Header Item Prelude
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Commencement Matters
 Header Item Nursing Staff Recruitment
 Header Item Job Losses
 Header Item Harbours and Piers
 Header Item Natural Gas Grid
 Header Item Order of Business
 Header Item Business of Seanad
 Header Item Educational Research Centre (Establishment) Order 2015: Referral to Joint Committee
 Header Item Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage
 Header Item Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2015: Committee Stage

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 241 No. 1

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Chuaigh an Cathaoirleach i gceannas ar 14:30:00

Machnamh agus Paidir.

Reflection and Prayer.

Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I have received notice from Senator Colm Burke that, on the motion for the Commencement of the House today, he proposes to raise the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Health to engage with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland with a view to resolving the long delays in the registration process.

I have also received notice from Senator Diarmuid Wilson of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to address urgently the loss of jobs announced by Liberty Insurance in Cavan, Enniskillen and Dublin.

I have also received notice from Senator Averil Power of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to develop a comprehensive strategy for Howth Harbour that maximises its potential not only as a fishing harbour but also as a tourism, sports, leisure and community resource and for the Department to avoid taking steps such as the proposed introduction of paid parking that would seriously undermine the harbour's overall benefit to the local economy and community.

 I have also received notice from Senator Lorraine Higgins of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to explore additional funding streams for the supply of natural gas in areas of strategic importance.

I have also received notice from Senator Paul Bradford of the following matter:

The need for the Minister for Finance to outline the efforts being made by Ireland and its eurozone partners to ensure Greece will remain a member of the eurozone.

I regard the matters raised by the Senators as suitable for discussion. I have selected the matters raised by Senators Colm Burke, Diarmuid Wilson, Averil Power and Lorraine Higgins and they will be taken now. Senator Paul Bradford may give notice on another day of the matter he wishes to raise.

Commencement Matters

Nursing Staff Recruitment

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I, too, welcome the Minister of State and thank him for coming to the House to deal with this matter. My understanding is that more than 700 applications for registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland are pending. Earlier in the year I received representations from an Irish person who, following completion of her training in England, had returned to Ireland to take up a job but was unable to do so for 14 weeks even though the hospital needed somebody urgently. The Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is reported in today's Irish Examiner as saying a unit in Cork cannot be opened because the 40 nurses required are not available. Much of the funding for this unit was raised voluntarily. However, because of a lack of nursing staff, it cannot open. I am not suggesting this is connected to the delays in registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, but it must be a contributory factor.

  I understand from Nursing Homes Ireland that the HSE is recruiting nurses currently working in private nursing homes and that this is resulting in a significant shortage of nurses in the private nursing home sector. The private nursing home sector proposes to recruit an additional 300 nurses in the next couple of months, some of whom may be Irish nurses working abroad wishing to return home, which will result in the number of nurses awaiting registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland increasing to 1,000. The registration body has cited the cost of employing staff as the reason for the delays. This issue needs to be addressed. We need front-line staff and competent nurses. If we cannot register these staff within a reasonable period, they will continue to go to other jurisdictions such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and so on. People will look to other alternatives if there is undue delay in the process here.

  My understanding is that for people coming here from outside Europe, registration takes six to eight months. It is horrendous that people have to wait that length of time to be registered and as a result are looking to other jurisdictions. I am asking that the Minister engage with the board to see if a solution to this problem can be found such that anybody who applies for registration can be registered in a timely manner.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Gerald Nash): Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I thank the Senator for raising this issue. I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, who is not available owing to Government business.

  I wish to advise the Senator that Department of Health officials met the president and the chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland, NMBI, last week to discuss a range of operational issues, including the current delays in registration. The NMBI is keeping the current situation under review. The Senator may wish to know that the NMBI has been allocated additional resources to address the issues which he outlined.   Delays in processing nurse registration applications are directly connected to the volume of requests arising from current initiatives to attract and retain nurses in the health services. The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are collaborating to find solutions to meet the issues arising in regard to nurse recruitment and retention. The background to this issue is that nurses who trained in a country outside Ireland and wish to work in Ireland are required to apply to register as a nurse with the NMBI. In assessing an applicant for registration and in order to protect the public, the NMBI seeks evidence from applicants of comparable standards of education and practice.

  According to the NMBI, the timeframe for completion of the assessment of qualifications for registration is up to a maximum of 90 days provided all necessary documentation has been supplied by the applicant. The main difficulty in expediting timely applications, as reported by the NMBI, is the failure by the applicant or third parties to furnish the documentation required to assess eligibility for registration, or the delay in so doing. The board, following assessment of qualifications by an applicant, may require him or her to undertake a six to 12-week period of adaptation and assessment. This period of adaptation is designed to make up for differences in education and ensure competence to work in the Irish health service. If such adaptation is required, it must be successfully completed as a prerequisite to registration.

  There are two remaining HSE adaptation courses available this year, in June and August. These courses are six to 12 weeks in duration and facilitate the integration of global nurses to nursing in an Irish context. Since the nationally co-ordinated pilot adaptation programme commenced in June 2014, 151 candidates have completed the programme, 58 are undergoing assessment and 126 are due for assessment up to the final programme in August 2015. Outside of the current provision for placements in 2015, there are 293 requests for placements by employers. These numbers are not reflective of a national total as some hospital sites run independent adaptation programmes.

  A collaborative group, including the Department of Health, the HSE and Nursing Homes Ireland, NHI, representatives, continues to explore options to facilitate adaptation. In this regard, some hospitals will respond to local need from local nursing homes and this has been encouraged within the hospital group structures. Other hospitals will continue to support placements pending funding from NHI, although not at peak undergraduate student times. In addition, some hospitals are withdrawing from the provision of clinical placements to facilitate their own internal international recruitment initiatives.

  It is important to note that the NMBI is dealing with very significant volumes of applications. It is processing all applications as quickly as possible, while ensuring appropriate procedures and checks are adhered to with a view to ensuring protection for the public. As I said, the chief executive officer of the board met departmental officials last week to discuss a range of operational issues, including the current delays in the registration process. The NMBI is keeping the situation under review and has been allocated additional resources to address the issues the Senator outlined.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. He has indicated that registration takes up to a maximum of 90 days provided all necessary documentation is supplied. The complaint I have had from applicants is that it is six to eight weeks after submission that they are being told their documentation is not in order. That leads to a delay in the process. I am proposing that all applications be assessed within a very short timeframe, preferably within a week of their being submitted, and if any documentation is missing, the candidate should be notified immediately rather than having to wait six to eight weeks for such notification.

  In regard to the adaptation courses, my understanding is Nursing Homes Ireland intends to seek to expedite the provision of those courses by putting its own funding in place, with the co-operation of hospitals. It has no choice in the matter and the Department needs to understand the urgency of the situation.  More than 23,500 people are accommodated in private nursing homes. While these homes are well run by competent staff, when staff shortages occur, the downside is that patients suffer. That is the reason I seek to have this matter prioritised.

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I thank the Senator for his remarks on this important issue which all of us have encountered locally or in our constituencies, especially in areas that are coming under significant pressure in terms of demographic demand and access to health care facilities. The Senator is correct that the private nursing homes industry plays an important role, alongside the public service, in providing top-class health care for older people in residential settings. I am familiar with the needs of private health care providers of nursing home care in my constituency. I am also aware that in recent years some leading providers of private health care have had to go as far afield as India to try to access appropriately qualified nurses to work in their homes and provide the type of health care we expect.

  There is good reason for the standards we have put in place through the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland and State agencies to ensure health care is provided for those who need it in a safe and effective manner. However, I accept the Senator's point on the validation of documentation which, in the normal course of events, is provided for the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland. As I indicated, it takes a maximum of 90 days to have the application process completed, provided all necessary documentation has been supplied by the applicant. While 90 days appears to be a reasonable period, it can be frustrating if an applicant learns further down the line, having submitted documentation, that there is a problem. We expect all State agencies and other relevant actors engaged in this sector and other areas to ensure the first step in such application processes is to ensure key paperwork and documentation is validated and checked and early engagement takes place with applicants to ensure the system is as streamlined as possible.

  We should always be mindful that the health service is under extreme pressure. If there are obstacles or roadblocks that can be removed early in the process, it is a matter for the relevant agencies to ensure this is done. I will communicate the Senator's concerns to the Minister for Health and ask him to ensure the issues he raises are addressed.

Job Losses

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I, too, welcome the Minister and thank him for coming to the Seanad to discuss this important issue.

  As Members will be aware, on Thursday, 25 June, Liberty Insurance announced it would make 270 workers redundant, 135 in Blanchardstown, 115 in my home town of Cavan and 20 in Enniskillen. These redundancies are in addition to 285 job losses in the company in November 2012. Liberty Insurance, formerly known as Quinn Insurance, has been an important and major employer in Cavan town since its operations commenced in the mid-1990s. The sale of Quinn Insurance to Liberty Insurance was concluded in October 2011 when, I understand, the latter purchased 51% of the former for €1.  While I understand there were some debts involved, in common with the people of County Cavan and surrounding counties, I still believe Liberty Insurance got a good deal on that occasion and that it has an obligation to maintain jobs in that area of the country, as well as in Blanchardstown and Enniskillen. In a statement issued last Thursday, my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, called on the Minister to engage immediately with Liberty Insurance with a view to retaining the maximum level of employment in this company and I join him in that call. He also stated clearly that when Liberty Insurance purchased the former Quinn Insurance in October 2011, at the time the company stated it would maintain more than 1,000 people in employment in the three areas. At the time, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated with regard to the sale of Quinn Insurance that he welcomed the positives of the proposed agreement in that almost all of the 1,500 jobs in Quinn Insurance would be retained. That figure speaks for itself when one now is talking about 950 jobs in the three locations. The company has stated the redundancies will take place over an 18-month period, but I understand it has given employees two weeks in which to make life-changing decisions without providing the necessary advice and support to them to make such decisions. The staff were told that assistance will be provided once the voluntary process was complete, but that is not acceptable. Once the process is complete will be too late to offer advice and assistance to these workers, as they need assistance now.

  Although the company has offered voluntary redundancy, people have concerns that by accepting it, they will make wrong decisions that could have an impact on their social welfare and mortgage protection entitlements. Moreover, in the case of up to 40 workers who work as claims staff in the Cavan office, the decision really already has been taken out of their hands because their roles are being relocated to Blanchardstown. This decision makes absolutely no sense, given the collective experience of these people and that new people must be trained for these roles should the staff in County Cavan not relocate. Moreover, I understand the vast majority of them are not in a position to so do. I understand that the decision to move these claims jobs was made by the new head of claims, as he believes all claims staff should be based in the Dublin office, yet there is a mix of staff from other areas throughout all the sites.

  Unfortunately, this company has been through this process before. The same human resources team and many of the senior management team are in place, yet the current process is flawed with no empathy or concern being shown for the employees. Liberty Insurance purchased the remaining 49% of the former Quinn Insurance in December 2013 and now has 100% ownership of this company. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to try to maintain the jobs in these three centres. I am particularly concerned with regard to the site in Cavan, which is the one I know best, but people in Enniskillen and Dublin also depend on this company for their jobs. Morale is at an all-time low in these three offices and the big fear is that Liberty Insurance is preparing to downsize, move jobs elsewhere and eventually to sell off the Irish operation. This is not good enough and if these jobs cannot be saved, I ask the Minister to have the statutory agencies work with these workers as a matter of urgency.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I thank the Senator for raising this matter. Our sympathy is most definitely with the workers in Cavan, Blanchardstown and Enniskillen at this very difficult time.

  This is a very disappointing development. The Senator has outlined what will be the impact in the three locations, namely, 135 job losses in Blanchardstown; 115 in Cavan; and 20 in Enniskillen. The company has given the reasons behind its decision to withdraw from the British market and to make significant changes to its operations in Ireland. It has experienced a difficult trading period and is now going to focus on the Republic of Ireland market. I do not believe it is fair to say the company is preparing for an exit. That is by no means an accurate reflection. I am encouraged by the company's statement to the effect that it is fully committed to Ireland, that it will be seeking voluntary redundancies in the first instance and that the process in this regard will be phased over an 18-month period. That is encouraging and I hope that when it is offering terms to workers, the company will recognise the contribution they have made over a long period by offering them a good package. On the positive side, Liberty has confirmed that it is continuing with its IT initiative, which was the basis for the announcement of the creation of 150 jobs in 2013. This initiative is located at the Blanchardstown office and it shows that the company continues to be committed to Ireland. We will ensure the relevant agencies work closely with Liberty in order to see to it that any future opportunities relating to the company can be maximised as it evolves.

  My immediate focus rests on the instruction I issued to IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to redouble their efforts in respect of job creation in County Cavan and to explore all options in the context of replacing the jobs that have been lost there. The past couple of years in Cavan-Monaghan have been good. It is particularly encouraging to see the very strong performance of a number of Irish-owned companies in recent times and quite a number of them across the two counties, including Lakelands, Combilift, Glanbia, Swift and Lagan Brick, have expanded their operations. It is encouraging that in 2014 the IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland job base grew by 9% and that there was an 11% increase in the number of jobs created by means of the local enterprise office, LEO, network. We are enjoying some successes and I am developing a regional enterprise strategy. The latter will be for every region, but it will have particular focus on the Border region, which has a number of significant strengths on which we hope to build.

  If the employees of Liberty require the assistance of the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, or other State agencies, in dealing with their current circumstances or making particular decisions, I will be quite happy to ensure it is made available to them. I recognise that this is a difficult time for the people involved. I will ensure we will redouble our efforts. We have witnessed the potential of enterprise in the region and need to build on this in order to try to replace lost jobs and ensure opportunities emerge for those people who have been so badly impacted on by this decision.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson When 285 redundancies occurred in 2012, the statutory agencies worked very well with the employees involved.  I would like the Minister to give a commitment - I acknowledge that he alluded to this in his reply - that the same emphasis will be placed on these people who will potentially lose their jobs in all three centres.

