The Order of Business is No. 1, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2008 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Order of Business.
There is an Alice in Wonderland quality about what is going on in Government at the moment when we hear the Minister for Finance say that he did not read the PricewaterhouseCoopers report. We have been asking for details of that report in this House for months. It is utterly extraordinary that the Minister said yesterday that he did not read the critical parts of the report and did not read it in full. Neither the Taoiseach nor Ireland’s European Commissioner read the Lisbon treaty. I wonder what sort of Government we have if key documents are not being read by our Ministers. What trust can the people have in them? This morning 1,100 workers in north County Dublin got a body blow and we have a Government that did not know that €7 billion was moved between banks even though it was detailed in a report that it got. That amount is the same as will be given to recapitalise the two main banks. I am very concerned that adequate regulation is still not in place. I ask the Leader to convey this concern to the Government.
I heard the Minister's announcement about regulation last night. However, is it adequate? Is it strong enough to have one in four directors? Who will the directors be? In the 1980s we talked about the old boys' network. I am very concerned about the insider network that is operating at the moment. How can we be sure the regulation will be strong enough if we are guaranteeing this amount of money from taxpayers, many of whom are losing their jobs as we speak?
When will we have a debate in the Seanad? A motion will be taken in the Dáil today. We should discuss the current crisis in this House today so that the views of Senators can be reflected. I want it discussed today. I want the Leader to advise whether we will have a detailed discussion on the banks' recapitalisation in this House. I want to know about regulation. Fine Gael does not agree with the Government's approach. If we are guaranteeing this amount of taxpayers' money - the same amount that was moved between banks - how can we guarantee some safety net for the taxpayer? I am not convinced the regulation is adequate at this stage and we must have a debate to tease out the detail in the House today.
There is a difference between appropriate outrage and inappropriate outrage. We should feel appropriate outrage when we learn of the kind of transaction that took place in regard to Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Life & Permanent, where what was in fact a loan obtained by Anglo Irish Bank was dressed up dishonestly as a deposit from another bank. This points up the fact that we need something more than just strict regulation. We need a rediscovery of ethics at the heart of our society, a return to traditional ethics and communitarian values and especially within the business community. We need to take a root and branch look at the way business is taught in our colleges and to look at whether ethics and issues of professional integrity form a sufficiently emphasised part of the coursework of students. We cannot look at this as an issue of regulation or indeed an issue of punishment, which I hope will follow in due course. We need to focus on the issues of ethics and integrity.
Inappropriate outrage, however, is exemplified by the response to the lack of awareness of the Minister for Finance of a particular detail at a particular point in time. I disagree that this is fundamental. In the real world of politics, Ministers and Governments have people advising them and the important thing is that at the right time the civil servants made the regulator aware of this transaction and it is not significant that at a particular point in time the Minister was unaware of that particular fact when he was focusing on something more pressing. For us to get hung up on this point illustrates a split mindset where on the one hand we are pretending we are very concerned about the state of the economy and on the other hand we are falling prey to the temptation to play partisan politics. We need to keep a sense of proportion if we are going to act and speak responsibly about economic issues.
I note the very significant fact that the German constitutional court is asking the hard questions about the Lisbon treaty. This points up a number of issues including that there would be a significant transformational effect brought about by the Lisbon treaty, a transformational effect which some will oppose and some will support. What it certainly points up is the need to give emphasis to our Constitution. Just as our German colleagues are unafraid to emphasise the importance of and fundamental rights in the understanding of their constitution, we also should ensure there is constitutional underpinning for any guarantees that are to be sought on social and ethical issues or other matters as per last December's agreement.
No matter how good the guarantees are going to be, the Government will not be trusted when it goes to the people and says that these guarantees are substantial, if people do not see that these guarantees are rooted in our own Constitution. The Government has been warned; if it is going to make a case it must remember that it will not be trusted because it has not been objective in the past about the positives as well as the negatives relating to our membership of the European Union and various treaties. Because there is that trust deficit, the Government needs to go the extra mile to assure people that the guarantees it appears to have obtained or which have yet to be fully negotiated are rooted in our Constitution and not just operating at the level of European law and subject to interpretation by the European Court of Justice.
The details announced last night about the recapitalisation of the banks go some way to resolving the issue, especially with regard to first-time buyers and small business. However, it is not just enough to ensure banks have capital available to help small business. We need to ensure people have confidence to take out loans and I do not think the measures go far enough in this regard.
I suggest three measures which would help restore confidence in the economy. We need a fresh start in the management of the banks. To restore confidence, the old guard needs to be cleared out and we should start with a year zero. We need to assure people that they will not lose their homes while this recession continues and the conditional moratorium of 12 months does not go far enough. Yesterday, the Master of the High Court warned of an avalanche of repossession cases because of the economic downturn and many people are worried about losing their jobs. This morning we heard the news about the situation in SR Technics. These workers have paid taxes which have gone towards saving the banks. We need to ensure that while they are suffering, they will not lose their homes for as long as this storm rages. I do not think a year is long enough and I wish the Minister would listen to what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and others are saying and put in a two-year moratorium instead.
