Private Members' Business. - Land Registry: Motion.

(Mayo): I move:

That Dáil Éireann disapproves of the decision by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to sanction increases in Land Registry charges and deplores the unreasonable delays in processing Land Registry applications which have given rise to:

–a record backlog of over 80,000 applications pending at the end of 1999;

–a refusal to deal with telephone queries in respect of applications from Counties Cavan, Clare, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Wicklow, except between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day;

–unnecessary delays and costs for purchasers of sites, new homes, commercial enterprises and applicants for various retirement pensions and calls on the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to defer the approved increases in charges until:

–adequate additional staff are assigned to Land Registry in order to guarantee that all applications for new registration which are in order will be completed within a maximum of four months;

–all routine sub-divisions will be completed within two months;

–other Land Registry services are modernised and streamlined immediately,

and further calls on the Minister to decentralise the Land Registry so that applications from the surrounding catchment counties will henceforth be dealt with by newly established Land Registry offices in the regions.

May I share time with Deputies Flanagan, Jim O'Keeffe, Enright and Ring?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

(Mayo): The poor performance of the Land Registry is reflected in the figures. The intake of transactions has increased from 91,060 in 1993 to 133,000 in 1999. At the end of 1999, there was an arrears of 86,084 applications. While the Minister will contend that there have been considerable increases in efficiency and that there is an overall increase of 20% in output of applications, the waiting times for many counties is unreasonable and unsustainable and the situation is getting progressively worse.

Counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford have waiting times for processing of Land Registry dealings of up to 65 weeks. The waiting time for Counties Laois, Offaly and Tipperary is 62 weeks while files in the cases of Mayo and Sligo are not being processed for up to 60 weeks. In the case of Cork, the waiting period is 50 weeks.

Last January the Land Registry inserted a series of advertisements in national newspapers notifying the public that telephone inquiries for Counties Cavan, Clare, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo, Westmeath and Wicklow would only be dealt with between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day. That restriction is still in place.

The problem in the Land Registry, I acknowledge, did not begin today or yesterday. The problems have been obvious for a considerable period but the situation has become intolerable over the past three years, in particular. A 44% increase in transactions over an eight year span should have met with an adequate response in terms of resources and staffing levels and yet nothing was done on this front. Although there were 40,000 additional transactions, the staff figure remained static at 525.

On 2 February the Minister announced in the Dáil that he had received sanction from the Department of Finance for an additional allocation of core staff to the Land Registry. However, the situation continues to deteriorate. On the one hand, the Government has launched a new national development plan, a very ambitious plan which everybody welcomes. It is a seven year programme for economic and social development involving the spending of a massive £33.5 billion. On the other hand, one of the basic services in the State, the registration of the ownership of property, is in chaos because the Government has failed to assign adequate staff and resources to cope with the increased workload. It has failed to modernise and streamline procedures and has failed to introduce the type of technology urgently needed to provide the efficient level of service to which people are entitled.

The ownership of land and property is something which is deeply rooted and etched in the Irish personality and psyche. The very purpose of the Land Registry is to make available a secure, reliable and effective legal system for registering ownership of property. It has a crucial role in the finalising of financial transactions. The Land Registry, however, in its present form does not provide the efficient service a modern state needs and it is so hopelessly unable to cope with the current increased pressures, workloads and demands that one can only imagine how much more chaotic the situation will be in the context of the additional pressures, expectations and demands which will ensue from the national development plan.

Even the most routine of services are not being delivered. There is no reason, for example, a file plan should not be sent by return of post. Yet if one asks a solicitor anywhere in the country what the situation is, she or he will tell one that instead of a return of post service, it now takes up to four months for the Land Registry to return such a simple transaction.

I read a speech given by the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, when she deputised for the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, at a seminar hosted by the Irish Institute of Surveyors last year and which examined the need for change and the updating of the present land registration system. The Minister of State said the roar of the Celtic tiger has been heard in the Land Registry arising out of the recent buoyancy in the property market. While the roar might have been heard in the Land Registry, it has not been heeded at Government level.

Hundreds of young couples are being denied ownership of their homes because of the delays they have encountered with the Land Registry. Many are alarmed to learn that many months after they have parted with their hard earned cash or their mortgage, they are still not the legal owners of their property. The Minister will know from his own experience that section 25 of the 1965 Act lays down a stipulation that six months from the completion of the procedure of applying for land registry is the maximum period, in other words, unless one gets it done within that six month period, one does not own one's property and has to go cap in hand looking for an extension. The same difficulties are being experienced by people trying to sell on their houses and their land because of the delays they experience in obtaining legal title. Again, major difficulties are being encountered by people endeavouring to obtain top up loans for extensions to their houses or their properties.

Take the situation of a developer who buys 200 acres of land to build 1,000 houses. First, the present planning process will almost certainly ensure that any ambitious time scale can be thrown out the window. Parallel with the planning difficulties, it often takes up to three years, in some cases, to sort out the title of the property. There is something seriously wrong with a system which is so bogged down that it can take years to get sites into shape in terms of establishing exact title. In the meantime, the developer cannot proceed with the development and he certainly cannot dispose of the houses until clearance of title has been obtained. Again, business transactions which involve ownership and registration of property are being delayed and frustrated with obvious consequences for all involved.

There is the difficulty for farmers who opt for the farm retirement scheme. This is an excellent and commendable scheme to enable aging farmers to receive a retirement pension from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in advance of the normal retirement age and, in so doing, to transfer the land by way of lease, agreement or transfer of ownership to a young person.

Land Registry delays are causing major problems for donors and recipients. This excellent scheme sponsored by a Government Department is encountering major delays, frustrations and difficulties because yet another Government agency, in this case the Land Registry, is failing to deliver a service in time.

There was a palpable sense of disbelief when it was announced last December that a decision had been taken and approved by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform that two new fees orders were to be made, one for the Land Registry and one for the Registry of Deeds. The Registry of Deeds fees came into effect on 1 February last and the increase in Land Registry fees will come into effect on 1 May next. To introduce such increases in Land Registry fees in light of the crisis that exists and is getting increasingly worse illustrates how out of touch the Minister is with the situation on the ground.

The Minister will undoubtedly argue that fees have not increased since 1991 and that may well be the case, but nobody could justify any increase in Land Registry charges until such time as the service is vastly improved and delivery dates are brought forward substantially. To increase Land Registry charges by 20% or 30% depending on the nature of the service is unfair, indefensible and irresponsible. I note that the Minister told the House during Question Time on 7 May last that there was no formal consultation with the Law Society. He went on to state that he understood the society would have been aware from routine discussions with senior management of the registry that the fees were under review and that the society was free to make whatever representations it deemed appropriate. There would seem to be an underlying implication in the Minister's remarks that the Law Society was in some way aware of the scale of the increases and that it was accepting of them.

Was an article under the heading "Law Society describes backlog of Land Registry as a national disgrace" inThe Irish Times of 18 January last or a similar article with similar comments in yesterday's edition of that newspaper brought to his attention? The Director General of the Law Society, Mr. Ken Murphy was quoted as describing the backlog of delays in the Land Registry as a “national embarrassment which is causing a great deal of frustration and annoyance” and as spelling out the various new charges for registering property, charges of £300, £400 or £500 depending on the value of the transaction, whereas previously there was a blanket flat rate of £250 for any property valued at more than £30,000. It is not only a question of a charge of £300, £400 or £500, if the construction of a new house is involved and a new folio has to be opened as is generally the case, a further £50 will be charged while a mortgage will also have an additional fee of £100. For any young couple building a house, we are talking about a charge of £450 minimum instead of one of £250 as it was heretofore for a service that is not being delivered.

For that reason Fine Gael calls on the Minister to defer his order to bring in the new charges on 1 May until adequate additional staff are assigned to the Land Registry. We are talking about specialist personnel. There seems to be a gross shortage of trained legal personnel and additional specialist staff for the mapping section. An increase in charges should not be contemplated until such staff are in place and certain reasonable minimum target deadlines are achieved.

In particular, the motion proposes that all applications for new registrations should be completed within four months provided the files and applications are in order. With adequate trained staff, there is no reason that deadline cannot be routinely met. We propose that all route sub-divisions should be completed within a two month maximum deadline. Where a father hands over a site to a daughter or a son, there is no reason such registration should not be completed within a two month period.

We are living in an era of incredible advances in the capacity of information technology. With the type of progress that has transformed so many different sectors of business and commerce and with the e-commerce revolution, these standards should be the norm in the Land Registry. I appreciate there has been some investment in computerisation, but I note from the Minister of State's address to the Irish Institute of Surveyors, to which I alluded previously, that she referred to a feasibility study on the future of digital mapping and that is in the process of being undertaken. In light of the current crisis and chaos in the Land Registry and in the context of present demands, one would imagine that this process should have moved beyond the realm of a feasibility study. I ask the Minister to indicate to the House whether the feasibility study has been completed, if so, what recommendations are contained in it and if they are to be implemented.

I note that the Minister has proposals to convert the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds to a commercial semi-State body. According to the Minister, the new organisation will be expected to operate in a commercial environment and it will be critical to have regard to the costs of providing the services and the need to ensure that the new organisation is placed on a sound, commercial and financial footing. The Land Registry makes an annual profit of approximately £3.5 million. If the Land Registry can make a profit of £3.5 million annually in its current ramshackle state, is it not obvious that it would have major commercial potential if it was properly managed, streamlined, revamped and modernised? Surely it could quite easily double that profit if it was streamlined and made more efficient. What is needed is to make the service more efficient, to increase the turnover of successful transactions and thereby enhance the profit without any necessity to have recourse to increases in fees or charges.

The Minister justifies the change to semi-State status in order to introduce competition. What competition are we talking about? One must acknowledge there is only one Land Registry and it operates as a monopoly. From where, therefore, will the competition come? I do not necessarily support the concept of converting the Land Registry into a commercial semi-State body. Is this the direction in which we should be moving, given that would mean that a very important service that deals with people's property rights would not be answerable to anybody, not least to this House? In that regard, all one need do is check the Order Paper on any day and one would find between 25 and 30 questions tabled by Deputies around the country asking what progress has been made on applications to the Land Registry for registration. In a new situation will we be denied access to fundamental questions and information on the Land Registry? I would have major reservations if the Minister brings forward that proposal. I would like him to spell out precisely the merits of the new changes. What will converting the Land Registry into a semi-State organisation achieve that cannot be achieved by restructuring, modernising and giving the existing organisation additional trained staff and resources?

The Minister stated that "In the commercial world they will seek market prices to ensure that their business is competitive and that they will be able to pay their staff and purchase the necessary equipment." That indication by the Minister has a ominous ring and it seems to hint that additional increases are being envisaged to meet the market prices. What is needed here is reinvestment of the existing profits to provide the necessary equipment, staff and level of performance to generate more income by way of a better service. What is needed here is a larger turnover of transactions and, consequently, a higher level of profit rather than introducing unnecessary punitive charges. Do we need two separate agencies, the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds? The Minister may tell us a dual system is not uncommon, that such a system operates in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Germany, Finland and Luxembourg. Nevertheless there are extremely efficient land registry systems with only one agency in Australia and the United States. Before we proceed, it would be well worth while examining the very efficient Code Napoleon which operates in France. I ask the Minister to consider the merits of the motion and look forward to hearing the views of my colleagues.

As a member of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, I declare my interest. I support the motion. My colleague, Deputy Higgins, has confirmed that the backlog in the Land Registry is currently running at 85,000. I tabled a parliamentary question in the early 1990s in reply to which the Minister for Justice of the day confirmed that there was a backlog of 58,000. I described it as a national scandal at the time. In the technologically advanced era we just have to switch the figures around; the backlog of 58,000 has become a backlog of 85,000. I hope the Minister agrees this is a national scandal.

It appears that value for money does not feature as a priority for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as far as the Land Registry is concerned. The service is inadequate and the era of Charles Dickens will continue until such time as the Land Registry is fundamentally and radically reformed.

