Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 2, Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and conclude not later than 4.15 p.m.; No. 1, Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 - Report Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and be adjourned not later than 6.15 p.m., with business to be interrupted between 5.20 p.m. and 5.45 p.m. to enable the Minister to attend business in the Dáil; and No. 3, Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 6.30 p.m.

Several weeks ago I asked the Leader to arrange a debate in the House in advance of publication of the new revised code of conduct on mortgage arrears. After learning the details of the revised code of conduct, the matter has become so urgent that I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Finance or his deputy, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, come to the House to explain the Government's strategy on mortgage arrears and the thinking behind giving the banks everything they wanted in the code of conduct. I am sure most Senators have looked at the code, but, for those who have not, the context is that one in every four mortgages is either in arrears or has been restructured. The Government is now permitting the banks open season on distressed borrowers and those in mortgage arrears. It has removed the 12 month moratorium to which the banks had to adhere under the previous code of conduct. After three months, or eight months in some instances, the Government will permit the banks to go to court to seek repossession orders. That is reprehensible. One of the protections the previous Government and Oireachtas gave to borrowers was to permit banks to contact distressed borrowers no more than three times per month. That protection has been completely removed. The Government is allowing the banks to contact distressed persons who are in arrears as many times as they want. They are being allowed to call to borrowers' doors or ring them at any time of the day or night. The Government is going to push people over the edge. I would like to ask the Minister for Finance whether he understands the stress people are under and why, in God's name, he gave these discredited banks which we all know too well everything they wanted. The banks keep speaking about co-operating and unco-operative borrowers. What defines a co-operating or unco-operative bank? When do we say a bank is not co-operating with the people to whom they lent money? All the Government is requiring from the banks in the code of conduct is that they be proportionate and not excessive. What is the definition of this in the context of what is being proposed?

The Government has refused to accept any legislation from this side of the House to establish an independent mortgage appeals board or an independent office that would make a decision on the future of a mortgage or the resolution of a mortgage problem. It is allowing that decision to stay firmly with the banks. I could say much more on this subject - I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence - but three minutes is insufficient time in which to do so.

That is why I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Finance or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance come to the House today to explain how this new code of conduct, agreed by the Government and the Central Bank, will help anyone in Ireland who is in mortgage arrears.

I will repeat what I said last week, following the continuing revelations from Anglo Irish Bank. The key issue is to make every resource available to the Garda and the ODCE to ensure that prosecutions may be brought in a timely fashion. There has already been a long period of investigation and the main concern for most people is to see the individuals responsible for the collapse of the banks being brought to justice in the criminal courts. That is where the focus should be. I was pleased to see the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Jim Hamilton, suggest that the priority should be the criminal investigation. As legislators, we should ensure that there are adequate resources and structures in place so that any investigation can be carried out expeditiously.

I would like to commend the organisers of the Pride parade which took place in Dublin city centre last Saturday. I took part in that, as did many other colleagues. It was a really great celebration of the achievements of the LGBT community, legislators and civil society in ensuring progressive change. There is still one outstanding issue, of course, which is that of marriage equality. I hope we will see a referendum on that issue next year, as recommended by the constitutional convention. I ask the Leader to allow for a debate on the recommendations of the convention. We should follow up on the suggestion he made last week to invite Tom Arnold, the chairman of the convention, to the House in September to update us on the reports of the convention and on what he hopes to see arising out of it.

We will be debating the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2013 this afternoon. Senator van Turnhout has tabled an amendment on the disclosure of psychotherapy and counselling reports in respect of children in sexual offence trials. I know the Minister told us last week that the Law Reform Commission would be dealing with the general issue of disclosure of counselling notes in sexual offence trials, and not just those pertaining to child complainants. Once the commission has reported on that, I ask the Leader to allow us debate such a report, regardless of the outcome of this afternoon's Bill.

I would like to extend my best wishes to the Taoiseach, who is addressing the European Parliament today. I hope that our MEPs, whom he has met in this House, will alert him to the close links between Irish MEPs and the Seanad. As Seán Kelly, MEP, said to us when he was here, "I wish to congratulate the Seanad in being to the fore in our national discourse on the issue." Jim Higgins, MEP, told us that he is the envy of MEPs from other countries because of his links with the Seanad. I hope the Taoiseach notes that. He will also note that next week is the 34th anniversary of direct elections to the European Parliament. Previously it was an appointed body, rather like the replacement for the Seanad that the Taoiseach apparently had in mind at one stage. Yesterday was also the 14th anniversary of the restoration of the Scottish Parliament and 26 July is the anniversary of the restoration of the Welsh Assembly. It is a very good time for parliamentary democracy, and rather than going around finding out about Parliaments that were shut down 40 or 50 years ago, the Taoiseach should get in touch with new uses for parliamentary assemblies and devolved powers. I hope all of that comes to light when he addresses the European Parliament.