I received texts and phone calls up to midnight last night from people questioning what was going on in the Department of Finance. People are completely at a loss to know what the Department is doing. The Department failed to tell its Minister about the loan to Mr. FitzPatrick and now it has failed to alert him to the fact that a loan of €7 billion was transferred from one bank to another. We need to know what is going on because it is not a case that the Department is short-staffed. Every time the Minister comes to this House he is accompanied by a plethora of people and one has to fight to get in as they stretch down to St. Stephen's Green. I do not agree with Senator Mullen because the Minister is responsible with regard to this issue. He was on the radio this morning saying in effect, "Je ne regrette rien” , that he has worked hard, done his best and it is not his fault. This cuts no mustard with the public. A key way of restoring confidence at this stage has to be the removal of the Minister from his position and his replacement with someone competent enough to do the job.
It is good and proper that the House should have an opportunity today to discuss the developing situation of the recapitalisation of the banks. I am aware that the Leader is making every effort to arrange for the appropriate Minister to come to the House to respond. If this proves possible, then the House should have such a debate. The last sitting day of the week is always more difficult.
I agree with Senator Mullen that we could concentrate on what was read and what was known and what was acted upon but the salient issue that we as a political system must take account of is that an action has taken place that goes beyond the realms of fraud and is an action that is nothing less than economic treason. The political system needs to be clear in stating that the activities of people who used the cover of a guarantee scheme agreed in both Houses of the Oireachtas fundamentally to cook the books of an organisation to create an impression of stability and profitability is regarded as nothing less than shameful by the entire nation. The people involved need to be brought to account.
Those of us in the political system who are trying to oversee this situation, attempting to analyse and define it are not the people who have engaged in these activities but we have to accept that the people who have been involved are the very people we have lionised over the past decade and a half. We as a society must get to grips with their activities, their actions and the effects of what they have been doing to this economy. To do otherwise would be the real failure of politics and the political system. We can argue as much as we like between ourselves, point fingers and score points, but it does not change the essential element that what has gone wrong has caused the undermining of this nation's credibility. The people who should be brought to account are still out there, still enjoying some vestiges of respectability and we as a political system cannot allow that respectability to attach one moment longer.
If this House has the opportunity to debate the issue today, I suggest that this is the message that needs to go out from the Houses of the Oireachtas. We cannot take this type of self-aggrandisement and enrichment any more. The country cannot afford it and the country cannot prosper into the future with the existence of these people and their activities.
I have allowed some latitude to the leaders of the groups in the House so I ask Members to be as brief as possible in their contributions as many Members are offering.
It really is embarrassing to be associated with this Government and even those of us in Opposition are tainted. For the avoidance of doubt, Fine Gael does not acquiesce in, endorse or approve of the economic policies of this Government nor of its policy on the banks. We have the proof of why we have adopted this type of position. Senator Mullen talks about ethics in government. It is a question of competence when we see that the Minister for Finance has not read the report on the state of the Irish banks which he commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers and in particular the report on Anglo Irish Bank, which he must have known at the time was the bank that was tainting the whole banking system and threatening to bring it down. Can one imagine past Ministers for Finance such as Alan Dukes, John Bruton or Deputy Ruairí Quinn not reading such a report? It is that incompetence which is the kernel of the issue. We know the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is not an economist and he has no qualifications in the area of economics. We know he has no experience of or qualifications in commercial or banking life.
Is Senator Regan speaking from his own experience?
I have. We are not necessarily blaming the Minister for his lack of qualifications and experience for the job. Normally, it would be a prerequisite to have some such qualifications to be Minister for Finance, but he is a lawyer and it is the lawyer's training to read his brief. We now know the Minister did not do that. This is a document of which he should have been a master, digesting it in full, particularly the parts on Anglo Irish Bank. Despite the issues the report threw up, the Minister was still prepared to propose the recapitalisation of Anglo Irish Bank up to December. It was only later in January that he moved to nationalisation.
The two issues I want to put to the Leader are regulation and how much is being hidden by the Government concerning Anglo Irish Bank and other banks. Our international reputation is at stake. The economy depends very much on the Irish Financial Services Centre and asset management funds in Dublin. Will the Leader comment on that?
Until December, despite this report and what we now know is contained in it, all the Minister said about the switching of bank loans and Seán FitzPatrick's loans was that it was disappointing.
Has the Senator a second question for the Leader?
We will be here until dinner time.
We expected better from the Minister. It is disappointing when the incompetence of the Minister has been shown up in this regard. Will the Leader agree that the Minister for Finance is on borrowed time?
