The purpose of the amendment is to improve the drafting of the Bill.
Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Bill, 1998: Committee and Remaining Stages.
Amendments Nos. 2 and 44 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, subsection (1), line 16, after "as" to insert "Fiontraíocht Éireann or in the English language".
This simple amendment seeks the insertion of the term "Fiontraíocht Éireann". The Minister proposes to abolish two titles, Forbairt and An Bord Tráchtála. These bodies are known by their names in the Irish language and it is appropriate to replace them with the Irish language version of the name of the new body. It appears the new body will be known only as Enterprise Ireland. It will perform the functions of two bodies which were known by their Irish language titles and I ask the Minister to consider the insertion of the Irish language version of Enterprise Ireland.
I did not table any amendments because we should work in a constructive rather than confrontational manner in this area. I do not suggest the amendment is confrontational but I hope constructive views will be expressed.
The name Enterprise Ireland is marvellous and I congratulate the Minister for devising it. My experience is that the use of Irish language names is powerful and they should be used whenever possible. However, there are occasions when they work the wrong way and we should try to find a term which is effective. I was involved in An Bord Poist. Nobody could pronounce the name and everybody spelt it with a "h" because they mistook it for a genitive term rather than as an adjective. An Bord Poist was not a good name for the postal board and it was decided that the new organisation should be called An Post to ensure it would be understood and easily translated. The Minister at the time accepted the term.
There are some occasions when the use of the Irish language works well. However, it would not work well in terms of export business and attempts to attract foreign investors if an unsuitable name is used. The Industrial Development Authority does not mean anything to a person in San Francisco because the word Ireland, the one word which is necessary, is not mentioned. In many other cases words which are not suitable are used. Enterprise Ireland is one case where we should use the word "enterprise". If we were speaking in Irish we would automatically translate the title into its Irish equivalent, but this is an occasion where we need the English language version because it says more to those who will use the services of this agency.
I agree with Senator Quinn that Enterprise Ireland is an excellent name for this important body but, in keeping with tradition, we should not omit the opportunity to apply the correct Irish title. I like the translation Fiontraíocht Éireann given here. As the State has always used the first official language in all its publications and laws, it would do no harm to have the correct Irish title inserted into the Bill. Obviously Enterprise Ireland will be known by the English title but I ask the Minister to consider allowing the correct Irish title to be inserted.
I cannot accept this amendment. We are keen to ensure that this agency has a clear focus and that everyone who deals with the agency knows what it is supposed to do. I have seen a number of examples in the last 12 months of where the agencies which use Irish names have not had that clear focus and, for that reason, they have not been as clearly understood.
I was visited by the Honorary Irish Consul in western Canada. With him was a business person who wants to invest in Ireland. I was discussing the opportunities available with him and he told me that he was going to see An Córas Tráchtála and An Bord Tráchtála. He did not realise that An Córas Tráchtála had been replaced by An Bord Tráchtála.
An executive in the IDA tells a story about an American business person who went to Wilton House to visit the home of the agency. Wilton House is also shared by Forfás and Forbairt. There is a sign in the building which reads Forfás, Forbairt and IDA. The American asked what this meant and the executive joked that it translated as one hundred thousand welcomes to the IDA. That may be amusing but the reality is that the people who deal with our agencies must know with what they are dealing.
I do not believe it is sensible to put an agency's name in Irish in a State which exports 84 per cent of what it produces. Much of the work of this agency will be the overseas marketing of the products of Irish companies. As I said last week on Second Stage, the purpose of this agency is to help to create sustainable competitive advantage in all our companies. They will do that by increasing their business and profits through export and employment. As the focus will be on exports, and because our own market is small, the dealings of this agency with overseas promoters is crucial to its work. Almost all the work carried out overseas by An Bord Tráchtála, The Trade Board, is done under its English title.
I do not want to get into a debate about the Irish language. I am very supportive of it but support should be meaningful. We should not become involved in tokenism. I do not suggest that is the motivation behind Senator Costello's amendment.
The draftsperson has advised me that if there is both the Irish and English titles it will lead to legal confusion about the precise title of the agency and none of us would want that to happen.
For those reasons, and I welcome the support of Senator Quinn in this matter, I cannot accede to the amendment. I hope to be in a position to accept some of the Senator's other amendments later this afternoon.
Due to the sympathetic remark at the end of the Minister's reply, I will not press the amendment.
I want to raise the definition of "service industries" in section 7(1) (c). It is too limited and will make the legislation restrictive rather than enabling. For many years it was believed that the only real jobs were in manufacturing. In the last decade we created 255,000 jobs in service industries and only 15,000 in manufacturing. These figure may be out of date. The jobs of the future are going to be in services. However, manufacturing gets all the State's attention — tax breaks, grants and the panoply of support. I am not suggesting that we should be looking for grants for the services sector but there is a bias.
Ten or 15 years ago the potential of the services sector began to be realised and the Minister was involved at that stage. However, there was a reluctant acceptance of the potential of the sector. State support was restricted by legislation to a small number of specialised industries, particularly in internationally traded services. As we enter the next millennium we are beginning to realise the real potential of the services sector as a job creator and that services do not have to be traded internationally to create good jobs. This realisation will further develop in the years ahead. In this context the subsection is too restrictive. We are perpetuating the cautious attitude of the 1960s rather than reflecting the realities of today. We should take a different approach. I am not suggesting that we extend the remit of Enterprise Ireland to cover all services all of the time. That would be too blunt and would dilute the effectiveness of what we hope to achieve with this agency. However, we should extend its activities to services in stages as demanded by the marketplace.
We should place an onus on the agency to guide the State on which services it believes are appropriate to support at any given time. Enterprise Ireland should be required by legislation to keep under constant review the question of which services it believes we could usefully support and apply to the Minister on a regular basis for an extension of its remit. The Minister could be empowered to do so by ministerial order.
The Minister may tell me that this is already the case. This moves the decision making closest to the marketplace where it is best laid while maintaining ministerial control. If the Minister rewords section 7(1)(c) the Bill will cater for the needs of the future rather than being perceived as bound by the shackles of the past. We have lived for too long with a different attitude. We need a change of mind and the Minister should consider how this could be achieved.
This Bill brings about a fundamental change to the mindset of supports to business. Section 7 will contain that spirit and a clear direction that the mindset of those providing the service must become client focused. The Minister intends this as one of the major aims of the legislation and she has my support. Change of this magnitude must be provided for by the training and retraining of staff. People must be educated on the change of focus. I welcome the fact that this focus will be user driven and user friendly and this is one of the key elements of the legislation.
Senator Quinn has expressed many of my concerns. Staff in these agencies must become very demoralised because the focus of their efforts is often too wide. The priorities of such agencies should be identified first. Enterprise Ireland seems to have an enormous task ahead of it so perhaps priorities could be set for it.
I have reservations about combining the functions of the two bodies, replacing them by "Enterprise Ireland" and the manner in which the Minister proposes to direct the agency to operate. There is an imbalance in that this seems to be more a Forbairt agency than a marketing agency and that is reflected in the title — it is an enterprise agency. I am not happy with the title "Enterprise Ireland" because it does not reflect the marketing of Ireland or the fact that it will be involved in the export of goods. While enterprise is involved in both functions, their legal definitions are different. In the functions outlined in the Bill, a limited number of subsections are devoted to marketing while a considerable number are devoted to enterprise. The importance of underpinning entrepreneurs, industry and business is well known but the last thing needed is the creation of a new agency which is unbalanced and undermines the role and morale of staff who worked in An Bord Tráchtála. That is one of my concerns and it is continued throughout the Bill, especially in sections 18 and 19 concerning the redeployment of staff. There seems to be a bias towards the major agency of Forbairt and less consideration given to the importance of either the staff or functions of An Bord Tráchtála. Will the Minister address that? How does she envisage that equal emphasis and importance would be given and that the morale of both staff which will comprise Enterprise Ireland would be underpinned?
I share the views of Senator Quinn. In the past, it was the traditional, old fashioned approach that, if something was not physically made, an enterprise was not created. It is only in recent years we have been more imaginative in the manner we have sought to support Irish industry. The International Financial Services Centre is a case in point. There was much criticism of it when it was first mooted but it has generated a great deal of income for the Revenue and additional employment. It has been good for Ireland.
The Industrial Development Act, 1981, specifies that the Minister may, by order, decide what sectors the industrial development agencies support and that was amended in the Industrial Development Act, 1986, to specify designated services. Which services should be assisted and which should not is clearly a matter for ministerial order because it is accepted that there are many services which would not be considered appropriate for grant aiding by industrial development agencies. It may be the case that a training agency would support the training of employees in the sector but that it would not be appropriate to give grant aid, for example, hairdressing. FÁS provides a great deal of training for hairdressers to support the hairdressing industry but I do not believe it would be appropriate for it to be grant aided by Enterprise Ireland. The most effective way to deal with the issue is to take on board what is in the 1981 and 1986 Industrial Development Acts to ensure designation occurs in accordance with new norms and practices.
The purpose of the agency is to help indigenous Irish companies to grow and develop, particularly in the export sector because the Irish market of 3.5 million people is extremely small. At present, three different agencies are helping industry through 45 measures for this purpose. Businesses are currently helped on the basis of an agency's perception of their needs and the objective of this legislation is to look at the needs of Irish industry and to help it accordingly.
It is intended that industry will be assisted under six categories. The functions of the agency are to promote, assist and develop the marketing of Irish industry's goods and to promote, assist and develop the marketing of service industries. These functions will be carried out in relation to research and development, human resource development, finance and strategy assessment. This will be done through the business development model we discussed on Second Stage.
I assure Senator Costello that this is not a reinvention of Forbairt. The purpose of the agency is to bring together the different supports which are available to indigenous industry at present and to ensure that they are integrated into one package and delivered in a clear, focused and comprehensive manner. At present, some companies receive support from all three agencies because they have the wherewithal and the competence to access many of the 45 measures that are available to help industry. Other smaller or peripheral companies or companies at an earlier stage of development which might be in greater need of the support do not have the wherewithal to access the type of support they need. This agency will help them in that regard.
With regard to Senator Ross' comments, unless there is a completely free market where all agencies are abolished, I see no other way of proceeding. Senator Ross and others might desire such a free market but we had three options: to get rid of all agencies, to keep things as they are or to take the route outlined in the Bill. The last is the way to help industry to grow, particularly indigenous industry whose potential has not been realised. In future this might not be a function of the State but for as long as the State supports the growth and development of industry, as it currently does in many ways, it must do so in a focused and streamlined way. That is the aim of the Bill.
Later we will deal with the functions being assigned to the agency. All functions of An Bord Tráchtála will be assigned to the agency and An Bord Tráchtála will be dissolved. The same will also happen in the case of Forbairt. The two agencies will be combined in one and its focus will be on developing business through exports. The potential to develop business otherwise is extremely limited.
