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Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2017: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 953 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] We are talking about the things we want to do with the money we are supposed to be getting for AIB, which is the people's bank because we own it now.

We have been told that the primary purpose of the Bill before the House is to facilitate Ireland's membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Quite frankly, at the moment I am more interested in the proposed national housing co-operative Bill, which is being developed by a good number of people here. If we are looking to other countries, perhaps we should borrow money from them to relieve the crippling debt that is being faced by people with mortgages on their family homes who are being brought before the courts under threat of repossession. They are being made ill and distressed. Such evictions are contributing significantly to the housing crisis. I would be more interested in signing up to a fund that would be used to help such people or to pay down the horrible debt that was forced on us by our so-called allies in Europe.

Thankfully, Article 29.5.2° of the Constitution requires Oireachtas approval through legislation if an international agreement is to be ratified by Ireland. I am delighted that the Constitution places some kind of restriction on this activity. Ireland's application for membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was approved in March of this year and must be ratified by 31 December 2018. We have some time. Why did we apply for membership? Our membership of the bank will give Irish exporters greater potential economic opportunities to expand their markets into the Chinese region. In addition, it will create necessary strong ties with the region. I would certainly agree with anything that supports such objectives.

I recall that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, who is soon to be either the Taoiseach or the Tánaiste, went to China some years ago to negotiate a deal in respect of Irish milk and beef exports. I remember fondly that during the Government formation talks that took place just over a year ago, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said that the Government's announcement of everything it intended to do in China was great. There was some discussion on all the beef and milk we were going to give to China. Deputy Healy-Rae suggested that everyone involved - the Minister, the Department, everyone else who was involved, and the IFA - had forgotten that the Chinaman would not drink the milk. It was pie in the sky. It was a pipe dream. The Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, should not be shaking his head because he was probably at the talks. That is what happened. We did not send the milk. The milk did not go.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl It would be hard to find a subject matter-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath No. I was always told to make haste slowly.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae Deputy McGrath is getting there.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am getting there.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I admire the Deputy's inventiveness. I just do not know-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath No. I welcome the current trade of approximately €8 billion between Ireland and China.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Good.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath That is great, but milk is not a big part of it. I think the milk could be gone sour by the time it gets out there.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae It will be butter.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Who said one time that we would choke England with butter and drown it with milk? I think it was a Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture years ago. He was one of the Blueshirts. I think it was Risteárd from Tipperary, but I cannot think of his full name now. The Ceann Comhairle might be able to give his second name. It was before my time, but it will come back to me. Everyone knows who I am talking about anyway. We did neither of the things he said we would do.

What are the issues? Ireland will be liable for a total membership subscription of €125 million, 20% of which will have to be paid in capital. There are no free dinners or lunches. It is a fairly healthy investment. As we all know, five instalments of €25 million will have to be paid. The first instalment will be due when the ratification procedure has been completed. When this Bill is passed this year or next year, we will have to cough up €25 million. I could think of many more things we could do with that money rather than spending it in this way. Bypasses and other infrastructural developments are needed. People on waiting lists and people with disabilities need to be given services. Do we have the money in the economy to do this now? That is my question.

At face value, it seems sensible to expand the market for Irish exporters. It is obvious that we need to do that, but we also need to be wary about the small print. Like Deputy Broughan, I am concerned that we might be reneging on other commitments to engage in some kind of financial magic. I would not have anything to do with using some of the money we provide as overseas development aid as collateral. Since the time of the missionaries, when many nuns and priests went abroad, this country has had a proud record in overseas development. I refer, for example, to the work of our non-governmental organisations. Now we have a developed situation and we are sending funding. We cannot be tinkering and playing games like hide-and-seek with this money. It should be protected. It has been cut enough in recent years. Obviously, there has to be accountability for it. We cannot tamper with it.

Ireland has been offered 1,313 shares or votes in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This would theoretically place Ireland 43rd of 58 members. However, it is possible that other countries will join the bank. It is like doing the lotto. If it is a small local GAA club lotto, one has a good chance. If it is the big lotto, one has a very slim chance. This is quicksand. Ireland will have a vote through the EU. One person from the EU will have a vote on the board of the bank. Ireland is included as part of the EU, which has not always been a good friend to us when things have been voted through. It has not always protected our interests. There are substantial questions to be asked in that regard.