  I am most familiar with the Cavan centre. While it is unfortunate that jobs were lost a few years ago which should not have been the case, following a commitment by the company to retain them, assistance was provided by the statutory agencies, including the Cavan and Monaghan education and training boards, the Minister's Department and various other Departments. I would like him to give a commitment that he will co-ordinate a similar approach as a matter of urgency. I reiterate that the spin on this is that the redundancies will take place over 18 months, but workers have been given 14 days to make a life-changing decision for themselves and their families. These decisions will also affect the communities they live in. In 2012, when there were 285 redundancies, Liberty Insurance issued a statement saying, "This development is necessary to secure the future of the company." However, last Thursday, there was an announcement that 270 jobs would be lost, and the president of Liberty International issued a statement saying, "Liberty Mutual remains fully committed to building a successful business in Ireland." If 270 redundancies on top of 285 redundancies on top of 150 redundancies equates to "building a successful business in Ireland", then there will be serious concerns for the remaining workers down the line.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I am happy to give the Senator a guarantee that the resources of the State, through my own Department, NERA, the Department of Social Protection and the education and training boards, will be available to workers. The company is in a 30-day consultation period and it has obligations during that period to consult its workers. I do not propose to comment on those consultations but, obviously, the resources of the State, such as the Labour Relations Commission, will be available to assist if there are issues on which advice could be given.

  This is a difficult reminder of the challenging competitive environment in which every industry operates. There will always be reverses; one cannot put one's hand on one's heart and say about any sector that there never will be a challenge and everything will be perfect. There will always be change and the difficulty is that the changes that have occurred in the UK insurance market have caused difficulties for this company. It is a battle every day in respect of our approach to supporting companies that are facing threats, while also supporting companies that are considering opportunities. It is positive that in Cavan and, indeed, in the country as a whole, we are winning more of those battles than we are losing. A total of 105,000 additional people are at work since we commenced the Action Plan for Jobs in 2012, with approximately 19,000 of those in the Border region. More companies are expanding than are getting into difficulty. However, this is a timely reminder that we have to always be vigilant and make sure we make the changes and create the competitive environment in all our areas of endeavour to support growth because there are always challenges around the corner.

  I thank the Senator for raising this issue and assure him that I will talk to the agencies to ensure timely support is available for the people affected.

Harbours and Piers

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Tom Hayes.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power I also welcome the Minister of State. As he is aware, last week the Committee of Public Accounts published a report into the six fishery harbour centres. On reading the report, I share the committee's concern that the harbours are managed properly and that the employment potential of the fishing, seafood processing, boat repair and other industries are maximised. The report gives a good account of the issues and challenges present and what the Department needs to do to address them.

  I also support the recommendation that the Department improve its relationship with harbour users to ensure they genuinely engage with them, listen to their concerns, support people and work with them to maximise the potential of their businesses and ensure vacant properties are put to best use from commercial and community points of view.

  I was very concerned about one of the report's recommendations, which is that the Department consider introducing paid parking in Howth. This is an issue about which I have written to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, on several occasions in the past since January 2013. I also tabled a Seanad debate on this two and a half years ago to highlight the very damaging impact that paid parking would have on Howth. I had hoped that as this has not been implemented in the intervening two and a half years, the Department had listened to the issues I had raised and the feedback from various stakeholders in Howth, looked at the fact that one in three local authority paid parking schemes loses money and had seen sense on this issue and was not going to proceed with it. I was very concerned to see the Committee of Public Accounts make this suggestion again last week.

  I am also concerned the committee looked at it from a very narrow approach. It only considered the issue of paid parking from the perspective of the Department and Howth as a fishery harbour. Howth is not just a fishery harbour. It is unique in that fishing is just one of the activities which takes place there. It is also a major tourism, sport, leisure and community resource. As a representative from the area, it has always frustrated me to see the harbour in the broader sense not utilised as well as it could be. One visits places on the Continent with half the natural resources and beauty of Howth which are used to full advantage where state authorities work with all stakeholders to ensure this happens, but in Howth there always seems to be a difficulty and a lack of ambition and support for local initiatives.

  My concern about paid parking is that activities such as tourism, local restaurants, marine leisure and walking are very dependent on the availability of free parking. Howth is not somewhere one pops into for an hour or two. It is difficult enough to reach. Unfortunately, our public transport connections are not great and particularly at weekends there can be a 30 or 40 minute gap between DART services. Unfortunately, if people want to get there, they need to be able to drive. People going for a walk do not know whether they will walk for two or four hours. When they get to the top of Howth Head, they do not want to be in a rush to go back to feed the meter. When they get to the top of the hill, they want to sit down and enjoy the view. It is the same when people go out on the water. If they are sailing, they are highly dependent on weather and do not know how long they will be. When they are out on the water, they cannot have the anxiety of being clamped.

  Paid parking does not make sense in Howth. I appreciate it makes sense in areas where there is a shortage of parking such as in Dublin city centre and the only way to control it is to have a system which discourages people from constantly driving and taking up the limited number of spaces. In Malahide local businesses sought paid parking because they had a concern about people parking all day from first thing in the morning and anybody who wanted to go in and out of a local business during the day could not get a space. This is not the case in Howth which has plenty of parking spaces available. We do not have a shortage unless a major event is taking place and we have one or two major events during the summer. This is the only time there is a shortage of spaces.

  I have tabled this matter to highlight yet again the negative impact paid parking would have on Howth and ask the Minister of State who is representing the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, to bring this message back to him.  The issue needs to be considered in the round not just having regard to the narrow fisheries perspective from which the Committee of Public Accounts viewed it. The Department must consider the fact that paid parking would put people off travelling out to the area to shop, eat in restaurants, go walking and take part in sports activities. Any economic analysis must take account of the loss to the broader local economy and the impact on jobs and not just the fisheries aspect.

  I reiterate the call I have made previously in the House for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Fingal County Council and tourism and other major Government agencies with an interest in Howth to work together to maximise its potential from a fishing and employment point of view but also from a tourism and community resource perspective. That is badly needed and I urge the Minister of State to bring that message back to the Minister.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Tom Hayes): Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes I am standing in for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney. I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and acknowledge her interest in Howth and the contribution she has made there. Howth Fishery Harbour Centre is one of the six designated fishery harbour centres which are owned, managed and maintained by my Department under statute. All six fishery centres are first and foremost working fishery harbours. However, each centre has unique features which facilitate a broad range of other diverse activities which are important from both an economic and social perspective. The Department is conscious of the importance of both fishing and non-fishing activities at the harbours and endeavours to facilitate and develop both. This involves day-to-day operational support by harbour staff and management and development and repair of infrastructure subject to available financial resources.

  Howth Fishery Harbour Centre is no exception to this diversity. In addition to fishing, there is a wide range of recreational users of the harbour, including the yacht club, sport fishermen, walkers, tourists and other social users. There is a significant number of businesses, particularly restaurants, operating in the harbour centre. Notwithstanding the prevailing economic environment in which we operate, I am happy to advise that in excess of €5.3 million has been invested in maintenance, development and upgrading works at Howth Fishery Harbour Centre as part of the Department's fishery harbour and coastal infrastructure development programme from 2006 to 2014. However, the volume of capital investment in Howth has increased significantly in recent years with the bulk of this capital investment, or €3.78 million, being made in the 2012 to 2014 period. This investment will result in a significant improvement in the traffic management system, access for persons of reduced mobility and the electrical infrastructure. In addition, it will act as a catalyst for the enhancement of facilities available to the marine leisure and tourism sector, boat repair facilities and business generally in the harbour.

  The increased level of capital expenditure in Howth in recent years is being maintained. In March 2015 the Minister approved further funding of €1.584 million for the maintenance and development of Howth Fishery Harbour Centre. Major works for 2015 include the provision of a small craft pontoon and the continued upgrading of the electrical system. The development and upkeep of Howth as a state-of-the-art fishery harbour centre supporting a broad range of marine related and other activity will remain an ongoing process. The property portfolio in Howth includes a diverse range of properties. My Department reviews the portfolio on an ongoing basis to maximise returns for the Exchequer. The two properties at issue were made available by competitive public tender on 15 June.

  The Senator referred to the question of the introduction of paid car parking at Howth Harbour.  I can inform her that this matter remains under consideration as part of an overall review of traffic management arrangements.

  In a special report by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the related report of the Committee of Public Accounts of 24 June 2015, the Department is asked to review the position regarding paid parking in Howth, in conjunction with other fishery harbour centres, with a view to increasing income generation possibilities. However, income generation is not the only factor to be considered in deciding whether paid parking should be introduced in Howth. There is a broad range of other factors to be taken into account before a final decision will be made on the matter. Most importantly, the safe operation of the harbour is of paramount concern. In this context, traffic management and parking is recognised as an issue, particularly, though not exclusively, during the busy holiday periods.

  As I said, while Howth Fishery Harbour Centre is first and foremost a working fishery harbour, the Department is conscious that it is also a very important tourist destination, as well as a major venue for leisure activities. With that in mind, the Department is anxious to increase the profile of the harbour for the betterment of the wider community. To this end, the harbour regularly approves applications for events, yacht races, local celebrations and various functions within the harbour precincts. For example, in April 2015, the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival was held at Howth Harbour over three days. It is estimated that this event alone attracted more than 25,000 visitors to the harbour. In July 2014, a similar number of visitors attended the Asgard centennial celebrations, which were held at Howth Harbour, with the keynote address delivered by President Higgins. Various marine leisure events such as national and international races and regattas, also attract thousands of visitors each year. In addition, the Howth tourist information office opened within the confines of Howth Fishery Harbour Centre in July 2014.

  I assure the Senator that my Department will continue, where appropriate, to facilitate initiatives to promote Howth and to liaise with key stakeholders on an ongoing basis as required. Balancing the needs of the fishing industry with those of the wider range of harbour users, while delivering on a public service remit, will be foremost when considering future developments in the harbour. Any new developments will be undertaken on the basis of available Exchequer funding and competing national priorities.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power I welcome the Minister of State's acknowledgement that Howth is more than just a fishing harbour. He listed some of the major events held there that help to attract people to the area, including the prawn festival, the Asgard celebrations and major leisure events, but I cannot stress strongly enough how central the availability of free parking is to the success of such events. Howth Yacht Club has made that very clear in its submissions to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine about this issue. Parking availability is essential if Howth is to win bids for major sporting events, because people heading out to sea are hugely dependent on the weather and cannot determine whether they will return in an hour, two hours or three hours. It is important to stress that the reason we have had those successes is that we have sufficient availability of free parking. The implementation of paid parking in other areas such as Dún Laoghaire has been a disaster from the point of view of holding marine leisure events.

  It is welcome that the Minister has recognised that there are broader issues involved, but I am disappointed that the issue is still under consideration. I had hoped, as it has not been implemented in the past two and a half years, that the Department had considered it in the round and was backing away from the disastrous impact this would have on Howth. The Minister of State mentioned the reports of the Committee of Public Accounts-----

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Does the Senator have a question? We are way over time.

Senator Averil Power: Information on Averil Power Zoom on Averil Power -----and the Comptroller and Auditor General. I ask him to reiterate to the Minister that the issue needs to be considered from a broader perspective and not just from a fishing point of view, which was the approach taken by the Committee of Public Accounts. That approach is deeply flawed. We need a proper cost-benefit analysis to show that the proposal stands up and I am fully confident that if such an analysis were made, the Minister would change his mind.

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes I will be brief and respond on the paid parking issue. The Senator is correct in that paid parking is a concern in many areas and she is not alone in her views about it. Right across the country there are other projects dealing with the issue. I will relay the Senator's points about paid parking to the Minister as I know how passionate she is about it and how strongly she feels about the topic. I understand her concerns and there is a place in my constituency where we have to deal with the paid parking issue also. However, if resources are required, one must get money in and, in the overall context, anything that is done will be in the best interests of the harbour. I will make these points to the Minister.

Natural Gas Grid

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, to the Chamber.

Senator Lorraine Higgins: Information on Lorraine Higgins Zoom on Lorraine Higgins I request the Minister for Energy, Communications and Natural Resources to explore additional funding streams in order to provide for the roll-out of natural gas areas of strategic importance. Extending the gas network requires Government level support and an obvious starting point would be to use some of the profits from the sale of the Bord Gáis energy division to bring gas to smaller towns, providing for above-ground installation. This would go some way towards reducing our dependence on imported fuel and protecting the environment, which will be of much economic and social importance in the years ahead.

  Natural gas is a clean, efficient and cheap alternative to fossil fuels and helps to eradicate the scourge of fuel poverty for low-income families. Major multinationals such as pharmaceutical companies, for example, rely on gas lines and from a foreign direct investment standpoint, access to gas networks makes Irish communities all the more attractive to those considering basing themselves here. As Ireland begins to rebuild after austerity, we need to do everything possible to attract corporate heavy hitters to our shores and a well serviced and widely available gas network could really assist with such endeavours.

  As somebody based in Galway East, I take my home town of Athenry as an example. Putting Athenry on the gas network would not require major investment and it would reap many rewards for the locality, especially with Apple's arrival on the horizon. In the first instance, the work required would create short-term employment, but local residents and businesses could enjoy the ease of having the option to use a gas network if they so desired. In the light of the Apple announcement, demands for homes in my area is likely to rise and being on the gas network would further increase that demand. The entire community, from small businesses to home owners and large corporations, stands to benefit, offering a major return on the initial investment. I certainly hope the Minister of State will pass this message to the line Minister. We should consider finding alternative revenue streams. For instance, we could get a portion of funds from the sale of the Bord Gáis energy division to ensure places such as Athenry and towns right across the island could access the gas network to the benefit of local citizens.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Joe McHugh): Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I thank the Senator for raising the matter which I will address on behalf of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White. I will certainly convey the Senator's concerns to him.