I agree with Senators Mullen and Boyle about the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. In all the years I have been in the House, I have never seen a Minister pilloried for telling the truth, which is a rare commodity. The man told the truth yesterday, yet he has been accused of being honest. It is extraordinary.
That is not the case. It is his competence that is being questioned, not his honesty. The Senator should be clear on that.
It was more a confession.
Senator Leyden, without interruption.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report was sent by the Minister's officials to the Financial Regulator. Those issues were dealt with at that time and it did not affect the decision to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank. It had no bearing on that because the money had been repaid. However, we are taking our eye off the ball as far as Irish Life & Permanent plc is concerned. It put at risk €7 billion of ordinary savers' and investors' money. It was very lucky to get the €7 billion back because it could have been pocketed by Seán FitzPatrick and his team at Anglo Irish Bank. What a gamble it was.
What a gamble with the Irish people.
Senator Leyden, without interruption.
I appeal to the investors in Irish Life & Permanent plc to demand an extraordinary general meeting of that bank and call for the resignation of the chairperson and the chief executive. Gillian Bowler is a lovely lady who is great in tourism but not great in banking, as far as I can see.
The Senator cannot refer to people who are not in the House. Has he a question for the Leader?
She is not in the House but, by God, she is here in spirit. Her and Seánie FitzPatrick and the chief executive——
Have you a question for the Leader?
We should have a debate on the banks today. Again, I appeal to the investors in Irish Life & Permanent plc to demand an extraordinary general meeting and remove top management because they have let down the staff of the bank. The staff, decent, honest and hard-working young people, have been betrayed by their chief executive and management. Management knew Anglo Irish was a crooked bank, yet they were prepared to give €7 billion of investors' money for as long as it was required to prop it up. That is terrorism as far as I am concerned and is against the national interest.
The exceptional support on the part of Irish Life & Permanent, which artificially boosted the deposit base of Anglo Irish Bank, was, as pointed out by Senator Boyle, under cover of the State guarantee scheme. The jiggery-pokery involved is abhorrent and I join with all Members in condemning it. The serious matter about this is that those funds were routed through the investment management arm of Irish Life & Permanent.
Yes, they were.
Senator Ross is rightly concerned about this and he may raise the same question. What are the Irish Association of Investment Managers or the Pensions Board doing about that? Both organisations have been strangely silent on this serious matter which is of the utmost concern to all Members and citizens, particularly those worried about their pensions.
The other day I asked if all the cowboys were confined to Anglo Irish Bank. Apparently, it is not the case. Much of this activity has been fraudulent. I do not want to blame all the banks. I hope the recapitalisation of Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland works, but I am concerned at what we have recently seen. I am looking for a debate on the recapitalisation programme today. The other House will debate a motion on it later and we look forward to hearing the Leader's arrangements for such a debate.
As for the members of the golden circles in some of the banks, it was as if the normal rules did not apply to them. There were cosy insider arrangements involved and no one understood the concept of conflict of interest.
I have, of course.
It will be in his own time.
The members of these golden circles had no regard for proper governance. Will the Leader agree that we have reached the stage, sadly, where we need - I hoped we would not need this - a High Court inspector to examine these matters, as was proposed by the Labour Party?
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health and Children to intervene in the closing of the welfare home, Bethany House in Carlow? A delegation from Carlow visited the House yesterday. I believe that home should not be closed.
It is being closed by the Health Service Executive because there has been little or no maintenance to this fine, well-run home. The residents are being moved to different homes around County Carlow, which does not suit them, and at great expense of €800 or €900 per bed. Bethany House is not the first of its kind to be closed. The Orchard nursing home in Bray, County Wicklow, was recently closed. The Health Service Executive is transferring its responsibilities to other homes. It is causing great inconvenience to the residents of these homes. Bethany House is situated in the centre of Carlow town, which allows the residents to go for walks and it is a convenient facility. Will the Leader ask the Minister to attend the House to debate this issue?
Legislation relating to the banks should be put forward in this House. We have at our disposal people with the expertise to draft such legislation, which is badly needed. We should introduce legislation that will ensure proper governance obtains in the banking organisations in this country. It is time for a complete review of the position. In addition, we should ensure those who are at the helm of these institutions are placed on a short leash. New management should be brought in to ensure we have a proper banking system.
I welcome the recapitalisation of the two main banks, which has a number of positive aspects. Everyone in the House called for this to happen.
Those matters can be raised in the relevant debate.
Among the positive aspects to which I refer is the reduction in salaries and so forth. However, the most positive development is that we have ensured people who are under pressure when it comes to repaying their mortgages, etc. will now be able to avail of a rest period.
When the 12-month rest period for mortgage holders ends, local authorities should become involved to ensure that people are not evicted from their homes. Perhaps the local authorities could assume responsibility for making mortgage repayments, if necessary. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should be asked to examine this matter because all that people are being provided with is some breathing space. I welcome the fact that there will be an increase in the level of mortgage provision and in the loans available to small and medium-sized businesses.