If Senator Quinn can give me examples of services which should be designated, we can discuss it on another occasion. Anything that has the potential to grow and develop and create employment, particularly in an export context, should be supported. However, I am anxious that there should be a flexible approach to ensure that we do not exclude anything that might have great potential.
Lest my comments are misunderstood, Enterprise Ireland should be required by the legislation to constantly review which industries should be supported so the onus of reponsibility is on the agency. If the agency is not told that it is part of its function, it might fail to do it.
I agree that the Minister should have responsibility to make the order but I was seeking a way to encourage, if not force, the agency to keep this issue under constant review and to continue to come up with ideas. The agency might just decide to do what it is asked to do and not continue to seek new and better ways if it is not asked to so do. I accept the Minister's point but I ask her to consider mine in case there is a better way of doing it.
Section 8(1) states:
The Minister may give the Agency such general policy directives as he or she considers appropriate to be followed by the Agency in the exercise of its functions.
However, subsection (2) appears to remove that power. Galway lost a number of jobs following the closure of Digital and the focus of the IDA on the Galway area after that loss was most important for the continued economic growth of the region. Can the Minister clarify if that power will be removed from the agency should a similar circumstance require it?
On Second Stage I commented on section 8 and I welcomed these two subsections. It is appropriate that the powers of the Minister which are outlined in section 8(1) are circumscribed by subsection 2. This does not diminish in any way the capacity to ensure that inward or indigenous investment is directed to where it is most needed. It is appropriate that some restriction is placed on the Minister's powers in order to avoid any inference that a project was directed to a particular place by a Minister.
I think I can fulfil the requests of both Senators. The purpose of the general directive is to allow a Minister to give general policy directives to an agency. For example, the Minister could decide that, if resources were limited, support should be directed to particular sectors or regions in line with Government policy. Ministers should not intervene in relation to particular companies or projects. That would be a recipe for disaster. We had Fóir Teoranta but that body no longer exists. We do not want to see a Minister or a vulnerable Government being tempted to support a company in one location while a similar company in another location is not supported. Officials in my Department spent much time recently going through files trying to find out if a Minister had intervened in relation to a particular company a number of years ago. I do not want to see a Minister or a Government in the future being able to decide to give a specific direction. On one occasion in the past such a direction was given to the IDA. It is wrong that a Minister or a Government should interfere in relation to a particular company. These decisions must be made on the basis of clearly laid down criteria.
The Government in its Programme for Government has declared its commitment to balanced regional development. I have spoken to the chief executives to ensure that a favourable bias is shown towards areas outside the greater Dublin area and particularly outside the cities. It is relatively easy to generate economic activity in urban areas but we must ensure that the peripheral areas get industrial support. That directive is of a general nature and does not apply to specific companies.
I share the Senator's concern. Large regions of the country have virtually no industrial development. People will not live in these regions if they cannot find employment. Companies will not locate there because there is no available workforce. The agencies must marry all elements together and present attractive packages for these locations.
Current policy is to give more grant aid to peripheral locations and it has had some effect. We need to do more to support regional industrial development. The Government is examining the best way to ensure, for example, that the Border counties do not suffer from development on the other side of the Border. The Border counties have suffered from low investment in recent years because of violence in Northern Ireland and from being cut off from their natural economic hinterland. Our policy for those regions must encourage, in so far as it can, the growth of industrial projects there.
I welcome the Minister's statement. In addition to the restrictions which are imposed on the Minister by section 8(2), there is an additional onus of transparency in that the directive must first be placed before each House of the Oireachtas and that the actions relating to any directive must be outlined in the annual report. These additional mechanisms provide adequate safeguards.
Amendment No. 8a, on the additional list, is an alternative to amendment No. 3. Both amendments may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 8, subsection (2), line 41, after "members" to insert "not less than 4 of whom shall be women".
This amendment proposes that not less than four of the 12 board members shall be women. Women will not have the majority but rather one third of the board membership. It is not unreasonable that this should be stated in the legislation as we are establishing a State body. In the previous Government there was definite and deliberate practice that new and existing State bodies would have a strong element of gender proofing. I would have thought that the Minister, introducing her first legislation, would take the opportunity to follow in those footsteps, in accordance with clear Progressive Democrats' policy in terms of gender equity, and that she would have ensured that women are represented on State boards. This is the recommendation of the Commission for the Status of Women.
It is not good enough for the Minister to provide an alternative whereby she shall "in so far as is practicable and having regard to relevant experience, ensure an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the Board". That is wishful thinking. Deputy Harney will not be the Minister forever. Perhaps she is well disposed to ensuring a reasonable balance. However, I am not sure her colleagues in coalition would be. This is a sop. The Minister should have proceeded with the Progressive Democrats' policy, which coincides with the views of the majority of Members of both Houses.
This should be one of the central features of membership of not just the main board, but subsidiary boards and sub-committees which may be established under this legislation. I am disappointed that the Minister did not take advantage of the first opportunity she had to assert her concerns in this matter on a statutory basis. When she indicated she would accept some amendments, I thought this would be one of them. It is a reasonable and modest proposal and the Bill would benefit substantially from its inclusion.
I am disappointed that Senator Costello said that the other Coalition parties would not ensure equity between men and women in the composition of the board. Perhaps he is talking about other parties that may be coalition partners in the future.
I do not include Senator Cox.
Senator Costello's amendment proposes that four out of 12 members of the board should be women, which is 33 per cent. This is not equitable. I commend the Minister's amendment which proposes that in so far as is practicable and having regard to the relevant experience, the Minister shall ensure an equitable balance. The days of women looking for tokenism on any board are over. We can stand on our own and we are proud of our ability to be equal to any man. Enough women have relevant experience and have major contributions to make in this area. The Government amendment goes further than the amendment proposed by the Labour Party.
I support Senator Costello's amendment. I appreciate what the Minister is trying to do with her own amendment No. 8a. We might not always have a lady Minister, so we might then be trying to protect the men.
The term "having regard to relevant experience" in amendment No. 8a might be taken to imply that a sufficient number of women are not qualified. I reject what Senator Cox said; we are not interested in seeking tokenism. The truth is that in this day and age the contrary is the case. There is more than an abundant number of women who are well qualified to fill spaces on any such board, including this one.
I understood, however, that regardless of who was in office, the State had established a way of dealing with matters like this. We have a gender quota subsidy built in, although I do not know what the convention is. However, I am sure that what Senator Costello has tabled regarding one third is not unreasonable. I support his amendment.
The Minister should be assured that no one is looking for tokenism. Having served on boards which in recent times have had a better gender equity, for example, Comhairle na nOspidéal, I do not think anyone could but say that the boards were improved. What concerns me is that if we do not insert something such as suggested by Senator Costello's amendment, a very large number of those who represent smaller industries and the service industries, where women have been extremely important in the establishment of new industries, will not be represented.
This board could all too easily have the great and the good and, with all due respects to Senator Quinn, the most senior business people, but that is not necessarily the best way of setting up the board. If the legislation specified that at least a certain number of board members would be women, we would all think it very odd if we had to say that a certain number would be men.
Why does the Senator not do so?
I do not think it is necessary because we know that it will be a mainly male board as most State boards have been in the past. Until very recently I have seen this happen in medical, academic and business boards. I have not heard anyone argue, although they may start today, that the value of these boards has been diminished by the fact that women are now represented on them.
It should be made clear that one of the important parts of amendment No. 8a is where it states that:
The Minister shall, in so far as is practicable and having regard to relevant experience.
We are now introducing the idea of relevant experience both for men and women. In the past a number of men were appointed to State boards who did not have any relevant experience.
I totally reject Senator Coghlan's assertion that there are not enough women with relevant experience. There are more than enough women with relevant experience.
That was precisely my point. The Senator has misinterpreted what I said.
I apologise if I misinterpreted the Senator's point. I welcome the fact that we will now have regard to relevant experience. The equitable balance is certainly much stronger than four out of 12. I would be afraid that in future, with a change of Government or of Minister, a new Minister might be happy with only four out of 12 instead of having eight out of 12, which is what in my opinion would be equitable.
I did not intend to contribute on this amendment but, as so often happens, the contributions from the Labour Party inspired me to say something. I think we are fighting the battles of yesterday and I cannot believe this amendment is serious. This battle was won and lost ten or 20 years ago. It is no longer necessary to specify in exact numbers and figures how many women or men must be on a particular board. There is some blatant political opportunism involved in this. To say that we need women for these boards is to appeal to the women's vote. We should do what the Government amendment suggests and take a mature view on this, saying that we will have an equitable number of men and women if that is necessary. This battle is won and we should not have to fight the gender battle every time a Bill like this comes before the House. That battle ended ten years ago and most women like to be educated, to compete and to get jobs on merit. This is a middle aged, middle class argument which should not be entered into.
This amendment is flawed in any case because it does not seek to have at least four men and four women; according to Senator Costello's interpretation, one could have 12 women but not 12 men. This seems to be biased the other way, and if the Senator is to be consistent he should have at least four of each. Here one could have 12 women and no men, but not 12 men and no women. There should be a free for all debate on this matter, once and for all, and then we would never hear of it again.
It is difficult to deal with this issue without being misunderstood, but if someone suggested that 40 per cent of the Cabinet, 40 per cent of Senators or 40 per cent of Labour Senators should be female, Senator Costello might be the first to say it was not democratic.
Due to a Labour Party regulation, 40 per cent of our Ministers in the last Government were female.
They were not.
They were; that is correct.
Does the Senator mean 40 per cent of Labour Ministers?
The Labour Party had one full Minister, Ms Niamh Bhreathnach, out of six Cabinet posts, and one out of six is not 40 per cent, at least it was not when I was going to school.
The new mathematics.
I am counting Ministers of State as well.
As someone once prevented from joining a club not because I was a woman, as I was told, but because I was not a man, nobody is more conscious of the need for equality than I. However, we must also be practical. I want the best people on this board to help indigenous Irish industry to grow. I want people of experience and high calibre. I am not suggesting there are no such women, but in 1997 only 2 per cent of the chief executives of companies in Ireland were women. The reality is that one is drawing from a pool of 2 per cent.
If 40 per cent of the board was female and one woman retired, there might be a gap on the board in the technology area and one would need a replacement from that field. If a woman with the necessary experience could not be found, is the Senator suggesting that a man should not be appointed to the board?
To some extent this debate is over. If Senator Costello was being consistent he would suggest that a certain percentage should be under 30 or 35. That is an equally valid argument. My amendment seeks to be practical and the emphasis is on relevant experience. I want a board of experienced people, many of whom should have developed their own businesses. That is the key. Board appointments from recent Governments have, in general, improved enormously from what they were years ago.
