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Cabinet Committee Meetings (Continued)

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl] What does the Taoiseach envisage in terms of the capacity of the agency to deal with the vast number of cases that will face it? I also wish to refer to the impact of the property tax on the buy to let sector which is now in considerable difficulty. I understand 100,000 people are on local authority waiting lists. The Central Bank has described the pillar banks as continuing to be in denial. As a result of the budget additional burdens will be placed on those who have buy to let properties, are in negative equity and at risk of repossession. They will carry the burden of the property tax, and this is in parallel with the work being done by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, who we can say in a general sense has a mandate to do something about the €500 million a year spent on rent subsidy. If the Government is driving down rent subsidy but also increasing the cost burden on those in arrears in the buy to rent market, it will store up additional problems for us. What will happen to the tenants, many of them very ordinary people-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett The Deputy is straying a little.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Perhaps so but perhaps the Taoiseach will give me a little flexibility and address the issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I gave the Deputy a little flexibility.

Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Ceann Comhairle did and I thank him.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny There should be an opportunity in the new year for a broader discussion on this with the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Finance. Nobody has been standing up for the banks, nor do I but they have changed their attitude. I understand they have trained personnel to speak directly to people in mortgage distress or arrears and quite a number have been restructured and this is to be welcomed. The insolvency agency support through the legislation will provide an alternative method of dealing with serious debt for people and banks know this. From their perspective it would be far better to be able to work out a solution for people in distress or mortgage arrears in whatever category. I hope the words I hear will be seen to be implemented because this is of enormous importance and there is pressure on people every day.

  I cannot provide the Deputy with the work schedule of the insolvency director but he is in situ with staff to back him up. I am sure we can supply the Deputy with their tentative proposals which would be in everybody's interests. I would like to see in the spring, either at Oireachtas committee level or in the House, an opportunity to discuss the ongoing work of the insolvency agency when it has been established to see how effective it can be. As the Deputy knows, from its drafting to its conclusion this week, the Bill has been very complex and technical. I hope that with all of these measures and with the projected growth in the economy, the situation for people with mortgages, particularly those in arrears or in distress, will improve.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins Will the Taoiseach explain how the Economic Management Council functions as a sub-committee of the Cabinet? Is it the case that virtually the entire budget announced for 2013 was decided by four members of the Cabinet and announced to the full Cabinet only at the last minute? Is it the case that the Economic Management Council has acted in a secret and authoritarian fashion? From what we have heard we could compare it to a Stalinist politburo concentrating huge power in a few hands and operating in great secrecy. How does this equate to the democratic revolution the Taoiseach promised at the beginning of this Dáil? Is it the case that because there is a coalition government the council and its operation is a preservation mechanism for the leadership of the two parties, Fine Gael and the Labour Party? Essentially they treat their backbenchers like tunnel mushrooms, keeping them in the dark on key issues, dumping on them the austerity decisions which have great public distaste and then simply picking them to come in and vote for them. From where does this modus operandi come and what justifies it?

  The Taoiseach paid a glowing tribute to home owners in regard to the upkeep of their homes, paying their mortgages, etc. He has always held this position, but in 1994 he felt a property tax was a vampire tax which would drive a stake through the heart of home ownership and suck the lifeblood of people who want to own their own homes and better their conditions. What has changed the Taoiseach's mind on this?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny Last year in preparation for the budget for 2012, as soon as the Dáil came back in September every week there was a rash of speculation about what would be cut, which certainly had a direct impact on consumer confidence and retail because people quite rightly decided to hold tight because they did not know what was going to happen. This year the budget was discussed and approved collectively by the Cabinet. It is a requirement that it be signed off by the Cabinet. The preparation for this was not just conducted by the Economic Management Council. Individual face to face and bilateral meetings were held between the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and each Minister on the ceiling for each Department and proposals for savings, and all of these were signed off at bilateral level. It came through the Economic Management Council and then on to the Government.

This year there was not the same level of public comment, except I noticed wild speculation that the old age pension would be cut, free travel and free light would be stopped, the period for free fuel would be shortened and the allowance would be stopped, and carers allowance and the home care package would be cut. There were also extraordinary remarks about the scale of the property tax and that it would run to thousands of euro. The same speculation was made in comments about the requirement to deal with pollution from septic tanks in various parts of the country and the extraordinary amount this would cost. Obviously these were very different in reality.

The year 1994 was a very different space. We have had the obscenity of several Governments in between shovelling out mountains of money which did not belong to us and which somebody would have to pay back.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae The Taoiseach told them to give out more.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny In this sense we have had to focus on how to rectify this problem and believe me it is not easy. In the past 15 months things have begun to turn towards the right direction. Serious challenges still face the people. As I stated, the assistance of our European colleagues is something we need. It is not a case of a quartet deciding on every element of the budget. All of the bilateral meetings took place.

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