I wish to endorse what previous speakers stated with regard to Irish Life & Permanent being put in the frame in respect of this matter. My understanding of this matter, which is based only on press reports, is that if the transaction in question took the extraordinarily circuitous route outlined - which was utterly deceitful - it was not actually Irish Life & Permanent's funds which were involved. Irish Life Investment Managers, ILIM, manages the funds of small investors. What happened in this instance was that €7 billion of such investors' funds were put at risk when they were transferred to Anglo Irish Bank, which was not under guarantee at the time of the transaction. The situation is much more serious than people realise because this was not an ordinary transaction.
The recapitalisation of the two main banks confirms some of our worst fears because it represents a bloodless victory for the banks. One need not engage in any great examination of this matter in order to know who won this battle. The recapitalisation is something of a coup d’état and the banks have pulled off an incredible stroke at the expense of the Government. If one considers any of the issues involved, it is obvious the banks got what they wanted in respect of them.
It is extraordinarily difficult to understand how or why this happened. The two main banks had no cards with which to play but they have emerged victorious. They will be given €7 billion and all they have been asked to do is provide some form of financing for small businesses. Apparently they will increase the amounts they were previously giving to such businesses by 10%. They were not providing anything previously so they will not encounter major difficulties in that regard. The position is the same in respect of mortgages. Apparently they are going to increase the extremely low level of provision to first-time buyers by approximately 30%. The two main banks were not lending much money to people in the form of mortgages. These are not concessions. What is involved here is mere window dressing.
There are two other extraordinary aspects to this matter. On radio this morning the Minister for Finance stated that people should not be concerned about the guys at the top in the two main banks because they must go before their institutions' annual general meetings and be voted back in. Some of these individuals go before their AGMs every year and are voted in. When one is a member of a bank board, it is the easiest thing in to world to have oneself voted back in. The banks are self-invested and those involved vote for themselves. The second largest shareholder in Bank of Ireland is the bank itself. Will those involved with the bank vote against the directors being returned to their jobs?
The Senator should put a question to the Leader.
Yes, I must think of one.
Good on the Senator.
There are too many which might be asked.
I wish to ask the Leader for a specific debate on this matter. There is a cartel in operation whereby those involved with the banks go to their AGMs and vote for each other. I regret to say that we will not be pacified by the fig leaves being offered by the Minister for Finance.
I agree with what Senator Leyden said yesterday and today. Directors offering to take tiny drops in salary is farcical. Mr. Sheehy, who apparently continues to enjoy the confidence of the Minister for Finance - God knows why - is going to take a salary reduction of 33%. If that is correct, he will only earn €1.5 million next year. The man who landed us in this appalling situation is going to receive €1.5 million and the remaining members of his bank's board will remain in place. The chairman of Bank of Ireland, Mr. Burrows, who earns in excess of €500,000, will remain in place next year. It cannot be stated that this represents a change in Irish banking because it is merely more of the same. It is time a fundamental change occurred. What is being done is window dressing and it is totally unacceptable.
I agree with Senators Mullen, Boyle and Leyden and in part with Senator Ross about Irish Life & Permanent which has engaged in high treason of an economic nature in recent years. I must declare an interest because my firm operated as an agency for Irish Life & Permanent which closed 50 such agencies in recent weeks. It did so because it was much cheaper to obtain money through interbank loans than it was to go out and work for it and give value for money to people who invested perhaps a few hundred or a few thousand euro in those agencies. Many jobs were lost as a result of this development. However, those who committed high economic treason are being rewarded. I hope, as does Senator Mullen, that these people will get their just rewards.
Last week the Taoiseach announced a reduction in professional fees that will yield a saving of €80 million over the course of one year. We pay more than €1 billion in such fees and I have often wondered if we obtain value for money in return. In a curious case of which I am aware, a local authority in County Kerry decided to engage the same professionals who got the figures wrong on the first occasion and asked them to correct their error. I refer to a firm that was asked to source water for a new supply to be provided to the town of Kenmare in which I live. A local community organisation managed to get the figures right and stated that the original figures were cockeyed. The council then decided that the firm of professionals should re-examine its figures. I suspect that the next batch of figures it provides will still be wrong. If we are doing so badly by engaging poor professionals at local level, I am sure the €1 billion allocated each year in respect of professional fees is not being well spent. Perhaps the Leader will ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to investigate the curious case of how an organisation which got matters so wrong in the first instance was asked to correct its own mistakes. I hope the firm in question does not request that it be paid for both sets of work.