The last Government had a general policy of appointing boards with 40 per cent female representation, but that is proving extremely difficult. Many boards are representational and the social partners make nominations for them. The partners on both sides — not just the employers - frequently present exclusively male panels for appointment. That is because it is difficult to find relevant women in particular sectors. It is important that Enterprise Ireland has a board of talented, experienced people who can contribute to the growth and development of indigenous Irish business because of their experience. I will be conscious of the need for women to be involved. There are women who have started their own businesses, particularly in the services sector, as Senator Henry said. Women in the United States are starting businesses at twice the rate of men now, but the pool from which we draw means it will not always be possible to achieve Senator Costello's aim.
For example, one board member will be the chief executive, who is male. The chairperson designate has been announced and is also male. Traditionally an official from my Department and an official from the Department of Agriculture and Food — because Forbairt deals with the food sector — are on the board. That leaves eight places and Senator Costello proposes that four of those eight people or 50 per cent should be female.
I will endeavour as far as I can to have good women on the board. I have a good record since coming to office for appointing good people, both male and female, and for retaining those appointed by my predecessor where I felt it important to do so. However, it would be wrong to have a statutory requirement for this board which does not exist in relation to any other private sector board or to membership of the Oireachtas.
The Constitution has a lot of pious aspirations for the role of women such as not forcing women to work because of economic necessity and neglecting their duties in the home as a result. We must understand that words alone do not achieve equality. They have not achieved equality in the public sector where women have not made it to key senior positions. There are wider issues to discuss here, and they will not be dealt with by a statutory requirement for this board to have 40 per cent female membership. I want an experienced board that is regionally balanced and of mixed age, if possible. There are many young dynamic businesspeople I would like to see involved, but it is neither right nor fair to tie my hands and those of my successors on female representation.
I understand the concerns expressed on where the women will come from if the search is limited to chief executives. I asked people who set up small businesses about the sort of person they wanted for this board and their suggestions were interesting. We have had great success in science and technology, particularly the telecommunications, pharmaceutical and computer industries. The people I spoke to felt that bodies like the Science Council should advise the board.
Another suggestion relates to section 7(1)(i), which states:
to administer such schemes, grants and other financial facilities requiring the disbursement of European Union and such other funds as may from time to time be authorised by the Minister with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance,
The need for people with experience of the environmental impact area or the ecology of enterprise was also mentioned to me. The Department of the Environment and Local Government is setting up a new council, the National Developmental Council, which is to work in parallel with the National Social and Economic Council. Several people said we would face trouble unless the developments were sustainable and the environmental impact of whatever industries were set up was taken into account. The new structure of funds we hope to get means that environmental impact must be taken into account before those funds are disbursed. Accordingly, people with environmental knowledge on the board would be important so that areas of sustainable development could be considered.
Those appear to be two areas where one would find plenty of women. Women have also been involved in university innovation. Chief executives are very important, because if one has not had experience of getting one's fingers burnt one is not in a position to give advice. We will miss out on a huge number of people who could be extremely important to the board if, as I suspect, only chief executive officers or chairpersons of companies are appointed. I hope the Minister will look to other areas for suitable members apart from chief executive officers, 2 per cent of whom are female.
I am disappointed by the Minister's response and the fact that she did not give some indication in the legislation of equity in the membership of the board. She said the pool of qualified women is small, amounting to about 2 per cent in industry. She is effectively admitting that it is very unlikely that women will be represented on the board. She has chosen four males and, showing her attitude to this issue, is asking if we are expecting her to choose females for four of the remaining eight places.
I respect what the Minister says regarding the macho ethos of industry and big business, but this is something we are trying to change. The Minister is speaking about a new body which will lead us into the future, not one which will dredge up the residue of the past. We are talking about a new culture and a new approach to indigenous industry where many women are coming on board, particularly in the services area. Senator Quinn spoke eloquently about the emphasis on services and the marketing of service industries under section 7.
A free for all along the lines described by Senator Ross will result in a male dominated system. We have no choice but to build in some gender proofing. I am proposing a minimalist approach, namely, the appointment of four females thereby leaving the remaining eight positions to be filled by males. My wording may not be absolutely correct — the phrase "a minimum of four should be of either sex" might be better. However, there should be some support for female representation. The simple fact is if there is a free for all in the context of a board of this nature, it will be totally male dominated.
I also take on board what Senator Henry said, namely, that we should be looking at some of the other areas from which women can be recruited, including the environmental sector and small innovative businesses which are being developed. There is no reason we should not look for female representation in these sectors. In addition to specific expertise, a range of expertise, acumen and thought processes is necessary. It is also necessary to have people with different logical processes on such a board, something which cannot be represented if it is 100 per cent male.
Arguments can be made for a broader range of skills in addition to those which are relevant.
In this context I find it difficult to accept the Minister's amendment which states "as far as is practicable and having regard to relevant experience". "Relevant experience" seems to be defined in a very narrow fashion. If the Minister's amendment simply said "The Minister shall ensure an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the board" I would gladly accept it. However, we are talking about a State board and if we continue along the lines being proposed I have no doubt there will be a token woman appointed and that the Minister will have added to the approach of tokenism in legislation. The chairperson is already being referred to as a chairman. By implication, a male chairman has already been selected. There is a presumption that a male will run the show. My amendment is reasonable and very desirable.
Senator Costello seems to be saying that he would happily accept the Minister's amendment if she removed the term "relevant experience". I do not understand why this would satisfy him. Members and the Minister want to ensure the board has the best people on it wherever they come from. Ensuring "an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the board" is the correct wording. Perhaps Senator Costello has explained his wish to remove the words "having regard to relevant experience".
Senator Henry made some very pertinent points regarding relevant experience which may not necessarily be found among chief executive officers of big companies but rather among people who, for example, solve the difficulty of paying wages every Friday night. Such a person might be very useful on the board, a point made very well by Senator Henry. The Minister's words cover this issue adequately.
Senator Costello seems to think we have made up our minds regarding membership of the board. The chief executive designate is male but I was not involved in choosing him. The process was completely independent and I understand no woman applied for the job. It is hard to pick a woman when none applies. I picked Pat Molloy, the retiring chief executive of the Bank of Ireland, as he is an outstanding business person who will make an enormous contribution to establishing the new agency. He has a good track record of dealing with businesses at all levels.
I recently appointed a woman to chair the small business forum, the group which advises Government about small business issues. I appointed the first ever female rights commissioner attached to the Labour Court. Three of the five members of the minimum wage commission were female as was the chairperson. I have appointed umpteen women since coming to office. Recently, there was a joint meeting between Industry Ministers of OECD countries regarding business. Each Minister was invited to bring two business persons with them to attend and I took two women. I have a good track record in this area and for political parties which do not have quotas to tell everybody else they must have a quota is a bit much.
I take on board the comments of Senator Henry. I may not have explained myself so well. I do not intend only having chief executives, many of whom may not have time to participate in a State board. I was simply making the point that, relatively speaking, there are very few women who have advanced in the world of business and I want people with business experience on the board. This does not necessarily mean people who run a business and I accept the point about those who may have established a business and women involved in innovation. The board must include people with ideas, competence and relevant experience. To delete the reference to relevant experience as suggested by Senator Costello would weaken the position. It applies as much to males as females in terms of appointment to the board.
Later we will discuss those eliminated from membership of the board. County councillors, for example, cannot be involved in the board, something which is to be welcomed. Among other considerations, this provision is for good political reasons; we do not want political decisions being made or any inference of there being such. Members of the Oireachtas, the European Parliament and local authorities are excluded from membership of the board. In the past there has been a tendency to make appointments from these groups and I am not sure doing so is appropriate.
None of the four people I spoke about has been chosen except for the chief executive designate. I recently appointed an official to An Bord Tráchtála which did not have an official in the past. Such appointments are good for the boards, the Department and the officials involved. I went down a rank to find a woman to appoint because the person I would have appointed if I had appointed the person in charge of the sector would have been a male. To ensure I gave an opportunity to a female official to participate, I went down a rank and appointed a female principal officer. My record stands for itself and I will be happy to come back to the House when Enterprise Ireland is established to defend the appointees. I may be leaving myself open to problems down the line but I have no doubt the board will win widespread acceptability from, I hope, all Members of the House. I would like the board to get off to a good positive start and would like its members to be seen as people of experience and with the competency to do the job the Oireachtas will require them to do.
We have fully discussed this matter and we should put the question.
I ask Senator Costello to accept the words "relevant experience" because they apply to men and women. We all have ideas on relevant experience. For example, I hope the Minister will look for people with experience of working abroad and perhaps experience of languages. The board needs to be broader than simply 12 chief executive officers sitting around a table and who, as Senator Quinn and I believe, would not have the time do so.
I would like to clarify what I said. The Minister proposes that the Minister shall in so far as is practicable and having regard to relevant experience ensure an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the board. We are inserting two conditions. The first condition is "in so far as is practicable", which is open ended. What does "in so far as is practicable" mean? On having regard to relevant experience, the Minister made much of the fact that 2 per cent of women have the experience and are of the required calibre.
I did not say that. I said 2 per cent of chief executives running private enterprise are female.
She went on to say that this was a small pool from which to draw.
I do not want to imply they will be chief executives because there may not be any on the board.
If this is how the Minister determines relevant experience, we should not include conditions in her amendment. I would be happy to accept the Minister's amendment if she removed both conditions and if it read as follows: "The Minister shall ensure an equitable balance between men and women in the composition of the board." The Minister may include a condition but once we do so, we distort the situation. I interpreted what the Minister meant by "relevant experience" in the way she described it.
The Minister has a good track record and I am not attacking her in that regard. However, I do not see why she cannot continue that record into this area. Four of the 12 appointed to the board should be women, which is a modest proposal.
The use of the words "in so far as is practicable" and "having regard to relevant experience" ensures that we treat men and women equally in relation to appointments to this board. There is no longer a need for Senator Costello to push out this boat.
That would make sense if we removed the words "in so far as is practicable" and "having regard to relevant experience". Having regard to relevant experience would mitigate against women. If these words were removed it would mean what the Minister intends, Senator Costello would be happy and we would avoid a vote. The section is better without those words.
We either leave the Bill as it stands or we write in my amendment which strengthens it. I am trying to take on board some of the suggestions made by Senator Costello. The words "relevant experience" and "in so far as is practicable" refer to men and women. By removing the words "relevant experience", we are saying it does not matter what women or men we get and that anybody may be appointed to the board. That would be a pity. "Relevant experience" will be defined in its broadest sense and does not refer only to people who have been chief executives but to people who have started their own business, people who have been involved in innovation or, as Senator Henry said, people who have worked abroad.