In spite of the introduction of modern technological equipment in some sections of the Land Registry, the service has deteriorated considerably. The entire area of land transfer and conveyancing should be simplified and streamlined rather than made more bureaucratic and complex. I wonder what the Minister has in mind, for example, on the extension of certain sections of the Registration of Title Act which was passed in the early 1960s? We still have compulsory registration applicable to only three counties in the entire country. When will the Minister think in terms of extending its application to the entire country? When will he think in terms of extending the value for money on the solicitor's certificate on a first registration conveyance from the present grossly inadequate sum. The proposed fees order should be suspended immedi ately pending the introduction of a more consumer-friendly regime.

I speak of the situation in Waterford which I know best. Waterford is simply not working for the midland counties. I urge the Minister to remove the Leinster counties from Waterford and relocate them to the midlands. The necessity of having a stamp office near the Land Registry Office in Waterford is something I have brought up here time and time again, and it has not happened. To stamp a dealing in the midlands now, one has to drive to the Revenue Commissioners in Dublin with the document and subsequently drive or get a train or a bus to Waterford to register the document. We are talking about a service which is supposed to be consumer-friendly. The public counter in Waterford is staffed by only three people, which appears to be grossly insufficient having regard to the amount of work undertaken. I do not blame the staff. They have a very difficult job. They are under severe pressure. They are doing the best they can, but there are not sufficient of them.

The training available in Waterford is by no means as comprehensive as it should be. There are people engaging in work in Waterford who do not have an appropriate level of training. There is no checking of dealings at the public counter, for example, as has been the case for years in Dublin. A requisition for a copy instrument to up-stamp a mortgage can take weeks as all the instruments are still stored in the Setanta Centre in Dublin. It takes a week to bring them down to Waterford and they will be released in Waterford only if somebody attends in person to sign. This is grossly inefficient.

Delays are causing problems to landowners and house purchasers. In farm retirement cases there is a different regime in the context of Land Registry certification to that which obtains in the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs for pension purposes. Why does this happen? Can the Minister explain why in respect of a pension from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development a different set of conditions apply to certification from the Land Registry than for a pension from the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs?

In regard to section 49 applications for first registration, some are taking three, four and five years to complete, which again is unsustainable in the Ireland of the new millennium. It is extraordinary when elected Members of a national assembly have to table parliamentary questions to the Minister of the day before they can get a reply on what is happening in relation to a dealing, a house purchase or a land purchase, for which full value has been paid by a purchaser. That underlines the ridiculous nature of the set-up within the Land Registry.

I hope the Minister will take action. I cannot understand how, having been in office for two and a half years, the Minister has allowed the situation to deteriorate to this extent. Instead of acting on the matter, he has added insult to injury in respect of the already long-suffering public, by upping the fees in this manner.

Like the Minister and my colleague, Deputy Flanagan, I declare my interest as a member of the Law Society.

The proposal to increase Land Registry fees is a supreme example of the Government ripping off house purchasers while expressing concern about the additional burdens being placed on them. The increase in Land Registry fees will impact on every house buyer. In some instances their registration costs will be more than doubled. Their problems with higher house prices will be compounded by the extra expense of registering their title, compliments of this Government.

We have had the Bacon report. We have heard cries of concern from this Government about rising house prices. While shedding crocodile tears about the plight of house buyers, the Government, which is supposed to be doing something about the problems, jacks up the fees in the one area where it has direct control over costs. What is the explanation? It is not that the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds are running at a loss. These fees are being increased against a background where the Government is making more and more profit from registration. The surplus in 1998 was £3,323,000, a nice hefty sum. The Land Registry has done well in producing such a huge surplus for the Exchequer. In 1999 profits jumped to £5,886,000. Again, well done to the registry. However, the Government has decided not to spend that enormous surplus and allow the Land Registry to put into effect the changes it has long proposed, but to further fatten the golden goose at the expense of house buyers over whom it has been shedding crocodile tears for the past year or two. It is not satisfied with its £6 million surplus in 1999. It wants more so it intends to increase the charges to take in even more revenue, make even more profit, have an even bigger surplus and put an even bigger burden on unfortunate house buyers. How can that be justified?

The clue is in the Government's amendment. It considers it necessary to fatten the golden goose even further. It considers it a fully justifiable step in the context of the preparation of the registry for conversion to commercial semi-State status. We now know where the Government's priority lies. We now know that unfortunate house buyers do not feature in the Government priorities. They must stand aside because of the Government's decision to float the Land Registry on the commercial market and bring in a fat sum to the Exchequer as a consequence.

I wish to offer some advice to the Minister on this issue. If he intends to proceed with a conversion to a commercial semi-State body, and I have heard talk of such a move since I entered the House many years ago, there is a need for an efficient registry. If one wants an efficient registry, it must be properly resourced. I do not point the finger at the registry for its defects and short comings. It has pleaded for more staff for a long time. Will the Minister explain why it has not been allocated more staff? He will talk about the economic buoyancy and the increasing number of applications tumbling into the Land Registry, which also leads to a consequent increase in fees. However, the registrar made a reasonable request a long time ago – perhaps even 18 months ago – for additional staff. Why has the registry not been allocated those staff?

When parliamentary questions were tabled on the matter, the response was that the Minister was making representations to the Minister for Finance. There is a stupid situation where the registry, which is generating enormous profit for the State, cannot deliver a service because it cannot take on extra staff. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who finally shook himself and agreed it needed more staff, cannot give the 'go ahead' either. He must go to Merrion Square and seek approval from the Minister for Finance who will sit on the matter for another long period of time. This is a bad way to do business and the Minister should know it.

It would take a long time to say everything that needs to be said about this matter but I have only a short time before I must hand over to my esteemed legal and political colleague, Deputy Enright. The Government has done a ferociously bad job as far as the registry is concerned. The blundering of the Government in relation to the Land Registry is compounded by its failure to respond when additional staff were requested to cope with the enormous backlog of applications. Delays with regard to some applications are now running at up to two years and they are longer with regard to section 49 applications. The consequence is a log jam in the registry. A Government which displays such incompetence in running the Land Registry system has no competence whatever to manage the affairs of the country.

I am most concerned about the record backlog of more than 80,000 applications in the Land Registry at the end of 1999. The blame for this backlog rests squarely on the shoulders of the Government because it has failed abysmally to provide adequate staff to deal with the increased volume of work with which the existing staff must cope. I am most concerned about the Government's plans to move the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds from Government responsibility and convert them to commercial semi-State status. I am vehemently opposed to the privatisation of the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds.

In life, the biggest single investment a family will make is their home. When a person obtains the title documents showing that he or she is registered as the owner in the Land Registry, he or she can be 100% satisfied that the title is guaranteed by the State and the Government. Therefore, the State guarantees that the title is 100% correct. The move to commercial semi- State status regarding a person's title documents is a question of national importance. There is a constitutional guarantee on property rights in Ireland. If a semi-State body takes over control, it will be motivated by the sole purpose of profit.

The new State body would have a monopoly over the registration of title for the future. This monopoly would be the sole party which will lay out rules and regulations regarding how an individual can go about registering his title documents. The Minister is likely to say the Government will impose sufficient controls. However, he is abrogating his responsibilities by transferring responsibility for the title documents of citizens to a semi-State monopoly. It will be the highest bidder in the offer for the control of the registration of a citizen's title. The focus of this semi-State body will be on profit as distinct from ensuring the guarantee of title that exists at present.

The Government has increased the fees by 100% not for the benefit of the people who are currently waiting to have their title registered, but in the context of selling off the Land Registry to a commercial semi-State body which, from then on, will have monopolistic control over title registration in Ireland. I am totally opposed to such a move. Even at this stage, I ask the Government to re-examine this matter and drop its decision to sell off to the highest bidder the fundamental right of the people to have their title registered and backed by the elected Government.

In some instances, the Minister and the Minister for Finance have doubled Land Registry fees. A property costing £40,001 will attract a Land Registry fee of £300 together with a further fee of £50 if a new folio is opened and another fee of £100 if there is a mortgage. Most people are finding it difficult to acquire a site in a large town for £40,000 with the result that almost all purchasers will fall into the new category of fees. As a former practising solicitor, the Minister will be aware that a voluntary transfer previously cost £30. Due to the Minister's approach, this will now be increased to more than £70.

If there is a voluntary transfer concerning part of a folio, which is common, a further fee of £50 will be charged for opening the new folio, bringing the total fee to £120 which is four times the previous fee. If a person obtains a mortgage on a house, there will be an additional fee of £100. As Deputy O'Keeffe pointed out, the Land Registry is paying its way at present and made a profit of £3,222,000. The Registry of Deeds is also showing a profit. Why is the Minister again putting his hands into the pockets of the people, looking for more money and attempting to further penalise house purchasers?

I pay tribute to the staff of the Land Registry with whom I have dealt for more than 35 years, for their courtesy, hard work and dedication to their duties in very difficult conditions. Most people are having great difficulty buying houses at present and many are finding it impossible. Why is the Minister and the Minister for Finance making what is difficult at present almost impossible? They have decided to impose a further charge on hard pressed house purchasers.

The Minister possesses a great deal of common sense and I urge him to withdraw these fees as the Land Registry is already making sufficient money. The Minister should not, under any circumstances, sell off the Land Registry at a profit and allow another organisation to take control of the title affairs of Irish people.

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

"Dáil Éireann recognises that the decision of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to approve a review in the fees charged by the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds is a necessary and fully justifiable step in the context of the preparation of the registries for conversion to commercial semi-State status; and furthermore, it commends the measures taken by the Minister in order to address the current arrears in the registries which have arisen largely due to the greatly increased volume of work brought about by the buoyant property market in recent years.".

I intend to begin by setting out the background to and the history of the current situation in the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds. The Government, in September 1990, gave its approval in principle for the reconstitution of the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds as a semi-State body. Deputy O'Keeffe referred to this but he actually pre-dates the decision. This decision was warmly welcomed by the Law Society which had already proposed such a change.

Arising from this decision, a small working group was established in order to advise my predecessor on the problems facing the registries at that time as well as on the steps required to give effect to the reconstitution. The problems referred to included a growing level of arrears which, in the early 1990s, had begun to give cause for concern. These arrears had arisen due to a number of factors including a reduction in the number of staff caused by the transfer and non-replacement of staff to other Departments. For example, between 1983 and 1990, staffing levels fell by 18% while the intake of work had grown by 10%. The Opposition parties were, of course, in Government for the greater part of that period.

The report of the working group in May 1991 involved a number of recommendations including the immediate recruitment of staff to address the arrears, information technology and financial control initiatives, a review of the fees charged by the registries and the establishment of an interim board and the appointment of a chief executive designate to advise on and oversee the conversion to semi-State status.

The working group also recommended that the new semi-State body should have a commercial orientation. Following receipt of the report of the working group, steps were taken to implement its recommendations. New fees orders were introduced in 1991. The interim board and chief executive designate were appointed in 1992. A financial controller was appointed in 1994 and an IT programme was also launched during the same period.

The arrears situation which had arisen in the registries was, under the guidance of the board and management, substantially addressed by a number of initiatives. These included improved work practices, enhanced training and development programmes and strategic planning in line with the SMI programme.

The other major development in recent times affecting the registries was the enlightened decision of the then Fianna Fáil-led Administration to transfer a substantial body of staff and work to Waterford. As the House will be aware, this transfer has taken place and my information is that it has already contributed substantially to the area in the short period it has been in place. The other development of note is that the registries are currently seeking a building in Dublin which as well as consolidating the Dublin-based functions of the office will also serve as corporate headquarters for the entire organisation.

At around the same time as the move to Waterford was being completed, a major increase occurred in the amount of work being received by the registries. This was as a direct result of the boom in property sales and the greatly increased volume of dealings generated in the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds. This has continued and, indeed, has intensified to the present day. The board and management of the registries have continued preparations for conversion to semi-State status, although little real progress was achieved until the current Government decided, in December 1998, to press ahead with the change. This is fully in keeping with the Government's policy of regulatory reform and will, in due course, result in a much more efficient and customer-oriented service for all users of the registries' services.

