Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland (Amendment) Bill 2014: Report and Final Stages

Before we commence, I remind Senators that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, other than the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to discussion on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.

Amendment No. 1, which arises out of committee proceedings, is in the name of Senators Conway-Walsh, Devine, Gavan, Ó Clochartaigh, Ó Donnghaile, Mac Lochlainn and Warfield.

I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, to delete lines 28 to 30 and substitute the following:

“ “57CA.(1)The Financial Services Ombudsman shall, as part of an investigation, try,

as far as possible, to resolve a complaint by mediation.”.

I second the amendment.

Following the discussion on Committee Stage, this new amendment represents the ideal compromise between the Minister's position and my own. Importantly, the Ombudsman shall now by default try to resolve a complaint by mediation. The Government had favoured a position whereby the Ombudsman would try to resolve complaints by mediation. We are all aware of and welcome the fact that mediation has become the norm. This amendment, if passed, will hopefully ensure that there is no sliding back on this progress. I hope that the Minister of State can support this.

The issue of mediation is an important aspect of this Bill and of the Government's Bill on the amalgamation of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsmen. We had a constructive discussion of this section last week on Committee Stage. We are all in agreement on the benefits of mediation and desirability that it plays a central role in how the Ombudsman resolves complaints. It was agreed that we should revisit the topic of mediation in the Seanad on Report Stage in order to ensure that section 6 of this Bill would be harmonious with the provisions for mediation in the Government's Bill as I think both parties agree it is desirable that where both Bills overlap, there should be agreement, if possible.

The proposed drafting amendment would effectively make the change where, in the avoidance of any doubt, the Ombudsman "shall" as far as possible to try to resolve the complaint by mediation rather than "may" where he or she deems it appropriate to do so. The wording currently proposed by the Senators is a replication of the Minister's amendment on mediation intended to be discussed in the upcoming Report Stage in the Dáil of the Government's Bill. I accept this drafting change in case there is any doubt about the value placed on mediation as a conflict resolution tool. Both Bills should support and encourage the current trend whereby almost 60% of complaints are resolved through mediation, while preserving its voluntary nature. This is what makes it such an effective form of dispute resolution.

I reiterate my enthusiasm for attempts to support mediation in the ombudsman's office. It is clear that there is cross-party support on this policy, and it is for this reason that I accept the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Government amendment No. 2 is also in the names of Senators Conway-Walsh, Devine, Gavan, Ó Clochartaigh, Ó Donnghaile, Mac Lochlainn and Warfield. This arises out of committee proceedings and is both a Government and Sinn Féin amendment.

Government amendment No. 2:
In page 7, line 19, to delete “decision” and substitute “finding”.

This is just an amendment-----

The amendment is in the Minister of State's name first, so I will let him in to begin with.

I give way to the Minister of State.

The Senator is very kind.

The finance committee on tour again, but there we go.

I note that the Senators have submitted an identical amendment to section 8 of the Bill and I thank them for their co-operation on this matter. Section 8 amends section 57CL of the Central Bank Act 1942 and provides that a complainant may appeal a finding of the Financial Services Ombudsman to the High Court within 35 days of notification of the Ombudsman's decision, or within such other period as the High Court may allow. This amendment corrects a drafting error made in an earlier amendment.

The term used in section 8 to describe the determination of a complaint by the Ombudsman is a "decision". This term is inconsistent, however, with the rest of the Central Bank Act 1942, where the term for such a determination is a "finding". In order for the Bill amending the Central Bank Act to read consistently with the rest of that Act, it is necessary that the reference to "decision" in section 8 be changed to "finding".

I agree with the Minister of State.

Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I thank my fellow Senators and the Leader of the House. I particularly thank the Minister of State and his team for their co-operation in having the Bill moved through this House as swiftly as possible. As I said many times during the passage of this Bill, there are people who have been waiting for this legislation for years. For these people, this legislation offers some hope of redress. Sinn Féin was always clear that these people deserve a fair hearing, at the very least, and the chance to get access to justice. Sinn Féin has no difficulty in highlighting and challenging wrongdoing by financial institutions, but we are also keenly aware of the need to provide workable solutions to these problems. We must continue to play a central and robust role in ensuring that consumers are protected against those whose primary focus is on profit maximisation. This Bill is an indication of what can be done to right the wrongs of the past and present.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, for initiating this Bill. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.

I thank everybody concerned, starting with Deputy Doherty, who moved this Bill through the Dáil and Seanad, and all the Members of this House. The first time I took this Bill I said Senators would find me accommodating and flexible in trying to ensure that the best legislation would be passed. I thank the Senators for the debate and the staff at the Department of Finance. We have worked reasonably well together and I hope that will continue as there are a number of important pieces of legislation being brought forward in the next term. These include the Insurance (Amendment) Bill and the Investment Limited Partnership Bill relating to financial services. I would like to think the Seanad will be as accommodating on that legislation as it has been on this.

We have put together a decent piece of legislation. A similar but more substantial Bill will be coming to this House next week and I look forward to progressing it.

Question put and agreed to.

That concludes our business for today. When is it proposed to sit again?

Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.10 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 12 July 2017.