I would like to think we will take a wide definition of "relevant experience". The key issue is to have people of quality who can help indigenous industry to grow because of the perspective they will bring to decisions which will be taken by the board. All the grant aid packages going to companies will have to be approved at some level by the board and many will be assessed by subcommittees of the board. It is important, therefore, the board is composed of people who have relevant experience and a competency to bring to this issue.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Connor, John.
- Costello, Joe.
- Doyle, Avril.
- Hayes, Maurice.
- Hayes, Tom.
- Henry, Mary.
- Manning, Maurice.
- Ridge, Thére se.
- Bohan, Eddie.
- Bonner, Enda.
- Callanan, Peter.
- Chambers, Frank.
- Cox, Margaret.
- Dardis, John.
- Farrell, Willie.
- Finneran, Michael.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Gibbons, Jim.
- Keogh, Helen.
- Kett, Tony.
- Kiely, Daniel.
- Lanigan, Mick.
- McGowan, Patrick.
- Mooney, Paschal.
- Moylan, Pat.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- O'Donovan, Denis.
- Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Ross, Shane.
Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 9 to 16, inclusive, 18 to 25, inclusive, 30, 32 and 38 form a composite proposal while amendment No. 17 is an alternative and all may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 9, subsection (5), line 2, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
This is a straightforward amendment which seeks to replace the term "chairman" with the term "chairperson". This precedent has been established and is enunciated particularly in employment equality legislation where the term "chairperson" is used in all references to the chair of bodies. It is a simple but important approach because it is now normal practice that the term "chairperson" is used to describe the person chairing a meeting or a board. This should be reflected in this legislation.
The former Minister for Equality and Law Reform established that precedent under the previous Government and it is appropriate to maintain it because it is part of equality and law reform matters. The Statute Book should reflect that position. I was surprised that the Minister was not prepared to accept that a number of posts should be specifically set aside for women in the composition of the board. I will also be surprised if she is not prepared to accept the term "chairperson" as the proper designation of the person chairing the board or meetings of committees.
The Minister has suggested an alternative in amendment No. 17 which states:
A person appointed to be chairman of the Board may be referred to (including in any document relating to appointment) by that title or by such other title as the Board considers, with the concurrence of the Minister, appropriate.
It would be easier to use the term "chairperson" in the legislation.
The Minister said earlier that words alone do not achieve equality. It is important to note this point, but I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. A precedent has been set and it is important to recognise in the legislation that it is a time of change and women are becoming more involved in an increasing number of areas.
I usually favour tradition and precedent. However, in light of new age developments, I also plead with the Minister to accede to this and other appropriate amendments.
I am delighted to welcome Fine Gael into new age developments.
I am happy to oblige.
I recall debates in this House and elsewhere when Senator Avril Doyle referred to tokenism. Given Senator Costello's unreasonableness regarding the previous amendment, I am tempted not to accept this amendment. However, given that Senator Cox has been more than reasonable, I am prepared to accept it and not to proceed with amendment No. 17 which would have allowed the chairperson to be called whatever he or she wished.
Chairpersons are probably similar to angels in that they are genderless. There are many consequential amendments which must be accepted if amendment No. 4 is agreed to but the Senator is correct that the term "chairperson" is more acceptable nowadays. The Irish language term, "Cathaoirleach", is also gender neutral so the term "chairperson" is appropriate.
That was graciously put by the Tánaiste.
Does Senator Costello wish to comment? Does he think he should speak at this point?
I am overwhelmed.
The Senator was taken by surprise.
If I had known the Minister intended to accept these amendments, I would have reconsidered calling a division on the previous amendment. I thank the Minister and I appreciate her acceptance of the amendments.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 9, subsection (8), line 13, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
Amendment No. 7 is consequential on amendment No. 6 and may be discussed together.
The purpose of the amendment is grammatical. It involves two members standing down from the board on a rota basis after three years. The provision should, therefore, state "who are" rather than "one of whom is". They are technical amendments.
I disagree with the approach in this area because it will produce a board which will not change often enough. If there are 12 members and only two retire at three yearly intervals, the section provides for a cycle which could continue for 18 years. This is too long. Under subsection (14) a board member could then be reappointed for a further 18 years. It is almost absurd to consider such a provision.
The ideal is that a board constantly refreshes itself through the input of new people. This avoids the mistake of throwing people off the board when they are getting up to speed and starting to make a contribution. Everybody should come up for reappointment at intervals not longer than five years and they should not serve more than two terms, giving a total service of ten years. The section allows for a position where people could become fixed on the board for too long. They could serve as long as 18 years. Everybody with experience of this matter will agree that the usefulness of any board member begins to diminish after some time.
I ask the Minister to consider this matter. There must be a better way because the method used in the section is incorrect. I do not disagree with the amendment but I disagree with the principle behind it. There are benefits in having people with experience on a board and not changing its construction at one time. Changing elements of the board at different times makes sense. However, this provision is wrong.
There is merit in Senator Quinn's comments. I will reflect on the position between now and the debate on the Bill in the other House, but if amendments are made in the Dáil the Bill must be returned to the Seanad.
Traditionally, boards were put in place for five years and at the end of that time everybody stood down. This caused many difficulties because there tended to be a new board every time a new Government came into office. There was no continuity and this is not good for agencies and their senior executive staff. The previous Government when it introduced the Industrial Development Act, 1993, to implement some of the recommendations of the Culliton report brought in the new procedure. It works well and means in the case of Enterprise Ireland that after three years, two board members will stand down. Another two will stand down in the fourth year and a further two in the fifth year.
However, Senator Quinn made a valid point. I agree nobody should serve on the same board for more than ten years. I will consider the matter and, if necessary, I will introduce an amendment. However, I wish to discuss its implications for other boards before I return to the House with an amendment at a later stage.
I thank the Minister. I did not expect her to do anything more than consider whether there is a better way. I did not table an amendment because I considered that the Minister might make suggestions which may be suitable.
Amendment No. 8 is in the name of Senator Costello. Amendments Nos. 29 and 37 are related. Amendments Nos. 8, 29 and 37 will be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 9, subsection (12), line 35, after "time" to insert "for stated reasons".
I propose that we insert the words "for stated reasons" so the Bill reads "A member of the Board may at any time for stated reasons be removed from membership of the Board".
The purpose of this is to ensure that members are not removed unilaterally or due to the opinion of the Minister, that natural justice would operate and there would be no form of diktat or interference. In the text of the subsection the Minister specifies certain conditions: "if, in the Minister's opinion the Member has become, incapable" or "has committed stated misbehaviour". Those are the areas which have been covered. It continues that a member can be removed if the Minister deems it "to be necessary for the effective performance by the Agency". It is uncertain how someone can be removed from the board. We need to specify that there must be a stated reason before the Minister would take any action.
This Bill gives the Minister inordinate powers and here it goes beyond what could be considered appropriate. It leaves it to what the Minister regards as necessary in his or her opinion. We should include the clause "for stated reasons" to ensure that board members receive full protection and that there is transparency in the decisions and actions of the Minister.
I know Senator Costello will be surprised to find me supporting one of his amendments. I have no problem with the Minister having the complete power to remove a board member but such power should bring its own measure of responsibility and accountability. I suggest that after any exercise of this power the Minister be required to make a statement to both Houses of the Oireachtas explaining the reason for the removal. Officials may find some legal difficulties with this, but it reduces the possibility of legal action which could take place after the removal of a board member. It would ensure a removal took place only when it could be openly defended. I support the intention of Senator Costello's amendment and believe that the Minister should give serious thought to it.
This is an excellent amendment.
I thought we had moved on in our democracy from the practice of something occurring at the whim of the Minister, although that is not the intention here. We need to be proactive in ending that culture. As Senator Quinn said, if we are to avoid court action there must be accountability and responsibility. Senator Costello's proposal that the phrase "for stated reasons" be inserted implies all that is necessary regarding equity and natural justice. I strongly support this amendment. The removal of a member on a whim would have nothing to do with policy and, in the past, would have had everything to do with subverting proper procedures. I know the Minister, in her projected role as guardian of the highest standards in Government, would see good reasons to accept this amendment.
I congratulate Senator Costello on this amendment. I have a problem with political appointments. On the basis that this section will not be withdrawn, I am totally supportive of the principle that if people are going to be removed, having been appointed politically, the political process should require a reason to be given. That is common sense.
The provisions here are completely inadequate. It reads "if, in the Minister's opinion, the member has become incapable through ill-health of performing his or her functions". The director would be aware of his or her own health and a Minister would not be in any better position to tell, unless the Minister anticipates a situation where someone has gone off their head, a situation open to subjective judgment. Indeed it could be interpreted that a person has gone off their head when they do something the Minister does not like.
"Stated misbehaviour" is also inadequate. It is the minimum we should require that any Minister who summarily removes someone from the State board to which they have been appointed politically should answer to the political process for that removal.
I request that the Minister accept this amendment given the experience of the lady from Galway, who although very capable, was removed at the whim of a Minister in a previous administration. In recognising that these situations have arisen in the past, perhaps the Minister will consider accepting this amendment.
I am advised that this amendment is unnecessary but the Senators have made a case for it. The recent court judgment in the CIE case, to which Senator Cox referred, when the then Minister removed certain members from the CIE Board, held that the Minister was wrong. It is right that if a Minister removes someone from a board for extraordinary reasons, he or she should have to state those reasons.
In stating the reasons one would have to be precise because it could open a Pandora's box of litigation, but a person's name is blackened if they are removed from a board. If a Minister does not like someone for political reasons, that is not a good enough reason for removing that person from the board of a State company. I am happy to accept the amendment.
I thank all the Senators for their support and the Minister, who is showing herself as a reasonable Minister.
I do not approve of this section. I do not approve of the political control of State agencies or boards. We have touched on this by accepting an amendment in which the Minister must state reasons for removing someone. We should do the reverse and have the Minister state why he or she appointed a person. The record of successive Governments on appointments to State boards is disgraceful. We have witnessed political appointments to these bodies where people's credentials are dubious but they can be visibly identified as belonging to a political party and that is the primary reason for their appointment. I will not be invidious and name people, but one could see that on some of the boards appointed by the last Government one member was appointed by each of the three parties. That is dangerous and a perversion of the system to which at some stage we should call a halt.
The Minister devised a different system for appointing members to the EPA and I would be interested to hear how she feels that has worked. She devised a system of appointing people to a State agency which removed the Minister from direct involvement. As far as I know that has worked reasonable well and there have been few accusations of political influence on the EPA.
I would prefer if there were no State agencies but if we have them it is important that they are removed from the accusation that it is the same faces and names on boards time and again. There is an overlap of people appointed to State agencies and it is obvious that they are appointed for political reasons and not because they are experts. Some of those appointed are not experts in the relevant fields, ranging from communications, training, exports and so on. However, because of their loyalty to a party, they are considered worthy of appointment.