  I will cover in my remarks how Ireland's natural gas network infrastructure is assessed, planned, rolled out and funded under our own and EU-compliant gas regulatory framework. The development and expansion of the natural gas network is in the first instance a commercial matter for Gaslink. Gaslink is mandated under section 8 of the Gas Act 1976, as amended, to develop and maintain a system for the supply of natural gas that is both economical and efficient. Gaslink receives revenues from gas consumers to fund its operations and functions, including the development of the gas network. The Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, is statutorily responsible for all aspects of the assessment and licensing of prospective operators who wish to develop and operate a gas distribution system within the State under the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002.

  As regards the development and rolling out of the natural gas network, the CER approved a gas connections policy in 2006 that enabled assessment of the feasibility of connecting new towns to the gas network. In order for any town to be connected via new infrastructure to the gas network, certain economic criteria must be satisfied. The policy provides that the construction and operating costs of connecting a town, or group of towns, to the network are recovered through the consumption of gas and the associated network charges on consumers.  The distance of a town from the gas network is the major factor in determining the cost of building a gas pipeline. The anticipated industrial or commercial gas usage in the town largely determines the revenue from gas network charges which must balance the connection costs. Uneconomic gas pipeline projects would unfairly increase energy costs for all gas consumers.

  Gaslink has completed three comprehensive studies of nearly 80 towns in the context of connections to the gas network, resulting in more than 20 new towns having been connected in recent years. The key factor which would qualify a town or a group of towns in any future review would be a significant increase in demand for natural gas, probably resulting from the addition of a new large industrial or commercial facility.

  As regards funding streams for the roll-out of natural gas, energy infrastructure is usually financed by the market and through tariffs paid by users. However, in order to meet the challenge of interconnecting all EU member states by 2020, the European Union has established funding to leverage the investment needed. The most prominent of those funds is the Connecting Europe Facility, CEF. I can go into more detail separately on these new funding streams and their implications for Ireland, if the Senator wishes.

  While I again stress that energy infrastructure is usually financed by the market and through tariffs paid by users, both CEF funding and the recently proposed European Fund for Strategic Investments, EFSI, are very important for, and welcomed by, Ireland as additional funding streams and will assist in ensuring the correct balance is struck between cost burdens and cost benefits in further developing our electricity and gas infrastructure. I am conscious that my response is broad, but it was provided in response to the broad question put forward by the Senator.

  In regard to the Senator's reference to the new investment in Athenry, the consultation process which is under the authority of CER is reviewing submissions and hopes to conclude its work in this regard in the coming weeks. I am sure it will consider all areas that may warrant investigation. This is about demand and not impinging on the price in the marketplace for the consumer.

Senator Lorraine Higgins: Information on Lorraine Higgins Zoom on Lorraine Higgins I accept the role of Gaslink in all of this. However, the Government and, in particular, the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, have an obligation to fund Gaslink to enable it to expand the network. In regard to Athenry, there is a large volume of industry in the region and this is set to increase following the granting of the planning permission for the Apple project. There is also a strategic investment site earmarked for development by IDA Ireland. Athenry is also a nodal point in Galway, with motorway and rail networks making it attractive to people seeking housing. I expect the population in Athenry to increase into the future, leading to a potential increase in the demand for natural gas. I ask that consideration be given to my proposal that funds from the sale of the Bord Gáis energy division be allocated to the roll-out of natural gas in strategic locations across Ireland - Athenry, my home town, being one of them.

Deputy Joe McHugh: Information on Joe McHugh Zoom on Joe McHugh I will convey the Senator's message to the Minister. However, I must reiterate the importance of strategic decision-making. Athenry, Craughwell, Headford and Tuam in County Galway and Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Castlebar, Claremorris, Crossmolina, Knock and Westport in County Mayo were included in phase 1. Construction on this €40 million project has been completed and the towns of Craughwell, Tuam and Headford in County Galway and Ballina, Castlebar, Claremorris and Westport in County Mayo have been connected to the gas network. The Senator will be aware that connection in respect of the three remaining towns of Athenry, Ballyhaunis and Knock is uncertain, which is the reason she has raised this issue. I am sure the representative bodies from Athenry have made representations regarding existing industry and potential future industry in the region to the consultation process. The report of this process, commissioned by the Commission for Energy Regulation, is awaited.   Official statutory responsibility for these matters was given, via legislation, to the Commission for Energy Regulation in 2006. The commission has a responsibility to decide which towns have sufficient demand and ensure decisions made are economic and strategic. If we bring gas into towns where it does not make economic sense to do so, we are into a situation where there will be additional costs for consumers. These are the mitigating factors. I take the Senator's point, however, that if extra moneys were available, there would be scope to balance the demand versus supply issue. I will convey that message to the Minister.

  Sitting suspended at 3.30 p.m. and resumed at 3.35 p.m.

Order of Business

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral to Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection of Educational Research Centre (Establishment) Order 2015, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 – Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 7 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2015 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m. and adjourned not later than 9 p.m., if not previously concluded.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien On behalf of my party, Fianna Fáil, I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of those who were brutally murdered in the savage terrorist attack in Tunisia, in particular, those of the three Irish victims and our fellow countrymen, Laurence Hayes, Martina Hayes and Lorna Carty. It is disgraceful that people enjoying their holidays with their families were gunned down in such a callous fashion. My thoughts and those of my party colleagues are with them and all the victims of this terrible tragedy, and the Tunisian people in dealing with this terrible threat of Muslim extremism. On another day, it would be important that, outside of a terrorist atrocity, we have a debate here on Muslim extremism and extremism in this country. As we speak, there are Irish citizens in Syria and in Iraq fighting for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL, and that is something that needs to be addressed. It is not only a problem in France; there are issues in Ireland also.  This is not the appropriate day, but we should certainly have a debate on that issue with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

  Members may not be aware that today another €140 million has been taken out of people's private pension pots by the Government. This is the fourth year that has been done, raising the total to about €2.4 billion. People were doing what they had been asked to do by successive Governments, namely, making provision for their retirement. The irony is that anyone who has a pension is paying the levy, including the Aer Lingus pensioners who are losing 60% of their pensions, those in Tara Mines, the Waterford Crystal workers and all of these badly funded pension funds that are in grave difficulty. The Government needs to accept responsibility for the pensions crisis. This Government has done more than any other to undermine the basic premise and the safety of pensions and is the first one to actually take people's savings by way of a pension levy and has, in fact, taken more than it stated it would. The pension levy was supposed to be abolished last year. It is another broken promise. The Government has let it go on for another year because it is easy money. There are people in AXA and Tara Mines who have had their pensions and payments reduced by 10% and 15% simply to pay the levy, which the Government stated was used to bring new jobs into the retail and hospitality sectors. I accept that it has done that but at what price? That the Government has decided to continue the levy for another year is a disgrace. I heard the Tánaiste speak about compulsory pensions and how she would like to reform the pensions sector. When I heard that I laughed. The Tánaiste, as Minister for Social Protection with responsibility for pensions, has done more than anyone to undermine pensions. We need a debate on pension provision and how we can bring back confidence into the pensions sector. Should the Government or Fine Gael be re-elected, will it hit the pensioners again? Is it not ironic that the 15,000 Aer Lingus pensioners, about whom we have had debates, who have lost 50% and 60% of their pensions are paying this levy today out of their fund? It is disgraceful.

Senator Ivana Bacik: Information on Ivana Bacik Zoom on Ivana Bacik I express my deep sympathy to the families of the Irish citizens and all those who were murdered or injured in the appalling attack in Tunisia on Friday. It was a most disturbing and brutal day. Not only were 38 people killed in Tunisia in that barbaric attack on the beach but also on the same day, a large number of people were killed in Kuwait, also apparently by ISIS extremists, and there was the particularly brutal killing of a man in France. It is fitting that we express sympathy to all those affected by those dreadful atrocities.

  I express the hope, even at this eleventh hour, of some success in the attempts to forestall Greek default and a resumption of negotiations. The Taoiseach has written to the Greek Prime Minister in those terms. The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has been attempting to resume negotiations.

  I call for a debate on crime, given the publication today by the CSO of crime statistics. It is a welcome publication as these are the statistics which had been delayed while the CSO addressed issues that had been raised about the reporting and recording of crime statistics by the Garda Inspectorate in last year's report. The CSO has remedied a number of the defects in the reporting and recording of crime that appeared in the Garda Inspectorate report. It is welcome that decreases are recorded in most categories of crime such as a 40% drop in homicides and an 8% decrease in burglaries in the 12 months ending on 31 March 2015. There is a great deal of material in the Garda Inspectorate's report on the reporting and recording of crime and it would be good to have a debate on the issue in due course.

  I note that the CSO has recorded today that the unemployment figure is down to the lowest level, 9.7%, since 2009.  It is still too high, but it is a major improvement on last year's figures. It shows a steady decrease in unemployment and is very welcome.

  I ask the Leader to find time in the next two weeks to commemorate the genocide in Srebrenica. The 20th anniversary of that appalling genocide is 11 July. It was the single largest atrocity on European soil since the Second World War, when 8,372 men and boys were systematically murdered. I have written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to ask for an official Irish commemoration of the 20th anniversary. There will be a commemoration in Belfast on 5 July and on 11 July Srebrenica memorial day will be commemorated across Europe. Quite a number of commemorative events are planned across Britain and Northern Ireland and we might look for some event here.

Senator David Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris Zoom on David P.B. Norris I raise a particularly urgent matter, namely, the imminent fate of a Palestinian village which I know well and to which members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade have travelled to visit, that is, Sousia in the south Hebron hills. I ask the Leader to write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and ask him to intervene and make a statement on the matter. I will provide the Leader with the information and would be most grateful if he would make that contact. The village has been in existence for 200 years. In 1983 an Israeli Jewish village called Sousia was established and three years later the Israelis declared the Palestinian Sousia an archaeological site and moved in to demolish it. The people reconstructed their houses, but on 10 May the civil administration of Israel moved in and started taking photographs, recording GPS positions and engaging in legalistic military stuff. It is quite shocking to see the cold, unrelenting military precision of the way in which it acts. It is like the early days of the Nazis. A synagogue has been built in Sousia and the idea is to demolish the Palestinian village, wipe it off the face of the map where it has been for 200 years and join up Sousia synagogue and Sousia village. One of the villagers said: "I am afraid of a silent demolition, that they will come and take our village apart one at a time." The whole idea is to make this area Palestinian free, another echo of the 1930s, when Judenfrei was a policy. This will involve the destruction of a series of structures that were put up with European money, including money from Ireland. There has been very considerable European Commission human aid and civil protection department funding. The Polish, German, Australian and Irish Governments have all contributed money. What is going on is utterly illegal.

  Article 53 of the 1949 Geneva Convention states: "Any destruction by the occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the state, or to other public authorities, or to social or co-operative organisations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations." There is no such pretence by the Israelis. According to Article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention, forcible transfer of the protected population is prohibited and considered to be a grave breech of international humanitarian law. Israel is moving and behaving in a brutalised fashion. It is breaking two of the most significant elements of the 1949 Geneva Convention. I have to go to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, but I will give the relevant documents to the Leader.

Senator Hildegarde Naughton: Information on Hildegarde Naughton Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton I refer to hospice care, in particular an announcement made in Galway this week, where a Galway hospice is planning to submit an application for planning permission for a 26 bed future-proofed unit in Merlin Park which it plans to have open within five years. It is planning a fundraising drive to support the capital costs. Even when the country was awash with money under previous Governments, end-of-life care was under-resourced.  Hospice units such as this are badly needed in Galway and right across the country. Those involved are raising capital funds without Government assistance. This situation is playing out in other areas of the country ajlso. While I appreciate that finances have been constrained since the Government got into office, I suggest a relatively small investment in this area would yield substantial benefits. The failure to invest in hospice care throughout the country is a case of penny wise and pound foolish. I do not doubt that if a cost-benefit analysis of investment in hospice care were made, it would come down heavily in favour of such investment because it makes financial sense to take pressure off our acute hospitals. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to come to the House in order that we can impress on him the practical benefits of making this area a priority in his Department.

Senator Denis O'Donovan: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I would like to raise the appalling rustling of cattle that happened near Tyrrellspass and Kilbeggan in recent days. It is important for this House to be aware of the significance of this issue. Approximately 100 cattle worth in the region of €100,000 were taken from a young farming couple. The obligation for every animal to be tagged at birth is significant because it allows for traceability from the birth of a calf or a lamb all the way through to the table. With this traceability in mind and having regard to the devastation this theft has caused this young couple, it is important that we raise the matter in this House. I ask the Leader to convey my abhorrence of what has happened to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister for Justice and Equality. How could such a number of cattle disappear overnight? The strong level of cross-Border co-operation on agricultural issues was very noticeable at an event in Abbeyleix last Sunday. I was fortunate to attend the event, which was organised by a group that is trying to reduce the number of farm deaths. This House was complimented at that function on the work done at the Seanad Public Consultation Committee and on the report it produced. Ministers from Northern Ireland and from this country attended the event to show solidarity with the farming community. While I am not looking for an urgent debate on this matter, I urge the Leader to take it seriously. It boggles the mind that 100 animals could be taken from a farm and disappear without trace overnight. It is a serious issue. If the people concerned can get away with such theft - it may have been night-time robbery rather than daylight robbery - it is appalling. The devastation caused to a young farming couple who are probably not in a position to rebuild their stock is an extreme worry to me and the farming community.

Senator Jim D'Arcy: Information on Jim D'Arcy Zoom on Jim D'Arcy The people of Haggardstown are getting a little worried about the Greek crisis. They asked me to put a couple of questions in this Chamber. First, are members of Sinn Féin still backing the Syriza-led Greek Government and are they still pally with the guy who visited their Ard-Fheis? Second, what does-----

Senator Terry Leyden: Information on Terry Leyden Zoom on Terry Leyden They have turned the lights out.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien That shows the power of Sinn Féin.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I think they would be appalled in Haggardstown.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson They are stealing electricity in Greece.

