I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, subsection 2, line 28, after "provisions" to insert the following:
", provided that section 14 shall not come into operation until the matter of Sunday work has been decided by the people by way of a Referendum".
This amendment echoes the comments I made on Second Stage. I did not elaborate on the issue in any great detail then as I indicated that I would table an amendment on Committee Stage. The amendment is intended to put on record our views on Sunday trading. The reason I am suggesting that this issue be put before the people by way of referendum is that we have had Sunday trading in this country by stealth. The issue first came to my attention in early 1994 when Marks and Spencer arrived in Dublin. Until then, the only form of Sunday trading we had among larger companies only took place in the lead-up to Christmas.
The various churches pointed out, as they were entitled to do, their opposition to large scale multinational Sunday trading in the lead up to Christmas. At that time they called on the Government to regulate the issue. Unfortunately, the Government did not respond. I appreciate the complexities that were, and still are, involved in this issue. My understanding is that consultation — which seems to be very much the buzz word here today — started in 1993 or 1994 and has been ongoing since. I do not intend to denigrate the use of the word; it is very important that we have consultation. We still have not reached a stage where we have, in any shape or form, regulated Sunday trading other than the recent acceptance by the Government of the Bill drafted by my colleague, Deputy Kitt.
I do not intend to sound like I am attempting to score a political point when I say that Deputy Kitt's achievement should be recorded. It is a source of pride to me that a colleague of mine, who has become something of an expert in the area of labour relations, drafted this legislation and brought it to the attention of the Government. It was obviously good enough to be accepted by the Government of the day. Deputy Kitt should be complimented for his initiative. Deputy Kitt, in his contribution on this issue on Committee Stage, pointed out that this matter had been widely discussed within the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. He was correct in saying so; I was one of a number of members of the parliamentary party who were of the opinion that the Bill had not gone far enough and that the proposals contained in it, on which there appears to be consensus across the floor of the House, did not go far enough. The people were never asked whether there should be large scale Sunday trading.
In June 1994 I was approached by Mr. Louis Copeland, a man who would be well known to people involved in the retail trade as he runs a number of outlets here in Dublin. Mr. Copeland is also an officer of the Dublin Small Businesses Association. He articulated a concern, which had been expressed to him and with which he was familiar from experience, about the impact which Marks and Spencer's decision to commence Sunday trading would have on family run businesses in Dublin and throughout the country. Mr. Copeland and others were opposed to this idea.
At that time, Marks and Spencer decided they would operate Sunday opening for a period of 20 weeks as a pilot scheme. That decision signalled the opening of the floodgates. This was the first example of a growing trend among the larger multiples to open for Sunday trading. The point was made then, and is still relevant now, that all the smaller shops in an area where a large multiple opened for Sunday trading would have to follow suit. There would be a perception that business would be lost if they did not do so.
There is a growing trend in this country towards large out of town shopping centres where the anchor tenants are, in the main, UK multiples. If people shopping in these centres find that all the smaller traders are closed, it will obviously affect the business of smaller shops later in the week. Smaller shops are forced into opening and because they are, in the main, family run businesses their entire Sunday has to be sacrificed to staff the shop.
Statistics prove — the UK provides us with most of our statistical sources — that there is no real increase in the overall weekly income of those stores. Why are they opening if they are not increasing their overall take? I would suggest they are opening on Sundays in the hope that they will stifle and eventually kill off all the independent retailers, close down the family run retail sector and operate a monopoly in whatever market they decide to enter. That, in my view, is the hidden agenda of multinationals such as Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Boots, Dixons and all the other multiples which have arrived in Ireland in recent years. They are seeking to shut down the corner shops and the family owned business and achieve a dominant position in the marketplace. It is at that point the consumer will start to feel the pain. People may feel they are getting great value for money at the moment but once multiples achieve a dominant position in the retail market consumers should be wary.
No Government will be in a position to do anything about this problem once the tiger of crass commercialism has been released. I keep referring to Marks and Spencer as they are the people who initiated this phenomenon. There was no planned Sunday opening until they arrived on the scene. Subsequent UK multiples coming into this country operated in the same way. Marks and Spencer's decision went against the trend in every other European country, a fact which has been pointed out by other Members of the House.
Sunday trading has been a source of controversy in the UK in recent years. It is interesting to note that the decision by Marks and Spencer to open on Sunday came about as a result of legislation passed in the UK in 1994 which deregulated Sunday trading there. The decision to open on a Sunday came from British based headquarters and did not take account of the cultural differences between Britain and Ireland in relation to Sunday trading. Why should they care?
Dunnes Stores had no option but to follow suit and they cannot be criticised on purely commercial grounds for doing so. Dunnes Stores could not have been expected to stand in splendid isolation. However, their corporate decision not to open on Easter Sunday should be commended. In spite of any other difficulties, real or imagined, which Dunnes Stores may have the public should acknowledge that their decision not to open on Easter Sunday was positive, pro-consumer and pro-Irish.
We are seen to be good Europeans in our dealings with the EU at various levels and we have taken our lead from Europe in many areas over the past 25 years. However, in spite of the fact that there is already existing legislation in practically all other member states in relation to this issue, we have failed to take the European initiative. We have not initiated legislation to outlaw, restrict or reduce Sunday trading. Who asked the major multinational companies to open on Sunday on a regular basis? Nobody did.
If the truth were known, the vast majority of Irish people, even at this advanced stage of Sunday trading, would probably reject the option to have Sunday trading. However, in proposing a referendum I am not prejudging its result. I could be surprised. It is possible, after three years of regular Sunday trading and the growth of out of town shopping centres, particularly in Dublin — in Blanchardstown, the Jervis Centre, the Square in Tallaght and the new Quarryvale centre — that we have developed a culture of Sunday shopping. Perhaps this culture is now the leisure pursuit that was traditionally followed in other areas, as Senator Farrelly said. Perhaps this is how society has developed but, ultimately, the people should be asked their opinion in the absence of specific legislation.
The Minister of State said this area is difficult because there cannot be separate legislation for big and small stores and one cannot stop corner shops opening if the multinationals are pursued. However, several suggestions were put forward today and in the debate in the other House. Many options are open to the Government in framing legislation on Sunday trading. For example, decisions could be made on the square footage of each retail sector or the opening hours. All the multinationals open between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. on a Sunday but most people who avail of small shops on a Sunday do so after Mass or Services. Alternatively, they go to the pub at midday and buy bacon, eggs, bread and tea on their way home. Such shops could open between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. They could also open between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. when people, if they are short of something for the morning, tend to go to the local shop. This does not givecarte blanche to the multinationals. They would not bother opening on a Sunday if the opening times were restricted to an hour in the morning and two hours in the evening.
There are many options but none of them have been pursued. This issue will not go away. Although I acknowledge the Government's good faith in accepting Deputy Kitt's initiative in the absence of its own, it does not go far enough. I am nailing my colours to the mast on this matter by saying it should be put to the people and they should be allowed to decide.