I wish to refer to a number of key points as they relate to the efficient administration of the registries. In order to tackle the growing problem of arrears I have, following discussions with the Minister for Finance, arranged for the assignment of over 60 additional staff to the registries. This is the first real increase in the staffing resources of the registries since 1990. On foot of the Department of Finance sanction received, the Land Registry has requested the Civil Service Commission for the assignment of 45 additional staff. These comprise 24 executive officers, of which 18 are to be assigned to Dublin and six to Waterford, and 21 Clerical Officers, 18 of whom are to be assigned to Dublin and three to Water ford. Additional staff to the above are to be assigned to both offices but the final numbers and grades are yet to determined. These assignments will be dealt with as quickly as possible by my Department. Arrangements are being made to fill some of the other posts sanctioned internally. These staff will be dedicated to reducing the arrears on hands. Special training programmes have been arranged in order to optimise the benefit of these staff to the registries.

Other measures have also been implemented in order to improve the quality of the services being provided by the registries. Deputies have referred to a curtailment in the telephone services at the Land Registry. What is being referred to here are steps taken to curtail telephone inquiries to the Land Registry at certain times in order that staff would be free to handle dealings. I understand that this measure, which was discussed with the Law Society prior to its implementation, has been put in place until the end of this month and that it will then fall to be reviewed. I should add that the application of this limited restriction has had the desired effect with an improvement in the level of service and that this has actually been acknowledged by members of the legal profession.

I referred earlier to the decision some years ago to pursue a modern service utilising the best available information technology resources. The Land Registry has, over the past number of years, made great strides and invested significantly in introducing new information technology in order to improve the service it provides to its customers and, indeed, to better assist its own staff in delivering that service. The new computer system developed by Electronic Data Systems Ireland Limited, which was launched last year, is the culmination of considerable planning and implementation work.

ITRIS, Integrated Title Registration Information System, is a state of the art computer system and it will, when fully implemented, deliver substantial benefits to the Land Registry, its staff and customers. These include improving customer service by reducing the time taken to process cases, providing more readily available information and support for staff involved in delivering Land Registry services, preserving and safeguarding the register itself, supporting improved communication between the organization and its customers and providing Land Registry management with better statistical information. The ITRIS system is due to become operational across the entire Land Registry in the next two to three years. This will involve a further investment of more than £2 million which, considering the importance of the registries to the continuing development of the economy, will be money well spent. Only a fraction of the registries' folios are yet in electronic format but plans are being developed to ensure that the remainder of these paper documents are computerised as quickly as possible. I understand that there are about 1.2 million of these documents and that this conversion work will require a significant investment.

We are now living in the information age and I note that this new system has a feature which enables customers to access certain Land Registry records over the lnternet. This will be invaluable to many legal practitioners and other clients because it will allow them to conduct business from their own offices that would previously have required a visit to the Land Registry. Of course, on-line access to Land Registry records was one of the flagship projects identified in the Information Society Group's electronic Government action plan and, indeed, the new Land Registry external access service is one of the first of these projects to come to fruition. Already, more than 1,200 major Land Registry clients are availing of this service and it will be extended to all counties in the next few years. These positive and innovative developments are very much at variance with the negative image being portrayed of the registries and their services in some quarters.

With regard to the question of arrears of dealings and unnecessary delays, I wish to draw a few important points to the attention of the House. Registration of ownership of land with the Land Registry is an essential element in conveyancing and the State guarantee of title, to which Deputy Enright referred, is the cornerstone of the system.

We are fortunate to have one of the most sophisticated systems of property registration, which is recognised as such internationally. Delays in completing dealings or furnishing maps, and so on, do not have the same implications today as they may have had, say, ten or 15 years ago. The deregulation of the financial sector has brought about a great reduction in the need for bridging finance which was much more commonplace some years ago. As a knock-on effect of this, there is no longer the real pressure for the completion of dealings and registrations.

That is not so.

Once the documentation is in order and lodged with the registries, priority is guaranteed and the date of registration is the date of lodgment.

Ask any farmer in the Minister's constituency.

The critical services that customers of the registries require in a timely fashion are in the areas of inspection of folios and maps, certified copies services and first registration of schemes for developers. These areas have been identified as priorities and an efficient service is in place.

Applicants for registration of title do not suffer as a result of the arrears of dealings. In any case where, an application must be processed speedily for genuine reasons, there are special arrangements in place to ensure this is achieved. The Land Registry will not be found wanting in cases where a completion is genuinely required as a matter of urgency. Notwithstanding that, I fully accept that all of the registries' services should be delivered in an expeditious manner and, as I have already explained, the necessary measures to achieve this are being put in place.

As regards the review of the scale of fees charged by the registries for their services, much of the comment has seriously misrepresented the position and I wish to put the record straight. I have approved two new fees orders, one for the Land Registry and the other for the Registry of Deeds. The Registry of Deeds Fees Order took effect from 1 February last and the Land Registry Fees Order will take effect from 1 May next. The orders give effect to a comprehensive review of the structure of the fees charged for the various services provided by the registries.

They have been designed to provide a fair and balanced response to the changes that have taken place in the conveyancing and property markets since the previous orders were introduced in 1991 and before that in 1983. Specifically, there are a number of reasons for their introduction at this time. It is nine years since the orders were last revised and account needs to be taken of inflation and developments in the property market during that time. We also need to establish a realistic revenue base for the new commercial semi-State company and there is a requirement to simplify further the existing fees structure. The new fees structure is an essential element of the preparations for the conversion to commercial semi-State status and is also intended to simplify the fee structure for users of the registries' services and reduce the instance of inequities in the old system. They reflect the registries' objective of being responsive to the marketplace. One example of this is the introduction of a flat rate for the registration of mortgages. Uniquely within the conveyancing chain, the registries operate on a fixed fee rather than a percentage basis. The new fee orders continue this approach. I take this opportunity to outline some of the features of the new fees structure contained in the orders.

While the overall rate of increase varies, the cost of the most common dealing, the registration of a transfer of property valued at between £40,001 and £200,000, has been increased from £250 to £300, a 20% rise which is not unreasonable given the period of time since the last review in 1991 and the rate of inflation during the same period which was 19.5%. There is a fixed fee for each transaction in the new fees order. This has eliminated the more arbitrary nature of the present dealings based fees order. In the small number of cases where errors occur with registrations, the ensuing compensation payments to the Registry clients are linked to the value of the property registered. For example, a property with a value of £1 million would generate a much greater compensation payment were an error to be made in the registration of the title than a property with a value of £100,000. Yet the fee to the Registry for both transactions is currently the same, £250.

That is very weak.

This is an example of the inequity referred to earlier and the new fees order is structured to reduce such inequities while operating within reasonable parameters in relation to the maximum fees payable. In some instances fees are being reduced, for example, a flat fee of £100 is being introduced for the registration of "charges" as opposed to the situation previously where the fees were based on the amount of the mortgage. Fees for transfers are also being reduced. A transfer of £40,000 will now cost £200. This constitutes a reduction of £50.

There has been considerable change in the marketplace in recent years regarding property transactions and its financing. The new fees orders are responsive to such changes. With regard to mortgages, for example, it is now normal for people to switch mortgages or take out second mortgages due to the competitive nature of the marketplace. Until now, charges or mortgages were liable to a fee up to £250. Now there will be a flat rate fee of £100 for registering charges. This will be a significant saving for many people and should prove to be a popular and progressive change.

The Land Registry currently offers a free service to builders and solicitors where a scheme or a multi-storey development is being carried out. This service is extremely time-consuming and the proposed new fee will not compensate for the time involved. However, it goes some way to recognising the amount of resources required in the Registry to service such dealings. Typically a scheme map would contain anything from ten to 50 plus sites and it is estimated that the average cost per site will be from £1 to £25.

Items 24 and 25 of the Land Registry Fees Order are intended to address the situation that has arisen in the Registry where a disproportionate amount of staff time and resources is being taken up in dealing with what are, in essence, applications that have been submitted with incorrect or incomplete documents and or fees. These measures have attracted some criticism and there may be some confusion here. Item 24 is not a "penalty charge" but rather an administration charge which is necessary to defray some of the costs incurred by the Land Registry in dealing with an application up to the stage of refusal, abandonment, etc. Considerable time is spent on these cases which are ultimately refused, abandoned or withdrawn. At present a fee is not charged for such applications. The new charge is merely a small fee towards the significant costs in terms of staff resources arising for the Land Registry in these cases. It may be that there is some misunderstanding. This is not a charge for rejected dealings of which there were about 18,000 last year. A charge is not made for rejected cases. It is a charge for a specific category of case, that is, those formally refused, withdrawn or abandoned.

Items 25 deals with excess fees. This occurs where the incorrect fee is submitted with the application. There is no reason for this to happen in practice as the registries have a long standing policy of informing the legal profession through the various channels regarding the fees applicable for the different transactions. The refund of these excess fees is a hugely time consuming process for Land Registry staff and the charge being introduced is not a penalty but an administration charge to cover only some of the costs involved in administering the system. The registries process upwards of 12,000 excess fee refunds per year amounting to approximately £800,000.

In the Registry of Deeds, general increases in line with inflation have been implemented, the main charge for the registration of a memorial being increased from £26 to £35. The daily search fee of £10 per day has been eliminated and has been replaced by a £1 search fee per name, per 10 year period. This will reflect the usage of the service. It has been alleged that the revised fees will place an additional heavy burden on those persons who are already struggling to pay for their homes. These suggestions are without foundation and can only serve to add to the problems being experienced by those who are severely stretched by the current market in trying to purchase a home. This contention does not bear scrutiny. Any reasonable examination of the facts will reveal that the actual effect of the revised fees order on the cost of the typical property will be negligible in comparison with the costs associated with the actual purchase and various other costs involved. I wonder how many of those practitioners in the conveyancing and associated fields have not increased their fees since 1991.

Section 14 of the Registration of Title Act, 1964, states that "The fees shall, so far as possible be fixed, so as to produce an annual amount sufficient to discharge the salaries, remuneration and other expenses payable under, and incidental to, the working of this Act". While the case may be made that the annual fees income, as currently structured, may exceed the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds Votes, this does not reflect the full costs involved in providing the services. These include the provision for pensions, accommodation and other costs in central administration which are met by my Department. Were all of these elements to be factored in, the picture would be different.

The decision to transfer the Land Registries to commercial semi-State status has been welcomed by all the interests involved in conveyancing, including the Law Society. The change cannot be accomplished overnight. To place the new company on a sound commercial footing, it is necessary to put the proper structures in place. The staff and management must be given the necessary tools to enable them to operate in a commercial environment, providing a standard and level of service which is commensurate with the com mercial world. Most importantly, the level of fees charged for the various services provided must reflect the cost of providing the service and it must also provide a viable economic environment within which the company can operate, pay its staff, provide for their pensions and invest in the future enhancement and development of its services.

To this end, as part of the preparations for semi-State status, a detailed report was commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers to assess the financial viability of the proposed new body. The report confirmed the viability of the Land Registries as a commercial semi-State body but made the point that this could not be achieved on the basis of the current fees which were last reviewed in 1991. Like any business, it is just not possible to continue to accommodate steadily increasing expenditure on the one hand and freeze the income on the other. This review of the fees, therefore, is an essential component in the process of conversion to semi-State status and to suggest that it can be continually postponed is at best unrealistic and at worst undermines the whole basis for conversion to semi-State status.

The fees are being increased to make it more profitable to sell off.

I trust the House will acknowledge that the new fees orders are both necessary and fair. They are being implemented following careful consideration, and on the advice of the interim board of the registries. They are necessary to ensure the smooth transition of the registries to commercial semi-State status and the long-term provision of a viable, effective system of property registration in this State.

I wish to refer to the Land Registry office in Waterford. As I indicated earlier, this significant decentralisation decision was taken by a Fianna Fáil led administration. We gave expression to our policy of decentralisation and regionalisation by taking decisions to move significant blocks of work and staff out of Dublin. That, of course, is in marked contrast to the lip service paid to this ideal by those in Opposition. Worse than that, some of those on the benches opposite have in recent weeks put it about in the Waterford area that the office there is about to be downgraded as part of some grand plan being hatched by the Government. This is fanciful thinking which owes its origins to political mischief making.

The Minister is downgrading the Land Registry.

I want to put it firmly on the record tonight that there are no plans whatsoever to downgrade the Waterford Land Registry office—

The Registrar said the opening hours to the public will be restricted.