This issue is particularly important with this new agency as it will be disbursing grants. The statutory requirement for the agency will rise from £750 million to £2 billion. That is not the amount it will disburse in grants but the amount it will receive. However, this superagency will be disbursing grants; and if ever there was an area prone to political pressure, it is the allocation of money. Human nature being what it is, there is no doubt that whoever is appointed to the board of this quango will be subjected to people telephoning them day and night asking for grants or assistance in obtaining grants. That will be part of their function.
It has been claimed that board members will have no day to day influence on the disbursement of grants, but they will have a great influence as they will be in charge of making appointments and policy decisions. These people will be vulnerable to political pressure if appointed by a politician. They will be even more vulnerable to political pressure if they are members of a political party, because loyalty is one of the requirements of membership. I am not making any accusations against particular people, but Irish political life is studded with occasions on which political patronage to State boards has had unfortunate results.
The Minister rightly mentioned the importance of continuity on State boards. I apologise if I am paraphrasing her pejoratively, but she stated that boards always changed every five years when a new Government appointed its own people. No further evidence is needed that political appointments are made because the appointees are friends of Ministers, politicians or have worked for or donated money to a political party. No one argues about this. In an agency such as Enterprise Ireland in which people will be awarded for service to a political party by being appointed to the board, there is no doubt that they will be subjected to political pressures in doing a job which should be utterly independent and impartial.
The Minister does not intend this to happen and she is not guilty of such practice. However, we are legislating for her successors. This Bill will not be changed in five years to facilitate another Minister. We are legislating for the Minister's successors over the next 20, 30 and 40 years and for potential abuse. We should be setting out principles which will be established for other semiState bodies. Unfortunately, we are not doing so. We are adopting the same pattern as before — giving to political parties the right of patronage, which will be abused.
I have been in this House quite a long time and I apologise for repeating things I have said over the years. However, Ministers of all parties have repeatedly come into the House and said that they understand what we are saying about political patronage but it is not going to happen this time. Invariably, on the occasions when Ministers protest the loudest that it will not happen in a particular agency, the most obvious political nominee is appointed. That is not satisfactory, nor is it satisfactory to say that it is not the intention. I hope the Minister will take an initiative to remove agencies such as this from political control and consider a model such as the EPA, which she ably introduced some years ago.
The Senator makes many valid points. The difference between this board and the EPA board is that the latter was an executive board — it comprised full-time executives. I put a mechanism in place which removed the Minister. The Minister had to approve the appointments but that was after an independent selection procedure, three names being proposed for each position. Having left office, I regretted that all five appointees to the first EPA board came from the public sector. That is not to take from any of the outstanding individuals appointed but I thought it a bad precedent that when establishing the Environmental Protection Agency and trying to get the private sector to focus on the need to care for the environment, all of the EPA's executives came from the public sector. There may have been reasons for that other than the Minister of the day making such a decision. Many private sector people are not interested in these positions because of the remuneration. That is the difference.
I would like to find a procedure which comes between our system and the American system. Not many people would subject themselves to an American style process whereby every nominee had to go before an Oireachtas committee and was only paid £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000 per year. In the case of an appointment I was making I tried to choose someone identified with another party, not Fianna Fáil, who I thought would make an outstanding board member. I spent four weeks trying to persuade this person to accept the nomination, but the answer was no. It is difficult to get people from the private sector to accept these nominations because of the time factor, the invasion of privacy and all of the matters in the public domain for many years.
There is a limited capacity to lobby because of the evaluation process in all these agencies. They must carry out cost-benefit analyses before putting proposals to the board. That is an independent procedure which, in the case of IDA Ireland, is often carried out by outside people. There is an IDA Ireland evaluation sub-committee which includes the executives dealing with the project. Then there is the board, my Department and the Department of Finance. That is only when the threshold is over £4 million, but we cannot legislate for honesty. This is one of the difficulties in the public domain. No matter how many rules and regulations are inserted there is nothing to stop a member or a number of board members from being dishonest, although they would require considerable influence as the consent of a large number of members would be needed to have a suspect matter ratified.
Board appointments have improved in recent years. The vast majority of appointments made by my predecessor, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the ones I have examined as the need for replacements arose, were very good, by and large. I do not know if the system the Senator suggested worked. It did in some Departments but I am not certain it operated in the then Department of Enterprise and Employment. The politics of many of the people appointed by my predecessor would not be known to me.
The Government is determined to privatise as many State companies as possible. A number of boards under the aegis of my Department will soon be obsolete because the activities they oversee will no longer be in State control. That is my ambition and it is well known. The capacity for board appointments will be drastically restricted in the life of this Government. It has already decided to privatise ACC, ICC, Cablelink and Telecom Éireann and there are a number of other matters the Government has discussed recently. When the Government finishes its term of office, there will probably be so few boards left that the issue might not even arise.
The Senator made a valid point about ensuring people of high calibre are appointed. On the other hand, people should not be excluded because they have been involved in politics. The Government recently decided to appoint the former Tánaiste, John Wilson, to chair the new commission to examine the concerns of victims of violence. He was an outstanding choice. He has never been ambivalent as regards violence and he also has a great deal of political experience. There are other people who have served in politics, such as Senator Ross and Senator Quinn — who has vast experience of business — who would make fantastic members of boards. I would not like for them to be excluded because their politics were Independent, Fine Gael or whatever. That would be unfair. It is a question of trying to obtain people with experience. Amendment No. 8a assists in this in that it attempts to bring people with experience to Enterprise Ireland.
The Minister seems to say that there will be fewer State bodies in future and that, while the problem may not be solved, Senator Ross's concerns will be taken into account.
Regarding section 9(3), I congratulate the Minister on what I regard as good management practice in insisting that the chief executive be a member of the board. That is correct. I believe legislation will shortly come before the House which plans to debar the chief executive from being on the board. I hope the Minister's action will set a precedent to ensure that does not happen in future. Perhaps we might discuss this on a future occasion.
I have another suggestion to make under section 9(10) where there is room for one more provision. There would be widespread public support for a provision to ensure board members of State companies were required to provide a tax clearance certificate. I do not believe it has been suggested before. It would be a reassurance as to the suitability of board members and one which is regrettably necessary in current circumstances. There is an opportunity to do it under this section by adding to the causes for disqualification as a board member the failure to supply a tax clearance certificate. There are other places in the Bill where it could be done but the important thing is that it be done somewhere in the Bill. The underlying principle behind the suggestion is well established. People supplying goods or services to the State must do it, so why should it not also be required of board members? It might hasten the day when Deputies and Senators must provide tax clearance certificates but I do not believe anyone could object. It is the least the public could expect from us and I put it as a suggestion to the Minister for it to be added to section 9(10).
While I accept some of the points made by Senator Ross about practices in the past, people who serve on State boards do so as a public service. It must be recognised that the service they provide is very good. I do not know if the Senator has served on State boards but I served one term on Galway County Enterprise Board. It surprised me how much the board worked together regardless of political considerations or leanings. I am not aware that any political pressure was brought to bear on any member of the board in terms of making decisions. The majority of people who serve on boards are hard working, take their appointments seriously and do their best for the people they serve.
I commend Senator Quinn's suggestion about tax clearance certificates. However, it can often happen that a person may not be able to provide a tax clearance certificate in the short time between accepting an appointment and taking it up. For example, if a person paying tax under the PAYE system or a person making a reconciliation at the end of the year is in dispute with the Revenue Commissioners about medical or other expenses, it may prevent them obtaining a tax clearance certificate. While I support the spirit of Senator Quinn's suggestion, good people may be unable to accept State appointments because of administrative difficulties with their tax returns.
Senator Quinn's suggestion is excellent and I am sure the Minister would readily agree to it because it is in keeping with her ethos and general political beliefs. If politicians and others in the service of the State are required to have a tax clearance certificate, it should also be required of people who serve on State boards.
I agree with what the Minister said about not excluding political people. Some excellent people have served and are still serving in political life. I am sure the former Tánaiste and Deputy, John Wilson, will prove to be an excellent choice in the capacity for which he has been chosen. I know Deputy John Bruton, in making appointments in the past, appointed a member of the majority party in the current Government to a certain board, as well as one or two others known to be non-political or whose politics would not have been known.
I thank the Minister for accepting Senator Costello's excellent amendment because for the first time something proper and definite is being done. While none of us wishes to delve into the past, given all that is alleged to have happened regarding passports, licences and planning permissions, the Minister has started out on a correct road and I compliment her for doing so.
Many good suggestions have been made by Senators Quinn and Ross concerning this section. It is appropriate that standards be set in the public sector and in public office, regardless of whether it be the Oireachtas, local authorities or boards established by statute. The principle should be extended to all those bodies as far as is practicable. I support the idea of a tax clearance certificate as a requirement of appointment to the 12 places on the board of the new agency.
I notice that politicians are specifically disqualified. In fact, two categories of people are disqualified. Section 9 disqualifies people who make a composition or arrangement with creditors, who are adjudged bankrupt, who are convicted of an indictable offence, or who are convicted of an offence involving fraud or dishonesty. Section 12 refers to elected politicians. An elected politician is deemed suspect with regard to serving on any body. A Member of the Seanad, therefore, is not allowed to serve on these boards. The same applies to a member of a local authority, although we are not discussing that section. Legislation now disqualifies members of one profession, politicians, from serving on State bodies. The only other category accorded the same treatment is that of fraudsters and criminals. That is an unusual anomaly.
We are gradually moving towards greater transparency in public office. Politicians are obliged to declare gifts, donations and so forth. The public sector is the only sector where there is a degree of transparency although there are many areas in the private sector where such transparency would be desirable.
Members of the board are accountable to the Minister and to the Oireachtas. It is important that there is accountability in the system and that when a board is established the relevant Minister is responsible for it. Under this legislation, the Minister will be obliged to make an annual report and to account for the activities of the board. The Minister has also accepted, on the basis of my amendment, that the board, once established, cannot be interfered with unless objective reasons are put forward.
There is a possibility that this discussion could go in the wrong direction. We must acknowledge that many people in society, who are members of political parties in many instances, are prepared to give outstanding service to the State for no reward and for no other reason than they wish to improve the lot of their fellow citizens. It is now difficult to find people who are prepared to serve even though Ireland has a proud tradition of producing such people. There is nothing wrong with appointing members of political parties to State boards. Every party has members who are people of quality and experience, people who would be regarded as desirable for appointment to such boards.
County councillors are referred to in section 12 but the issue is relevant to this section. I have always held the view that county councillors should not be precluded from membership of State boards; I even successfully moved an amendment to that effect in the context of other legislation. However, in this instance and in instances where large sums of money are disbursed and where key strategic decisions are made as to where industries will be located, it is appropriate that county councillors should not be involved. There is a clear potential conflict of interest between what would be the county councillor's local interest and the national interest to be served by the board. In that context, it is right that such an exclusion operates.