In light of the manner in which they have operated, the banks have literally brought the economy and the country to their knees. Is the Leader of the opinion that it is fair that the former chief executive of the Financial Regulator should have obtained the severance package with which he was provided when he left his position? It is clear that questions remain to be asked about the way this individual did his job. Does it make sense or is it fair that in the week when we expect lower paid public servants such as teachers, gardaí and nurses to pay a pension levy, when 139 special needs teachers are being removed from the education system, thereby depriving the children who need them of their services, and when so much is happening in the political arena and elsewhere, the former chief executive of the Financial Regulator should receive such a severance package? Is the granting of this package justifiable? Does the individual in question deserve a retirement package as handsome as that which he has received? Does this man deserve a pension of €2,500 per week?
As is the case with the various matters discussed in the House, all things are relative. At present, two young children under the age of 12 months are incarcerated in Irish prisons. Ten such children have been held in our prisons in recent times because their mothers gave birth while incarcerated. On the other hand, we have witnessed shenanigans involving the transfer of deposits of billions of euro to Anglo Irish Bank. The issue is not only the sums involved but also the damage done to Ireland's international good standing, the losses incurred by investors and the jobs which have been lost as a result. In comparison, the transgressions of the mothers of the small children who are in jail are infinitesimally small. What kind of a society is able to punish misfortunate women and their children but is unable to punish the big boys, so to speak, who have brought the country to its current position?
I salute Senator Mullen on the ground that it is vital to have balance in this debate. I have endeavoured on every occasion on which I spoke on this issue on the Order of Business to avoid party politics because party political debate will not help. Too often, we take our eye off the ball and focus on the man. By highlighting and making the central issue the Minister for Finance's comments in the Dáil yesterday, the day on which details of the proposed recapitalisation of the banks were to be announced, we made the Minister's role the main story. By doing so, will we ensure that those who created the current problem get off the hook again?
Senator Fitzgerald is correct to highlight the loss of another 1,100 jobs. It is terrible to listen to the news each morning. Let us imagine how the families of each of the 1,100 employees in question must feel. Those working in Dell, Waterford Crystal and the many small businesses which are closing are in the same position.
Notwithstanding the mistakes that have been made, I appeal to everyone to unite for the good of the country. Senators will expect me to say this but I genuinely believe the Minister for Finance is a decent, honest, capable and competent man. Good will come out of his most recent decision.
Senator Ross's view that the banks have been the victors may be correct. The banks have always been able to thumb their noses at the State.
As the fuel in the economic engine, they did not recognise the driver - the State - or the passengers on board. Once the State is inside the door, it will be possible to hold the banks accountable in future. Let us all work together to that end.
Senator Coghlan referred to the strange silence of the pension and investment communities about the most recent affair and the insider trading which took place last year. The House will debate the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2008 today. I am concerned that we are being strangely silent at the time we should be debating the issue at the forefront of all our minds. If we fail to make the House more relevant, we will deservedly be criticised and confidence in us will decline.
Senator Mullen referred to ethics. The international community had, until today, lost confidence in our efficiency and was asking what type of regulators and banking community were in place in Ireland. Today, however, it is questioning our ethics. We talk about being strangely silent but the investment community backed up insider trading last year and did not utter a word of criticism until we did something about it.
All those who entered politics to help the country must do something. The reputation of this House will be seriously tarnished if we do not debate financial issues and the proposed recapitalisation. We must do so today because failure to discuss these issues will create greater problems.
I do not believe that people in the Netherlands and France voted on the text of the proposed constitution for Europe. They chose instead to give their respective governments a bloody nose because they did not have confidence in them. There is a serious danger that Ireland will be sidelined in Europe or forced to leave the European Union if we vote "No" again. This outcome could emerge, albeit for all the wrong reasons. The House should debate the issue on everybody's mind today.
Yesterday, the Association of Graduate Recruiters in the United Kingdom spoke of encouraging graduates to search for jobs and, where necessary, start at the bottom or do voluntary work. Too many people here are asking undergraduates and graduates to consider emigration arguing that Ireland does not have a future. This country has a strong future but it is in our own hands. I urge those who are studying, those hoping to graduate this year and recent graduates——
The Senator must put a question to the Leader.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to indicate to those citizens upon whom we will depend in future not to expect to start at the top? In my experience, graduates too often seek to start jobs at the top and are unwilling to start at the bottom. Let us encourage them to start at the bottom, even by doing voluntary work, where they will not be paid as highly as they may expect. They need to prove to themselves that Ireland can repeat its past success.
I concur with Senator Quinn's remarks on the future of the country. While we should not underestimate the challenges we face, equally it is important not to overstate the difficulties we are experiencing. Most important, we should be positive about our future. People are able to consider what we achieved, how we achieved it and how we can travel that road again. To do so, we will need unity of purpose, firmness of resolve and a belief in our ability to succeed. We must send out this message clearly.
