That Dáil Éireann:
— shall consider the Report of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach entitled, Engagement with Investment Funds, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 15th March 2018;
— notes the continuing, unsuccessful efforts of the Joint Committee to engage with unregulated private investment funds and regulated credit service firms and regrets the position of these entities in declining invitations from the Joint Committee to attend hearings of the Joint Committee and to be accountable to Parliament;
— acknowledges the support of the Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland in calling for the unregulated private investment funds and regulated credit service firms to attend at Joint Committee on the basis that "firms with a serious role in the Irish economy have a social responsibility to account for themselves before the Committee";
— notes the information provided by the Department of Finance detailing the level of engagement with the funds industry from 2013 to 2016 detailing approximately 125 relevant meetings held, thus demonstrating the level of interaction between the funds industry and the Department over those years; and
— calls on the Government to implement the recommendations contained in paragraphs 17 and 18 of the Report, namely:
— to cease all engagement with unregulated private investment funds and regulated credit service firms until these entities are accountable to Parliament; and
— to introduce legislation for the regulation of all unregulated entities operating in the Irish mortgage market in order to protect Irish consumers.
The motion was agreed by the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, without amendment, on 24 May. The original report was laid before the House on 15 March this year. It is clear that what the motion seeks is greater transparency and accountability in respect of vulture funds and agents. We have tried, without success, to get the vulture funds to become before the committee. In 2017, 19 requests were issued. A further 19 were issued in 2018. Only one of the funds replied; the remainder either refused or did not respond. These are the very funds that are purchasing loans in this country and doing awful damage to Irish society, Irish society being families the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, and I represent and that are in serious difficulty in keeping their homes. Between 2013 and 2016, the Department of Finance met the vulture funds on 125 occasions, yet they will not deal with or be accountable to this Parliament through the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, which is shocking.
What is even more shocking is the Government's amendment to the motion which was produced very late in the day. In general, it accepts what is being put to Parliament, but it avoids insisting on the vulture funds engaging with the joint committee and regulating them to the extent that they must be attend. It is a shameful piece of work on behalf of the Minister of State. This is the Government which is attempting to avoid accountability for the funds because, like the European Union, it believes there is a need for them in a capitalist society where capitalism operates without regulation. That is what is going on and the Government is turning a blind eye to it. Unfortunately, politically, the confidence and supply arrangement stands in the way of the main Opposition party providing real opposition for the Government and its policies. I would like to think that on this occasion, however, we could stand up to the Government in the interests of the people. That it could cause a general election should make no difference. We should stand up to the Government on behalf of the people we represent and demand the accountability that has been asked for by an all-party committee of the House. The Minister of State's colleagues on the committee and colleagues on this side of the House and others have agreed unanimously to the motion before us.
The confidence and supply arrangement references a commitment to significantly increase and expedite the delivery of social housing units, to remove barriers to private housing supply and to initiate an affordable housing scheme. It is pretty much accepted throughout the country that the Government has failed in that respect. The Government also agreed with Fianna Fáil to protect the family home and introduce additional long-term solutions for mortgage arrears cases. It has not protected the family home. We face the possibility of there being 16,000 evictions. The Central Bank notes that there are 50,000 mortgages of one kind or another in arrears. We are told that when the vulture funds buy distressed mortgages, they have no regard, on behalf of the individuals concerned, to the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. They treat them in a way that should not be accepted by any civilised society. It just should not be accepted. One only has to visit the courts to see how they are treated by the judicial system, how families are affected in a negative way and how children looking at their parents having to fight for their home are affected.
We need to look at what is happening within the vulture fund community in Ireland. They are training individuals within the sector to be aggressive, not to show humanity or compassion and to do their utmost to get the maximum amount from families and individuals who do not have anything.
I am not arguing for the strategic defaulters who will not pay, but I am firmly arguing for those who are making an effort and we should keep them in their own homes.