I read in a report in The Irish Times on Saturday that a new postcode system is expected to be introduced within 18 months. When writing to my constituents, it is much easier to write to them in Monaghan town, County Monaghan, than it is to write to them in Fermanagh, with a mixture of letters and numbers after that name. This system for the Republic will cost €15 million and will have an annual running cost of €2.5 million.

That is all that is mentioned in The Irish Times article. We would want to achieve savings of between €4 million and €5 million to make the project worthwhile. Will the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources disclose the overall cost-benefit analysis of the proposed system? Of course, the company providing the system will have salesmen to say it is wonderful. From the article, however, it looks as if it will cost €15 million, money we do not have, with an extra €2.5 million in running costs. When the project was previously presented to the Government, it was claimed that it would save money. A proper appraisal of the project needs to be made to see if it is worthwhile. It is much easier to write addresses on letters in the Republic of Ireland than it is in the United Kingdom because we do not have a postcode system.

I join my colleague Senator Sean D. Barrett in wishing the Taoiseach well in his address in Brussels today. It brings to an end a very positive six months of our EU Presidency.

I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, on the deal done last Thursday on the Common Agricultural Policy. I also congratulate all of the departmental staff who travelled with him and completed many meetings in the past months on the CAP. The deal is positive for Irish agriculture and gives a degree of certainty to us until 2020. It is important now that we have good Pillar 2 schemes in place which also affect farmers and rural dwellers. It has been a good six months for us in the EU Presidency and we look forward to progress on the Pillar 2 schemes.

I second the Leader of the Opposition’s proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I also wish our colleague, Senator David Norris, good luck in his cancer treatment. As I was away last week attending a Council of Europe plenary session, I did not have an opportunity to welcome him back to the Seanad, to which he has made an enormous contribution. The people will respond to this when they have an opportunity to vote against the abolition of this House. His work has been immense. I worked with him in Kenya where he raised important issues.

I have not died yet, Terry. I am afraid that I am going to disappoint everybody.

(Interruptions).

We need the Senator to save the Seanad. My comments were made on that basis.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Senator David Norris looks to be in rude good health and looks great.

As I was away last week attending the plenary session of the Council of Europe last week, I was not in a position to ask the Leader for a debate on the disclosures made in the Anglo Irish Bank tapes which are receiving enormous coverage around the world. It was embarrassing when in Strasbourg last week to see the coverage the disclosures were receiving in the Financial Times and other newspapers and the way Ireland was being portrayed as a cowboy country. It has certainly not done the country any good. I do not know why Independent Newspapers published them. While it has been beneficial for the newspaper, boosting its sales and helping to resolve its financial difficulties, it has not helped the image of the country.

It only exposed the truth. Should we withdraw it?

Getting at the truth is more important.

The truth will prevail.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

There was no axis of collusion between Anglo Irish Bank and the late Brian Lenihan or the former Taoiseach, Brian Cowen. It seems to have been missed that in 2008 the Taoiseach, then leader of Fine Gael, and the Minister for Finance, then his party’s spokesman on finance, both joined in and supported the bailout of the banks.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I know the Cathaoirleach is neutral.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do have a question for the Leader. Will he set aside time for a comprehensive debate on the issues in question? I want the Government to produce Jean-Claude Trichet’s letter to the late Brian Lenihan when he threatened him on behalf of the European Central Bank. I find it quite extraordinary that the Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael is washing his hands like Pontius Pilate when it comes to the commitment he gave to save Anglo Irish Bank in 2008.

The Senator is way over time.

It will be very difficult for any trial to go ahead unless the Special Criminal Court is used to try the bankers.

I am calling on the Government-----

It is already included in the legislation.

It has been in power for two years, but it has done nothing-----

The Senator is way over time.

No banker has been put-----

We missed the Senator last week.

I am calling on the Special Criminal Court to be convened.

I would like to preface my question to the Leader by mentioning that I come from Laoighis-Offaly which is the heart of the midlands and turf-cutting country. My family has cut turf for generations. I do not take lightly how seriously families and others take the important issues of land rights, access to land and turbary rights. Nonetheless, I was horrified to see a wanton act of destruction over the weekend. It showed a deliberate, blatant and flagrant disregard of the law of the country. Constructive efforts had been made to reach a compromise and a solution to curb and prohibit the cutting of turf on a few raised bogs throughout the country. It is even more disturbing that the person leading the charge in these unique special areas of conservation - he is bragging and boasting about it - is a Member of the Dáil. He seems to think breaking the law is a laughing matter.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do. I would like him to arrange for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, to come to the House. With the Peatlands Council and responsible turf cutters, the Minister has done everything in his power to reach an amicable solution to this problem. It is important to mention that some €4 million has already been paid to over 2,600 turf cutters who have embraced and accepted the scheme in a responsible manner without forgoing their land rights and access to their lands. Under the compensation package, they receive €1,500 per annum for 15 years. Ordinary families who go out to cut turf were not responsible for the blitzkrieg on the bogs of the west that we saw at the weekend.

Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?

Heavy machinery was used to desecrate a special area of conservation. It was a disgrace that a Deputy led the charge.

The Senator can raise these points during the debate.

It is important that the Minister come to the House to set out his plans to curb this kind of reckless activity.

I propose that the House consider asking the Government to act proactively in the case of Mr. Edward Snowden by offering him sanctuary in this country. He richly deserves it, as he has done a great service to mankind.

Keep him out. We have enough trouble.

We need to do this in expiation of our collusion with the Bush Administration in the appalling practice of extraordinary rendition.

Barack Obama has been a grave disappointment to many of us, particularly with the increase in the number of drone strikes. His Administration is now strangling any country that would dare to stand up to the might of imperial America. Ireland should be an example of a small country that stands up against this international bullying. It has already got Bradley Manning, a person I salute, from inside the army. We need more of these people to tell the truth. Meanwhile Mr. Obama is off on this vulgar deathbed tourism. The one time I agreed with Mrs. Winnie Mandela was when she condemned Jacob Zuma for having his photograph taken with the poor unfortunate Nelson Mandela who was a complete zombie in the photograph and did not have a clue who it was who was molesting him by touching his hand and this horrid stuff. Let us, please, have a little-----

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I am asking him to appeal to the Government to offer sanctuary to Mr. Snowden. Even though this is a small country in economic difficulty, we should affirm to the world that we stand for openness, accountability, truth, honesty, decency and integrity, all of which Mr. Snowden represents.

I commend the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, and Mountaineering Ireland for arranging a fantastic walk in the Mountains of Mourne on Sunday. Many of our colleagues participated in the Oireachtas walk. Mountaineering Ireland, a very professional organisation, represents the North and the South of this island and it was good to see the fantastic work it was doing. Its members showed us how professional an organisation it was.

I was fortunate yesterday to have a chance to preview the Dublin tenement experience, which re-enacts the Dublin Lock-out of 1913.

It opens to the public this Thursday and it offers a powerful insight into what life was like during the Lock-out. The acting is fantastic. I encourage my colleagues to visit it in Henrietta Street. It is an innovative collaboration between Dublin City Council, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Irish Heritage Trust and it will bring a significant benefit to the area. As we approach the centenary of the founding of the State, perhaps we should consider what other events and stories can be commemorated in this way.

I commend the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and our tourism authorities on The Gathering and the other strategies they have adopted on tourism. Figures for the period from March to May show an increase of 3.2% in tourist visits, with particular rises in the number of tourists from China and India.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I simply want to highlight the benefits of tourism and the fact that tourists are coming from emerging markets. When tourists do not revisit a country, price is a major reason. Word spreads when a country offers good value for money. The 9% VAT rate is critical in this regard. In advance of the budget we should drive home to the Minister for Finance that value for money is key to attracting tourists.

I raise the issue of the Anglo Irish Bank tapes and the need for banking executives to be brought to justice. I am conscious that we must be careful with what we say because criminal investigations may be pursued, but the people of Ireland want people to be brought to justice. They want the people who were responsible for the collapse not only of the banking sector but also of the economy to be brought to justice. Senator Leyden stated that the country's image had been tarnished by the leaking of these tapes. The image of the country was tarnished by the rotten relationship that existed between developers, bankers and certain politicians.

Between gunmen and politicians.

That is what led to our tarnished reputation, the collapse of our banking sector and the economy and the dire consequences for ordinary people. That should be a source of embarrassment for Senator Leyden's party, and his colleagues should face up to their responsibilities. I repeat the call my party has made over the past several weeks for Deputy Martin, who was a senior figure in the previous Cabinet, to make a statement to the Dáil setting out which Fianna Fáil Ministers met with bankers and what was said in those meetings.

Deputy Adams might answer questions about tapes.

Senator Cullinane without interruption.

There is a responsibility on the part of the Taoiseach to find out. As Senator Leyden said earlier, the truth hurts. It hurts the people who are suffering because of the relationship between Fianna Fáil and bankers and developers, and because of the mess that party made of this country. The Senators opposite can wash their hands of it all they like, but people know this.

Does Senator Cullinane have a question for the Leader?

Are there other tapes besides the Anglo Irish Bank tapes?

They are in Boston College.

Are there tapes in Irish Nationwide or Allied Irish Banks? What about the EBS and Bank of Ireland?

Deputy Adams will not speak up.

Are there tapes in Irish Life & Permanent?

What about all the murders?

We need a proper debate on the issue of the banks.

What about the tapes in Boston College? When will they be debated?

The issue is being discussed everywhere except the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Senator, you are way over time. Resume your seat.

It is unacceptable.

When will we listen to the tapes in Boston College?