I welcome the €7 billion recapitalisation of Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland to assist the stability of our financial institutions, instil confidence in both banks and facilitate them in lending and providing facilities for customers. This is an important and welcome initiative. We should also welcome the structure of the recapitalisation programme, including the stipulation that where a customer experiences difficulties, the banks will give the customer reasonable time to seek to agree an approach to resolve problems and provide appropriate advice. This is an important development as this approach has been absent. The issue of credit availability is another extremely important issue which should be welcomed.
I have every confidence in the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who has done a great job to date. We should be conscious of the major sensitivities associated with the reports available to the Minister.
The Senator must ask the Leader a question.
No one would give the Minister credit for divulging sensitive and commercial information about banking activity.
The Minister did not know about the activity.
He did know about it.
He did not read the report.
This type of innuendo is not good for any of us. We need unity of purpose and firmness of resolve. We cannot come out with cheap lines.
The report was fully read and understood, and the appropriate action was taken. That is the reason recapitalisation of the banks is taking place.
Earlier in the week in the United States, the director of the FBI appeared before the House banking committee and gave testimony to the effect that his organisation would investigate the misselling of financial services and products. Why can we not take the same approach given that we are talking about financial activities which have placed our economic interests at grave risk?
I wish to respond to some of the points colleagues on the Government side of the House made about the banks. They rightly talked about treachery, treason and so on. There was an opportunity in the agreement with the banks to take action. I encourage any Member who has not read the agreement to do so and to ask why it took so long to produce it. It is available in at least one newspaper this morning. If we are talking about treachery and the damage done to our economic interests, why were issues of competence and ethics, which are at the heart of what we are dealing with, not dealt with last night? We deserve an answer to that question.
I support Senator Rónán Mullen's call to begin an early and open discussion on the Lisbon referendum. Many sensitive and important discussions are taking place in the dark which should be brought out into the open so that we can ensure we are anchored in the heart of Europe.
Senator Ivor Callely made an appropriate point on hope for the future. I have no doubt we can get through all of this. The mistake we made during the boom was that we believed it would never end. The mistake we must not make during the so-called bust is to forget that it also will end. However, the secret to doing that will be to ensure the kind of questions my colleagues and I raised this morning are answered.
I listened to all the points raised this morning. I welcome the recapitalisation of the banks and echo the points made by Senator Rónán Mullen. Now that recapitalisation will take place, let us have a root and branch review of the banks. That is what ordinary people want. We want to restore integrity in the banks. Nobody is denying integrity has not been lost. There has been bad ethics and bad behaviour.
The reputation of the top executives has been damaged and no amount of money can restore it. Their reputation is ruined in the eyes of the people and the international community. I would hate to be in their position. I would rather a cup in the corner of the table and have my reputation than all the money they received because it is no good to them. The best thing they can do is to walk away. Let us have a clean sweep to restore confidence in the banks. The ordinary people want to start again and to get our banks up and running. The banks must help our society. Until the top layer has gone, confidence will not be restored.
I echo the points made by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú that we need to work together and stop this nit-picking and character assassination. We must try to work to rebuild our country and give hope instead of pulling people down with character assassination. Let us have another discussion on the banks so we can try to tell the public that we will do what we can to restore confidence in banks.
Once again the entire Order of Business is consumed with our financial woes, and that is highly appropriate. As far as I can see, it is not being done on the Order of Business anywhere else. That shows the significance of this opportunity to discuss these matters and to be relevant. This is not a drip, drip situation but a splash, splash one. We are being inundated with bad news.
The Minister for Finance is a decent, highly intelligent man who has a huge and unenviable responsibility. Clearly, he is working around the clock and has behaved with considerable dignity under enormous pressure. However, there are questions. I am not mathematically gifted or an accountant but I can see that €7 billion was passed covertly between two banking institutions to mask a problem and deceive the shareholders. That was at a time when that investment, if one wants to call it that, was not covered because the guarantee scheme had not come into place.
We were told the Minister did not read fully the brief, which is unusual, especially for a barrister. It is was left to his officials who passed it to the Financial Regulator. There is a broken reed if ever there was one. Passing it to that busted flush would not guarantee any confidence but, in any case, they did so and the Minister was not told.
We were told this was a routine matter and that issues were raised with the regulator almost daily but not issues such as €7 billion. Senator Rónán Mullen appeared to represent this as insignificant. It is only insignificant in the sense that it is off the radar as far as most people are concerned. I cannot imagine what €7 billion is.
Do you have a question for the Leader?
Yes, can we have this debate and raise these specific points either in the debate or with the Minister?
Due diligence is being performed after the investment is being made. Talk about buying a pig in a poke. That is almost looking around to see if there is a poke with a pig in it in which we can invest. I do not have great confidence.
If I was to choose a Minister for Finance at this stage from the talent pool in the Dáil, it would unhesitatingly be Deputy Richard Bruton because he has addressed the situation honestly. He has told it as it is, looked at the stark facts and has come up with a solution.
