Business of Select Committee

The banks appear before the committee but agents and consumers do not. Under what legislation must the banks appear before the committee? What is the role of the Central Bank in that regard?

The Central Bank is obliged to appear before the committee.

What about other banks?

They are not obliged to appear.

They do not have to appear.

That is my understanding.

It follows that agents and loan owners are not obliged to appear.

Is there a way to insist upon their appearance before the committee? May a party who deliberately avoids coming before the committee be obliged to appear under legislation, regulation or another method?

The Chair is referring to the compellability for witnesses to appear before Oireachtas committees. The referendum on this issue was lost. That is the only way in which this matter can be addressed.

Is there another way to compel a witness to appear?

I am not aware of such but it is not my area of expertise.

I ask that the Minister of State arrange for a note on the matter to be prepared for the committee. I do not understand how these companies and funds do not honour their obligation and responsibility in terms of transparency and accountability by appearing before the committee but still have access to the Department of Finance on a regular basis. I am trying to find out how that can be achieved other than by compelling witnesses to appear.

I do not know of another route but I encourage all such companies to accede to any request to appear before the committee. They are trading in this jurisdiction. The Houses of the Oireachtas are our Legislature and such companies should appear before the appropriate committees.

The refusal of such companies to appear is an insult to the committee and the Oireachtas. Is there a way for the Minister of State and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to make clear that that is not acceptable?

It is not acceptable but I------

If such companies refuse to appear before the committee for the purposes of transparency and accountability, the only option is to use a Bill such as that put forward by Deputy Michael McGrath to ensure that the highest possible level of scrutiny is applied in terms of regulation.

By the Central Bank.

The companies have a choice.

That is their choice, yes.

The committee also has a choice.

That is the purpose of this meeting of the committee. That is the intention of the Bill.

I hope that we will reflect on that, perhaps with the assistance of Deputy Michael McGrath, on Report Stage. I am deeply unhappy that these entities have total disregard for the Oireachtas in spite of the changes that might arise from the Bill. We make the laws. If the companies refuse to be accountable to the committee, I firmly believe regulation should make them far more formally accountable. I ask the Minister of State to consider that. I also ask Deputy Michael McGrath to consider it in the context of the Bill. I do not see why the companies should get away with it. The agents and vulture funds inflict terrible pain and suffering on families all over the country but do what they like. The purpose of the Bill and similar Bills is to provide an appropriate level of consumer protection, which is necessary because these companies will not submit to accountability and transparency before the committee. I understand the point made by Deputy McGrath that this is getting into the nitty-gritty of regulation but it is necessary in order to protect the consumer. I ask the Minister of State to consider what has happened in this country in recent years and the disregard shown by those companies for the Oireachtas. If they continue to fail to appear before the committee, the Minister must ensure a level of regulation sufficient to ensure they have respect for this country and the citizens we represent.

I agree with the Chairman. The funds show disrespect to the Oireachtas by their failure to appear. I was a member of this committee 13 or 14 months ago when it invited the funds to appear before it. Each fund politely wrote back to say it would not appear. I am pleased that Department of Finance officials have worked hand in glove with Deputy McGrath on the legislation, which has cross-party support, and to ensure the best and strongest regulation is put in place as quickly as possible to protect the consumers to whom the Chairman refers.

I hope it will put manners on the vulture funds. The Minister of State was a member of the committee but now holds a very important position in the Department of Finance. I strongly encourage him to remember the people he represents and the damage done to many of them by vulture funds which completely disregard any form of consumer protection we put in place. It should be made clear that the high level of regulation to be put in place is necessary because of the disrespect shown by such companies to the Oireachtas and the people of this country.

I thank the Chairman, colleagues, the Minister of State and the officials for their assistance on Committee Stage. Engagement on this matter must continue, including that between the Central Bank and the Department. The objective should be to reach an agreed position. I am anxious that we quickly move to Report Stage in the autumn in order to remove any uncertainty and get this done as quickly as possible. I am sure the Minister of State also wishes for the Bill to be quickly progressed.

I fully concur with the Chairman's comments on the funds and credit servicing agents. They should make themselves accountable by appearing before the committee. We should examine the available options to ensure such attendance.

Deputy McGrath raised a very important point. Does the Minister of State think we will be here in the autumn?

I do. Does the Chair? His party also has a big influence on our being here in the autumn.

The select committee adjourned at 11.59 a.m. sine die.