Senator Jim D'Arcy: Information on Jim D'Arcy Zoom on Jim D'Arcy The people of Haggardstown want to know what "debt write-down" means.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The lights are back in action.

Senator Jim D'Arcy: Information on Jim D'Arcy Zoom on Jim D'Arcy They want to know whether it means we will pay the money the Greeks have not paid. As the Taoiseach said, at the end of the day all things should be sorted out at the table.

Senator Feargal Quinn: Information on Feargal Quinn Zoom on Feargal Quinn It is a couple of years since I introduced a Bill in the House regarding the provision of defibrillators. The Minister accepted the point, said he would check with the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, but found it would be too expensive. The reason I raise it is that Dublin Airport has been very successful in the use of defibrillators, with 25 lives having been saved. However, HIQA stated it would be too expensive to implement the Bill. Consider what happened last week when somebody needed a defibrillator on a Ryanair flight. There was none on the aeroplane, as is the case with most Irish aeroplanes, and the person died. It is outrageous. Given the minor cost of defibrillators, they should be available. British Airways, EasyJet, Monarch Airlines and Thomas Cook Airlines have defibrillators on each of their aeroplanes, but Irish aeroplanes do not have them. This is an essential item. The debate on the Bill I introduced was adjourned. I would love if it was debated again in the House and if its provisions are too expensive, let us make amendments to it. However, let us ensure Irish aeroplanes carry defibrillators in the future.

  Some of the stories that have been told are outrageous. A coroner is asking for aircraft to carry life-saving equipment after Davina Tavener died of an undiagnosed heart condition on a flight to Lanzarote. The consultant surgeon said, "I did ask for a defibrillator, because if it's a cardiac issue that's the best chance of survival, but it was quite a surprise this wasn't there." The coroner, Alan Walsh, said he would write to the European Aviation Safety Agency, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Irish Aviation Authority about the possibility of installing defibrillators on board. This is urgent and it must happen. We have put if off long enough. It is a few years since I introduced the defibrillator Bill and I am stunned that we have not taken any step forward. I understand the Minister saying he will get around to it, or words to that effect. On that basis I believe it will happen.

  Another Bill that was introduced is the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill, the debate on which was adjourned also. The reason for that Bill being introduced was that a relatively young man, Muhammad Younis, was earning 55 cent per hour for a 70 hour week for seven years in Ireland. When he made a claim, it was found that he had a good claim but that, unfortunately, he only had his work permit for one year. Therefore, he lost the case. He brought his case to the High Court and lost it, but then brought it to the Supreme Court and won it. However, let us ensure we are not obliged to rely on such processes for such people. Last Thursday he won his claim.

  Let us ensure we consider these legislative measures and complete them. They are very simple. The Bill was discussed in the House and nobody disagreed with it. However, it was adjourned with one minute to go. Let us bring it back to the House and ensure it is passed, with the legislation on defibrillators. We need both measures very badly.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke To follow Senator Feargal Quinn's comments on the need for defibrillators on aeroplanes, which is an important issue, I wish to raise an issue regarding people on holidays. Sadly, there has been a great deal of focus on people on holidays in the past few days due to tragic events, but the issue I wish to raise is the consumption of alcohol by people on holidays. I recently spoke to a colleague who told me that on their way back from a holiday a person went through withdrawal symptoms on the aeroplane. Obviously, the person was drinking excessively while on holidays. When it was suggested the only solution available on the aeroplane was to give the person a drink, the response was that he could not be given a drink because he had to drive others home from the airport. It is important when people go on holidays to keep the issue of alcohol consumption in mind because excessive drinking can cause problems. It certainly caused problems in that case, and caused problems for the airline also.

  The other issue I wish to raise - I raised it as a Commencement matter earlier - is the current difficulties with the registration of nurses and the shortage of nurses.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke That was discussed as a Commencement matter and should not be raised on the Order of Business.

Senator Colm Burke: Information on Colm Burke Zoom on Colm Burke There is a shortage of nurses, while nursing homes involved in providing care are having to recruit abroad. The cost of doing so is in the order of €10,000 per person for retraining and so on. It is time we looked at creating a tax incentive for Irish nurses working abroad to come home if they want to come back. It is not attractive enough at the moment and we need to examine what can be done to make it attractive. If it is costing an Irish company €10,000 to bring in someone who is not an Irish citizen or an EU citizen, we should be providing an incentive for Irish people to come home. That should be included in the upcoming budget.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I supported a motion last week about the funding of Rape Crisis Network Ireland. I wish to indicate the view of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre that its funding has not been cut, although it is under-funded. The centre asked me last night to make this point. I apologise for any injury caused to the Minister. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is, however, looking for additional funding and asks that Tusla be better funded to that purpose.

  I also wish to raise the lone parents issue. I have heard this kicked around town and around the Houses for the last couple of weeks. I received e-mails today suggesting that, for example, a woman working as a cleaner in a school for 2.5 hours a day or 12.5 hours a week does not qualify for family income supplement. The loss of income to her family is €142 a week. Somewhere along the line, somebody has got this wrong. It would take great courage for somebody to come in to the House and admit he or she got it wrong and needs to go back and address the legislation. The Government side has got it wrong and 10,000 families are going to lose money. I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business, that we take No. 74, motion No. 17, before No. 1. The very least we owe lone parents is our interest in their welfare and that of their children. For God's sake, we hear what is going on in Greece, with families eating out of dustbins and things like that. A woman who is doing decent work, spending 2.5 hours a day cleaning a school, is losing €142 a week. It is nonsense. Let us be honest with ourselves and those who are suffering.

Senator Catherine Noone: Information on Catherine Noone Zoom on Catherine Noone I have good news on an issue which I have raised numerous times before. I am delighted an agreement has been reached on the abolition of roaming charges between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council. It is due to come into effect in June 2017. From April 2016 we will have surcharges for roaming capped at 5 cent per minute for calls. There will also be reductions for SMS messages and megabytes. It is a far cry from where we were just a few years ago. In 2010 the charge was €7 per megabyte of data when roaming, 140 times what it will cost in April 2016. It seems extraordinary, looking back. In 2010 a call cost 52 cent per minute, ten times what it will cost in 2016. This is a positive change by the European Union. It still has to be voted on by the European Parliament, but I gather that agreement has been reached. A few months ago it looked as though the measure would be stalled entirely, but it is now likely to come to pass.

Senator Paschal Mooney: Information on Paschal Mooney Zoom on Paschal Mooney I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell. As the Leader will be aware, we have repeatedly raised this issue since the time of the original debate with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, in 2012. Her comments at the time will haunt her and her party into the general election. She said she would be opposed to introducing this measure until there was a Scandinavian model of child care in this country. She has not resiled from that statement nor has she made any comments about it since. Obviously, she felt strongly enough about it at the time to state she was opposed to the introduction of this measure, yet she has been spinning justification for it ever since. Like Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, other Members and I have been receiving plaintive e-mails from lone parents who will be significantly affected by this measure.

  I am somewhat concerned that Ireland would not be seen to be beating the Greeks over the head over what is happening. I appreciate that the idea of their debt and a write-down of it would be anathema to the Government and many people in this country would feel the same, considering that the European Commission and the European Union left us swinging in the wind with our own debt. However, it is not in anybody's interests, and certainly not in the interests of the European Union, that Greece should exit the eurozone. I hope wise heads will prevail and that Greece will come back to the negotiating table. I also hope the sympathy and empathy many Irish people have for the Greek people will be highlighted.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane Like Senator Ivana Bacik, I also call for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Minister stated today that she welcomed the resumption of publication of the recorded crime statistics. We should have a full debate on that issue. As the Minister stated, it is vital that we have access to accurate information and reliable data on crime. I welcome her statement that the work of both the CSO and the Garda Inspectorate has identified common issues of concern in relation to the crime. She went on to state that technology has failed to keep up with the demands of policing in a modern society and that she will be announcing new improvements in technology. It is very difficult for gardaí to do their work if the technology and recording systems with which they are provided are not up to scratch. Sometimes one cannot even send an e-mail to a garda. All gardaí should have hand-held devices where everything is recorded there and then. There should also be a back-up system in place. Restaurants have such a system so why can the Garda not have it? Technology has failed the Garda. That is the message I want to get across. That issue should be included in the debate as well as the crime statistics. The recording of statistics is now done on computer but if one has to write the information on paper and then record it on computer, it defeats the purpose.

  I wish to raise another issue which was raised by a councillor in Galway recently, namely, that a garda who goes on maternity leave is not replaced. Teachers on maternity leave are replaced and there is a rota system in place for teachers. However, when a garda goes on maternity leave, the other gardaí in the unit have to pick up the slack. I have some statistics. By the end of the year, one garda in three will be female. As we all know, men do not have babies-----

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell That is all changing.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane -----but women do. Only a handful of the retirees will be female for the simple reason that in 1983, of the 400 recruits, only 20 were female.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien That would be a good subject for a Commencement debate.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane The retirees will be men. I would like that issue to be included in the debate. I ask for an all-encompassing debate covering the availability and updating of IT facilities for all gardaí on the beat and maternity leave. I know that the Government is bringing in-----

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Is there anything else?

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane Child care, maternity leave and shared paternity leave should also be included.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke The Senator is way over time.

Senator Cáit Keane: Information on Cáit Keane Zoom on Cáit Keane We have to consider all aspects concerning the force, as well as the issue of crime statistics and how they are matched.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate on the need for a debt conference, a debate we have repeatedly requested in this House.  The issue has come into sharp focus again as a result of developments in Greece and the demands being made by the Greek Government. While we all want a solution for Greece, it must be a fair and sustainable one, which will require some level of restructuring of the country's debt. Any economist worth his or her salt will agree with the statement in recent weeks by a Nobel Prize winning economist that without a debt write-down or restructuring of debt for Greece, there cannot and will not be a solution. Even if the Greek Government were to sign up to such a proposal, we would be back at the table in a short period.

  A twin track approach has been required throughout this process. On one side, it is necessary to deal with fiscal problems. The Greek Government has made proposals in this area, on some of which broad agreement has been found. However, no agreement has been found on the need for a restructuring of debt. I understand last minute efforts are under way to reach agreement and debt restructuring may or may not be on the table, although we do not have any details. If that is the case, it will be a welcome development. Debt restructuring could have been done a long time ago as the bones of a deal have always been in place. The problem has been that, for political reasons, governments in Europe were not prepared to give Greece what its economy and citizens need because they were fearful of the political consequences such an agreement would have for emerging left parties across Europe. This was a wrong move by the Irish Government and some of the leaders of the European institutions.

  I ask again that the Leader arrange a debate on the need for a debt conference. Let us discuss what needs to be done to restructure debt and ensure the burden of debt placed on taxpayers and citizens in many countries across the European Union is lifted in a manner that allows the economies in question, including the Greek economy, to benefit and grow.

Senator Paul Coghlan: Information on Paul Coghlan Zoom on Paul Coghlan The Senator from Haggardstown asked some pertinent questions today and it is interesting to hear Senator David Cullinane following on from them. While we all empathise with the Greeks, as Senator Jim D'Arcy stated, nothing will be resolved without dialogue and the parties involved sitting around a table. The problem will have to be solved eventually through dialogue.

  I wish to briefly discuss another issue, namely, the growing concern about the number of unlicensed auctioneers who are practising. Auctioneers and others must register with the Property Services Regulatory Authority. It appears, however, that these unlicensed individuals have not been in contact with the PSRA and the authority which was established for a specific purpose does not appear to have been in contact with them. I presume these unlicensed auctioneers are not bonded or insured, thus placing members of the public at risk. The Leader will probably inform me that this matter would be suitable for discussion in a Commencement debate. Perhaps I might raise it as a Commencement matter.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford I join previous speakers in proposing that the Leader arrange a debate on the broader aspects of the Greek crisis. Senator Jim D'Arcy, in his usual entertaining manner, recounted the questions being posed to him by people in his locality. I am pleased he brought this matter to our attention. The appropriate response would be to hold a broad debate on the Greek crisis at the earliest opportunity. I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter by way of the Commencement debate tomorrow morning. Perhaps we have not fully recognised the prospective scale of the economic, political and regional damage a Greek exit from the eurozone could cause. Everyone must act responsibly as there are no easy answers. As Senator Paul Coghlan stated, it is a matter of trying to negotiate a solution. As with all difficulties of this nature, neither side has all the answers and we must listen to the arguments made by both sides. A debate would be a useful exercise for Senators who will, I presume, have something to say on the matter and have an interest in and concern about it.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I join colleagues in extending my deepest sympathy to all of those who lost their lives in the Tunisian terror attack at the weekend. We think, in particular, today of the family of Lorna Carty from County Meath and Larry and Martina Hayes from Athlone. The Hayes family has many connections in my home town.  What we saw was an act of terrorism and racism of the worst kind, which obviously was designed to inflict as much damage as possible on the economy of Tunisia. Members must stand in solidarity with that country which is struggling to maintain its democracy and to move on its economy. In particular, this proves how vulnerable we all are. The people who were on that beach had no agenda, except to have a rest and a break. They were no threat to anyone but were killed in cold blood. A debate is needed in this House on the threat being posed by Islamic State and what can be done collectively with our European Union partners to deal with this major threat to civilisation and to democracy. I also share the concern expressed by a previous speaker who referred to the possibility that there may be Irish citizens fighting in Syria with Islamic State, a matter about which Members should be deeply concerned.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien There are.