In previous legislation to establish the National Heritage Council such an exclusion was proposed but it was amended to permit the selection of county councillors. There is a great deal of expertise and experience among county councillors and many of them are good people who can serve the State at that level.
Recent controversies could lead to concern on the part of private citizens who have built successful businesses and who choose to serve the State that they might find their names in newspapers. While this might sometimes be appropriate in certain instances because of improper activities, the exposure private citizens leave themselves and their families open to when they become members of State boards can be worrying.
It would be wrong to limit legislation to the extent that people who are members of political parties or who have other affiliations should be disqualified from participation on State boards by virtue of those affiliations.
Senator Quinn made a valid point about tax clearance certificates. Ideally, everybody who is appointed to a State board, every Member of the Oireachtas and every member of a local authority should have their tax affairs in order.
The Government has already said, in the context of the proposed permanent public ethics commission, that every Member of the Oireachtas should be required to have a tax clearance certificate. However, we have encountered legal difficulties with that requirement and we are taking legal advice on its constitutionality and when it should come into effect, pre-election or at some time after an election. There are many difficulties in relation to this issue. For that and other reasons it can best be dealt with in the context of the proposed legislation.
It is the Government's intention that when it has finalised its preliminary view on this matter, it will be sent to an all-party forum. Clearly we must proceed in this area on an all-party basis. The appointment of persons to public bodies and State boards should probably be dealt with on the same basis. We cannot impose a requirement on people appointed to State boards which we do not impose on ourselves as Members of the Oireachtas. The Taoiseach required all Members of the Cabinet to show him that their tax affairs were in order. That was a good precedent and it should be widened. However, there are constitutional aspects with regard to who can and cannot stand for office which must be resolved.
Perhaps Senator Quinn's objective could be dealt with in the context of the public ethics legislation, which could also deal with members of State boards. I will consider the Senator's suggestion before introducing the legislation in the Dáil but I wish to take legal advice on how it might work.
Senator Cox made a number of valid points. One might be a compliant taxpayer, whether one is a PAYE worker or self-employed — although there is an assumption that if one is self-employed one is not compliant, which is unfair — and be in dispute with the Revenue Commissioners over medical expenses or other such matters. I do not wish to be unreasonable but I accept Senator Quinn's point and I will examine it before the Bill is brought before the Dáil. In any event, it probably can be dealt with in the context of the proposed new ethics requirements for public office.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 10, subsection (1), line 1, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 10, subsection (2), line 3, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 10, subsection (2), line 4, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 10, subsection (3), line 6, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 10, subsection (3), line 7, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 10, subsection (4), line 11, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 10, subsection (4), line 12, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 10, subsection (4), line 15, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
The Minister gave a fair answer to the point I raised with regard to tax clearance certificates.
I am concerned about section 10(4) which provides that the chairman can be reappointed indefinitely at five year intervals. That is not a good idea. The Minister said earlier that the term of a member of a board should probably be limited to ten years. The term of office of chairman should also be limited to ten years or two terms of five years. It is true that a chairman could be so excellent that there would be a great temptation to continue to reappoint her or him. However, this temptation should be resisted.
When I was young the priests used to warn us to stay away from occasions of sin. I wish to remove a future Minister from such an occasion of sin by removing his or her power to continue to reappoint a chairman simply because the chairman has been there for a long time. However excellent a chairperson, after a certain length of time, the chair comes to be seen as a personal fiefdom. By the end of ten years the chairperson will have made all the contribution he or she is likely to make. It is then time for the organisation to have new blood at the top and for the chairperson to move on to new challenges. The chairperson's tenure should be limited to two terms of five years. Perhaps the Minister would consider that at the next Stage.
In order to expedite matters I will consider this. The Senator makes a valid case. Any Minister who lasts for ten continuous years deserves a few occasions of sin. I do not know of any Minister who held the same portfolio for ten years. The Senator is right. Ten years is sufficient. If the chairperson has been outstanding many other bodies will require his or her services.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 10, subsection (2), line 19, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 10, subsection (4)(a), line 23, to delete “the chairman of” and substitute “the chairperson of”.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 10, subsection (4) (a), line 23, to delete “be the chairman” and substitute “be the chairperson”.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 10, subsection (4) (b), line 25, to delete “chairman” and substitute “chairperson”.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 10, subsection (4) (b), line 26, to delete “chairman” and substitute “chairperson”.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 10, subsection (4) (b), line 28, to delete “chairman” and substitute “chairperson”.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 10, subsection (5), line 30, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 10, subsection (5), line 34, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
I hope the vigilance of the Cathaoirleach will prevent anything being slipped through.
Senator Dardis can be assured of that.
I draw the Minister's attention to section 11(3) which refers to the proposed quorum for the board. On a board of 12 members the proposed quorum of three is too small. Although I have not experienced it myself, some State boards have had difficulties in this regard. A quorum of three could consist of the chairperson, the chief executive and just one other member. The minimum for a quorum should be four. The difficulty in providing a quorum stems from the problem of physically assembling the required number. So, I suggest a virtual meeting. I believe a Cabinet decision can be taken following discussions by telephone. Such an approach is sometimes necessary and I would like to see a provision to allow for decisions to be taken in this way written into the Bill. I am sure a method could be found to legislate for such virtual meetings.
I agree with Senator Quinn. Five might be a better number for a quorum.
I support Senator Quinn. A quorum should be, at a minimum, a third rather than a quarter of the board. The number for a quorum should be four.
The Senators have made valid suggestions. As a matter of interest, there is no quorum for a Cabinet meeting. Telephone, or in corporeal meetings are provided for in the Bill. I agree that five is a reasonable number for a quorum, particularly as emergency decisions can be taken at an in corporeal, or telephone, meeting. I will bring forward an amendment to that effect.
I agree that a quorum should consist of at least a third of the board but five would in fact be better.
Otherwise it might be all women.
Indeed, a larger quorum will ensure an more equitable balance. The board will do important work and will spend large amounts of money. It is advisable that a reasonable number of members attend each meeting.
Section 11(1) states that "The Board shall hold such and as many meetings as may be necessary for the performance of its functions.". It would be useful for the Minister to indicate a minimum number of meetings. A monthly meeting would be normal and others would be called where necessary. The board would obviously determine the number of meetings held but the Minister might set a minimum number.
In the case of some State boards it is necessary to limit the number of their meetings. They often tend to meet too frequently in my opinion. I might be tempted to set a maximum number of meetings. However, that would not be a good idea. A good board with an effective chairperson will call meetings when necessary. I would not like the legislation to interfere with the board unduly. It should be given as much freedom as possible in operational matters and I am not inclined to set down a requisite number of meetings.
My officials have corrected something I said earlier. I am told that in corporeal meetings are not excluded but they must check legally if they are specifically included. I will have that matter clarified before I come back to the House.
The board must approve all decisions relating to grant aid and so on, even those which come below the threshold which requires Government approval. That would require, in times of economic boom, frequent meetings. The existing board meets on average 11 times a year. Boards of that kind generally meet once a month except for the month of August. I presume that the people appointed to the board will be busy and businesslike and will hold the necessary number of meetings and no more.
I ask the Seanad to accept section 11 with the change: that the quorum shall be five.
I hope the principle is not applied to the Seanad because it might create difficulties.
Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 34 are related and may be discussed together.
These amendments substitute "either House" which is the appropriate phrase.
You raised the point, a Chathaoirligh, of county councillors and membership of the board. The Minister indicated at an earlier stage that she might have something to say about that. Section 12(3) provides that a member of a local authority shall be disqualified from becoming a member of the board. This is appropriate in this instance because there is a potential conflict of interest. However, as a general principle, it is desirable that members of local authorities should not be excluded. There is a precedent for the amendment of legislation to specifically allow members of local authorities to sit on the boards of several State owned companies.
I support Senator Dardis. There is potential for conflict in this instance but, as a general principle, it is not constitutional to automatically exclude someone because of membership of any group. The Minister said earlier that people with political experience should not necessarily be excluded. We concurred with that and it should be borne in mind.
I agree that serving politicians should not be automatically excluded where appropriate, particularly in policy related areas. It is the job of a politician to decide policy. However, in relation to the daily running of State organisations and operational matters, with which this board will be charged, it would be wrong to appoint a politician who would clearly have a conflict of interest because of duality of responsibility to those who elect us — in the case of Members of this House, councillors or university graduates, and in the case of the Members of the other House, the people who directly elect them on a constituency basis.
For example, if a company in a certain constituency is about to close and should not be supported because it will never be commercially viable, it would be hard for a politician on the board of this agency to distinguish between their representational role and their national responsibility to an organisation with a responsibility to disperse public money. This would put a politician in a difficult and unfair position.
It is important that people overseas who deal with these agencies and ask whether matters are conducted on a political basis know that the decisions of our industrial development agencies to give substantial amounts of taxpayers' money are made on a purely independent basis and that there is no taint of party or independent politics attached. It is a difficult position for a politician to be in and therefore it is better to exclude not just Members of the Oireachtas but also members of local authorities. It would be wrong to include one category of politician and exclude another. It is better to treat politicians at local and national level on the same basis as far as this agency is concerned.
I accept the need to involve local politicians more in national affairs. Government is over-centralised and there should be more decentralisation. Politicians are involved at a local level in regional authorities, health boards and other bodies. We need to find a more fulfilling role at local government level for members of local authorities. However, this is not the appropriate agency for local authority membership.
Amendments Nos. 28, 35 and 36 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This amendment ensures that the chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, like the chief executive of the IDA is an ex officio member of the board of Forfás.
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 11, subsection (7), line 41, after "time" to insert "for stated reasons".
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 12, subsection (9), line 1, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
Section 14(6) states "A committee may include persons who are not members of the Board or staff of the Agency". What type of person is envisaged under this subsection? What type of functions will they carry out and will they be remunerated? Will there be a proliferation of committees with or without personnel from the agency or board?
This provision could include outside consultants or experts who are drafted in to help the agency with a particular task. The person may not necessarily be a member of the board or the staff of the agency. Agencies frequently use outside expertise to deal with issues. I know of one agency which recently drafted in expertise from abroad to advise them on a certain matter.
Will the establishment of a committee be necessary in such circumstances? Normally consultants are drafted in to compile reports or give advice. However, if committees are established using outside personnel presumably they will use staff from the agency. Will these be standing committees which perform specific functions or are they intended for a remote contingency?
Section 14 provides that the board may establish committees to assist it in carrying out its functions. However, in the IDA projects are decided on by an evaluation committee. The board of Enterprise Ireland may decide to support companies in new or changing sectors and it may need some expertise to help it evaluate projects. There may be a gap in the board's competency or it may need just one person to sit on a committee rather than a team of consultants. That person may be paid. We must give the board flexibility.
