the Assembly of the European Communities, or"
—(Senator M. Higgins.)

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related.

We had a very detailed debate on section 15 arising from the amendments which were put down by Senator Robinson. I would like to thank the Senators for their contributions to this debate. The section, as it stands, provides that a member or employee of the agency would cease to be such a member or employee if he were nominated as a Member of the Seanad or nominated as a candidate for election to the Dáil or Seanad, or nominated as a candidate for election to the European Parliament except that, in the case of persons who might be nominated as replacement members of the European Parliament, the disqualification would take place only when he was actually regarded as elected to the Assembly to fill a vacancy. In the case of an employee of the agency the section provides that he would, in such cases, be on secondment from the agency until he either fails to be elected or withdraws his candidature or ceases to be a member of the body in question.

The amendments put down by Senator Robinson do not seek to alter the principle of disqualification of members of the Dáil or Seanad or of the European Assembly from membership of or employment by the agency but seeks to provide that such persons would cease to be members of the agency or be seconded from employment with the agency only when actually elected to the Dáil or Seanad or elected to the European Assembly. On Committee Stage the proposed amendments were strongly supported by several Senators. It was contended that valuable people might be lost to the agency because of nomination for election, whereas they may not, in fact, be elected.

It was also mentioned by Senator O'Leary that a person may be nominated for election to the Seanad without his consent and that once nominated he has no right to withdraw. In the light of the discussion of this section, the matter has now been reconsidered and I am in a position to accept the principle of the amendments put down by Senator Robinson. It will be necessary, however, to give some further consideration to the precise wording of the amendments in consultation with the parliamentary draftsman.

I propose, therefore, with the agreement of the House, that these amendments should be dealt with on Report Stage. I should also mention at this stage, even though it is not strictly appropriate, that I propose also to introduce an amendment to section 5 taking into account the views expressed by Senator O'Leary on that section. I propose that these amendments should be dealt with on Report Stage.

Doubts, too, were expressed about the exclusions mentioned in that section. In future, parliamentary draftsmen should not be the people who will decide who should be excluded. Possibly parliamentary draftsmen should be excluded from running for any public office. We saw in the recent local elections that people who were working for local authorities and who were elected had to make a choice as to whether they held their jobs or resigned their seat. Somebody with a position in a local authority who runs for elective office should not lose his job. Anybody who has the necessary ability and the skills to sit on any board should be allowed to do so. They should not be excluded because of the fact that they ran for elective office at any level, whether or not they were elected.

The parliamentary draftsmen seem to be the people we are running away from and I sincerely hope that the statement by the Minister that he is considering a revision of the rules will be carried forward into every Bill. For this House and the other House that is one of the most important statements made for many years. The Minister said he is prepared to reconsider the situation regarding the nominations of people who are eligible for any board. Nobody should be stopped from standing for elective office irrespective of what the parliamentary draftsmen think. I hope it will not apply only to Seanad or Dáil Members, and that it will go right through society in general. Anyone, irrespective of his position should be able to stand for any office without losing his job.

I thank the Minister very much as one of the people who contributed to the discussion on the amendment to section 15. The Minister's suggestion is very practical. It is another example of a very enlightened approach towards this House. The Minister can be assured of a welcome when he introduces an amendment to section 15 and, indeed, to section 5 on Report Stage. We understand the difficulties the Minister had with regard to drafting section 15 in particular, and the amendments to section 15. There are difficulties involved and we recognise and understand that.

Having listened to what Senator Robinson said, I think it is true to say that what she was interested in establishing was the principle rather than the individual words. The Minister has quite accurately reflected the views of the House. The House is not stuck with these words or these amendments in any way whatsoever. We want to make a statement that a slight change in the disqualification of Members and candidates for both Houses of the Oireachtas is overdue. The Minister should be congratulated in this regard. Senator Robinson is not here but I certainly will not be pushing any of these to a vote at this stage because the Minister's undertaking to the House more than meets the difficulties and problems which were presented here on the last occasion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, not moved.
Section 15 agreed to.
Sections 16 to 20, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 21 stand part of the Bill."