On the confidence and supply agreement, we agreed to provide greater protection for mortgage holders, tenants and small-medium enterprises, SMEs, whose loans have been transferred to non-regulated entities, namely the vulture funds. Deputy Michael McGrath's Bill came before the House and went to Committee Stage. There were 13 sections in the Bill, all of which were withdrawn and replaced with amendments from the Department of Finance. The Central Bank wrote to the committee regarding the Bill and recommended that it now be sent to the ECB for further scrutiny as was done with the original Bill. There is no law or protocol in place that demands of this Parliament that any Bill relating to finance should be sent to the ECB. We do not have to do it; there is no rule. If I am wrong and there is, please show me where in writing. The ECB may express an opinion but we do not necessarily have to follow that opinion. In terms of our sovereignty we are entitled to deal with the issues as we see fit within this State. Within this State, individuals are being badly affected by what is happening.
All that has to be done is to take from any of the websites of these vulture funds because they all tell the same story. They are interested in seeking investment opportunities in markets that have suffered an economic or banking crisis resulting in a dislocation in asset pricing and value opportunities. Lone Star's site specifically says that it seeks to capitalise on market conditions where banks have failed. They are here as vultures preying upon the most vulnerable in our society to whom we offer no protection, and the Government invited them in. I suggest to the Minister of State that they have no role here. We should force the banks that we own to do the next best thing, which, in fairness, some of them have done. They should drill down into each account, find out if there is any means by which the matter can be dealt with and keep people in their own homes because that is what we agreed in the confidence and supply agreement. In case my own colleagues feel that it may not be party policy, in 1948 during an election address, Éamon de Valera stated, "We regard a state as being ordained for the individual, not the individual for the state." That leads me to the point that the first obligation of Government is to keep its people safe. I keep repeating that and, in this instance, the Government has not kept its people safe.
The committee wants to get on with its work and bring in the vulture funds. It should be borne in mind that these funds have a special charitable status, which results in them having a special tax arrangement. I wonder if that arrangement is similar to Apple's. Is that where we will go with this because that is a case of state aid? State aid rules do not permit that and it could be argued that this arrangement is state aid. Will these vulture funds have to repay the State sometime in the future what they should have paid in the first place?
We are letting the banks off the hook. There is no tax on the banks, not even at a marginal level where we can say to them that we will ask them to pay €250,000 in tax notwithstanding what we have agreed with them. Some make in excess of €1 billion in profits. It is morally wrong that they are allowed to do that in a State where people have been made victims of the system. We will save the banks but we will not save our people. They should not be let off with this scot free. At the invitation of Government, vulture funds come in and buy up all the distressed mortgages at a knockdown price. They can double their investment in a short period by selling on the property and the next vulture fund will still have the opportunity to make a 100% profit. As the value of the housing market increases, they will make even more money.
The Minister of State will probably reply that there are protections in place. A distressed mortgage holder or an SME with a loan that has been defaulted on will be in breach of contract because the loan or mortgage is in default. In that case, how sure is the Minister of State that the code of conduct and that the rights of the borrower will be adhered to? He cannot be sure because I know that the agents have refused to appear before my committee, even though they are regulated. The vulture funds dictate to their agents what to do. I have to ask the Minister of State to believe me because I know that he has a different opinion but dealing with these vulture funds regarding a business loan is next to impossible because they extract the maximum out of an individual. The funds bleed them for everything that they have and homeowners do not stand a chance because of the aggression, anger and deliberate attempts to bully them into submission to pay. Their stories have to be heard from them to be believed.
While I blame the vulture funds, this House is in the wrong because we have created the environment for them to thrive in. This is a political question, which is covered in the confidence and supply agreement. A decent Parliament would protect its people from what is happening. It is our fault because, as an Opposition, we are caught up with the Government in the confidence and supply agreement and then the Government is at fault because it does not have the bottle to take on the vulture funds or the banks. They are now back with the same levels of aggression and arrogance that they displayed during the boom times. Imagine the Minister for Finance saying that it might be acceptable to increase bankers' salaries to in excess of €500,000. Is the Government mad? These banks, which are owned by us, refused to respond to us in a meaningful way. They caused a tracker mortgage scandal and now the Government will increase the salaries of bankers. The Government has not made any attempt to fulfil its agreement to introduce legislation to regulate them, make them come before the committee and save the people we represent.