This section ensures the board organises its affairs so that it is not debarred from acquiring expertise to allow it to make the appropriate decisions. For example, if the agency is helping a company in a new sector of which it has little or no experience, it may be necessary to draft in someone with experience of the research and development area in other countries. The board does not have to establish committees — the section states that the board "may" establish committees, not "shall". The agency will establish them on the basis of the need to do so.
I just had the mischievous thought that it might be possible to have a county councillor on the committee because they would not be precluded by the legislation. It is appropriate that the board should go outside its confines to find expertise that otherwise might not be available to it. In a rapidly changing business environment, that is desirable. Section 21 allows the board to appoint consultants as it considers necessary for the performance of its functions.
This is a useful and necessary inclusion in the Bill. We should certainly allow the board to have that flexibility, for whatever reason. It may be that the board feels it is short of expertise; it may concern a specific subject area or it may be to bring a group of industrialists together to advise the board. I have seen a case in the past where the IDA, on an ad hoc basis, brought together a group of industrialists and it was very useful. We should not tie the board; I agree with this inclusion.
I am in full agreement about the need to legislate concerning conflicts of interest, and it is right to do so here. However, I am concerned about some of the terms used, in particular, the term "household" in section 15(2)(a), (b), (c) and (d). I am sorry Senator Norris is not here - and if it was not Bloomsday I am sure he would have been — because he would have raised some humour from this section. In the old days the term was used to include even the domestic servants in a household but I suspect that something more modern is envisaged here.
In this case we are, no doubt, contemplating the establishment of couples who are living together outside marriage. That is the reason we are using the word "household". I have no problem with legislation for that but I wonder if we are not approaching the matter in a sloppy manner.
Shortly after I was elected to the House I tabled an amendment to the Unfair Dismissals Bill seeking that age should be included as a reason for regarding a dismissal as unfair. A number of other amendments were tabled at the same time. The Minister of the day was not able to accept the other amendments but said that the word "age" could easily be defined. Someone is an exact age because we know the day they were born, but other terms were not easily accepted at that stage.
I have great difficulty with the word "household". How will it be defined? Marriage is a certified fact and is a black and white matter but at what point are two people judged to be part of one household? It could well be that two people are living together most of the time, but one of them might keep a home of his or her own. In such a situation that person is likely to have a considerable amount of money and might be the very sort of person who would be involved in the kind of conflict of interest we are concerned about.
While I can see the problem I do not have an answer to it. Are we to have special household police who will go around trying to see if people are actually living together within the meaning of the Bill? Obviously not, but what are we trying to achieve by putting in a term that may be contentious and may pose legal difficulty in the future? If we want to make sure the Bill is tight and will avoid problems in the future, perhaps the Minister could consider whether "household" is the correct term to use.
I share Senator Quinn's concern.
In fact, this concern was expressed on our behalf to the parliamentary draftsman who could not come up with a better form of words. I would be open to any suggestion that would be more appropriate. The term "household" is used to cover what the Senator said, people living together who are not what could be described as a family under the meaning of family as we understand it legally. That is one of the difficulties. If the Senator had a better word I might be prepared to accept it, but he has the same difficulty and the parliamentary draftsman had no alternative word either.
It is important, however, that we do not exclude cases where two people are living together. It would clearly be unfair to treat them on a different basis to people who are married to each other. That is why the wording is in this form.
This is a purely technical amendment.
I understand that amendment No. 32 is being accepted. It has already been discussed with amendment No. 4.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 14, subsection (2)(a), line 5, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
Has the Senator spotted all of them?
This is the first amendment I have accepted from Senator Costello.
It is like the cuckoo; is this a record?
Amendment No. 33 is in the name of Senator Costello. The Government has also tabled this amendment. I call on Senator Costello to move this amendment.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 14, subsection (4)(c), line 31, to delete "the said".
I was not aware that the Government had also tabled this amendment. As we are all in agreement shall we leave it at that?
I want to make a point that applies not only to the appointment of staff as provided for in this section but also to the holding of property as referred to in section 24. Forfás was established in 1993 and it included what I think was quite an innovative and useful idea; Forfás would be the employer of record and would second staff as necessary to the different agencies under its aegis. This ensured a certain consistency of approach and also made possible a flow of talent between the different agencies involved. It was very worthwhile.
There were advantages in Forbairt's holding property rather than the individual agencies doing so. Nowadays, managing property involves highly specialised expertise. It makes sense — and it made sense in 1993 — to concentrate that expertise in one agency rather than in several. It also allowed the subsidiary agencies to concentrate on their real jobs rather than becoming too involved with housekeeping.
However, the ink was hardly dry on that legislation before the subsidiary agencies began lobbying to undo it. Within one year amending legislation was passed allowing the IDA to hold property directly. I suggest this Bill is continuing the process. In my view the original approach was right and the successful attempts to undermine it are nothing more than empire building by each agency. We should resist that sort of empire building. I am critical of these sections of the Bill and I urge the Minister to reconsider them.
We should do anything that encourages State agencies to stick to their knitting. They should concentrate on the job they are supposed to do. We should view with suspicion any wishes they express to indulge in empire building. Above all, we should avoid any situation which gives us half of one and half of the other. That is effectively what is happening here. I would like the Minister to consider that and see if we can find a solution to avoid the problems that have been created in the past.
I support what Senator Quinn said. Sections 18 and 19 seem to be, as he said, giving scope for an element of empire building. Section 18, by its terms, would seem to allow for selective recruitment. An initial bias would appear to have been given to one of the agencies in relation to the secondment of staff. If all staff are seconded on an equal basis that is good. However, if there is an imbalance, which seems to be the case according to sections 18 and 19, a new agency will reflect that imbalance. The new roles of An Bord Tráchtála and Forbairt will not be reflected in the degree of integration the Minister wants. Staff will be seconded to reflect the development side of indigenous industry and to reflect the export side of the same indigenous industry. These sections need reworking to ensure that we get fair secondment of staff to the new agency and that we get a definite date from which the agency will operate. The Minister should include a date for the establishment of the agency in the legislation. I am concerned about seconding and recruitment of staff as there may be a bias in the representation of one of the two agencies in the secondment process.
When Forfás and Forbairt were being established after the Culliton report there were negotiations on where staff and property would go. In order to get on with the work of establishing agencies and to leave the property and staff issues to be dealt with by negotiation, Forfás was put in charge of the whole operation because it was an umbrella organisation. Forfás's role is a policy one and it remains the employer of the staff of An Bord Tráchtála and Forbairt to this day, which may continue. The staff of those two bodies which belong to the staff of Forfás will be seconded to the new agency, Enterprise Ireland, just as IDA staff are on secondment from Forfás. Of Forfás's £10.5 million budget, £9.5 million goes on staff pay, superannuation and so on.
We may not change that arrangement but this Bill provides that the Minister can allocate staff to the agencies by ministerial order but that will only be done after negotiation and in agreement with staff associations. We have not reached agreement yet because there are ongoing issues to be resolved. Sensitive matters must be handled delicately and, as I said in the Dáil, there will be no forced redundancies. If there is staff superfluous to the requirements of Enterprise Ireland, a voluntary redundancy package will be set up and that will all be agreed with the staff associations. I will only bring in a ministerial order transferring staff if I feel that is the most effective way forward.
Regarding property, when Forfás, Forbairt and IDA Ireland were established, Forbairt and the IDA were one organisation. Property belonged to that organisation but it was being divided. It was felt that the property could not be divided and the majority of it was subsequently allocated to IDA Ireland. Use of the property portfolio is an important function of the agencies. That is not to say I want them to have a host of properties around the country. I want them to keep their property interests to a minimum. The IDA has made substantial money from disposing of property in recent years. We do not want taxpayers' money tied up in properties and I am always happy to hear of an inward investor buying property as opposed to leasing it. That indicates that taxpayers' money will be released for other projects and it beds the enterprise down in Ireland. If the property is bought it means the organisation intends to stay.
The property interests of Enterprise Ireland and the IDA are minimalist. Many advance factories are now being provided through private funding through BES schemes under Finance Act designations, though with IDA approval, and that will continue. Those agencies hold property for an undue length of time only in exceptional cases. It is important that those agencies allocating the grants and supporting enterprises have the power to make decisions about the properties they own.
What discussions has the Minister had with the staff associations of An Bord Tráchtála and Forbairt? FÁS will also be affected, though it has not been mentioned yet in the debate, because part of its functions will be taken over by the new agency. What discussions has the Minister had regarding secondment, recruitment and remuneration of new employees? What discussions has she had regarding the functions of these organisations? The Bill seems to be biased in favour of Forbairt and the developmental aspect, which is reflected in the title Enterprise Ireland. This is intended to develop industry and business, not export and marketing.
Section 19 states:
A person seconded from Forfás . to the Agency who is on such secondment immediately before the commencement of this section, shall cease to be a member of the staff of Forfás and shall become a member of the staff of the Agency.
I am not suggesting that the new chief executive officer, who will be an ex-member of one of the organisations, will be in a position to second as many staff as he thinks appropriate prior to a commencement date. This could go on for a period of time. If the chief executive officer was a member of Forbairt we could find that he seconds staff from that body because he knows them. Before the new agency commences operation as an employment agency it could have an imbalance of Forbairt staff who are trained for a particular area of industry and not for the export market. There is a perceived danger that this section has the potential to reflect a bias, and that is why I want to know what talks the Minister has had with staff representatives in both bodies to assuage their fears about transfers, secondment and recruitment. The Minister said she wants to see this grow organically and that there may be a transfer of powers and staff to this agency. If a date is not specified the issue will be left in the air and staff in both organisations will not know what is happening. Will the Minister reconsider this issue by giving of a reasonable date, for example, one near the end of the year or in a number of months time, for the commencement of section 19(4)?
I had meetings with all representatives of staff in Forbairt, An Bord Tráchtála and FÁS. The restructuring task force established to bring about the new structures consisted of representatives of Forbairt, FÁS, Forfás and An Bord Tráchtála and meetings were held between it and the staff every three weeks over the past number of months.
This will not come into effect until all the pieces are put in place. We want to continue consulting with the staff. Nobody's conditions of employment will be worsened and there will be no forced redundancies. The staff will continue as staff of Forfás and be seconded to the agency which will hopefully be established in early July subsequent to the Oireachtas passing the legislation - I want it established as quickly as possible. Regarding the day to day issues about which Senator Costello spoke, it is not a matter for a Minister to decide the level of remuneration X or Y will receive. This is a matter for the chief executive. I was anxious to have the chief executive designate in place at this stage so that he can prepare and discuss with staff associations the implications of the change. I did not want to leave this until the legislation was passed. There is also a chairman designate who with the chief executive designate is working closely with staff to put the structures in place so that when Enterprise Ireland comes into effect as much work as possible will have been done. The day to day negotiations regarding who goes where and who is in charge of different areas will be a matter for the person charged with running the agency, its new board and its chief executive.