Senator Michael Mullins: Information on Michael Mullins Zoom on Michael Mullins I also support strongly Senator Denis O'Donovan's remarks on what the Dillon family in Kilbeggan is going through. They lost 100 head of livestock over the weekend and apparently a cross-Border rustling gang which pays protection money to paramilitaries is behind this activity. This is all part of the cross-Border activities such as fuel smuggling, diesel laundering, cigarette smuggling and the drugs industry, all of which are doing immense damage to the economy. I will go so far as to ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality about how the PSNI and the Garda can co-operate better in trying to tackle this major threat to the economy, both north and south of the Border. Moreover, if it is necessary to strengthen legislation to tackle this issue, Members should do so, because this cannot be allowed to continue. The livelihood of that young family, the Dillon family from Kilbeggan, has been destroyed absolutely overnight. This also is happening on a smaller scale in other parts of the country, including the west. The people involved, because of the new and enhanced road network, can now get across the Border frequently. This is a major issue that requires debate in this House and I look forward to the organisation of such a debate by the Leader, if not before the recess, then immediately afterwards.

Senator Terry Brennan: Information on Terry Brennan Zoom on Terry Brennan I welcome the Connecting for Life initiative, Ireland's new national strategy for suicide prevention for the next five years, launched recently by the Taoiseach. Connecting for Life sets out a vision of an Ireland in which fewer lives are lost through suicide and in which communities and individuals are empowered to improve their mental health and well-being. This initiative is an ambitious strategy that sets a target to reduce suicide and self-harm by 10% in the next five years. There is no one-size-fits-all in mental health and the range of services reflects this. As part of the suicide strategy, we need to connect with ourselves, our families and communities and the services on offer. I seek a debate with the Minister for Health on these proposals and how we can play our part individually in ensuring the success of the national strategy in reducing the number of people, young and old, taking their own lives.

Senator Rónán Mullen: Information on Rónán Mullen Zoom on Rónán Mullen Two weeks ago I called on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to engage in genuine consultation with farmers and landowners in east County Galway about the proposed greenway cycle route project. It now transpires that the Minister has written to around 1,000 landowners in a bid to work out a feasible route. However, I am concerned that this may not be a genuine consultation because I have had sight of the letter sent to landowners and it is clear that their legitimate concerns are still being ignored.  First, there is still the threat of compulsory purchase orders, CPOs. The Department is proposing to run a new public right of way through family farms, using the threat of a CPO or such proceedings against farmers, which is absolutely outrageous. CPOs are designed to be used in the context of the provision of vital national infrastructure. Such infrastructure does not include cycle paths. Second, the Department seems to be determined to proceed with the route it has selected. No consideration is being given to an alternative route along the train line, where the land is actually owned by the public. Furthermore, the Minister proposes that two of his officials will meet and visit farmers individually to discuss, among other things, the possibility of CPOs being made in respect of their lands. That is a regrettable development. I agree with the IFA that farmers should be able to meet the officials in groups rather than on an individual basis. There is an inherent inequality in outnumbering any given farmer with two officials who have been told to push the implicit threat of the use of a CPO with a view to obtaining agreement. This behaviour on the part of the Department is unfair and unreasonable.

  There are other matters which must be addressed, including farm safety issues. A farm is a working environment. Imagine if a factory owner was to be informed that a cycle path was to be run through his yard or across his factory floor. Such a development simply would not be tolerated. However, farmers are expected to assume the risk of members of the public having access to their lands, where potentially dangerous livestock may be located. One farmer to whom I spoke pointed out that the planned route dissected his land and that his dairy herd would have to cross the greenway four times each day. There are obvious safety concerns. There are also privacy concerns, particularly with people being obliged to come to terms with a public right of way running close to their private dwellings. It is extremely regrettable that measures to protect privacy are entirely absent from the Minister's proposed consultation process. People living in rural areas, as is well known in this House, are concerned about crime. They are particularly worried about the increase in the number of crimes at isolated properties. Garda stations have been closed and it is now rare for people living in rural areas to receive a visit from local gardaí. In the current climate people are rightly concerned about the creation of a public right of way close to their homes. In order to prevent this greenway project from turning from a mess into a fiasco, the Minister needs to offer meaningful measures relating to safety and privacy for landowners. This has not yet been done. No farmer should be threatened with a CPO in order to facilitate the provision of a cycle path.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I join those Members who expressed their sympathy and condolences to the families of Lorna Carty and Martina and Larry Hayes. The attacks in Tunisia were savage in nature and the atrocities carried out elsewhere were dreadful. I assure Senator Darragh O'Brien that I will certainly ask the relevant Minister to come before the House to discuss terrorist and extremist threats in this country.

  I note the Senator's points which he has made on several occasions on the pension levy which will be brought to an end this year. I am sure he will be glad to hear this.

Senator Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I am sure the Leader will be glad also.

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins Senators Ivana Bacik and Cáit Keane referred to the crime statistics. Senator Cáit Keane inquired about the possibility of having a debate on the greater use of technology, in which debate the issue of maternity leave for gardaí could be included. I will try to arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House to debate these matters in early course.

  Senator Ivana Bacik welcomed the fact that the unemployment rate had fallen to 9.7%. I am sure this will be welcomed by all Senators.

  I have been passed the information Senator David Norris provided on the Palestinian village of Sousia. I will certainly raise the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

  Senator Hildegarde Naughton referred to the 26-bed hospice care unit planned for Galway and the fact that public investment would be needed to supplement the capital funds being raised by those involved with the project. The position is the same in Waterford where construction of a major palliative care centre is due to begin later in the year. Some €6 million is to be provided for the latter project by means of fund-raising by the public. The amounts involved are very large in the context of public fund-raising.  It has been done there and I am sure it will be done in Galway. I stress the need for further Government funding for hospice and palliative care services.

  Senators Denis O'Donovan and Michael Mullins raised the issue of cattle rustling and referred to the devastating blow to the Dillon family. This is a serious matter. As has been stated, there is a need for increased North-South police co-operation to address the question of paramilitary involvement and money being siphoned off for paramilitaries and others as a result of these acts in the past few months. The issue will have to be debated. The only time we heard about cattle rustling in the past was in connection with the Wild West, but it seems to be like the Wild West here because there is little control in policing on both sides of the Border. While there is co-operation, there is a need for further action and legislation, if necessary, to curb these acts.

  Senator Jim D'Arcy put the number of questions he had received from the people of Haggardstown. They were salient questions which Senator David Cullinane did not proceed to answer.

  Senators Paschal Mooney, David Cullinane, Paul Coghlan, Paul Bradford and others referred to the situation in Greece. There is no question but that we must empathise with the Greek people when we see elderly pensioners queuing outside boarded up banks and clutching their deposit books wondering whether they will have access to their money or be able to put food on the table. This is a serious issue for the Greek people which can be averted if the Greek Government decides to return to talks on how to keep Greece in the eurozone by agreeing to a new support programme. There were signs of economic recovery in Greece in 2014, with a small increase in GDP, falling unemployment and the regaining of access to financial markets, but they are gone. There cannot be jobs and investment without economic stability. Similarly, there cannot be economic stability without political stability. Yesterday the Taoiseach wrote to the Greek Minister to outline Ireland's support for the objective of achieving a sustainable and mutually beneficial agreement acceptable to all concerned which would return Greece to growth within the eurozone. The Taoiseach stated it had been very much his hope that, in line with the approach agreed to, agreement would have been achieved at the Eurogroup meeting on 27 June on the basis of negotiations between the Greek Government and the institutions, but, unfortunately, the decision of the Greek Prime Minister to unilaterally break off the negotiations meant agreement could not be reached at the time. The Government continues to urge a return to negotiations as quickly as possible, while the Taoiseach has reiterated to the Greek Prime Minister that Ireland, with the rest of the countries in the eurozone, remains open to dialogue in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility. There is a need, even at this stage, for the Greek Government to return to the table and the negotiations to deal with the dire situation facing the country.

  Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the need for defibrillators on Irish aeroplanes. This is a serious matter. Perhaps we might resume the debate on the Bill he introduced two years ago.

  On the point the Senator raised about employment permits, Second Stage of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 will be taken later and I hope he will take part in that debate. The employment permits issue he mentioned could be incorporated into the debate on the Bill. I ask him to consider this suggestion.   Senator Colm Burke spoke about excessive drinking and the shortage of nurses, a matter he raised in the Commencement debate. I take his point about the need for incentives to bring back Irish nurses from abroad because there is a dire shortage.

  Senator Gerard P. Craughwell clarified that funding for the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre had not been cut, as I mentioned last week. I do not propose to accept his amendment to the Order of Business that No. 74, non-Government motion No. 17, be taken before No. 1.

  Senator Catherine Noone spoke about roaming charges. It is very welcome that these charges will be ended by 2017. It is a matter that has been raised in this House for many years and it is great news that eventually we will see the end of these exorbitant charges.

  Senator Michael Mullins spoke about the terrorist attack in Tunisia and what had happened at the Dillon family farm.

  I note Senator Terry Brennan's point about the national strategy for suicide prevention, on which I will try to arrange a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

  Senator Rónán Mullen spoke about a greenway project in east Galway. The greenways established throughout the country have been very successful. They have been established through negotiations between local authorities, farming institutions and others. I suggest the Senator table a Commencement matter on the specific greenway project he mentioned.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke Senator Gerard P. Craughwell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 74, non-Government motion No. 17, be taken before No. 1." Is the amendment being pressed?

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Yes.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 20.

Information on Paul Bradford   Zoom on Paul Bradford   Bradford, Paul. Information on Ivana Bacik   Zoom on Ivana Bacik   Bacik, Ivana.
Information on Thomas Byrne   Zoom on Thomas Byrne   Byrne, Thomas. Information on Terry Brennan   Zoom on Terry Brennan   Brennan, Terry.
Information on Gerard P. Craughwell   Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell   Craughwell, Gerard P. Information on Colm Burke   Zoom on Colm Burke   Burke, Colm.
Information on David Cullinane   Zoom on David Cullinane   Cullinane, David. Information on Eamonn Coghlan   Zoom on Eamonn Coghlan   Coghlan, Eamonn.
Information on Mark Daly   Zoom on Mark Daly   Daly, Mark. Information on Paul Coghlan   Zoom on Paul Coghlan   Coghlan, Paul.
Information on James Heffernan   Zoom on James Heffernan   Heffernan, James. Information on Michael Comiskey   Zoom on Michael Comiskey   Comiskey, Michael.
Information on Terry Leyden   Zoom on Terry Leyden   Leyden, Terry. Information on Maurice Cummins   Zoom on Maurice Cummins   Cummins, Maurice.
Information on Paschal Mooney   Zoom on Paschal Mooney   Mooney, Paschal. Information on Jim D'Arcy   Zoom on Jim D'Arcy   D'Arcy, Jim.
Information on Rónán Mullen   Zoom on Rónán Mullen   Mullen, Rónán. Information on Imelda Henry   Zoom on Imelda Henry   Henry, Imelda.
Information on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Zoom on Brian Ó Domhnaill   Ó Domhnaill, Brian. Information on Lorraine Higgins   Zoom on Lorraine Higgins   Higgins, Lorraine.
Information on Darragh O'Brien   Zoom on Darragh O'Brien   O'Brien, Darragh. Information on Cáit Keane   Zoom on Cáit Keane   Keane, Cáit.
Information on Denis O'Donovan   Zoom on Denis O'Donovan   O'Donovan, Denis. Information on John Kelly   Zoom on John Kelly   Kelly, John.
Information on Averil Power   Zoom on Averil Power   Power, Averil. Information on Denis Landy   Zoom on Denis Landy   Landy, Denis.
Information on Jillian van Turnhout   Zoom on Jillian van Turnhout   van Turnhout, Jillian. Information on Mary Moran   Zoom on Mary Moran   Moran, Mary.
Information on Mary M. White   Zoom on Mary M. White   White, Mary M. Information on Tony Mulcahy   Zoom on Tony Mulcahy   Mulcahy, Tony.
Information on Diarmuid Wilson   Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson   Wilson, Diarmuid. Information on Michael Mullins   Zoom on Michael Mullins   Mullins, Michael.
Information on Katherine Zappone   Zoom on Katherine Zappone   Zappone, Katherine. Information on Hildegarde Naughton   Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton   Naughton, Hildegarde.
  Information on Catherine Noone   Zoom on Catherine Noone   Noone, Catherine.
  Information on Tom Sheahan   Zoom on Tom Sheahan   Sheahan, Tom.
  Information on John Whelan   Zoom on John Whelan   Whelan, John.

Tellers: Tá, Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.

Amendment declared lost.

  Order of Business agreed to.

Business of Seanad

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I am sure Members would like to join me in welcoming to the Visitors Gallery Councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice, Councillor Nigel Dineen, Dr. Greg Kelly, Mr. Liam Walsh and a former councillor and former GAA representative from County Roscommon - I know that they had a bad day - Mr. Danny Burke.

Educational Research Centre (Establishment) Order 2015: Referral to Joint Committee

Senator Maurice Cummins: Information on Maurice Cummins Zoom on Maurice Cummins I move:

That the proposal that Seanad Éireann approve the following Order in draft:
Educational Research Centre (Establishment) Order 2015,
copies of which were laid before Seanad Éireann on 11 June 2015, be referred to the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, in accordance with Standing Order 70A(3)(j), which, not later than 14 July 2015, shall send a message to the Seanad in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 73 and Standing Order 75(2) shall accordingly apply.

  Question put and agreed to.

Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage

  Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I welcome the Minister of State.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Gerald Nash): Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I am pleased to introduce the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2015 for the consideration of the House. The Bill, in its totality, represents a significant step forward for workers and employers in providing clear, workable and constitutionally robust frameworks within which workers remuneration and conditions of employment can be discussed and determined. I am confident that the framework proposed will fit Ireland's constitutional, social and economic traditions and its international obligations, and importantly, will ensure continued success in creating jobs and attracting investment into the economy.

