I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill. Senator Thomas Byrne and I worked on it and it was informed by a body of work that continued for two years or more. It involved the Prevention of Family Homes Repossessions Group in Sligo and listening to wider commentary and debate. The Bill enjoys the support of New Beginning, FLAC and all other interest groups working in this area. From discussions throughout the House, it enjoys the support of many Senators in a personal capacity on all sides of the House. I thank them for their support of myself and Senator Thomas Byrne.
I have an inkling that someone will use the word "Constitution" at some stage in this debate so I felt it was important that I should begin with the same word. Article 41.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann reads: "The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State". There can be no more important consideration than the protection of the family. I have said that many times over the past two years as previous Members can confirm. On that basis, we tried to provide a set of tangible solutions to give families the protection that Article 41.2 of the Constitution lays down as their right. There is agreement on all sides of the House when we look back on the debate on the Labour Party motion about mortgage arrears. In that context we tried to come forward with workable solutions. We have done just that because, as the programme for Government states, the recommendations of the Cooney report are inadequate to address the scale of the current crisis. A more radical approach is needed to protect families in fear of losing their homes. That is one of the many sections in the programme for Government with which I agree. This Bill is not adversarial in nature and provides us with an ideal template to act together. As the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, said about the last debate, it would be a shame if the House was to divide on this issue when division is not necessary. This is a subject on which we should promote unity. If the Minister feels he must use the word "Constitution" later, and I will speak after him, I urge that the Cabinet facilitates the unity of purpose these Houses have in seeking to tackle the issue rather than leading a process of manipulating the House in such a way as to promote its abolition. At this time there is such agreement on the issue.
Senator Thomas Byrne will address the sections of the Bill. They are controversial for some and radical in nature but the programme for Government states that radical proposals are required. The code of conduct on mortgage arrears, while honourable in what it sets out, is not working. The Central Bank inspections found that, despite its statutory nature, fewer than 33% of financial institutions inspected were following the code of conduct. This week the regulator said that the code of conduct needs to be improved. He suggested the improved version would be ready by the autumn. The existing one is not working and is being ignored. Hands up anybody who knows somebody who has gone to his or her bank, said he or she is 48 years of age, has ten years left on his or her mortgage and that if he or she could turn it into a 20 year mortgage, he or she could pay it off instead of being in arrears. That has not happened. This Bill would give the court a set of tools which would give it options to give families protection. These options include the elongation of a mortgage and interest only payments. Such flexibility is demanded of us at this time.
Everyone on this side of the House wished the Taoiseach, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Lucinda Creighton, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, well in the negotiations in Brussels last week. We all hailed their success and congratulated team Ireland, as we pulled on the team jersey, on securing an interest rate reduction for the people and the elongation of our debt repayments. Surely, it is not just an option but our constitutional responsibility to be as flexible as possible with the people and the families of Ireland. Articles 41.1 and 41.2 of the Constitution guarantee protection.
Obviously, the Bill was written in conjunction with senior counsel; therefore, I would challenge any suggestion it was unconstitutional. If anybody intends to state the Attorney General's office has an issue with it, let that issue be outlined this evening because there are precedents. The Credit Institutions Stabilisation Act 2010 entitles the Minister to burn bondholders. We agree with this. In the cut and thrust of politics the Government parties, when in opposition, opposed that Act, but they now have the benefit of using it. We support that legislation. There is a code of conduct in place. Why is that not unconstitutional if the argument against the Bill is that there is a constitutional issue?
As I said, we believe the Bill would give real tools and offer real solutions to give families breathing space to ensure they could meet their commitments. It is not about debt forgiveness and or somebody else paying one's bills. It is about being as flexible and innovative as we can be in helping families, the cornerstone of the State, as we demanded of the European Union and the IMF. After nine years in the House, it is my ardent wish that on this one occasion we say this is the basis of a Bill which would work for the people. We are not saying in the same way as was stated in the Fine Gael general election manifesto or as the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, said that this is a complex issue to which we do not have any solutions. The Minister has said he accepts a package of measures must be introduced, as well as a variety of solutions, as required. I agree that there is no single solution which would fit all. The Minister went on to state that the Government was anxious to listen to and work with colleagues on bringing forward a workable range of solutions. He said it wanted to work with others to ensure solutions were found. Here is a set of solutions and a Bill we should embrace. We could seek to change and further improve it on Committee Stage with the advice of the Attorney General, the Minister's good advice and the expertise available in these Houses. Is the last act of this House in this session to create division on an issue on which we are all united?
The Whip should never be used in this House. Governments, whether they include Fine Gael, the Labour Party or Fianna Fáil, have pursued an agenda which has manipulated a process to ensure the abolition of the Seanad. It is disgraceful that there is no media coverage of the proceedings of the House this week. The contempt the media show for the people by completely ignoring this House when discussing important issues such as this is reprehensible. I appeal to everybody in the House that if the Government has a particular view on this issue — we must remember this is Second Stage — not to let it manipulate a process to ensure the abolition of the Seanad. Let us ensure the House passes the Bill on Second Stage in the knowledge that we, on this side, do not have all the solutions. The Bill does not provide all of the solutions, but it is definitely part of the solution.Carpe diem, seize the day. We can do this together. It is not about Senator Marc MacSharry, Senator Thomas Byrne or Fianna Fáil but about the Houses of the Oireachtas ensuring Articles 41.1 and 41. 2 of the Constitution are upheld in the interests of all the people.