One thing I find really sickening is that we have been told this was in light of the facts known at that time. Why can we not get all the facts out in the open? The banks should be told in an uncompromising fashion that it is cards on the table time.
Yesterday, we managed to pass a motion unanimously at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs supporting the Government in its initiatives to establish an investigation into possible war crimes during the Gaza offensive. Will the Leader arrange even a half hour debate to pass this motion? We do not even need a Minister present. I understand the motion will also be tabled in the Dáil.
I fully acknowledge the sense of frustration in regard to the cancerous issue of the banks. The Opposition is going up a blind alley calling for the head of the Minister for Finance. Heads should roll. I have my ear to the ground and I speak to people as much as anybody else in this House. The public want banking heads to roll.
I have listened to the debates on the Order of Business over recent days and people want to bring in inspectors, the serious fraud squad, internal and external auditors, the Pensions Board and IFSRA, none of which has any teeth. There is a body with powers of arrest, namely, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Since the enactment of the Company Law Enforcement Act, we do not need to appoint a High Court inspector. What is this body doing? It has five solicitors, three accountants and detectives. It has powers of arrest but it is doing nothing. How many searches and arrests has it made? How many interviews has it carried out? It has the teeth to investigate this because part of its mission is compliance with company law. This is a clear breach of company law in that it is the worst possible case of false accounting. However, all this body is interested in is management companies, lights in apartment blocks, etc. and getting convictions in that regard.
Do you have a question for the Leader?
Yes. It has the teeth but it appears another part of its anatomy is missing. Will the Leader find out why for me and the public?
Senator Paschal Donohoe mentioned the FBI. The best organisation in this country for enforcement and compliance is the Criminal Assets Bureau. It is the organisation that can deal with such issues. All these little people have failed the State, including the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. I want to see all these agencies abolished and brought under the umbrella of CAB, which should do the work so at least the Irish people know what is happening.
If we do this as a nation, we are effectively saying we have recapitalised our banks, dealt with many of the issues and know about the disgusting behaviour that has been going on in the banks regarding the finances of the people of Ireland. I do not consider those with pension investments in Irish Life & Permanent are small people. The small people in all this are the directors of the bank because they are the ones who have not stood up and been counted and they are still hiding away.
I want a debate on regulation. Do we need to go back to the 1930s and the commission of Mr. Joseph Kennedy or would CAB suffice? We need to shut down the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, revamp it or let it use the liathróidí it has.
Senator Healy Eames has 30 seconds and will be the last speaker.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for giving me some time. The debate must take place today and it should be on what will constitute good recapitalisation, with proper terms and conditions. International best practice says when there is gross malpractice, professional misconduct and, quite likely, fraud such as we have seen in the banking system, we should clear out all the boards and start afresh. My question for the Leader is why is the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, pussyfooting around with the banks. What is he afraid of? Why is he so tentative? Why is he saying there should be only a quarter of new appointments? As Senator McDonald said a few minute ago, it is all wrong. We have seen gross malpractice. What is going on?
Yes. My question is why is the Minister signing off on what could be another bum deal? We are on his side and want to get the right decision. I disagree with previous speakers, in particular Senator Mullen. We need to have great belief that our Ministers will read reports and their officials will inform them of important information. We do not have that belief now. The Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, did not read the reports——
Has the Senator a question for the Leader.
——former Deputy Charlie McCreevy did not read them, the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, did not read the report on child abuse——
——and now the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, did not read the report. We need to move forward with confidence.
I have stated that we need a debate on proper recapitalisation so we will not be let down again. We have come into this House for the third time to discuss this issue. We have had State guarantees, the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank and now recapitalisation, but we may be back here again unless we get it right this time. My concern is that the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is too tentative.
The Senator is out of time.
He is too afraid. There must be something he is not telling us again.
I ask Senator Healy Eames to resume her seat. I am sorry I was unable to facilitate Senators Walsh, White, Bradford, McFadden and Bacik. I call the Leader of the House.
We should consider extending the Order of Business. It is the only relevant point in the entire day and we are mad not to do it, particularly in these times. The Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2008 is rubbish.
I propose an amendment on the Order of Business, "That statements on the planned recapitalisation of Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland be taken between 12.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m., with spokespersons having 12 minutes, all other Senators seven minutes, and Senators may share time, and the Minister to be called upon ten minutes from the conclusion of the debate for concluding comments." I thank the leaders of the groups for their understanding. I was trying to get the Ministers available for it to take place and I could not order it at the start of the Order of Business.
Senators Fitzgerald, Mullen, Hannigan, Boyle, Regan, Glynn, Coghlan, Butler, Ross, Daly, McCarthy, Ó Murchú, Quinn, Callely, Donohoe, Ormonde, Norris and Healy Eames expressed their views on the recapitalisation of the banks, which we all now know took place following the Government meeting yesterday. It is to be welcomed because everything that has been done since last September has been done with one thing in mind. The Government and the Oireachtas are trying to do the best they can for the economy and to sustain or maintain the economy at the best possible level.