  The purpose of the legislation is twofold. First, it will provide for the reintroduction of the registration of employment agreements between employers and trade unions in individual enterprises and will provide for a new statutory framework to replace the former sectoral registered employment agreements. Second, the Bill will put in place the legislative amendments required to give effect to the programme for Government commitment to reform the Industrial Relations Acts 2001 and 2004.

  Before moving to detail the various sections of the Bill, I will give Senators an overview of what the Bill achieves. Part 2 provides for the registration of employment agreements between an employer or employers or a trade union of employers and trade unions of workers governing remuneration and conditions of employment in individual enterprises. The content of these agreements will be a matter for the contracting parties and they will be legally binding on the subscribing parties.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell Gabh mo leithscéal nóiméad amháin, do we have a copy of the speech?

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I believe it is on its way.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I thank the Minister of State.

Deputy Gerald Nash: Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash Part 2 also provides for the making of sectoral employment orders, SEOs. The Labour Court may initiate a review of the pay and pension and sick pay entitlements of workers of a particular class, type or group in a particular sector and, if it deems it appropriate, make a relevant recommendation to the Minister. Such a review will be initiated at the request, separately or jointly, from organisations substantially representative of employers and-or workers. Where the Minister is satisfied that the process provided for in the new legislation has been complied with by the Labour Court, he or she shall make the order. Where such an order is made, it will be binding as regards the class, type or group across the sector to which it relates and it will be fully enforceable.

  There is broad acceptance that the reintroduction of REAs and a sectoral pay and conditions framework in a constitutionally robust manner will be of benefit to both workers and their employers. From a worker and employer perspective, the agreements and orders will provide certainty around what pay and conditions will be into the future, and the very real pay-off of industrial peace. These are critical for workers planning their future and for employers when tendering for and working through contracts. They will also maintain skill standards and help avoid races to the bottom that, in the end, are of no lasting benefit to employers or workers. In addition, there is no doubt but that REAs and SEOs will address the uncertainty around pay and conditions that has arisen since the McGowan ruling and should assist in resolving industrial disputes or potential disputes that have occurred following that decision.

  Part 3 of the Bill marks the fulfilment of a significant commitment in the programme for Government to ensure that Irish law is consistent with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. It will provide a clear and balanced mechanism by which the fairness of the employment conditions of workers in their totality can be assessed where collective bargaining does not take place.  It will ensure such workers, aided by a trade union, can advance claims about remuneration and conditions of employment and have these determined by the Labour Court based on comparisons with similar companies. It provides definitions of key terms, as well as guidelines to help the Labour Court identify if internal bargaining bodies are genuinely independent of their employer and policies and principles for the Labour Court to follow when assessing the comparability of the remuneration and conditions in dispute.

  The Government knows that workers in some employments may feel exposed in seeking to improve terms and conditions and that making themselves known may have unwanted and unwarranted consequences. The legislation will bring in significant protection against such consequences. This will be done by way of interim relief in the Circuit Court where a dismissal is challenged by a worker who believes he or she was victimised as a result of his or her participation in the invoking of the processes of the Act. Worker and employer stakeholders have played a critical role in assisting the Government in developing this clear and workable framework and I acknowledge the huge contribution of the representatives of both sides of industry in this regard.

  Part 4 of the Bill provides for a number of amendments to the Industrial Relations Acts in a number of important areas. Taken together with the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill that has already been passed by this House, this suite of legislative reforms represents a unique opportunity for the Oireachtas to bring about the most significant shift in the industrial relations landscape seen in many years.

  Part 1 of the Bill deals with the Short Title, citation, constructive provisions and commencement date and certain definitions. Part 2 deals with REAs and SEOs. Chapter 1 of Part 2 provides for definitions of key terms to be used in Chapter 2. Chapter 2 of Part 2 deals with registered employment agreements.

  Section 7 provides for the register of employment agreements to be maintained by the Labour Court, including the provision that the details of REA registration, cancellation and variation be published on the Internet.

  Section 8 provides that where an application is made to register an employment agreement, the court shall register it only where it is satisfied that there is all-party agreement that it should be registered and it is satisfied that it is desirable or expedient to have a separate agreement for the class, type or group of workers covered by the agreement. Similarly, the court shall only register the agreement where it is satisfied that the trade union of workers is or trade unions of workers are substantially representative of such workers and that the agreement provides that, if a trade dispute occurs between workers to whom the agreement relates and their employer, industrial action or lock-out shall not take place until the dispute has been submitted for settlement by negotiation in the manner specified in the agreement. In addition, the court shall not register any such agreement unless it is satisfied that registration of the agreement is likely to promote harmonious relations between workers and their employer, and the avoidance of industrial unrest. It is important to note that an REA will not prejudice any rights as to rates of remuneration or conditions of employment conferred on any worker by or under this Bill or any other Act.

  Section 9 provides for the variation of REAs. This may arise where all parties so agree or where one party wishes to vary the agreement but the other does not. In the latter case, the court, after the exhaustion of the agreed dispute provisions, may refuse or grant such a variation as the court deems appropriate. Provision is made for a party to withdraw from an agreement following a variation where the agreement provides for a party to do so.

  Section 10 provides that the court may cancel the registration of an employment agreement at the request of all parties or on the application of any party, where the registration of an employment agreement has continued after the finishing date and consented to by all parties. This is to ensure all parties are aware that a termination date is imminent. It may also cancel the registration where it is satisfied that the trade union of workers, or trade unions of workers, who were party to the agreement are no longer substantially representative of the workers concerned.

  Section 11 provides for the incorporation of the terms of any REA in respect of remuneration or conditions of employment to be incorporated into a worker's contract of employment.

  Section 12 provides that the Labour Court may, where asked, give its decision on any question as to the interpretation of an REA or its application.

  Chapter 3 of Part 2 deals with the new mechanism dealing with SEOs. These will encompass pay and remuneration, pension schemes, sick pay schemes, or a combination of any or all three.

  Section 13 provides for definitions of key terms to be used in Chapter 3.  Section 14 provides that a trade union of workers or a trade union or organisation of employers which is substantially representative of workers or employers of a particular class, type or group of workers in a particular economic sector may, separately or jointly, request the Labour Court to examine the terms and conditions relating to the remuneration, sick pay or pension of workers of that particular class, type or group and request the court to make a recommendation to the Minister. The court may not consider a request where the Minister has made an employment order for the same workers in that sector in the previous 12 months, unless there are exceptional and compelling reasons.

Section 15 provides that the Labour Court shall not undertake an examination unless it is satisfied that the trade union of workers or trade union or organisation of employers are substantially representative of workers in the economic sector and, in satisfying itself, the court will take into account the number of workers represented by the trade union and the number of workers employed in the sector by employers represented by the trade union or organisation of employers concerned. Section 15 also provides that the court will have to be satisfied that it is normal and desirable practice to have separate rates of remuneration, sick pay and pension provisions in the class, type or group of worker in the sector concerned and that any recommendation is likely to promote harmonious relations.

Section 16 provides guidance to the Labour Court on the principles and policies that it must take into account before making a recommendation to the Minister, including the requirement to ensure that the recommendation would promote harmonious relations, promote and preserve high standards of training and qualifications and ensure fair and sustainable rates of remuneration in the sector. Section 16 also provides that the recommendation by the court may provide for a minimum hourly rate of pay in excess of the national minimum wage; not more than two higher hourly rates of basic pay based on length of service in the sector or enterprise concerned or the attainment of recognised standards or skills in the sector concerned; and minimum rates of pay in respect of young workers as provided for, and in accordance with, the relevant percentages set out in the National Minimum Wage Act. The recommendation may also include a minimum rate of remuneration for apprentices, any pay in excess of basic pay in respect of shift work, piece work, overtime, unsocial hours worked, hours worked on a Sunday or travelling time. Recommendations in this respect are at the discretion of the court. A recommendation will include the procedures to apply in the case of a dispute concerning the terms of a sectoral employment order, SEO.

Section 17 provides for the submission by the Labour Court to and consideration by the Minister of the Labour Court recommendation. The Minister shall refuse to make such an order if not satisfied that the process has been complied with, otherwise the Minister shall make the order. There will be a requirement for a positive Oireachtas resolution before any order is made.

Section 18 provides that if an order has not been amended or revoked within three years, the Minister may request that the court undertake a review of the terms and conditions of the previous order.

Section 19 provides that an SEO shall apply to all workers of the class, type or group in the relevant sector, regardless of whether the worker and his or her employer were party to the request to the Labour Court and for the incorporation of the terms of any SEO in a worker's contract of employment.

Section 20 provides for anti-penalisation measures to protect a worker who invokes any right conferred on him or her by the Act or takes other specified actions under the Act.

Section 21 provides for a mechanism to allow an employer experiencing financial difficulties to apply to the Labour Court for a temporary derogation from the requirement to pay the remuneration provided for by an order.

Section 22 provides for a requirement for employers to whom an REA or a SEO applies to keep such records as are necessary to show whether they are compliant with the terms of the REA or SEO.

Section 23 provides for the functions of an adjudication officer of the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court on disputes regarding the penalisation provisions under section 20 of the Bill, breaches of an REA and breaches of an SEO.

Section 24 provides for the amendments to the Workplace Relations Act 2015 to accommodate the necessary compliance and enforcement requirements regarding REAs and SEOs.

Part 3 of the Bill addresses the Government commitment on collective bargaining. Section 25 provides for definitions of key terms to be used in Part 3.

Section 26 amends the principal Act to provide for the insertion of a number of relevant definitions regarding collective bargaining and excepted body.

Section 27 amends the principal Act by the insertion of definitions of collective bargaining and excepted body. These definitions apply only to the principal Act and have no meaning in terms of other legislation.

Section 28 amends the principal Act to remove the right of access of an excepted body under section 2(1) of the 2001 Act.Since the decision of the Supreme Court in larnród Éireann v. Holbrooke and Others it is clear that a body can only be an excepted body within the meaning of the Trade Union Act 1941 if it actually conducts consensual negotiations with an employer. The existence of a genuine excepted body means that a fundamental requirement of the Act, that is, the absence of collective bargaining negotiations, cannot be met.   Section 28 also amends the principal Act to provide for additional matters that the court must consider in determining the question of whether an employer engages in collective bargaining with his or her workers before embarking on a full investigation. In this regard, it is recognised that the processes under this legislation are not appropriate to disputes involving an insignificant number of workers. New provisions are added to the principal Act which balance the need to avoid the possibility of the creation of artificial grades, groups or categories designed to subvert the intention of the Act, while at the same time avoiding the erection of a barrier to access for all reasonable cases. To achieve this, the principal Act now provides that the court shall decline to conduct an investigation of a trade dispute where it is satisfied that the number of workers party to the trade dispute is such as to be insignificant, either in relation to the grade, group or category of workers concerned or where the grade, group or category of worker to which the trade dispute refers is itself part of a larger related grade, group or category of workers, unless there are exceptional and compelling reasons that justify the conducting of such an investigation.

  Section 28 also amends the principal Act to ensure the same or a different trade union cannot repeat the process if the court has very recently made a recommendation or determination for the same workers. Specifically, it provides that, other than in particular stated circumstances, the Labour Court shall not admit a request by the same workers to which the trade disputes refers where the court has made a recommendation or determination in relation to the same workers in the previous 18 months.

  Section 28 inserts a new subsection into the principal Act to give practical effect to the principle of independence of an excepted body. Specifically, it provides guidance to the Labour Court as to the criteria it should take into account in determining whether an excepted body is engaged in collective bargaining as defined in the Act and is genuinely independent of the employer. Section 28 also amends the principal Act by providing that where an employer asserts to the Labour Court that it is his or her practice to engage in collective bargaining with an excepted body in respect of the workers concerned, it will be for the employer to satisfy the Labour Court on this.

  Section 29 inserts a new section into the principal Act to provide for supplemental matters relating to members of the trade union employed by the employer. The Government has decided, as a matter of policy, that it would be preferable for the workers involved in a dispute under this Act not to be required to make themselves known to their employer early in the process if possible, so as to avoid any potential for victimisation. The new section provides that a statutory declaration made by the chief officer of the trade union concerned, setting out the number of its members who are party to the trade dispute and period of membership in the grade, group, or category to which the trade dispute refers, shall be admissible in evidence without further proof unless the contrary is shown. However, where the employer asks that the matters specified in the declaration be examined, the Labour Court shall satisfy itself that these are correct.

  Section 30 amends the principal Act to substitute the term "terms and conditions of employment" with "the totality of remuneration and conditions of employment". This is required to ensure the totality of pay and conditions is examined by the Labour Court. Section 30 makes provision in the principal Act to the effect that the Labour Court shall not make a recommendation providing for an improvement in the remuneration and conditions of employment of a grade, group or category of workers unless it is satisfied that the totality of remuneration and conditions of employment of the workers concerned provides a lesser benefit to the workers concerned having regard to the totality of remuneration and conditions of employment of comparable workers employed in similar employments. This provision is required because the principal Act, as it stands, provides no guidance to the Labour Court on the factors that should be taken into account in formulating a recommendation or determination under the Act.

  Section 30 provides new guidance for the Labour Court, in considering whether to make a recommendation on the dispute, as to the procedures to follow in assessing whether the totality of remuneration and conditions of employment of the workers concerned provides a lesser benefit for the workers concerned having regard to the totality of remuneration and conditions of employment of comparable workers employed in similar employments. Specifically, the court is required to have regard to the totality of the remuneration and conditions of employment of comparable workers employed in similar employments - regardless of whether such comparable workers are represented by a trade union - and the comparability of skills, responsibilities and physical and mental effort required to perform the work in which the workers are engaged. In this regard, the court may have regard to those of similar employments of an associated employer outside the State. In addition, the section provides that where collective agreements concerning the relevant worker are commonplace in similar employments, the court shall, in addition to other evidence presented by the parties, have due regard to the terms of such agreements for the time being in force. Where collective agreements concerning the relevant workers are not commonplace in similar employments, the court shall have due regard to all evidence presented by the parties, whether by way of collective agreements or established to the satisfaction of the court by other means. The amendment provides that the court shall, for the purpose of making a recommendation, have regard to the effect such a recommendation may have on the maintenance of employment and the sustainability of the business of the employer in the long term.

