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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 29 Apr 2015

Vol. 239 No. 11

Sport Ireland Bill 2014: Committee Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That Schedule 1 be a Schedule to the Bill."

I thank the Minister of State for his answers so far. The Schedule states the board will have a number of committees reporting to it and the members of the committees do not have to be members of the board of Sport Ireland. I wish to ask specifically about the chairpersons of the committees. Does the Minister of State have any view on whether they should be from the board of Sport Ireland? I particularly reference the anti-doping committee as the appointment in this regard will be very important. Will the board pick people itself to be members of the committees? If this is the case I will not support it. When the committees are established, it is important to have people with the required experience and knowledge in each area. I would hate to think any of the committees would be simply appointments of the board itself. Will the Minister of State let me know how he sees it working?

Following on from Senator Wilson's contribution, I can understand the argument for excluding somebody on the grounds of bankruptcy because it would cast some doubt on their business expertise, creditworthiness and so on but I am not sure about the exclusion of somebody who comes to an accommodation with his or her creditors. That seems a fairly logical thing to do and it does not necessarily constitute a black mark against a person. I am not sure, therefore, that there is a sustainable argument for excluding people on that basis alone.

In regard to Senator Wilson's point about the exclusion of particular people from appointment to the boards, paragraph 3 deals with the resignation and removal of members from the board. These are normal provisions in respect of boards such as Sport Ireland. There is nothing different being done in relation to this board that does not apply to other boards.

On appointments to the board, Senator Bradford or any other person interested in putting their name forward must adhere to the new regulations in this regard. Such persons can express their interest on the State boards' website when the specifications have been advertised. One of the issues considered in this regard was whether sporting organisations such as the GAA, FAI or IRFU or other sections of society should be allowed to nominate a person for election to the board. However, in the context of funding allocation, I could not allow this as it might lead to particular organisations representing their own sport. As Senators will be aware, the new governing procedures are in place. The posts will be advertised and people will have an opportunity to apply for membership of any State board.

On committees, a number of new sub-committees will be necessary. As Members will be aware, there is already in existence an anti-doping committee. Consideration is being given to outside people having an opportunity to chair some of these committees. These important committees, particularly the anti-doping committee, will comprise professionals with expertise in the area. It is anticipated that three to four chairpersons will need to be appointed in respect of the new committees. In regard to appointments generally, people will have an opportunity to express their interest in that regard. As discussed earlier, there will be times when we will have to engage consultants to address a particular problem.

I have the height of respect for the Minister of State but I do not believe it is right that a person who enters into an arrangement with his or her creditors or is declared bankrupt should be deemed ineligible to sit on this particular board or any other board. The Minister of State gave the usual answer that this is a normal provision. Why is it a normal provision? It should not be. It was previously a normal provision that a person could not stand for election to either House of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament. However, when that provision was challenged by a citizen, it was deemed to be unconstitutional. I put it to the Minister of State that it is unconstitutional to include that provision in this Bill. I ask that he reconsider it before final passage of this Bill through the House. We have moved on. We are in different circumstances now. This country was hit by a financial tsunami, leaving many people who would not normally find themselves in financial difficulty having to come to arrangements with their creditors, including sports people, managers, business and ordinary people. We all know them; they are household names in this country. Their expertise would be ideally suited to membership of this particular board, if not the post of chief executive officer. The people concerned are being prevented by way of a provision in this legislation, comprising two sentences, from applying for board membership of Sport Ireland, which in my opinion is unconstitutional. I ask that the Minister of State reconsider this before progressing any further with this legislation.

Senator Wilson has raised an issue which is of importance not only to Sport Ireland, but to society in general. If it is not recognised, I would argue that it might reflect poorly on the Government. At a time when mortgage arrears, negative equity and personal debt issues are affecting every parish and GAA club and their members, people are endeavouring to survive. Many very good people are struggling to remain in their homes or to hold on to investment properties they purchased during the boom as a result of the banking fiasco. It would be wrong and disingenuous to exclude such people from appointment to any State board.