—and as I indicated earlier the reality is that the number of staff attached to that office has been increased by me from 150 to 162.

Is the Minister contradicting the Registrar?

The Minister without interruption.

Sowing the seeds of false and baseless rumours which suggest otherwise—

The Minister does not know.

—is not alone unhelpful to the orderly administration of the important work of that office, but also causes needless uncertainty to the staff of the office as they discharge their duties.

(Mayo): Who is causing that uncertainty?

With regard to contributions relating to the scheme of early retirement from farming, I wish to stress that it is registry policy that where it is shown that special circumstances of urgency exist, applications are taken out of order and processed expeditiously. Such cases include requests for expedition of transfers under the scheme of early retirement from farming.

A feasibility study on digital mapping was undertaken over a period of 18 months and a detailed report has been produced. It is essential that the framework for computerisation to support GIS technology and this process is already under way, with the introduction of ITRIS which I launched last year.

Will an Irish or international company take over the Land Registry?

Deputy Flanagan asked about compulsory registration and said registration with the Land Registry is compulsory only in three counties. There is an increasing demand for Land Registry services and any extension of compulsory registration would have significant and immediate implications for the operation of the Land Registry, particularly regarding its ability to maintain the current level of service. Deputy Flanagan also referred to the difficulty which some midland counties are experiencing regarding the stamping of deeds. It is true there is an office for stamping in Dublin and Cork and none in Waterford. I will raise this matter with the Minister for Finance to see if something can be done.

Deputy Flanagan will be aware that stamp duty is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners which is why we must deal with them. Regarding the allegations of a shortage of legal and mapping staff, I wish to make it clear there is no shortage of mapping staff. Since decentralisation to Waterford, the Land Registry has up to 32 additional supernumerary mapping staff. Mapping work has been maintained and kept up-to-date. There is no shortage of legal staff and service has been maintained at a constant level. However, due to the complexity of the examination of title cases, which represent about 2% of the intake of applications for registration, there are delays in resolving title queries with solicitors. We will ensure an increase in staff at administrative and clerical level.

It is hoped that by the middle or end of this year, output will have begun to match input which everybody will welcome. The new IT which is being put in place will assist in dealing with the backlog of cases. Deputies on all sides of the House should be certain that it gives me no pleasure to see a backlog. Regarding the future of the Land Registry, a semi-State body is being proposed, the shareholders of which will be the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Minister for Finance. I assure Deputy Enright that there are no proposals to privatise the Land Registries. The proposed legislation will reflect the sentiments I have expressed.

Tá áthas orm seans a fháil labhairt sa diospóireacht tábhachtach seo go bhfuil baint faoi leith aige leis an Dáil ceantair as a dtagaim. The lecture just given by the Minister on the Land Registry office in Waterford highlights contradictions in two statements he made yesterday and today. Yesterday, I tabled Questions Nos. 507, 548 and 550 to the Minister relating to the creation of new posts at the Waterford Land Registry office. In his reply the Minister stated:

I can confirm that 12 of the additional posts have already been identified for assignment to Waterford. These comprise six executive officer and six clerical officer posts.

However, the Minister said today that, on foot of receiving sanction from the Department of Finance, the Land Registry has requested the Civil Service Commission to appoint 45 additional staff – 24 executive officers, of whom 18 are to be assigned to Dublin and six to Waterford, and 21 clerical officers, of whom 18 are to be assigned to Dublin and three to Waterford. The Minister might explain where the other three clerical officers disappeared to since yesterday.

There is a sense ofdéjà vu about taking part in this important debate. I am my party's spokesperson on Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and I have been pursuing the ongoing difficulties with archaeological monitoring at Dúchas, the State heritage agency. Dúchas placed a two month embargo on the issuing of archaeological licences in the middle of January but long delays are still expected until the problem of staff shortages is addressed. The Construction Indus try Federation has pointed out that delays in securing licences for archaeological projects from Dúchas is causing considerable difficulty for developers and might add to the problems of implementing the national development plan.

The chief executive of the Land Registry, Ms Catherine Dalton, described the Land Registry last January as being in a difficult position. She said it would be stretched by the development plan and public opening hours would probably have to be reduced at the Waterford office in the future. She made these comments at a time when the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform had sanctioned a request for extra staff and the request was forwarded to the Department of Finance.

The Director General of the Law Society, Mr. Ken Murphy, was reported at the same time as having stated that the backlog at the Land Registry was causing a great deal of frustration and annoyance. He said that people attempting to sell houses or land frequently experienced long delays in obtaining legal titles and many found it difficult to obtain top-up loans because of mounting arrears. He also pointed out that many new householders might still not be the legal owners of the property months after they purchased their dwellings. The average time to process a dealing had by then risen from approximately four weeks to seven months in some counties.

Delays cost money. The Minister, however, has approved two fees orders, one for the Registry of Deeds and one for the Land Registry. Against a background of rapid increases in the cost of family homes, he and the Minister for Finance jointly decided to increase fees. The Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, told the House on Tuesday, 7 March that it was his sincere wish to put the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds on a proper commercial footing as a semi-State agency by the end of the year 2001. This follows a Government decision of December 1998 to proceed with the conversion to a commercial semi-State body.

The chief executive of the Land Registry said in January that the intake of dealings had increased by 47% since 1993 but there had been no increase in staff. She went on to state that this problem had been compounded by the introduction of decentralisation in 1997 which had resulted in the loss of 22% of experienced staff who did not wish to move to Waterford. The Director General of the Law Society was quoted as saying that the backlog at the Land Registry was a national embarrassment. Figures from the Land Registry in January showed arrears of 85,353 dealings, representing an increase of 65% over 1998. One of the Minister's responses was to increase fees.

The draft Bill to give effect to the conversion of the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds to a commercial semi-State body has been circulated to Departments for observations. The Minister said these observations are now being assessed and that it is his intention to submit the draft Bill to the Government in the near future. The Mini ster has presided over the Land Registry for almost three years. His inaction has been the major contributing factor in the near disastrous situation that now exists.

On 7 March he announced the extra 45 posts, 24 at executive officer level and 21 at clerical officer level. I left the House last night believing that six executive officers and six clerical officers were going to Waterford. I have discovered otherwise from the Minister this evening. Perhaps he or Deputy Kenneally will explain the discrepancy.

The decision to appoint new staff, delayed beyond the point of near disaster, is nonetheless welcome. Better late than never. The chief executive and registrar of titles has informed the Minister that arrangements are being made through the Office of Public Works for the acquisition of a site for a new building for the Land Registry. This building is to replace the existing headquarters and to house the geographic work areas currently sited in several different locations in Dublin.

The Government amendment to the motion is mind boggling. During the Minister's period in office, when the Land Registry progressively needed more staff, he took no effective action. Since the Government decision of December 1998 to proceed with the conversion of the Land Registry to a commercial semi-State body, he has failed to appoint anybody from Waterford to the interim board. The office in Waterford is a constituent office of the Land Registry and deals with all aspects of registration for Counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Waterford, Tipperary, Laois, Offaly, Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford.

Decentralisation of part of the Land Registry to Waterford was undertaken in a manner which took account of the demand to provide registration services locally. Decision making in relation to the registration of property was devolved to the office in Waterford. It caters for ten of the Twenty-Six Counties yet, following the decision on conversion, the Minister saw no reason to appoint a Waterford based person to the interim board even though Cork, Mayo and predominantly Dublin are represented.

The interim board of the Land Registry operates on a non-statutory basis. It has no formal terms of reference but its principal role is to advise the Minister on the various steps required to prepare the registry for commercial semi-State status. The advice has primarily related to the legislation required for the conversion as well as financial and personnel related matters.

The decision in principle was taken by the Government in December 1998.He looked at the interim board and realised that Waterford was catering for ten counties, yet he did not see fit to have representation from Waterford on the board. This is indicative of the attitude of the Minister and the Fianna Fáil Party to Waterford – it does not matter, nor does it matter if anybody from Waterford is on the board.

In a reply to a parliamentary question yesterday the Minister said he recently received Department of Finance sanction for the recruitment of five additional assistant principal posts and ten additional higher executive officer posts above the existing authorised number. He did not indicate the existing authorised number for each post, nor did he state the number of new posts to be created or filled in Waterford. He indicated that the level of these posts in both Waterford and Dublin is the subject of ongoing discussions with the staff representative unions concerned. I call on the Minister to address the issue of the number of additional posts at principal officer level and above, which are to be created. How many will be created in Waterford?

In his reply the Minster also indicated that he has no plans to decentralise the headquarters of the Land Registry. I have no difficulty in supporting the motion as far as the words "and further calls on the Minister to decentralise the Land Registry.". It calls for this "so that applications from surrounding catchment counties will henceforth be dealt with by established Land Registry offices in the regions.". On 7 March Deputy Jim Higgins suggested decentralising the Land Registry so that Land Registry offices strategically positioned in the regions would be able to serve the surrounding catchment areas. He went on to ask the Minister if he did not agree that it would make sense to locate an office in the midlands, the west and the south-west in addition to the office in Waterford. As a Deputy representing Waterford I strongly take issue with this proposal. Deputy Flanagan went further when he suggested that the Leinster counties be removed from the remit of the Waterford office. Of the ten counties administered from Waterford, five are Leinster counties.

Returning to Deputy Jim Higgins's proposal, the south-west counties Cork and Kerry and the midlands counties Laois and Offaly are dealt with from Waterford. The net effect of his proposal would be to weaken decentralisation that has already taken place in Waterford to the benefit of areas that have already gained handsomely through decentralisation. The criticisms made by Deputy Flanagan of the office in Waterford – I will not accept any criticism of the excellent staff there who are working in very difficult circumstances – appear to be based on the Minister's inaction in that he has not provided sufficient staff nor a stamping facility. As a solicitor and member of the Law Society, Deputy Flanagan's criticisms that the staff in Waterford has not received sufficient training must be listened to.

As part of the Government's programme of decentralisation a further 10,000 Civil Service positions are to leave Dublin. Common sense dictates that instead of fragmenting the Land Registry it should be decentralised in its entirety to Waterford. The office located there which, by the Minster's description, is a constituent office of the Land Registry is effectively being downgraded by the recent proposals for additional staff. I take issue with the Minister on this point. Waterford does not have an office manager, although it now appears such a position may be created. Apart from that it is clear that the vast majority of the new senior positions are for Dublin and I challenge the Minister to deny it.

This development is all the more serious against the background of the conversion of the Land Registry to semi-State status. If it is the Minister's intention to have the Land Registry up and running as a semi-State body by the end of next year, this looks like the last tranche of additional staff it will get. The logic of the Minister's position escapes me. If the senior staff members are to be allocated mainly to Dublin that will result in the effective downgrading of Waterford in comparative terms. There is no argument against that.

With 386.5 staff in Dublin and 151 in Waterford there is a built-in majority in favour of Dublin. The head office function is in Dublin. The career path in the Waterford office is and will remain constricted because the top promotional posts will be in Dublin and not Waterford, including the posts of registrar, deputy registrar, manager, financial controller, IT manager, senior assistant registrar, junior assistant registrar, assistant manager, AP senior systems analysts and HEO systems analysts.

The only way to ensure the future of the Land Registry in Waterford is to decentralise it in total, including the head office, to Waterford. There is not an insurmountable obstacle to doing this. All that is needed is the political will. It is not the Waterford office of the Land Registry that has reduced to just one hour per day, the time in which it accepts telephone calls from the public.

Why must the proposed new Land Registry building be located in Dublin? I take it that funding is being put in place to finance it through the additional charges. Will the Minister be more clear than in his reply to my parliamentary question yesterday? What stage is the Office of Public Works at in terms of acquiring the new site in Dublin? Can he indicate if a price has been agreed and has a deal been concluded? At what stage is planning permission for the new building if a site has been identified, or is it only at the stage where the Office of Public Works is looking at the market to see if a site can be secured? I am concerned that many years may pass before there is a new building. It does not have to be in Dublin.

What about Cork?

Cork has enough. It has the Central Statistics Office. In comparison with Cork, Waterford has not done well. The Deputy's area can try to grab what rightfully should be ours but the people of Waterford will not be fooled by that approach. That type of fool-acting has no place in what is a serious discussion. The Land Registry can be located anywhere and that is more the case with information technology.