The focus on company development, previously undertaken by Forbairt, is in the context of exports. Companies cannot be assisted unless they are assisted in an export context as we have a very small market of 3.5 million people. We must trade 140 per cent of GNP and export up to 85 per cent of what we produce. There is no point in helping companies unless we assist them in an export context and compete in the very large and competitive global marketplace.
The purpose of establishing Enterprise Ireland is to co-ordinate the structures so as to allow a clearer focus. Enterprise Ireland is about helping companies compete in the global marketplace, nothing else. I want the new structure to focus on the needs of Irish industry, encourage more companies to diversify and get out of traditional sectors where they are no longer competitive, encourage them into other export markets and not be so dependent in particular on the UK. Dependence on the UK is not good, particularly as the UK will not be joining EMU on 1 January 1999. At least 40 per cent of exports from SMEs go to the UK market, the figure being much higher in some sectors.
We want to encourage Irish companies to invest in research and development. Last week in the House I said nearly half of Irish companies invest nothing in research and development. Senator Quinn more than any other Member is aware that failure to get involved in research, development and innovation means a company will not do business or survive. Research and development is crucial if Irish companies are to produce new products and ideas that are marketable.
I also want companies to get involved in human resource development. Irish companies are very bad at investing in staff training. Time and again I visit multinational companies and have not yet come across one which does not have a human resources manager and a large human resource division relative to the size of the operation. Why is this the case? These companies recognise that part of their success results from investing in training and retraining their staff. Half of those at work today will still be at work in 2020. However, they certainly will not be doing the same job and if they are they will not be doing it in the same way.
Investment in research, training of the workforce and the financial strategy of companies are areas I want the agency to examine when it decides to support particular companies. Exports will be central to these issues which is why I integrated the structures. It does not make sense for Forbairt to be supporting the development of a company, An Bord Tráchtála to be helping it sell its exports, FÁS to be helping with training and other help being provided here and there in the context of research and development. It is a waste of public resources and taxpayers' money. It means there is no clear focus on the company with every agency claiming its package achieved success. Alternatively, if a company fails each agency can blame the others. Even from the point of view of performance it is better to have a structured approach.
I know Senator Costello is as concerned about the staff as I am. The staff in these agencies have worked extremely hard. In the overseas context in particular we can be very proud of the staff of An Bord Tráchtála who are highly professional and who work by and large with very poor resources in comparison to their counterparts from other countries. Our diplomatic service alone is smaller than the British Embassy in Washington and the same applies to our agencies abroad. We have a very, very small highly committed staff working on behalf of Ireland. They do a terrific job and I want to motivate rather than demotivate them. My dealings and those of my officials with the staff have been from the perspective of motivation rather than seeking to undermine their position or lessen their conditions of employment, something I do not want to happen and which will not happen. I have given assurances in relation to these issues both here and elsewhere.
I move amendment No. 37:
In page 26, subsection (8), line 43, after "time" to insert "for stated reason".
It would be useful to clarify this amendment. Although taken with another amendment which has been accepted, it relates to a different aspect of the board's activity. It concerns members of committees of the board and not the board itself. It is not a matter for ministerial sanction but for the sanction of the board. The context of this amendment is somewhat different.
Senator Dardis has made a valid point. If a board has a member which it does not need and requires somebody from a different sector, one should state the reason. It is not unacceptable to keep this continuity. I take the Senator's point that it is not a matter for a Minister. We accepted Senator Costello's earlier amendment in relation to committees so it is right that we keep this continuity and accept this amendment. I am sorry to disagree with Senator Dardis who is so reasonable.
There is a correction to the text of amendment No. 38; "subsection (10)" should read "subsection (1)".
I move amendment No. 38:
In page 27, subsection (1), line 1, to delete "chairman" and substitute "chairperson".
The parliamentary draftsman has advised us to delete the words ", as the case may be," as it is completely superfluous to the legislative requirements.
There is a correction to the text of amendment No. 40 and a comma should appear at the end of paragraph (b).
Amendments Nos. 40 to 43, inclusive, correct errors in the Bill as printed, although I do not wish to blame the printers.
It is a sad day that the official language is being removed from the Bill.
The Title refers to the setting up of the agency to be known as Enterprise Ireland and defines its functions. Will the Minister assure me that the influence of Enterprise Ireland will be greater than the current set up in seeking to establish industries in areas of greatest need?
I can give an assurance to Senator Mooney. Since the Government took office we have announced 23,000 new jobs. Over 70 per cent of those jobs have been in regions outside the Dublin region. I am particularly keen to ensure the Border counties, including counties Sligo and Leitrim, which are of particular concern to Senator Mooney, get their fair share of investment. In that regard, the visit to Sligo last week by the US Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Daly, to Sligo will be very helpful.
The Senator may be assured that the priority of the agencies, in accordance with Government policy, is to develop the regions, particularly the more peripheral ones. We must give people reason to live in the regions because they will not live there if there are no employment and economic possibilities. This is of great concern to Senator Mooney but we must ensure the companies which are supported are sustainable and viable. It is a question of marrying the two and trying to achieve the maximum amount of activity throughout Ireland, particularly the regions.
Will the Minister ensure Enterprise Ireland liaises with other Departments, such as the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the Department of Public Enterprise, to ensure a proper infrastructure is put in place in the areas to which she referred in her response?
The issue of infrastructural development has been on the Cabinet agenda on a number of occasions in recent years. As the Senator clearly knows, one of the handicaps or obstacles to regional development is access and the infrastructure generally. I asked my Department to carry out an assessment of each region, to look at their strengths and deficiencies and examine what activities we can promote in the different regions.
In particular, I am anxious to ensure industries based on technology and telecommunications are located outside the cities because it does not matter where an activity occurs if it is dependent on telecommunications. An activity which occurs in the most peripheral part of Ireland can be transmitted or transferred to another part of the world in seconds. Clearly, there are sectors which could be located in peripheral regions and we will try to exploit that as much as possible.
The Senator can be assured that the infrastructural deficit is being addressed by the Government and I hope there will be big changes in that areas over the next number of months. In the context of new EU funding and so on, it is important to promote the deficiencies in the regions. Senator Costello, like Deputy Broughan, makes the case for Dublin and I represent a Dublin constituency. It is bad for Ireland and Dublin that so much happens in the capital. The services in Dublin cannot cope and house prices have risen beyond the reach of most people. Houses are cheaper in other regions and there is overcapacity in terms of services which are cheaper. It does not make sense from a demographic point of view that Dublin should act as a hoover.
It has not been good for unemployment in Dublin. Notwithstanding all the investment in Dublin, unemployment remains high and it requires a concentrated effort in the unemployment blackspots which I hope to address shortly through the changes coming into effect in September — the implementation of the employment action plan.
A different strategy is required for unemployment in Dublin than that which was adopted in the past.
I was under the impression we had only passed Committee Stage.
We are on Fifth Stage now.
Discussion can only be held on Report Stage if amendments have been tabled. However, the contents of the Bill can be discussed on Fifth Stage.
I welcome the Bill's establishment of a streamlined approach to business and exports. The Minister acknowledged we must focus on the fact that Ireland is very exportoriented.
I took on board the Minister's comments in regard to staff and staff consultation which I consider to be the key to getting Enterprise Ireland up and running. If that issue is not sensitively dealt with, serious problems could be encountered. The Minister is seeking to unite two important enterprises and professional staff and it is extremely important that all staff recognise they are all getting a fair crack of the whip in terms of appointment, promotion, secondment and the ethos of the new organisation. I would dread the consequences if the ethos of the new body were to be dominated by one agency over the other.
I hope the Bill does not simply represent a moving around of the deck chairs.
Do not mention the Titanic.
It is pointless to move things around unless some function is served by that. I thank the Minister for accepting my amendments and hope they will improve the Bill.
I thank Members for their considered contributions and general goodwill towards the establishment of Enterprise Ireland. I congratulate Senator Costello on having all but three of his amendments accepted, something I may live to regret. Of the 45 amendments tabled on Committee Stage, 16 were in my name and the balance were in Senator Costello's.
I thank all Members of the House, particularly Members of the Opposition and the Independent Members, for their contributions. I assure Senator Costello the purpose of the Bill is to create a new dynamic agency with a different approach to industrial policy. It is hoped that the marriage of the activities of An Bord Tráchtála, the company development activities of Forbairt and much of the services to business aspect of FÁS will be greater than the individual parts of all three. I do not want to establish a dysfunctional or de-motivated agency, which would clearly be the case if staff were de-motivated.
We want to bring people together and ensure the people best suited to various tasks are given responsibility for them. In appointing the board I will be conscious of the need to get dynamic, innovative and enterprising people who will be able to give time to the establishment of the new agency. The next 12 to 18 months will be the most important for the board and we want to get off to a good start. That is why I was anxious for the legislation to go through prior to the summer recess. It is important that staff are made aware of what exactly is involved.
This proposal has been in existence since the Government took office but it is unusual for a Bill of this kind to reach this stage so soon. On the last occasion reform occurred, it took almost three years as the process is a slow one. I appreciate the Opposition's agreement to the Government's request to deal with this Bill and I appreciate the very interesting comments made on it which I will bear in mind. If the Bill is amended in the other House, we will return to the Seanad with it before 3 July.
I congratulate the Minister for the manner in which she dealt with this Bill and for introducing it in the Seanad. Her acceptance of 24 of Senator Costello's amendments must be something of a record. The Bill is a good one and is going in the right direction. A number of points were made which were not tabled as amendments and the Minister promised to consider those. I look forward to that and hope that, if they are found useful, the Bill will return to this House in the near future.
I join with my colleagues in complimenting the Minister on her careful and considered disposition towards the points made in the course of the Committee Stage debate.
I join in thanking the Minister for her continuing attendance during a prolonged Committee Stage debate this afternoon and I thank her officials for their input. We hope the Bill will advance the case for investment in, and development of, our indigenous sector.
I attended a function in Dublin Castle earlier today at which Tesco announced food awards. The evident innovation, energy and youth of the recipients was something to be marvelled at and obviously augurs well for the future. We hope the new agency will achieve all its objectives. I was very critical at the time of the break-up of Forbairt, the IDA and Forfás. The Bill is a step in the right direction.
I am in awe of Senator Costello's achievement. When I occupied that chair in a previous incarnation, my record was quite lamentable. However, I do not intend to return to that side of the House in the near future. I thank the Minister for accepting the amendments and for the fact that this is the second major piece of legislation she has initiated in the Seanad, the other being the Environmental Protection Agency Bill.
A good afternoon's work was achieved in the House today. I hope the Bill has been strengthened by the amendments we have made. I thank the Minister for the very open and fair manner in which she dealt with the issues which arose.