  Section 31 provides guidance to the Labour Court when considering the issuing of a determination where a recommendation has not been accepted or where the employer has resiled from the implementation of a previously accepted recommendation. It mirrors the relevant provisions in section 30.

  Sections 32 and 33 amend the principal Act by the deletion of "or excepted body," as the term is no longer relevant in the context of this legislation.

  Section 34 amends the principal Act by the insertion of a new section to provide interim relief pending the determination of any claim for unfair dismissal pertaining to a member of the trade union involved and subject to the provision of evidence, information or assistance for the purpose of the examination or investigation made by the Labour Court under the Act. The appropriate amendment to section 6 of the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 is provided in section 39 by adding an additional ground on which a dismissal is deemed an unfair dismissal. The terms "worker" and "employee" are given the same meaning to ensure consistency between the two Acts.

  Sections 35 to 38, inclusive, provide for amendments to the Act of 2004 by the deletion of references to an excepted body, in line with other similar amendments in the Bill.

  Section 39 amends the Unfair Dismissals Act 1977 to provide protection from victimisation through dismissal for workers who are members of a trade union involved in a dispute.

  Part 4 of the Bill provides for a number of miscellaneous amendments to the Industrial Relations Acts. Sections 40, 44 and 45 encompass the necessary amendments to the Industrial Relations Acts to provide for access to the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court for individual retired persons for the purpose of pursuing issues relating to their terms and conditions at the time of retirement.

  Sections 41 and 42 provide for necessary amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1946 to address a potential weakness in the provisions dealing with the establishment of new joint labour committees and to ensure that in the future orders providing for the making, variation and revocation of establishment orders will be a matter for the Minster, with appropriate Oireachtas oversight.

  Section 43 provides for an amendment to the definition of "agriculture" in the Industrial Relations Act 1976 to reflect the Labour Court recommendation arising out if its 2013 review of existing joint labour committees. Section 46 amends the original establishment order for the agriculture joint labour committee to reflect the new definition. I commend the Bill to the House.

Senator Mary M. White: Information on Mary M. White Zoom on Mary M. White I welcome the Minister of State to the Seanad. I note his statement: "Worker and employer stakeholders have played a critical role in assisting the Government in developing this clear and workable framework and I wish to acknowledge the huge contribution of the representatives of both sides of industry in this regard." The main purpose of the Bill is twofold. The first is to provide for the reintroduction of a mechanism for the registration of employment agreements between employers and trade unions governing remuneration and conditions of employment in individual enterprises, to provide for a new statutory framework for establishing minimum rates of remuneration and terms and conditions of employment for a specified type, class or group of workers, particularly in the context of transnational provision of services and promoting harmonious relations between workers. In effect, it is a framework to replace the former sectoral registered employment agreements. Second, the Bill will put in place the legislative amendments to the Industrials Relations Acts 2001 and 2004 required to give effect to the programme for Government commitment to reform the current law on an employee's right to engage in collective bargaining so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

  Fianna Fáil welcomes this long-promised Bill and the proposals are broadly welcomed.  The legislation strikes a balance between providing increased collective bargaining rights and anti-victimisation provisions for workers and maintaining the voluntarist approach to collective bargaining supported by employers. However, it is a damning indictment of this cynical and PR-obsessed Government - I do not like to describe it thus to the Minister of State, because he is one of the finer members of his party, but I cannot avoid doing so - that it took the plight of the courageous Dunnes Stores workers for Fine Gael and the Labour Party finally to agree on bringing forward this long-promised Bill.

The legislation aims to provide an improved framework for workers to seek to enhance their terms and conditions of employment where collective bargaining is not recognised by their employer and offer a replacement structure for the registered employment agreements system. The test for the new collective bargaining provisions in the Bill will be whether they are effective in resolving industrial disputes such as that at Dunnes Stores and facilitating all parties to engage with the industrial relations dispute machinery of the State. In particular, the legislation will stand or fall on the efficacy of the new proposals which allow a Labour Court determination in any industrial dispute to be subsequently enforced by the Circuit Court.

While I welcome the Bill, it comes too late for the 450 staff at the iconic Clerys outlet who were informed on 12 June that it was closing with immediate effect. The store is situated in the heart of our main city, on O'Connell Street, and has witnessed a great deal in almost 200 years of trading. It sits directly across from the GPO, where men died for the country during one of the most significant events in Irish history, and in close proximity to the statue commemorating James Larkin. Next year we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. It is ironic, if not positively Shakespearian, that the Clerys store where workers were treated so brutally should be in direct view of the GPO, where the events that took place 100 years ago will be celebrated next year. The manner in which the workers were told they were losing their jobs was callous and marks a new low in management-employee relations in Ireland. There was a complete absence of engagement with industrial relations channels and no attempt to open a social dialogue between workers and management. It is vital that company law provisions are re-examined to legislate for circumstances such as those in which the Clerys workers found themselves on 12 June.

Fianna Fáil welcomes the Bill which, as I said, will strengthen laws to protect and promote workers' rights, particularly those on low pay. We hope it will provide much-needed certainty for both workers and employers in respect of collective bargaining, enhancement of anti-victimisation provisions and an operable replacement structure for registered employment agreements. The provisions maintain the voluntarist approach, which means it will not be mandatory for employers to enter into collective bargaining. Employers have claimed that Ireland's voluntarist approach is key to our ability to attract foreign investment. I was a member of a national women's committee in the 1970s as representative of the Federated Workers Union of Ireland. In my heart and soul, I am a supporter of trade unions. However, there is no denying that foreign investors generally do not want to deal with trade unions, and that is a choice which remains open to them. When he was still writing for The Irish Times, Dan O'Brien observed in a piece which dealt with promoting and encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit in Ireland:

If there is a killer fact that illustrates the inherent weakness of indigenous business it is that Irish companies account for a mere 10 percent of the economy's exports. It is unique among OECD economies for indigenous companies to export so little. Without the foreign-owned sector, Ireland would be the most closed economy in the developed world and would almost certainly be among the poorest countries in Western Europe.

I have a great deal more to say, but the Leas-Chathaoirleach has indicated that my time is up. I am proud to say that the company I co-founded, Lir Chocolates, is expanding its export business. Ireland is a very small market, with only 4.5 million people, and it is vital that indigenous companies drive efforts to increase their exports. I wish the Minister of State success in all the important work he has to do.

Senator Hildegarde Naughton: Information on Hildegarde Naughton Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton I welcome the Minister of State. This legislation represents a significant and positive reform to Ireland's industrial relations law. It enhances and protects workers' rights, particularly those of low-paid workers, and offers certainty for employers in terms of wage costs. The Bill is quite simple in its intent, providing for the reintroduction of a mechanism for the registration of employment agreements between an employer or employers and trade unions governing remuneration and conditions of employment in individual enterprises, providing for a new statutory framework for establishing minimum rates of remuneration and terms and conditions of employment for a specified type, class or group of workers, particularly in the context of the transnational provision of services, and promoting harmonious relations between workers and management. In effect, it is a framework to replace the former sectoral registered employment agreements. The Bill introduces the legislative amendments to the Industrial Relations Acts 2001 and 2004 required to give effect to the programme for Government commitment to reform the current law on employees' rights to engage in collective bargaining so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The Statement of Government Priorities 2014-2016 prioritised the enactment of the collective bargaining legislation as approved by the Government.

  The main concern that has been raised in respect of this legislation relates to the decision of the Supreme Court in McGowan and others v. Labour Court Ireland and others, which found that the operation of the previous scheme under the 1946 Act was unconstitutional in so far as it related to registered employment agreements. There is a suggestion that as the previous scheme was so held, the provisions of the new legislation are also, therefore, unconstitutional. With respect, that is an understandable misinterpretation of the Supreme Court's decision. In the course of the proceedings in McGowan, various claims were advanced as to the unconstitutionality of the legislation. These were distilled down to a very simple question which was considered by the court, namely, whether the operation of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 was in breach of Article 15.2.1° of the Constitution by delegating the making, variation and cancellation of registered employment agreements to the Labour Court and the parties to such agreements. Article 15.2.1° is very straightforward:

The sole and exclusive power of making laws for the State is hereby vested in the Oireachtas: no other legislative authority has power to make laws for the State.

The Supreme Court held that Part III of the 1946 Act appeared to effect a delegation of law-making power to a body other than the Oireachtas. The legislation before us today seems to make right that unlawful delegation and, therefore, is not, on the face of it, unconstitutional in and of itself. Of course, the Supreme Court might at some future date decide otherwise, but the decision in the McGowan case does not mean that alternative legislation cannot be introduced, particularly in the tight way this Bill has been drafted.

  Members of the Association of Electrical Contractors Ireland have raised several issues with me in respect of the legislation. The Minister of State might confirm that the decision of the Supreme Court does not validate existing contractual arrangements as between employer and employee. In the circumstances, I take it that all such existing contracts will be unaffected by this legislation which will only apply to contracts entered into in the future by way of mandating terms and conditions and pay levels.  Some electrical contractors expressed the wish to have the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, assume a role in monitoring compliance under the Bill. Will the Minister of State confirm that NERA has statutory authority to monitor compliance under the legislation?

  Another issue that arises relates to reviews of orders and certainty for employers. The legislation provides that if there has not been a review of the sectoral employment order within three years, the Minister may order such a review. It would be preferable if the Minister were obliged to make such an order. I will be interested to hear the Minister of State's response on this issue. Constant reviews of orders should be avoided to ensure employers are not left in an uncertain position, particularly those with fixed price contracts.

  This is another example of the extremely important legislation that has emerged from the Minister's office since the Government came to power. The Bill strikes an appropriate balance between the entitlement of workers to fair pay and conditions and the need to provide certainty for employers.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I welcome the Minister of State. I will support the Bill and will first refer to the provisions I support. I am in favour of collective bargaining and trade union recognition, which is absent from the legislation. I discussed this issue recently with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, when he introduced the Workplace Relations Bill. During that debate he informed me that it would be more appropriate to discuss two of the issues I had raised in the context of the Bill.

  Employees should have the right to be legally represented by their trade union. This does not mean yellow pack collective bargaining or collective bargaining through the back door for employers who do not want to recognise trade unions. It means that employees should have the same legal rights as employers who are in a position to employ expensive barristers and solicitors to represent them. Many companies will not recognise or engage with trade unions, although I accept that the Bill establishes a mechanism to force employers to engage with the industrial relations architecture. While this is a welcome step forward, it does not deliver trade union recognition and, as such, employers will not be required to recognise a trade union. This is an inherent flaw.

  The reason workers need trade unions from time to time is that trade union representatives are trained, have a wealth of experience and understand the wide range of industrial relations laws in place. I acknowledge that the Government has streamlined some of this legislation and, by extension, the employment rights bodies. Nevertheless, many workers find themselves in a maze when they try to understand their entitlements, as was clear in recent cases involving workers in Clerys, Dunnes Stores, Vita Cortex, Game, La Senza, Lagan Brick, Waterford Crystal and TalkTalk. In all of these cases, workers were left without proper entitlements as a result of the weak protections and employment rights afforded to them. While the type of collective bargaining proposed in the Bill is a step forward, it still falls short of what is required, namely, collective bargaining and trade union recognition.

  The other argument in respect of collective bargaining, registered employment agreements and the entire industrial relations legislation is the weak levels of enforcement and compliance. This has been replicated in the Bill where it re-establishes registered employment agreements and makes provision for the same types of enforcement and compliance mechanisms that have failed until now. It is ridiculous, for example, that an employer may withhold payment from employees. We are all familiar with cases where a trade union has taken a case involving the failure of an employer to pay proper wages. The appropriate employment rights body, whether the Labour Court or Employment Appeals Tribunal, will give the employer a slap on the wrist by ordering him or her to do little more than pay the workers. The lack of penalties and sanctions means there is little to deter employers from engaging in this activity in the first instance. It is akin to someone who is caught in the act as he or she walks out of a shop with groceries in a shopping basket telling the shopkeeper he or she will return the goods and everything will be all right. This is not how the system works. Deterrents are in place to prevent people from breaking the law. This does not appear to be the case for many unscrupulous employers, however, of whom we have seen many examples.

  Unfortunately, compliance and enforcement across the industrial relations framework have been weakened under the Government's watch. Resourcing of enforcement bodies is inadequate. The Government has stripped out well established rights that were provided for in the previous legislation on registered employment agreements. These enabled access to workplaces for designated union officials to monitor compliance and ensure employees were protected from victimisation from an employer arising from such visits. The Government has also dragged its heels in addressing the industrial relations vacuum arising from the McGowan judgment. Rates of pay for many workers have hit the floor and their conditions have become intolerable.

  It is always difficult to engage in a critique of an extensive Bill of this nature in the five minutes available to speakers. My party was asked by the Mandate trade union to raise a specific issue directly with the Minister of State. The provisions allowing for rates of pay above the minimum wage to be set through registered employment agreements is one thing but workers also want the issue of hours to be addressed. The problem for many workers in precarious employment is that they are on low-hour contracts and cannot move up to what are known as banded-hour contracts. Many of them will work for 30 or 40 hours per week consistently and solidly for many years and yet remain stuck on low-hour contracts. This issue needs to be dealt with in separate legislation and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has proposed a fair hours Bill to address it. Sinn Féin will table amendments on Committee Stage to resolve some of the issues that arise in this regard.