I reject any accusations by the Minister that I am making mischief or stirring up rumours. If the Minister listened, I could explain what I mean. I will repeat it now that the Minister is listening. I will not accept any lecture—

I heard the Deputy.

The Minister must have hearing in both ears.

He has, the same as the rest of us.

Yes, to listen to two people at the same time.

The Deputy did not ensure there was decentralisation to Waterford when his party was in Government with Fianna Fáil.

I was a Minister of State when decentralisation was put in place. The decentralisation of the Land Registry took place just after the Government of which I was a member went out of office. The Minister should not try that one. I will not accept any allegation of mischief making or of spreading rumours. It is an incontrovertible fact that the office in Waterford is being downgraded in that the vast majority of the senior positions are going to Dublin. I am sure the Minister will agree that, if and when the semi-State board is set up and is given the instruction and mandate to operate on a commercial basis, decisions can be taken at that time. With the inbuilt staff majority I have already described to him, the position of Waterford is vulnerable.

I would be grateful if the Minister could give me some clarification about higher executive officer and assistant principal officer posts which are to be filled in the Land Registry. How many people in Waterford are eligible for those posts? How many of those posts will be filled in Waterford? The Minister knows as well as I do that the vast majority of the posts will go to Dublin. The Minister should not indulge in lectures about scaremongering. The situation in Waterford is now being copperfastened against the prospect of a semi-State body being in place next year. Is it likely that the semi-State body will decide to decentralise any of its head office or decision-making functions to Waterford? The Minister said that the Waterford office is a constituent office of the Land Registry. Is there any decision-making process in Waterford in terms of the overall administration of the Land Registry? The Minister knows as well as I do that there is not. I appeal to him to support the decentralisation of the Land Registry to Waterford. Let us forget all the Minister said about history. The buck stops with him. Is he prepared to take on board my proposal that the entire Land Registry should be decentralised to Waterford?

Some of the points which arose during the debate were interesting. Obviously, we cannot comment on the legislation until it is published and we are in a position to examine it. The argument about whether the semi-State body is the way forward is not something on which the book is closed but is something which we must continue to examine to see what is best in the context of Waterford.

I will not support the Fine Gael motion. I have no problem with the earlier parts of it, but to support the latter part would be to support a position which would be detrimental to my constituency. The Government amendment is a general absolution for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He has presided over the Land Registry, the backlog in which has been described as a national embarrassment and where there have been huge increases in delays in dealing with applications. There is no getting away from the fact that he has presided over that. The Minister would say that there has been a huge increase in conveyancing and the number of transactions. While that is the case, surely it did not happen without the Government's knowledge. The Government commissioned the two Bacon reports and is reputedly examining the area of housing. Yet, the insinuation or suggestion seems to be that this situation crept up on the Government and that it did not have sufficient time to deal with it.

When the Minister was in Opposition, he was the merciless scourge of the Government. Whatever went wrong or whatever breakdown occurred in terms of policing, prisons or the administration of justice, he was a fine, merciless scourge. He said that there was no way these things should happen and that there had to be accountability.

I appreciate the tribute.

My party was the first to table a no confidence motion in the Minister last November. What has happened in the interim, primarily in terms of asylum seekers, promised legislation, the security industry and, most of all, ordinary citizens who suffer greatly from vandalism, harassment—

Crime has decreased by 21% since the Government took office.

The Central Statistics Office, in its figures, does not agree with the Minister. There is a high level of unreported crime.

I would say there always was.

It is your job to see that crime is reported and dealt with. It is no use talking about the past, Minister. You are there—

Address your remarks through the Chair, please, Deputy.

If you would ask the Minister to stop interrupting, it might help matters, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

There might be fewer interruptions if Members addressed their remarks through the Chair.

I have only corrected the record.

The record is that there has been a sickening increase in gangland murders recently. What has the Minister done about that?

We dealt with this two weeks ago and the Minister wiped the floor with the Opposition.

It does not go away.

Deputy O'Shea, your time has concluded.

Opposition Members had to hang their heads in shame.

There has been a sickening increase in gangland murders, regardless of whether Deputy O'Flynn likes it, and what has the Minister done about it?

Deputy O'Flynn wishes to share his time with Deputies McGuinness, Brendan Smith, Killeen, Kenneally, Fleming, Michael Kitt, Michael Ahern and Batt O'Keeffe.

I wish the Opposition would debate items of greater importance than this one. The Minister has already decided to improve the services of the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds. I cannot reconcile the Opposition's criticism of the Minister's initiative at the same time as it demands that steps are taken to improve the service.

Deputy O'Shea spoke about locating the new offices of the Land Registry in Waterford. I stake my claim as well and suggest to the Minister and the Minister of State that, were a part of the Land Registry to be relocated, they should consider the picturesque village of Blarney in County Cork, in the constituency of Cork North-Central. There is currently a site available for that office and I will write to the Minister to ask him to consider this proposal. I thank Deputy O'Shea for the suggestion.

I realise the Deputy is very scarce on them.

I agree with the statistics the Opposition has quoted in relation to the record backlog of over 80,000 applications pending. I fully support the view that the unnecessary delays endured by purchasers of new homes and sites need to be tackled. The Minister has taken steps to provide a solution to the Opposition's dilemma. Why does it now criticise the Minister for doing what it requested him to do? The logic behind this motion escapes me. The necessary legislation is currently being put in place to convert the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds to a semi-State commercial body. Change had to be made.

In 1993 the number of property transactions dealt with at the Land Registry was over 91,000. This mushroomed to over 130,000 applications, dealt with by approximately the same number of staff, in 1999. The vast explosion in demand for service has resulted in arrears of over 86,000 applications carried forward into this millennium. Change has resulted in a 35% increase in turnover at the registry. The Minister made a case to the Department of Finance for the recruitment of a substantial number of additional staff for the Land Registry and sanction has been given to increase staffing in the office to 77 people.

The service to customers in the greater Dublin area is computerised. Only a limited number of folios in the western region have been computerised to date and that is the main reason for the different levels of service currently enjoyed in both regions. The wider implications of the new title, registration information system, in conjunction with the employment of additional staff will alleviate the backlog in the western region.

I note the points the Opposition has made on increased fees. As we are all aware, no increase in fees took place since 1991. The increase in fee structure is proportionate to the rate of inflation since 1991. Under its new semi-State format the service must operate on a sound commercial basis. A view has been aired that major increases are taking place, but that is not the case. Fees are reduced for certain transactions and are to be reduced for the registration of charges and transfers. There is a fixed fee per transaction under the new fees system. It is structured so that inequities that have been complained about are removed. The general level of increase for the services of the Registry of Deeds is in line with inflation.

I ask the Opposition to support the Minister in the transition of this body into a commercially sound semi-State body which will deliver the service required in this millennium.

The motion before us is almost a continuation of the weekly whinge we hear from the Opposition about issues which, though they may have to be debated, are not among the more important ones. This motion is almost a contradiction. While the Opposition asks for increased facilities and greater efficiency, it is not willing to accept the charges that sometimes come with such efficiencies. It is historic that there is such a backlog in the Land Registry. There has been a problem in this area for as long as I can remember.

The Minister is to be commended once again on his pro-active approach by increasing the number of staff to 77 to deal with the problem. That will surely result in greater efficiency in the Land Registry and eliminate the 80,000 applications outstanding. Given that the economy is moving at such a rapid pace and there are so many applications before the Land Registry, it is reasonable to accept that there would be a backlog. However, I do not accept that the Minister, Deputy O'Donoghue, is to blame for the inefficiency of previous years. That did not happen yesterday or today, but since Fianna Fáil took office the Minister has dealt with the problem.

Opposition Members cannot have their cake and eat it. There must be some increase in fees. There must be some change, and the changes put forward by the Minister are reasonable and will deal with the problem. I hope that in this area, as in many other areas of Government, we will see a greater move towards the use of information technology so that the consumer can deal with this problem on the Internet and there is no need for the queues and backlogs that currently exist.

The sooner we reach the point where we have "e-Government", where people can transact their business without coming to the office, the better will be the position for us all. It will lead to greater efficiency and greater value for money in terms of the spend in the Department.

I commend the Minister on the steps he has taken in this regard which will lead to greater efficiency. Opposition members should support him rather than sit on their hands whingeing.

Hear, hear.

I am glad the Fine Gael and Labour parties are late converts to the idea of decentralisation because, as you know, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Fine Gael and Labour, when in Government, prevented the programme of decentralisation in the early 1980s. Fortunately in the meantime Fianna Fáil, in successive Governments, has implemented a successful decentralisation programme, and Waterford and the Land Registry are some of the beneficiaries.

Given that so many bids have been made tonight in regard to further decentralisation of the Land Registry, there will probably be none of the registry left to be transferred to Cavan or Monaghan. I would gladly and willingly accept decentralisation of any other section of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to County Cavan. If it is practical, we would be delighted to have the new Courts Service or the new Prisons Service in the county. As there is already an institution in Loughan House in Blacklion, the headquarters and entire body of the new Prisons Service would be a welcome addition to the Cavan area.

All of us, as public representatives, experience frustration and delays in dealing with transactions in the Land Registry, but in making representations over the years I have always received the utmost help from the officials in the registry who go out of their way to process, as rapidly as possible, titles that need to be provided urgently. We all experience frustration, particularly people with local authority houses where the title to the property is not easily found. Unfortunately, delays are experienced in constructing local authority houses due to the lack of proper title going back some generations.

The Minister has quite cogently outlined the effective measures he has implemented and is implementing to effectively tackle the backlog. He quite rightly introduced the review of fees and the new fees structure represents a balanced system in terms of the revenue that needs to be generated. When Fianna Fáil was in Government in September 1990 it established the Land Registry as a semi-State body. That decision was welcomed by the various interests involved. It is important that that body is able to operate on a sound commercial footing. The fees, new structures and new technology must be put in place to ensure that the new body operates effectively and in a way that it can generate revenue for further investment, leading to greater efficiency.

The Land Registry is one of the agencies of the State which does a significant amount of work, usually behind closed doors and unnoticed. It is only when there is a backlog we realise its importance in both historical and economic terms. I have had many dealings with the Land Registry in recent years. I commend the officers with whom I dealt for their professionalism and courtesy and for the level of information they make available. I am surprised the tone of this debate suggests that the Land Registry is a difficult arm of the State with which to deal because that has not been my experience.

I understand this is the first fee increase since 1991. The figures I have seen do not seem excessive. I welcome the considerable investment in information technology infrastructure which is the way forward. I also welcome the fact it will be a commercial semi-State body in the not too distant future. There are good reasons to proceed that way. There have been dramatic changes in conveyancing and in the property market and the fees charged must be sufficient to enable the Land Registry to operate in this commercial environment.

My experience of dealing with the Land Registry suggests that people are more concerned about speed and efficiency than costs. Delays are costly for some people. The current delays are due to historical factors and to the large increase in property transactions. Heretofore, the fees represented only a fraction of the cost of processing an application. An increase of £50 on the transfer of property valued at between £40,000 and £200,000 cannot be described as excessive. There must also be benefits from the core staff increase of 77 which was necessary. The number of property transactions in 1993 was more than 90,000 and this increased to 133,000 in 1999.

I look forward to the full computerisation of folios in the west which means that applications will be dealt with more speedily. The modest fees have been reduced in some cases, although that was not mentioned here this evening. The recommendations in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report must be dealt with as soon as possible.

I must respond to the extraordinary remarks of my constituency colleague, Deputy O'Shea, earlier this evening. I was surprised at what he said because he is normally a responsible person. I was amazed at the way he appeared to undermine the way the Waterford office operates. I have spoken to a number of the staff in the Land Registry office in Waterford and they are angry at the way they are being portrayed and at the witch-hunt against them which is totally without foundation, as the Minister said on numerous occasions. A training programme was put in place for the staff in Waterford and it has been a success. The new staff are already performing to a high standard. A state of the art training and conference facility has also been provided there.

It is rich to hear anyone in the Labour Party or in Fine Gael speak about decentralisation. They must have short memories because they scrapped the decentralisation programme when they were in Government a number of years ago. It is too much to see them crying crocodile tears about decentralisation.