When one sees reports on television about America, Australia, UK and other much stronger nations than Ireland it brings home the serious downturn in the global economy. Everything that can possibly be done is being done to bolster the economy for the banks to be able to play their part. I welcome the commitment this morning for 10% extra funding to go into mortgages for first-time buyers of new homes. I welcome Ulster Bank's announcement yesterday on its new mortgage package, which guarantees for five years the price at which the house is purchased, less 15%, which I understand contractors and builders will underwrite. All these things are being done at a time when there is an unprecedented downturn in the global economy.
The Government made the correct decision in guaranteeing all the deposits and this House had to sit all night to pass the Bill. The Government made the correct decision to capitalise the banks, although €7 billion may not be enough. Those in the country who know much more about it say it will be the start of possible future investments which may have to be made. All these things have been made right and done right.
If there is something that needs to be done, the regulations on enforcement and the power of the regulator must be strengthened, and this must be done within the next two weeks. Perhaps we should look at the United States and the standards and types of enforcement necessary. If enforcement and regulations are in place, all good people working under the laws and regulations will abide by them. If anything is wrong at present it is that the regulations on enforcement are not strong enough and the Oireachtas should make this a priority. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, said on air this morning that this must be looked at and I know he is doing so as a matter of urgency.
Of course this side of the House has confidence in the Minister for Finance. He is an incredibly intelligent, hard working, decent man. The man or woman who has never made a mistake has never achieved anything. At least he did the honourable thing, as was said in the House, and said he did not read page 129. It is difficult to accept, but it is reality and the man has been honest and decent to tell the nation this was the case. The Minister was in the House on many occasions, often at very short notice, to update us on his portfolio. We look forward to working with him for very many years to come.
Regarding the concerns of Senators Hannigan and Butler about the one-year agreement with the banks on the repossession of homes of those who are not paying their mortgages, in most cases probably because of unemployment, their views can be expressed with the Minister present later today.
It is terrible to see the workers losing jobs from Waterford Crystal, Dell, as Senator Ó Murchú mentioned, and now SR Technics, where 1,100 jobs are being lost. I remember when there was a recession in the 1980s and former Taoiseach Charles Haughey took a personal interest to ensure this particular project was set up because it would give hope to the people of the north inner city and, in particular, north county Dublin, as well as Meath, Louth and the surrounding counties. It must be said loudly and clearly that competitiveness is our greatest challenge for the future. At that time the cost of living, including labour costs, were pretty low. Over the past 20 years, however, everything has changed considerably. According to the cost graphs, we have a long way to go, probably involving a 20% reduction in wages and goods, to maintain the same competitiveness as when we had the edge 20 years ago. I wish the workers well in their deliberations today. I hope the unions, employers and Government agencies, as well as the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment who is taking an active part in this, will try to find a solution because this is the high-tech end of industry. Passenger numbers are increasing and Dublin Airport is ideally situated in Europe to provide services. At present, 70% of the workforce is employed in service industries. This is one area in which we should be trying to hold contracts or even increase them. I understand the contracts were lost on price, not on work quality or staff efficiency, which are excellent. We will certainly have to examine competitiveness seriously as well as debating it in the House as often as we are requested to do so.
Senator Butler referred to the HSE and Bethany House in Carlow. I will convey his concerns to the Minister for Health and Children after the Order of Business. Senator Daly mentioned the reduction in professional fees, as well as figures in the Estimates for his native Kerry. I can certainly pass on his views to the Minister. I will also assist him in any way he wishes as regards having a debate on these matters, including the examples he has highlighted.
Senator Ó Murchú cited the example of two children who were born in jail because their mothers were imprisoned. That brings home the stark reality of both sides of life that were discussed on the Order of Business this morning. We must take those serious concerns into consideration and I will pass the Senator's remarks on to the Minister.
Senator Quinn referred to jobs and the necessity of keeping our young people at home in Ireland. The greatest education any young person can get when starting out in life is to begin at the bottom. Then, and only then, can one appreciate the good fortune, opportunity, success and progress one makes in life. The fear of ever going back is a driving force in this regard. People may say they are only working 40 hours a week, but others have to work 80, 90 or 100 hours a week. We know that if we do not do it, we may not have the privilege of sitting in the Oireahctas to represent our constituents. We must therefore put in the hours and it does not really matter at the end of the day. One always hopes that one can stay and not go back to where one started from.
Senator Norris referred to yesterday's sitting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the issue of war crimes. I will leave time aside for statements on this matter.
The Leader moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That statements on the planned recapitalisation of Allied Irish Banks and Bank of Ireland be taken between 12.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m.". Is that agreed? Agreed.
Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.