A number of concerns regarding the motivation for the establishment of the bank have been raised by the US, in particular. Japan and the US are the only G7 members that are not members of the bank. Given that the US has the largest economy in the world, surely we should examine its concerns about membership of the bank before we join it. This is another example of globalisation. We need to be very careful not to bite off something we cannot chew. We definitely cannot swallow it. It could choke us before we are able to swallow it. Given that our economy has been recovering slowly since the crash of the Celtic tiger, is investing in this bank this best thing for us to do now? I do not know whether it is. Serious questions must be asked. Do we lose a bit of our sovereignty every time we join an institution like this? Such questions are serious. When I got my first loan with Bowmaker as a young man, I knew I was taking a risk but I had some control because I was dealing with a bank that was based in Ireland. Its headquarters might not have been here, but it had a base here. We have a bad history of being mistreated, bullied, intimidated and literally raped - I hate using the word - by banks.

According to the Minister, Deputy Noonan, "Ireland’s application for AIIB membership is based on a desire to further strengthen our growing trade and economic links to Asia and China in particular". That is all fine and dandy. The Minister has also said "the AIIB will seek to address the significant demand for infrastructure in Asia, with the aim of fostering economic development and regional integration". I suggest the Minister would be better off minding our own little patch here rather than running away with himself. I know he is retiring and I wish him well. As I have said, 25% of AIB is being sold without the permission of this House - indeed, against its wishes - and the proceeds will be used to make repayments to our masters in Europe. We should have renegotiated that deal anyway. We never owed all of that money. They were reckless to shovel it in here when our banks went bust. We paid back the bondholders and the banks. All the bondholders had insurance, so they are laughing doubly all the way to the bank. I have described this previously as being like rubbing butter to a fat sow's behind. The Ceann Comhairle knows what that is about. He has often heard that expression in-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl The Deputy explained that phrase to the Minister of State the last time he used it.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Did I?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I still do not get it.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I thought the Deputy might desist from referring to the fat sow again.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Do you know what I mean?

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I do.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Good man.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I think the Minister of State does too.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Just as well.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I did not quite get the explanation I was given the last time.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I will explain it to the Minister of State afterwards.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath He is tweeting there as part of the leadership election campaign. He is seeing how many votes have changed or switched for his master. I can see him on the phone. He is not listening to me anyway. They do not listen. That is the problem. They paid the price for not listening to the people during their five-year term before the formation of this Government.

I have referred to the Minister's suggestion that "the AIIB will seek to address the significant demand for infrastructure in Asia". I am concerned about the infrastructure in this country, which I represent. I cannot say I am in favour of this. There are too many ifs and buts. It is like buying a pet lamb, as I have often done. One might fatten the lamb up to get it ready for the market or to do a show, only for it to keel over with its four legs up in the air. It is gone. That is the way it happens. This is the same. It is a case of "live, horse, and you'll get grass". It looks good on paper.

Deputy Michael McGrath has said that Fianna Fail is supporting this Bill. Maybe it is. I am not in Fianna Fáil, thankfully. I have the freedom to do what I want to do. I am not supporting this because it is too risky. There are too many ifs, buts and ands associated with it. It is very unclear. Why was it not put out there for debate or publicised? Where has it been since we applied to join the bank? How come there has been no debate or discourse on it? Certainly the Rural Independent Group knew nothing about it anyway. Where was it headlined? Where were the economists to tease it out and examine it? Where are the financial gurus? They were not very adept at looking after the economy here when we crashed. We have seen all the carry-on since with the banks - the trials that collapsed and everything else.

We have a lot of dirty washing to do. We need to put it out and leave the wind blow through it. We should clean it off before we jump into something like this. We do not want to end up with another heap of dirty washing that we cannot handle until we get Ajax or Daz or whatever we need. We will not have chemicals that will clean it. We need to mind our own business, stick to our country, grow our economy and look after our people who have always wanted to house themselves, pay for their houses and have small businesses. I supported the legislation we discussed earlier, including the Companies (Amendment) Bill 2017, but I do not support this Bill. It is a step too far in a troubled economy that is not as good as the Minister of State and his colleagues think it is. Just because Dublin has gone mad now, the cranes are dazzling them and they are getting carried away.


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