It was suggested that there is a discrepancy in the number of people transferring to Waterford. The Minister said he is increasing the number of staff from 150 to 162, not downgrading the office and reducing the numbers. There are six executive officers, three clerical officers and three other officers of grades to be determined.

That was not the answer I got yesterday.

I am happy that part of the Land Registry was located in Waterford despite the mischievous rumours. The Minister has assured us he has no intention of downgrading that office. The Minister's actions have been to consolidate and to improve Waterford where possible. The staff in Waterford have performed exceptionally well and they have enhanced the city.

I understand that of the 77 staff sanctioned 45 will be brought on stream immediately. I agree with Deputy O'Shea that more of the Land Registry office should be decentralised to Waterford as it would be good for the Land Registry and for the city. The south-east in general and Waterford city in particular have a lot to offer. Many of those who come to Waterford to work in a variety of capacities are reluctant to leave.

I view this Opposition motion as an attempt to embarrass the Minister. It is unproductive and futile and does not suggest this is a serious parliamentary Opposition. I have no difficulty supporting the amendment tabled by the Minister. There is nothing worse in the public service or elsewhere than a lame duck underfunded body. That is what the Land Registry is destined to become if it is not given the realistic increases necessary. On too many occasions increases in public sector services have been deferred with the result that they begin to creak at the seams and they do not serve the people adequately. When the necessary steep fee increases are then introduced, they are seen as exorbitant. The Minister is bringing the Land Registry service into the 21st century. To deny him the mechanisms and funds necessary to do that is to deny the people an effective and essential part of our legal system.

The Land Registry is a good and efficient service which can and will be improved through the appointment of necessary staff. To ensure a reasonably smooth transition to the commercial semi-State sector in the future, it is necessary to take action on resources now. To refuse or neglect to do that would be to sabotage a necessary service and to deprive the people of their rights. I support the amendment to ensure that does not happen.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion on the Land Registry office. I support the general thrust of the Minister's approach to establish the Land Registry office as a commercial semi-State body which is long overdue. It will lead to greater efficiencies in the Land Registry office when it has its own independent status and is in a position to charge a commercial rate for a commercial job and deliver a good commercial service to the public whom it serves.

I deplore the motion because it seeks to defer the long overdue and necessary increases in the fees payable for Land Registry activities. I also oppose the amendment tabled by Deputy O'Shea who is against the establishment of regional offices in other areas of the country.

The Minister will introduce the property registration authority of Ireland Bill this year. I have asked him to deal in that legislation with one long-standing anomaly in relation to land registration, particularly in Counties Laois and Offaly which are in my constituency. I call on the Minister to ensure that Counties Laois and Offaly are put on the maps in the Land Registry office. There is a long-standing anomaly whereby the Land Registry official records refer to County Laois as Queen's County and to County Offaly as King's County. As recently as last Monday I received copies of documents from the Land Registry office which mentioned Queen's County and King's County. I understand there are historical reasons this was not changed before now. It is offensive to them that they are still labouring under this old terminology in County Laois.

The change must be implemented and I hope the Minister will make one exception in the legislation as regards commercial activity. Due to the sensitivity of the issue I have highlighted, I hope that people in Laois and Offaly who want folios for their houses transferred to Counties Laois and Offaly from Queen's County and King's County will not be charged, as we should not be asked to pay for putting our county names on our folios.

I hope the legislation will consider locating a regional Land Registry office in County Laois to serve the midland region because of its central location. I congratulate the Minister on the progress made and fully support him on this matter.

There should be no objection to a review of fees charged by the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds. We are preparing the registries for commercial semi-State status and that is the right direction for the Minister to go. However, I am concerned at delays in dealing with title and registration applications in the Land Registry. One can see the effects of the property market, even in rural Ireland, where individual houses are built on family farms. The problem of land holdings, perhaps divided by the Land Commission, is relevant to County Galway and other western counties and successive Governments have not dealt effectively with the transfer of the Land Commission to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

There is also a difficulty regarding commonages which are not divided. On occasion it is difficult to obtain agreement on the shares in commonages. I made representations to the Land Registry on behalf of a young constituent regarding registration of a family farm site on which he wished to build a house. It transpired that this was a Land Commission holding and that his father was not even registered for the land. This was not the fault of the Land Registry but it is an indication of the serious situation which arises with former Land Commission holdings.

Staff in the Land Registry are most helpful when dealing with difficult cases and I commend them for this approach. They should continue to give priority to people building a house, otherwise people will have to pay large amounts of bridging finance to financial institutions. I support the call to decentralise the Land Registry. Decentralisation has always been Fianna Fáil policy and I would welcome the relocation of a Department to east Galway. There should be no need for people in rural areas such as the west to have to obtain maps from the Land Registry in Dublin. This causes delays which result in further delays in the payment of EU pensions and extensification grants.

I welcome the Minister's announcement of extra staff for the Land Registry. Sanction has been given to increase the core number of staff by 77 which will improve the level of service for which the Minister should be congratulated. The new fees will have little effect on the cost of a typical property in comparison with costs associated with the purchase of the property and other costs. Some fees, such as transfers, will be reduced and no one could justify a free service for builders and solicitors concerning a large scheme such as a multi-storey development. This is the first review of fees since 1991 and, in the circumstances, it is long overdue.

We are debating a motion which displays two sides of the Fine Gael Party. Deputy Jim Mitchell is the value for money guru yet Deputy Hayes has tabled a motion which eschews value for money. There has been no increase in Land Registry fees since 1991, yet there has been a vast increase in the value of properties transferred, sold and so on. The State has provided the service at a flat rate, despite the comments of some members of the Opposition. The fee was the same whether the property transferred was worth £100,000 or £1 million and no reasonable person would argue that this should be the case. There has also been a reduction in some of the fees charged with regard to the registration of charges and fees for transfers, but this has not been mentioned.

The Land Registry has done a tremendous job for many years, particularly the Cork section based in Waterford, and I have nothing but praise for those working in that area. The amount of work carried out by the Land Registry has increased enormously over the past few years, a fact of which the Minister and the Government have been cognisant. The Minister has approved an additional 77 staff for the Land Registry and this is an important step, given the increased level of construction in the past few years.

I commend the Minister for his work in establishing the Land Registry as a semi-State body. This step has been spoken about for 15 years and the Minister has finally grasped the nettle to bring the Land Registry into the modern age.

Deputy O'Shea reminds me of a waddling duck which does not know whether it wants to enter the water or stay on land. However, the Deputy will sink if he continues to denigrate staff in the Land Registry. This motion represents political opportunism on the part of Fine Gael which avoided decentralising Departments when it had an opportunity to do so. The Land Registry is being established as a semi-State body which will be cost effective—

On a point of order, will the Deputy indicate any comment I made which denigrated staff in the Land Registry?

That is not a point of order.

The Minister is increasing staff numbers in the Land Registry. He has also introduced a computer system and every effort is being made to ensure that the registry keeps pace with the Celtic tiger. Some Deputies denigrated staff in the Land Registry yet did not mention that special arrangements can be made with solicitors in cases of hardship. Neither did they mention that 1,200 solicitors are now dealing via the Internet using the computer system which ensures an efficient response.

In addition, no one mentioned that Kildare and Wicklow will be on the Internet by the middle of next year or that the Land Registry also hopes to add Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Kerry to the Internet next year. This is progress and when the Land Registry becomes a commercial, State-sponsored body it will be willing and able to meet the demands of customers. We should recognise this fact and exhort everyone in the Land Registry. We should also thank them for the service they are delivering and ensure that the recruitment drive is completed on time so that the service will be of a standard we would all wish to see provided. The Minister is the one person who cannot be held responsible for this issue. No previous Minister tackled this issue to the same extent as Deputy O'Donoghue.

(Mayo): Things are getting worse.

Fine Gael forgets that there were 20,000 Land Registry transactions in arrears when it left office. That was part of the remit at the time but nothing was done. Now when the Minister is taking the issue by the scruff of the neck and trying to improve conditions for workers by decentralising to Waterford and installing modern software, the Opposition still criticises.

(Mayo): It has been a disaster.

We should be encouraging the workers in the Land Registry and thanking the Minister.

All credit is due to the staff who work in the Land Registry. They are a credit to the Civil Service, the jewel in the crown of the staff working for the State. The conditions in and pressure under which they work are a disgrace. There is a 16 month delay in processing applications at present. At the end of 1999, 90,000 applications were outstanding. Deputy Batt O'Keeffe should take note of that. The number of applications has doubled since the Government entered office but the Land Registry is still badly understaffed.

In the past eight years there has been a 44% increase in the number of transactions taking place but in that time not one additional staff member has been recruited to the Land Registry. The staff cannot cope at present with the demands being put on them by young couples who want to transfer a site to their name so they can secure a mortgage and build a house. This puts immense pressure on building land in the State and causes development costs to rise.

Queries from County Roscommon are only dealt with between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays and only then if someone remembers to switch off the answering machines. The official involved will then tell the caller that, although the file is in front of him, he does not have time to look at it for at least a fortnight. The staff simply cannot deal with the demands being placed on them.

To add insult to injury, the Minister is now going to increase the charge by between £50 and £250 for a service which grows slower by the day. The Minister is completely out of touch with the current situation. He talks about increasing charges when the Land Registry made a profit of £3.5 million in 1998 and £5 million in 1999.

This service should remain within the State sector and not be turned into a semi-State body. The documents belong to the people of the State and should not be given to a body which, if the Government continues along the same path, will be privatised. Privatisation would ensure that people will not have the same access to the papers and that there would be no accountability. The Minister could not tell Members of this House why applications are not being processed.

I endorse the idea of decentralisation to regional offices. Roscommon would be an ideal location for such an office. We have to wait between eight and ten months for an application to be processed. Why should we have to go to Dublin to resolve dealings with the Land Registry?

The old Land Commission is now part of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. It is an utter disgrace that for the entire western seaboard there are only two staff to deal with queries which may go back 12 years because the old Land Commission never properly transferred deeds into the new land owners' names. The situation is unacceptable and causes further delays to the Land Registry. The Department should wake up and grant proper resources to the Land Commission. Its staff are trying to deal with outdated paper work which should have been completed years ago.

In my constituency there is an elderly woman in severe financial difficulty. She sold a site to a neighbour but cannot receive payment because the Land Commission did not transfer it into her husband's name. He had bought it from a neighbour who has since died. That has caused chaos for 18 months and will continue to do so for at least another six months. This adds to the delays which already exist but the Government does not have the competence to resolve the issue. It is time the Government woke up to the situation and granted proper resources to the Land Registry.

I compliment my colleague, Deputy Jim Higgins, on tabling this motion. The reason he did so is not simply to criticise the Govern ment. We have to do our job as an Opposition. We are complaining because we are all inundated with complaints from solicitors and people waiting for months to complete their dealings with the Land Registry.

The Government talks about waiting lists. There were two Ministers in the Department of Health and Children, the senior Minister, Deputy Cowen, and the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and there were 38,000 people on waiting lists. I compliment the Taoiseach on the good job he did in getting rid of the two of them. Now in housing there is another Minister with waiting lists, and I ask the Taoiseach to get rid of him. There is a Minister in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform who faces a waiting list of 90,000 applications. The Taoiseach should get rid of him as well because that is the only answer.

Now the Government has a new solution, a Fianna Fáil solution to a Fianna Fáil problem. Fianna Fáil has been in Government for 11 of the past 13 years. Fianna Fáil Ministers have created many problems in the Land Registry in the course of those 11 years. We cannot get rid of all the Ministers but we must get rid of some of them. This is a serious problem and something must be done to resolve it. As Deputy Naughten said, the pressure under which the staff in the Land Registry work is obvious to anyone who visits. It is not often that I have good things to say about Civil Service staff, but I compliment these people who work in such dangerous conditions. It is wrong that they have to work in an out of date building.

The Department digitises its offices in Dublin and then in Cork. What about the west? We are left until last again. Why are we always left until last? Why were Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo and Leitrim not digitised first? Why are we treated as second class citizens?

