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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 4

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The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny It is the quality of the person standing in front of the class that counts.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach does not understand the sector.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny One can produce reports that are the height of this roof that will show one but Deputy Martin never listens and that is what has him where he is.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin The Taoiseach does not answer the questions he is asked.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The most important ingredient of education is parental and student interest and the quality of the teacher and the teaching that is given in the first place.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin Courses will be lost over this.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny That is why the Minister for Education and Science has given the devolved responsibility to chief executive officers to allow them to make choices regarding courses and their nature. This will be brought back to him. The pupil-teacher ratio in colleges of further education will be the same as that in secondary schools.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin That kind of response is what is driving people mad. It is driving people over the edge.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny This sector, as maintained, is important but then Deputy Martin never listens.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett I want silence for Deputy Adams.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams The Dáil will break tomorrow for the Christmas festivities and most of us will go back to warm homes and our families. We are the very lucky ones. For many citizens, this Christmas will be especially tough because of the Government's austerity policies. The ESRI's assessment of budget 2013 confirms that once again, the poorest have been hit hardest. It is not just those on the margins who are faoi bhrú. Lower and middle income families are not being protected by the Government.

This morning, we heard news that the Bank of Ireland, in which the State has a 15% share and which has received nearly €5 billion of citizens' money, is to hike credit card fees by up to 4%. This is a bank that is cashing in on people when they are most stretched at Christmas time. The Taoiseach is aware that surveys by the credit union movement indicate that people can take up to six months to repay Christmas spending. Many people are stuck in the mire and struggling to pay back debt accumulated over years. Some people are forced to use credit cards to pay for necessities. I spoke to a woman this morning who told me she received a letter from the bank telling her that at her current rate of payment, she would not clear her credit card debt until 2045. All this is heaping pressure on citizens who are already struggling. Does the Taoiseach agree that the hike in credit card fees is wrong? Have he or his Government been in contact with the banks about this? What steps does he intend to take to deal with these banks which have levied mortgage increases and new account and credit card fees?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I understand that Bank of Ireland announced last October that it intended to introduce a range of increases in interest rates with effect from 18 December 2012. The credit card purchase interest rate will increase to 17.8% variable APR, while the rate for the classic credit card will increase to 19.9% variable APR. The rate for the remaining number of personal credit cards will increase by 0.7% APR with effect from 18 December 2012. No increase will be applied to the student credit card and there will be no change to the introductory or cash advance variable APRs for Bank of Ireland personal credit cards.

This bank is owned by private investors with a 15% share held by the Government and this area is not regulated by Government. I can confirm that the Government is in constant contact with the regulator in the Central Bank to ensure that he is happy he has the facilities, authority and power he needs in regulating the financial sector. This issue is very difficult for many people who have run up huge credit card bills. The economic indicators show that for the first time in a number of years, we have had three consecutive quarters of growth. The more we can proceed in that direction, the more competition there will be in the credit card area.

I do not like this but the Government is in constant contact with the regulator. I have written to him on a number of occasions stating that if he considers that he should have more appropriate powers, the Government will respond to that. This is a bank owned by private investors. We want it to be out there in the market. The Government has a 15% shareholding and this area is unregulated.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams This is the Taoiseach's usual response when we raise a question about the banking sector. He says he cannot do anything about it but what he really means is that he will not do anything about it.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn: Information on Ruairí Quinn Zoom on Ruairí Quinn We deal with the banks in a different way than Sinn Féin did.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams The Government rushed through the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill at 11 p.m. last night. There were over 80 amendments but only one was taken.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett That is a separate issue. Does Deputy Adams have a supplementary question?

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams I am coming to that. Ná bí ag cur isteach orm arís. The point I am making is that there is one rule for the banking sector and another for citizens. This is the banks' Christmas present, while the family home tax is the Government's Christmas present. The Taoiseach says he cannot do anything about this but has he spoken to the public interest directors? I understand this Government has done nothing. I received a written response from the Minister for Finance which stated that I would be aware that the Government has not appointed any public interest directors to the boards of the covered banks since taking office. Who are the public interest directors? Lo and behold, the public interest directors include Mr. Dick Spring, late of this parish; Mr. Joe Walsh, late of Fianna Fáil; and Mr. Ray MacSharry.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Has the Taoiseach asked these public interest directors who are there to protect the public interest and if not, why not?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Could we have Deputy Adams's question?

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Does the Taoiseach intend to call the banks into the Economic Management Council or is it just a matter of, once again, wringing his hands and saying he can do nothing or, as I put it, is doing nothing about this sector?

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny As the Minister for Education and Science remarked, we treat banks differently than Sinn Féin did in the past. This is an area that is not regulated. It is an issue in respect of which the Government is in constant contact with the regulator in the Central Bank. On behalf of Government, I have written to the regulator stating that if he requires further or more appropriate powers, the Government will respond to that. It is not a case of saying the Government will not do anything. It is a case of saying that if the regulator requires further facilities, the Government will respond to that. This is not a case where the Government regulates the interest rates applicable to credit cards.

Our job as a Government is to restore our economy to good health. It is heading in that direction and for the first time in a number of years, we have had three consecutive quarters of growth. I do not like a situation where this announcement was made by the banks three or four days before Christmas but this is a commercial entity that has made this choice. We will respond to the regulator who is completely independent if he requires or requests further or more appropriate powers from Government. We want an economy that is running well and growing in health and that as a consequence further competition will enter the market from those who deal with credit cards. I repeat this on a regular basis. It is not easy for people not to run up bills on credit cards and it is a well-known fact that some people have run up extraordinary bills and these interest rates are high. One can advise people not to do that and yet circumstances dictate that it happens. Clearly, MABS is well used and available to everybody. The area is not regulated by Government but we are prepared to respond if the regulator requires further facilities or what he might consider more appropriate powers for himself.


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