Section 21 (1) states:

Subject to the consent of the Minister, the Agency may accept gifts of money, land and other property upon such trusts and conditions (if any) as may be specified by the donor.

Is there any reason why this is included? Is it anticipated that the agency will be the recipient of gifts? Is there a source which is being covered there, or is it only a general provision? It says that the agency shall not solicit gifts or donations. Would the Minister indicate the reason for this rather unusual section?

This is a standard provision. There is no particular reason for it in this Bill except that it is a general standard provision to enable gifts of money, land or other property to be accepted by the agency subject to the consent of the Minister.

Section 21 (4) states:

Any funds of the Agency, being a gift or the proceeds of a gift to it, may, subject to any terms or conditions of the gift, be invested in any manner in which a trustee is empowered by law to invest trust funds.

Will the agency be liable to income tax or corporation tax in respect of their income in that regard? I do not expect the Minister to have an answer now. Obviously, somebody will have to decide whether these things will be taxable. It is a point which will be met sometime in the future.

Secondly, is it intended that gifts given to the agency should be liable for capital gift tax, or how is the taxation element of that gift going to be dealt with? I do not think it would be necessary to amend section 21 but the Minister might examine it so that those who establish the agency will be in a position to deal with these problems when they arise and be able to advise people who might give gifts to the agency what the taxation implications of their decision would be.

Would the Minister comment on and define what is really meant by "not consistent with the functions of the Agency"? If somebody gave a donation or gift out of the goodness of his heart, how do you define what is not consistent with the functions of the agency?

To get back to Senator O'Leary's point, I arranged to have that aspect of the matter examined and I hope to have this information on Report Stage. On Senator Fallon's point, it would appear that it would be quite obvious if there were conditions attaching to any gift or attached to it by the donor, it should be clear to the board whether the conditions were consistent or inconsistent with the functions of the agency. I do not think it should be that difficult to make a decision on whether conditions were consistent or inconsistent with the functions of the agency.

You might not know the real intentions. They could be given with a cloak over them. How can a situation like that be ironed out?

It would depend if intentions were expressed. We cannot do anything about intentions which are not stated either in writing or by word of mouth. Donors cannot subsequently state what their intentions were at the time of making the donations. If they state them at the time of making them and if they seem to be at variance with the functions of the agency, that would have to be ironed out before the agency could accept such a gift.

Could I again query section 21 (3) that "the Agency shall not solicit gifts or donations"? I would have thought that because of the nature of the area we are dealing with there might be nothing wrong with seeking or soliciting donations, gifts or bequests of some type or other. I do not see anything wrong with it because of the nature of the agency and the work involved. I wonder if this would be normal standard practice.

I wish to assure the Senator that it is a standard provision to prohibit the agency from soliciting gifts and donations.

I am saying that I would not mind if that particular section were deleted. I would not mind if you could solicit because of the nature of the work involved.

I have to support the Minister very strongly on that. It would be quite inappropriate for an agency to be soliciting gifts because they would lose their independence if they did that. In due course they could become partly funded by a private enterprise. One of the things which we have been trying to insert in this Bill is as much independence as possible. Our old discussion on sections 4 and 5 was to try to build up the independence of the agency and keep them separate even from the State. To try to bring about a situation where part of their funds would in due course be got by solicited gifts would ruin or certainly seriously affect the independence that we were trying to develop and foster on Committee Stage. For that reason I support the Minister's contention in respect of the Bill. I understand what Senator Fallon is saying with regard to other pieces of legislation which come before us and might not necessarily apply. It is important that this agency would have a measure of independence; establishing a link between itself and donations would at best place a strain on and might well destroy it. For those reasons I support the Bill as drafted in respect of this piece of legislation.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 22 to 24, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Next Stage?

Senator Dooge indicated to me that a separate Report Stage was being taken. The Minister concurred with that as he has certain amendments to put forward. I think he intends to order it for this day week.

I queried this with the Leader of the House. He did indicate that Report Stage would be taken soon, before we break up. It will not be taken today.

Report Stage ordered for Wednesday 10 July 1985.