If a person went into a hotel and the room was dirty, and that person ordered breakfast for the next morning and it did not arrive for two years, the hotel would not be able to raise its fees. The Minister should not increase fees in the Land Registry if people have to wait as long as a constituent of mine. On 8 December 1999 the person sent an application to the Land Registry and received a reply on 14 March 2000, 99 days later, telling him it had further queries. That is like passing back to the goalkeeper in football, kicking into touch and keeping the pressure off, and it is not acceptable. If people are paying for a service, it should work. When people apply for registration, it should be dealt with.

If the Land Commission is dealing with a query, it is best to forget about it because it will take ten or 11 years to deal with. The Minister of the day should put the staff in place in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. For three years I have been tabling questions on this matter. The Minister told me some months ago that there would be extra staff in place. We want extra staff and greater efficiency.

Farming these bodies out to the semi-State sector is the Government's answer when it makes a mess of something. We cannot then ask questions about it in the Dáil. If a Member writes to a Minister next year, after the body has joined the semi-State sector, the answer will be that the Minister has no responsibility. That is the best answer the Government can give. The Government has responsibility and my party and I will oppose the transfer of the Land Registry to the semi-State sector.

I call the four Independent Members white sheep. They back nothing. They are just talk, talk, talk, supported by the media. They promise everything at home but when they come here the four white sheep march with the Government, no matter what the issue. I am sick and tired of being abused by young people who are paying for its services but who are not getting these services from the State. I say to the Minister, the Government and the backbenchers who have all disappeared, who are like a football team when losing and have pulled back—

I am reluctant to intervene but the Deputy has used his five minutes.

I am very disappointed because I was only getting into full flight but I think I have made my point.

It is very hard to follow that. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this motion. Over recent years, we, as public representatives, have dealt with queries regarding the Land Registry. Total and utter frustration has been expressed by a large number of people awaiting information from the Land Registry. Solicitors, young people trying to build houses and people retiring early from farming contact us because there is an undue and inordinate delay in the Land Registry office. People in that office say it is because of a lack of staff while the Minister will say it is a lack of resources because the Government proposes extra charges. Looking at this from a business perspective, few companies would try to charge someone more money and provide less of a service.

I do not know from where the Government is coming on this issue. As Deputy Ring stated, there is not much point changing it to a semi-State body. All we are looking for is an efficient, well run organisation which people can contact to find out what is happening regarding dealings and registry numbers.

In my home county of Leitrim, the situation is intolerable and unjust. The Land Registry takes telephone calls for one hour each day. That is incredible. The Minister came to the House and said people will be charged extra even though they are only allowed to telephone for one hour each day. It is incredible to think that in this day and age a Government would make such a pro posal. Extra staff should be allocated to the Land Registry.

We talk about the consumer and say that the consumer is king. If the consumer cannot get the information, there is no point having such a facility available. I call on the Government not to go ahead with this farcical proposal, to reduce charges and to immediately increase the number of staff in the Land Registry. If the Government wishes to increase charges, it should do so only when Joe Public is happy there is a proper service.

It is unfair, particularly to young people who find it difficult to buy property at the best of times, to increase Land Registry charges. It places more financial strain on young couples and that is not what the Government should be doing. I call on the Government not to introduce this proposal, to allocate extra staff to the Land Registry as a matter of urgency and then consider the charges. I ask the Minister to intervene because the people of County Leitrim are entitled to more than one hour's telephone communication with the Land Registry. I hope a proper telephone service will be provided to all the counties affected.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion. It is disappointing to hear speakers from the Government side back a system which has utterly failed. The fact that there are over 80,000 applications in the Land Registry speaks for itself. Any Minister or Government worth their salt would be ashamed to have to come to the House to put forward feeble opposition to this motion. If the Government was interested in sorting out this problem, it would accept this motion and would deal with the problem immediately.

The national development plan was announced a few months ago and there were banner headlines about the billions of pounds which would be spent over the next couple of years. If the Land Registry office is not operating effectively, everything clogs up, which is what is happening. TDs, including Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats TDs, are aware of the situation. People come to my clinic as well as to those of every other TD pleading to get the Land Registry to deal with their problems. Some people have had to wait years. In one case, a man had to wait ten years because the problem was a Land Commission one originally. I do not know what has happened with Land Commission estates. They were not transferred at the time. A lady who wants to apply for the farm retirement pension cannot do so because the matter is stuck in the Land Registry.

There is no doubt that staff there are extremely helpful if one can get them. As Deputy Reynolds rightly said, one cannot even get through to the office. One can telephone China on the other side of the world but one cannot get through to the Land Registry office. This is called progress and is part of the national development plan about which we hear. One cannot even make a telephone call to know whether one's site or piece of land is going through. I do not understand how the opinion polls are showing increases in the popularity of the Government and the Taoiseach. The waiting lists for housing, health services and in the Land Registry are a disgrace and any Government which stands over them does not deserve to be re-elected.

The very valid criticisms of the Land Registry service that I offer in support of this motion are directed at this and, indeed, previous Governments which failed to respond to the obvious needs of the service and not at the overworked staff who in the past seven years have been endeavouring to cope with an increase in transaction traffic in the order of 46%. The Minister's announcement in early February of additional staff, while welcome, does not adequately address the ever-mounting crisis in the Land Registry service.

I represent in this House the counties of Cavan and Monaghan and these are two of the 16 counties listed for restricted service whereby access to the Land Registry for queries and business by telephone is confined to a single hour per day, between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday. I have found, as many Deputies have already said, that this is very restrictive, with consequent difficulties for myself and those I have endeavoured to assist.

Very recently I was saddened to attend the funeral of a constituent in County Cavan, an elderly lady who had endeavoured to regularise her affairs with the deterioration of her health. Her efforts to have a new folio drafted, as her interest was not previously registered, requiring a mapping of the property, were sadly unfruitful before the expiry of her time in this life. The experience was a disappointing backdrop to her last months, and I was very much aware of that. This is the reality of the distress caused by the delays of, in some cases, up to 15 months in processing cases. On the other end of life's story are the countless young couples who are faced with the trauma of delay after delay causing unnecessary anxiety and stress.

I specifically suppport the call in this motion and find it odd that any Member would suggest opposing it, that emphasises that a time limit of four months should apply to the processing of all new registration requests made of the Land Registry service. That certainly is a very reasonable target time within which to respond to the public's needs.

There has been much bantering about decentralisation and various claims and cases made, but let us consider the reality of the service that is the focus of the motion. Without doubt there is merit in the proposal to regionalise the Land Registry service in order to open up the opportunity for the public to have ease of access to the Land Registry within a catchment of counties. That is deserving of serious consideration.

I am alarmed at a continuing trend under this Government. I am unconvinced of the merit of a proposal to make the Land Registry a semi-State entity. It is not beyond the bounds of possiblity that it would then be open to consideration to move it entirely into the private sector. Has the Government lost faith in the public sector and confidence in the ability of the Civil Service to provide an efficient and effective administration of the varying sectors remaining under its stewardship? We must reaffirm confidence in the Civil Service in all its shapes and guises and we must ensure that efficiency and effectiveness become the code words and the watch words of that service in all its manifestations. To do that, the Minister and the Government should take on board the very sound and reasonable proposals and arguments put in support of this motion. I strongly support the motion.

Mr. Coveney

I congratulate Deputies Higgins and Flanagan on tabling this motion. It is one that solicitors throughout the country will be pleased is being finally debated because land registration is a process that frustrates and angers them and their clients when transferring land.

We are witnessing a conflicting and crazy scenario. On the one hand we have a housing crisis and housing shortage and, through the national development plan, we intend to build 50,000 houses per year, yet on the other hand we have a Land Registry system that is grossly under-resourced which resulted in a backlog of between 80,000 and 90,000 applications pending at the end of last year. How can we continue to build more and more houses yet not improve efficiency within the Land Registry system? Yet, that is exactly what is happening.

If that situation was not bad enough, in May we are about to witness a significant increase in the charges for land registration. I accept that the installation of a new computer system is required in the Land Registry to improve efficiency. That will be a welcome development when and if it happens. Until the service improves for customers, it is unreasonable and unrealistic to increase charges. This argument is made even stronger when one considers that the service is making significant money at present and is not under costings pressure.

The Minister said that the new fees order is necessary and reasonable because it has been nine years since the fees were last reviewed. However, a timescale of nine years in itself is no reason to increase charges. If fees for land registration are to increase, it must be as a result of improved performance. If anything, the performance has deteriorated rather than improved. Perhaps the fees system needs to be updated but it is not acceptable to increase fees, particularly at present.

The cost of buying a new house or secondhand home has never been higher due largely to demand significantly outstripping supply. Increasing Land Registry fees will add to the increase in the cost of buying a new house. The Minister said that the increase in Land Registry costs is insignificant in comparison to the overall cost of property. However, if one was to say that to a young first time buyer who is under pressure to pay a high mortgage, that person would reply that this is a cost, however small, that he or she could do without.

The quality of the customer service within the Land Registry must also be questioned. The recent decision to limit telephone queries from 16 counties, including Dublin, to between 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day makes the service about as unuser friendly as possible. The Minister said this decision was made to free up staff to do other work. That statement is nonsense. One can imagine the reaction if a private business, such as a bank, that provides a service to the public on a daily basis, suddenly decided that it would open only for one hour a day to the public because its staff was under pressure and needed time to concentrate on other work. The Land Registry is supposed to provide a service to the public. If its staff are under pressure, we need to provide more staff and improve and upgrade systems of efficiency, rather than directing staff to deal with telephone queries for only one hour a day.

I accept that some new staff appointments have been made recently by the Minister, but this measure is too little too late given the major backlog that now exists. To be efficient in the future, targets must be set for Land Registry offices. A guarantee that all applications for new registrations will be completed within a maximum of four months is a reasonable target to aim for.

I do not blame staff in Land Registry offices for delays or inefficiencies. The lack of resources available to them is the cause of the problem. To allow staff to do their job properly and to ensure an efficient and workable Land Registry system for clients, we must modernise, computerise and streamline it as much as possible in order to reduce the paperwork required and simplify the system as much as possible.

I support the call for more decentralisation of the Land Registry system to improve efficiency. For that reason, I support the motion.

I support the motion. I have had many dealings with Land Registry offices and I found their staff to be as helpful as they possibly could be given the difficult circumstances in which they work. Like many Deputies, I have visited those offices from time to time and I appreciate the conditions under which the staff work are difficult.

Decentralisation of the Land Registry has been mentioned. I make no apology for once again calling on it to be decentralised to countries like Monaghan. Access to the Land Registry offices is extremely important to enable people to deal with their queries in a much more efficient way. It is almost impossible for people to gain access to Land Registry offices in Dublin at present.

I ask the Minister to ensure that all people are treated equally in this context. Young farmers seeking installation aid often have to wait years to get the deeds they require to drawdown £5,500 or £6,000. However, a person in receipt of an EU pension does not have to go to the same lengths, although that person might be able to drawdown an amount of £100,000 over ten years. Those in receipt of social welfare can quote their PRSI number when they submit a query. Young couples who want to get a site on a family farm often have to wait years to get old deeds sorted out. The delays in processing such work must be addressed.

Given that we are now into the 21st century, it is wrong of the Minister to hark back to 1980s and blame the Government of that time for the present problems. As another speaker said, the main party in Government has been in office for 11 of the past 13 years. Therefore, it is time the Minister grew up. When he was Opposition spokesperson he was one of the best to blame everyone else for what was not being done. It is difficult to understand why the Minister would consider increasing charges at a time when such increases are not required by the organisation.

I question the Minister's proposal to covert the Land Registry into a semi-State organisation . Having had dealings with the National Roads Authority – I accept the Minister is not responsible for that organisation – I appreciate that we want organisations to be answerable to this House so that we can at least ask questions and get answers to them.

With regard to the Minister going back ten years, the important issue is that we have been talking for a long time about converting this organisation into a semi-State body. The Minister has now decided that it is time to do something about it.

A number of points were raised during the debate. The minimum fee for registration, including a mortgage of a new house, is £250, not £450 as stated by the Opposition.