I know for a fact that this particular criteria does not apply in respect of appointment to all State boards, including State boards whose legislative remit passed through this House in the past 24 months, one of which makes decisions about companies and the level of grants they receive. A period of reflection is required. On the one hand, the Government is encouraging the banks to do deals with mortgage holders and those who find themselves in negative equity while, on the other, it is saying that anybody who does such a deal will be excluded from playing an active role in decision-making. That is very wrong and it would send out a very dangerous message. It is not possible to square a round hole. There are sporting clubs up and down this country, many of them in my own constituency, that are currently trying to do deals with banks. Some of the people involved in those organisations who could play a key role in this area and whose names, if mentioned in this Chamber today, would ring of national sporting significance would be ruled out. There is a need for calm. We need to take a step back.

As far as I am aware, the Companies Act 1963 does not stipulate that to be a director of a company a person must meet these criteria. We should be encouraging individuals to do deals with creditors, particularly financial institutions. We should not be discouraging them from doing so. I am not attacking the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, because I know this provision was probably drafted by another Department. If this provision remains unchanged, however, a person who would like to put himself or herself forward for this position but is currently trying to do a deal with a creditor in relation to the retention of his or her family home or business could not be considered for appointment to the board. That is wrong.

The board will comprise 13 members, whose terms of office will be between three and five years. One of the members is required to have wide experience and be competent in financial matters and others need to have experience in legal matters. Many of those with experience in financial matters may have gained much of that experience from dealings on their own behalf or on behalf of others with financial institutions in respect of debt write-down. I appreciate the position in which the Minister of State finds himself. However, I believe he needs to reflect further on this. If this provision goes unchanged, it will send out the wrong message, particularly in light of the Government's encouragement of banks to engage in burden sharing or debt write-downs in relation to mortgage arrears.

Let us look at this from another angle. Much of the financial crisis in this country arose because of a lack of regulation by the banks. I accept that the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and Fine Gael were not in government at the time.

The burden of responsibility for the provision of free and easy money lies with the banks. It has been proven through various documents that the economists and financial brains available to the banks at the time were even better and sharper than those available to the Department of Finance. Why were they not allowed, facilitated or encouraged to share some of the debt burden in all of those investments, including family homes and investment properties?

The point I am making is that if we were to exclude people, we would send out the wrong message. I commend my colleague, Senator Wilson, for raising this important issue, which extends much more widely than this legislation. Maybe we should have that debate separately. If we proceed with this legislation, thereby allowing this condition to be placed, we will send out the wrong message. Senator Wilson raised the constitutional parameters. There are other issues as we come at it from a moral point of view, or from the point of view of debt sharing.

Will canvassing for this board disqualify an individual? There is a lot of canvassing going on here today. I am just asking. Perhaps it is mentioned somewhere in the Bill but I am failing to see it. Will canvassing disqualify? I hope that is a simple question.

The Senator will qualify.

I am asking about being disqualified.

I agree with Senator Wilson. We should not ban any man or woman who has gone through hard times and has come to some sort of arrangement with his or her lenders from anything. We should be applauding him or her. Anybody who is prepared to pick himself or herself up and restart after going through something like that deserves the full backing of the entire country. I believe that Senator Wilson is correct and that to have this in the legislation would be unconstitutional. I cannot fathom the thinking behind it. I went broke in 1983 and lost everything I had other than the shoes and clothes I walked out of Galway city with. Where would I be today but for the good people who stood behind me and gave me a second start? We have to start looking at these things honestly and decently. We should not flog a man or woman forever just because he or she went broke. If he or she has managed to make some sort of deal with his or her banks or lenders, we should get behind him or her. We should not be shutting down this kind of expertise just because somebody made a bad business decision at some stage. I really think the Minister needs to look at that.

I will be brief because I know time is pressing and the Leader has extended the time already. I would like to make a formal request to the Cathaoirleach and to the Leader. Senator Wilson has raised a very important point here. This item within the Schedule could very well be unconstitutional. On that basis, I ask the Leader not to proceed with the Final Stages of the Bill. I suggest we should deal with Committee Stage and let that happen. We could schedule Report Stage separately. I formally ask the Minister of State and his officials to seek specific advice from the Attorney General on this specific point relating to section 3(4)(a) of the Schedule before this Bill is passed. All of us want to ensure any legislation that is passed here is constitutional. An important point has been raised. We should get Committee Stage done and park Report and Final Stages. That would give the Minister of State time to go formally to the Attorney General and seek advice on this point. Our belief is that it is unconstitutional.

Progress reported; Committee to sit again.