There is much confusion with regard to the situation in Waterford which I would like to clarify. The enlightened decision to decentralise to Waterford was made by Fianna Fáil in Government. Under this Minister an increase in the staffing of the Waterford office, from 150 to 162, has been authorised. As the new site in Dublin has been acquired, planning is under way in conjunction with the Office of Public Works for the new headquarters. A new IT programme has been implemented. Services will be available on the Internet. This is especially important for the west because it means that solicitors can now inquire about the status of applications from the western countiesvia the Internet rather than talking to staff who should be clearing files, and practitioners have welcomed the fact that the arrears are now being addressed because staff are free from dealing with the phone calls.

A new Bill is being prepared which will consolidate existing law in this area and modernise where required. Of interest in this regard are the Registry of Deeds Act, 1707, and the Registration of Title Act, 1964. The new Bill will also give effect to the formation of the new company.

There was confusion with regard to staffing. Deputies called for an immediate increase in staffing in the Land Registry. That is in train.

Deputy Fleming referred to the fact that Land Registry official records refer to County Laois as Queen's County and to County Offaly as King's County. That is being examined.

With regard to questions raised about the Land Commission, Land Commission schedules are somewhat unusual in that once thefiat or vesting order is signed by the Land Commission, the land is deemed to be registered. Registration in the Land Registry simply records the effect of this on the schedule. The owner is the legal owner. For this reason schedules are not given the same priority as other registrations in the Land Registry, but there is no reason the land cannot be sold on. In most cases where a sale must be completed, it is given priority on request.

No cogent argument has been made for deferral or non-implementation of the fee review. If an improvement in the service is required this cannot be delivered without real investment in the organisation in order to meet the demands of the modern commercial environment. It is clear, as the Minister pointed out earlier this evening, that the way forward lies in semi-State status and that the fees review is not only an essential element but is also a fair and balanced measure.

In assessing the various contributions to the debate, what has emerged is that the course that has been mapped out for the registries is the correct one for the future of land registry in this country.

I support this motion. I compliment my colleague, Deputy Jim Higgins, on putting it forward.

I am amazed that Government backbenchers, the Minister of State and the Minister are not aware of the problems in the Land Registry. I often wonder where they go when they get into Government.

I have the highest regard for the staff of the Land Registry in Chancery where I am a regular visitor on behalf of my constituents. A visit there puts me very much in mind of the soap opera "Upstairs, Downstairs". One arrives at ground level in Chancery Street, is given a ticket on presenting one's folio number and dispatched upstairs where one receives the file one requests. One is then told to go downstairs where there is an inspection room. When one has carried out the inspection one is requested to bring the file back upstairs, or it can be left and a staff member will take it. On both journeys one could be knocked down by unfortunate staff members rushing upstairs and downstairs.

It does not surprise me in the least that the telephones are manned for only one hour a day, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. How would I, as a public representative, hold my seat in this House if I were available to my constituents for only one hour a day? How would the Minister hold her seat? How could anybody do business on that basis? How could a doctor or a solicitor carry on a practice, how could a corner shop operate, if they were only open for one hour a day? Here we have a Government body that is available to the public for one hour a day. The Minister of State can say the office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is open to people who are within reach of it but for the people of my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, it is not. This city is impossible to get into or out of. It is a nightmare, and people are being asked to travel the distance to Chancery Street to inspect files. The staff are very helpful, but the office is understaffed so that it is quite impossible to do business. It is a nightmare for a young couple who are already in the nightmare of purchasing a site on which to build a house.

The Minister of State is a good person, but is her Government aware of the number of planning applications, of the amount of development which is taking place, of the number of young people seeking to establish a home, and that every item, every detail requires a map? The country is awash with money but one will not get a penny from a lending institution until one has title deeds, and that is a nightmare for every young couple who ever went about purchasing a site. Because of the current economic climate, the vendor is quite happy to leave things as they are. He is getting his £25,000, £30,000 or £40,000 for the site and is quite happy. The pressure is on young couples to get the title deeds and their solicitor is up to his ears in work. It is a great time for the country, but it is a horrible time for young people trying to establish a home. On top of this, one can phone the Land Registry only between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Most of the time one cannot get through except to an answering machine and there is nothing more frustrating. Who else would be in business if they were available for only one hour a day?

On top of all that, the charges are being increased. We have big business, developments, multinational companies, we have it all, and it all involves land title deeds, many of which are antiquated, many of which are not up to date. However, the people we must be concerned about are young couples who are trying to establish a home, who are out in rural Ireland buying sites. This charge will fall on them and that is not acceptable.

I do not accept for one moment the comments of Government backbenchers to the effect that this is a ploy by Fine Gael because we have nothing better to do. There is nothing more important than having a properly functioning office. There are far too many waiting lists. This is the Government of waiting lists – in health, housing and now we have over 80,000 appli cations waiting to be processed with the list growing daily. We have a promise to increase staff and to put in better equipment. Promises will not deal with the current problems. The Chancery Street office is antiquated and out of date. The Minister should go out and get a green field site. He should come down to Cavan-Monaghan where we will give him good value for money. I have a preference for Cavan, but I have a regard for Monaghan too. Whether it is Cavan or Monaghan or on the border in Cootehill, an ideal location, a good green field site, the Minister should come and put up a modern office and hire staff and advisers who would be very happy to live there. They would have a whole new life and would provide a service for the people of that region which is so vitally important. I urge the Minister to take a serious look at Deputy Higgins's motion and to take its proposals on board. If he does he will be doing a good night's work for the people.

I listened with interest to what the Minister said. It has no credibility whatsoever. We have a body here that is making very substantial profits, over £5 million a year. There is no reason to increase fees as the Minister has done. It is my view, and the Minister has confirmed it this evening, the fee increase is probably contrary to the legislation, it is properly challengeable through the courts, and if it were challenged, the challenge would succeed.

The Minister has confirmed to the House this evening that the main reason for increasing the fees was in the context of preparing for moving the Land Registry to semi-State status. The Government decision of 14 December 1998 regarding an increase of 20% in fees is aimed solely at this objective. The Minister quoted the relevant legislation. Section 14 of the 1964 Act provides that the fees shall, in so far as possible, be so fixed as to produce an annual amount sufficient to discharge the salaries, remuneration and other expenses payable under and incidental to the workings of the Act. These workings are fulfilling the functions of the Land Registry. There is no question in the context of that legislation of the Government being entitled to build up a nest egg for any future plans it may have for the Land Registry.

I ask the Minister to clarify at a later stage what advice has been obtained from the Attorney General regarding the possibility of increasing the fees for this purpose. I believe the fee increase isultra vires the legislation and open to challenge in the courts and that if it was challenged, it would be held to be invalid. Aside from technical legal arguments, at a time when young people are under extra pressure in the purchase of houses, there is no basis for adding additional expense to the fees they must incur.

The Minister made a misleading statement earlier. He said the Government had made a decision in relation to increasing these fees but he did not indicate that any other decisions had been made. In the context of information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, it is clear that a Government decision has already been made to increase these fees by a further 10% next year. There is already provision for an increase some years thereafter. This is the approach of a Government which is constantly bewailing the impact on people of the substantial increase in house prices.

The Minister set out the different level of fees but the increases have upped the overall fees that are payable by the overwhelming majority of people who make house purchases. This is being done in circumstances in which the service that is being provided is grossly inadequate and inefficient. This is not a criticism of the staff of the Land Registry, but of the failure of the Government to recruit the number of staff necessary to meet the demands being made on the registry and also to adequately train the staff so that they are fully qualified to carry out the functions for which they were recruited.

Serious issues arise in terms of making the Land Registry more efficient. In the context of the overall legislation, efficiency is not a matter of satisfying the whims of the legal profession but ensuring that customers' or consumers' rights are fully and properly protected. The ordinary man and woman in the street wants his or her title to the property purchased by them registered as soon as possible and as cheaply as possible. The new legislation the Minister mentioned should contain a provision for ongoing quality control assessment. It should provide that the Director of Consumer Affairs plays a role in this and in relation to future fee increases.

The Law Society originally advocated the proposal to turn the Land Registry into a semi-State body. However, in the context of experience over the past two years, there are serious grounds for concern as to whether the public interest requires that such an arrangement be implemented. It should be reconsidered. There is not a particular reason for creating a semi-State body and imposing additional charges for the purpose of establishing a body that will no longer be accountable to this House if it fails to properly fulfil the functions for which it was established. A better system should be considered. There should be a rethink.

The additional charges being imposed are entirely unnecessary and it is a scandal that there is a huge backlog of properties and titles for registration when the body is making a substantial profit to the benefit of the State from its work. If more people were recruited to work in the Land Registry, there would be greater profit, the turnover would be more efficient and the service would be better to the benefit of the public who rely on the Land Registry to register the titles presented to it.

The Minister should revoke the Registry of Deeds fees order and instead introduce legislation to simplify the procedure for registering deeds. A simplified procedure would cost less and obviate the necessity for increasing fees in this area. There is no reason a simple Bill reforming the Registry of Deeds should not now be introduced. There is no reason to wait for the proposed Land Registry legislation. While there may be some argument for a small increase in Land Registry fees, increases should not add to the burden on first time buyers who currently are largely exempt from stamp duty. They should also be exempt from Land Registry fees. These fees should not act as a further catalyst to an already overheated property market. Essentially, the Minister has imposed additional fees in circumstances where they are unnecessary, on consumers who are not fully aware of the nature of the decision made by the Minister or who do not fully understand the financial impact on them of that decision.

(Mayo): The fact that 24 Deputies considered it worthwhile to contribute to the debate speaks for itself. It shows how serious and relevant this matter is to so many areas of life and to Deputies in their constituencies. I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate although there was a marked contrast between the 14 contributions supporting the motion from members of the Labour Party, Deputy Ó Caoláin of Sinn Féin and the 12 Fine Gael Deputies and the ten contributions from Fianna Fáil Deputies. Most of those ten Deputies defended the indefensible, with the exception of Deputy Michael Kitt who was frank, honest and realistic. The others trotted out the same ritual diatribe churned out by the Government script factory.

The motion was tabled because the service is not delivering and there is a 65 week waiting list. A total of 16 counties now have a telephone service for one hour a week. Matters which should take approximately 24 hours to process are taking months and it takes years to check out and regularise title. The figure given earlier was 86,000 at the end of last year. However, the Minister gave me the actual figures at 4 p.m. today. These show the number for Clare, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo is 20,740. The number for Dublin is 15,000 while the number for Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Longford, Meath and Monaghan is 16,211. The figure for Cork is 10,400 while the number for Kerry, Limerick and Waterford is 9,162. The number for Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Tipperary and Wexford is 17,557 while the figure for Kildare and Wicklow is 5006. The previous total of 86,000 in December 1999 is now 95,324.

As and from 4 April, there will be industrial action in the mapping section of the Land Registry. This industrial action has been notified to the Minister's Department and from 4 April there will not be co-operation in terms of utilising new technology. One can imagine the chaos this will cause.

The Opposition has been extremely constructive. There has been nothing negative and no attempt to do down the Government other than to appraise the Minister of the reality of an office that comes under his command. We have been positive, constructive and reasonable. As Deputy Ó Caoláin said, we have set down reasonable targets within which certain services can be delivered. We are seeking more staff and greater efficiency. We are seeking a faster turnover and reasonable deadlines and the freezing of fees in the interim.

The Government will vote down the motion but the battle will not end there. The Government is mistaken if it thinks the battle will be over if it buries our motion. The battle has not begun and we will continue the fight until we achieve what this motion sets out to achieve, namely, reasonable deadlines and reasonable targets on which any organisation operating under the aegis of a Department should be able to deliver. On decentralisation, this motion does not have any designs on the office in Waterford. Apart from having one office in Dublin to serve the Dublin catchment area, we are seeking, through this motion, to have the rest of the Land Registry services taken into the provinces where they will be more accessible.

Amendment put.

Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.

Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cullen, Martin.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Fox, Mildred. Gildea, Thomas.

Tá–continued

Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.

Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Rourke, Mary.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.

Níl

Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.Carey, Donal.Clune, Deirdre.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deasy, Austin.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Flanagan, Charles.

Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McGahon, Brendan.McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Naughten, Denis.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.Owen, Nora.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Yates, Ivan.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Barrett and Sheehan.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 2 not moved.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.