  The Bill is good in so far as it goes, for example, in re-establishing registered employment agreements, and its collective bargaining provisions are a step forward. Unfortunately, however, it falls short of what is necessary. This does not mean I will oppose it. I will support the legislation on Second Stage and await what emerges on Committee Stage. I thank the Minister of State for his contribution and look forward to a more comprehensive discussion on the details on Committee Stage.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell: Information on Gerard P. Craughwell Zoom on Gerard P. Craughwell I welcome the Minister of State. He has been busy introducing legislation, on which I compliment him. Before discussing the Bill, I am interested in his reference to the power of the Labour Court "to initiate a review of the pay, pension and sick pay entitlements of workers of a particular class, type or group in a particular sector and, if it deems it appropriate, make a relevant recommendation to the Minister." Is it not terrible that we, in the political class, cannot apply the contents of the Minister of State's speech throughout the political class? I am aware that an election is imminent. I am speaking about members of local authorities, which is an issue on which I have tabled an amendment. The Minister of State should convey to the Minister with responsibility for this matter the need to address these issues.

  I am pleased to note the inclusion in section 20 of provisions covering protection for workers from penalisation by employers. This is a tremendous step forward. I am also pleased that section 30 which deals with the totality of remuneration has been included because, as the Minister of State pointed out, salary is not the whole story when it comes to these matters.

  I rarely speak on issues related to industrial relations policy or legislation without harking back to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, my parent group if one likes. ICTU supports the Bill and wishes to have it enacted as quickly as possible. For this reason, I will not do anything to impede the Bill's passage.

  We could argue all day long about what additional protections the Bill could provide, for example, regarding the recognition of trade unions. We could probably try to force legislation through to provide that trade unions become part and parcel of every organisation. However, we live in the real world and those of us who are involved in trade unions are well aware that we have our own market and need to develop negotiation techniques, etc.

  The Bill will go a little way towards solving the problems we have seen in companies such as Dunnes Stores. I will not raise any objection during the passage of the Bill as it is a tremendous step forward which has the potential to change industrial relations. I compliment the Minister of State.

Senator Paul Bradford: Information on Paul Bradford Zoom on Paul Bradford I thank the Minister of State for presenting this legislation to the House. I attended the meeting in Leinster House last week at which members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, discussed with Oireachtas Members their ongoing campaign to achieve fairness at work, to put it in simple terms. It was a constructive meeting in the course of which the delegates presented their view on a number of issues, including the provisions of this Bill. On first reading the legislation, one is inclined to welcome it and conclude that its provisions may well be necessary. However, as with all legislation, there are two sides to the equation, particularly in the case of industrial relations, where there is always a particular balance to be struck.

  The Minister of State's opening statement included the following interesting comment: "[This] suite of legislative reforms represents a unique opportunity for the Oireachtas to bring about the most significant shift in the industrial relations landscape seen in many years." Will he clarify what he means by a "shift" in industrial relations? Does it involve a rebalancing of the current framework? Does it amount to a move to make the process much more strongly union-friendly than it was heretofore? I pose these questions in view of the statement we hear so often from the Taoiseach and some of his Cabinet colleagues that the Government is committed to ensuring Ireland is the best country, not just in Europe but in the world, in which to do business. We are given to understand a campaign will shortly be launched to offer strong supports to small businesses. If, as we are told, the Government is trying to build an economy that offers the best environment in which to create work and be a business person, is that easily, readily and comfortably compatible with the legislation that is before us today, which the Minister of State has described as initiating the most significant shift in the industrial relations landscape for many years?

  The statistics on workers' engagement with official union representation are interesting and an issue I raised with the ICTU delegates last week. If my figures are correct, approximately 35% of workers in the private sector are members of trade unions, with a corresponding figure of 70% in the public sector. These participation rates are very low in comparison with those that applied in the 1960s and 1970s and even into the 1980s. I am not sure whether the lower rates are simply because of changed practices on the part of employers or because workers are making the choice to represent themselves. Against that backdrop, the trade union organisations have work to do in advocating the importance of union membership and seeking to maximise the numbers of new entrants to the workforce they are able to attract.

  We all agree on the importance of workers ensuring their concerns are fully met, whether by way of the conventional trade union organisations, through looser associations within the workplace or by way of direct dealings between individual employees and individual employers. I cannot adjudicate as to which form of representation is the best; people must make their own decisions. It is to be hoped, however, that we have moved a long way from the very black and white view of industrial relations that prevailed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It was what we saw in the United Kingdom at the time, too - that version of strident industrial relations where unions viewed employers as the big bad wolf and employers saw the unions as most unhelpful. We have matured very much from an industrial relations perspective since that time, and I hope this legislation does nothing to return us to that era. Our core focus should be less about seeking to resolve conflicts and more about trying to ensure there is no conflict in the first place. It is about working to achieve an environment where there are harmonious relationships in the workplace.

  The most significant aspect of this legislation is the provision whereby the Circuit Court will be able to intervene and enforce a particular decision. That is a very strong power. I assume the Oireachtas, via the Minister, will have to approve such decisions. Will the Minister of State explain in more detail how significant a change that will be? If colleagues in this and the other House who wanted to see strong new legislation on collective bargaining were not able to get their way, how close is this new Circuit Court route to what they proposed?

  It may be helpful when considering this legislation to look to the situation in France, a country which is seen to have a much stronger left-of-centre view of economics and labour relations than many other countries. As I understand it, many of its regulations regarding workers' rights and representation come into effect only where a company employs more than 50 people. In other words, there is a clear line of demarcation between large companies and smaller ones. What is the Minister of State's view on our introducing some degree of separation along these lines?

  I look forward to the Minister of State's reply and engaging with him on Committee Stage. We all must advocate the strongest possible supports for workers and the principle of absolute freedom to negotiate for one's wages and entitlements. We must also be mindful, however, in a country where hundreds of thousands of people are still out of work, that support for job creation and entrepreneurial efforts should remain high on our political agenda and that no element of industrial relations policy should operate as a hindrance in that regard. I will take up these matters in more detail on Committee Stage. I thank the Minister of State for his initial observations and look forward to his further engagement with the House.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Gerald Nash): Information on Gerald Nash Zoom on Gerald Nash I thank Senators for their contributions to this important debate. To respond to one of Senator Paul Bradford's questions, the provisions we are discussing do represent a significant shift in or rebalancing of the industrial relations landscape. What I mean by this is that the Bill addresses a major gap in the efficacy of our existing laws. There is a long-established right to collective bargaining in this country, as confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights. Since the 2007 Supreme Court judgment in a case involving Ryanair, we have not had what could rightly be called an effective collective bargaining system. That particular case had a chilling effect on the conduct of industrial relations in Ireland, an issue I will deal with in more detail presently.

  We should not be under the false impression that there is some type of inconsistency between having strong industrial relations legislation and employment protections and, at the same time, a strong indigenous business sector and foreign direct investment culture. Those two principles are not mutually exclusive. They can manage to coexist and it is the mark of a progressive society where that is the case. We can have strong industrial relations legislation with strong supports for employment rights.  We can also have a flourishing business and job creation sector, where entrepreneurs and risk are rewarded and encouraged. I call it social democracy. It works very well elsewhere and there is no reason it cannot work here. We always have to manage to strike that balance and the legislation before us recognises the need to address that lacuna in Irish law, rebalance the position and level the playing pitch in terms of collective bargaining.

  The Senator asked a question regarding the Circuit Court, which comes into the legislation in two respects. The first is the opportunity to access interim relief if it is a case that a worker is threatened with unfair dismissal in the context of the Act and the provisions in this Bill. It has been the case since the implementation of the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001 that a person can go to the Circuit Court to seek the enforcement of a Labour Court determination. That is not new and it is reiterated in this particular legislation.

  Senator Hildegarde Naughton raised a couple of concerns about the legislation, one of which was related to the issue of monitoring, compliance and enforcement. It is the role of the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, and the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, to have sole responsibility for monitoring and compliance of this legislation and sectoral employment under the new Workplace Relations Act and this legislation. She also made a point regarding the incorporation of terms of a registered employment agreement, REA, into contracts of employment. Following the Supreme Court ruling in the McGowan judgment in 2013, existing terms and conditions in the former registered employment agreements were still incorporated into an individual's contract of employment and they, of course, can only be changed by agreement. That is the case in any contract. Newly recruited workers after the McGowan judgment of 2013 could be, and were, recruited on lesser rates, terms and conditions. That would have been by agreement, in essence, with employers. That was only subject to the national minimum wage legislation.

  The Senator made a point about a three-year review. I consider it appropriate that the option should be open to the Minister of the day to request a review after three years. It may be the case that trade unions and employers might decide that they are happy to have the existing sectoral employment order continued in operation without change but that would be a matter for the parties and the Labour Court.

  I apologise for my colleague, Senator John Kelly, who wanted to be here to make a contribution but who has, unfortunately, been waylaid. I thank Senators for their contributions to the Bill. It is fair to say that the vast majority of them have welcomed the publication of this Bill and its principles as well as what it seeks to achieve. I assure Senator Mary White that the genesis of this legislation and the publication of various heads of Bills predates the current Dunnes Stores dispute. The legislation was committed to in the programme for Government of 2011 and we are now delivering on it. It provides for very significant reforms to Ireland's industrial relations laws. As I stated earlier, the process will balance the interests of workers and employers by providing certainty and clarity for businesses while enhancing collective bargaining in workplaces and it will provide for registered employment agreements to be re-established, with sectoral wage rates and conditions to be reintroduced. It will provide an improved framework, as we are required to carry out, for workers who seek to better their terms and conditions where collective bargaining is not recognised by the employer as well as providing a replacement for the registered employment agreement system in individual enterprises. There is a new mechanism whereby pay and pensions and sick pay provision in a particular sector can be introduced by way of sectoral employment order.

  The legislation will provide new, clear, balanced and, crucially, evidence-based mechanisms to deal with specific industrial relations issues. This will address particular gaps in protections for workers and the low-paid and it will also provide stability and certainty for employees, employers and businesses, both Irish and multinational, on whom we rely to create the jobs that we need in our society and economy. As I stated, there was a lacuna for several years in the framework for workers who seek to improve their terms and conditions, either through collective bargaining or registered employment agreements. This arose as a result of a Supreme Court judgment that struck down the old REA framework on grounds of constitutionality while the Supreme Court had also found fault with the application of the legislation that existed in terms of collective bargaining. This legislation is a direct response to these rulings.

  The collective bargaining proposals in the Bill are in fulfilment of the programme for Government commitment to reform the current law on employee rights to engage in collective bargaining. In addition, the House knows that the International Labour Organization, ILO, in 2012 issued its report in response to a complaint referred to it by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and IMPACT, arising from the 2007 Ryanair Supreme Court judgment. As part of the Government's response to the ILO report, we indicated that these matters would be addressed in the context of the programme for Government commitment and they are being addressed in this legislation. Extensive consultation with stakeholders has taken place, both with respect to the experience of the operation of the 2001 and 2004 legislation before and after the Ryanair judgment.

  The process also encompassed discussions on the import of certain European Court of Human Rights decisions. Comprehensive submissions and presentations have been received that contain a range of often conflicting but very rationally espoused positions. The extensive consultations have resulted in the broad areas of acceptance by employer and worker representatives and on the legislative proposals contained in this Bill. In developing the proposals, we have been very keen to respect the positions articulated by stakeholders to develop proposals that sustain our traditional voluntary system but also ensure workers have confidence that where there is no collective bargaining, there will be an effective system that will ensure people can air grievances about remuneration and terms and conditions and these can be determined by the Labour Court, if necessary, based on those in similar companies and secured by way of Circuit Court order. The legislation also ensures workers will not be victimised for doing this and it includes new and enhanced protections for workers who may feel they are being victimised for exercising their rights in this regard by way of a new provision to secure interim relief through the courts in the case of potential dismissal.

  I pay tribute to all involved in contributing to the development of these proposals. Enactment of this legislation is a key commitment of the Labour Party as part of the Government and one I am very proud to be delivering and associated with. I entered public life 16 years ago as a councillor in order to improve people's living and working conditions and the new collective bargaining legislation will do exactly that as part of a package of measures we are introducing to promote the dignity at work agenda. I ask colleagues to view this legislation in the context of the totality of legislation and innovations we are introducing around areas like low pay, for example.

  The reintroduction of REAs and sectoral employment orders in a constitutionally robust manner will be of enormous benefit to both workers and their employers. Such mechanisms may be used in resolving disputes or potential disputes and we have seen a number of such disputes arise in recent years following the Supreme Court ruling. This new legislation will bring a sense of certainty to both sides of industry who engage in such agreements around terms and conditions, particularly when the employer is tendering for contracts. Ultimately, the legislation will improve industrial relations after a period of uncertainty. It will also help to prevent a race to the bottom in terms of skills, training and terms and conditions of employment.

  A number of issues were raised by Senators and I have addressed a number of them to the best of my ability. I will elaborate on the enforcement provisions. I agree with some of the comments made by Senators and the importance of enforcement and compliance cannot be overstated. The compliance and enforcement provisions relating to REAs and sectoral employment orders are fully consistent with provisions contained in the Workplace Relations Act 2015, which was recently passed. In this context, the powers given to NERA inspectors are quite extensive. They include the powers to use reasonable force to enter a place of work or premises reasonably believed to be used in the employment of persons or keeping of records. NERA inspectors have powers to copy records and remove books, documents or records for a period that the inspector reasonably considers to be necessary. Inspectors can, under warrant of the District Court, enter a domestic dwelling with other inspectors or members of An Garda Síochána in pursuit of documents or records.  In regard to enforcement and compliance, another issue about which Senators are concerned, although they may not have mentioned it today, is bogus self-employment. The issue has been raised in this House, in the Dáil and at committees, particularly in regard to the construction sector, and I share some of the concerns people have raised in regard to the issue.

NERA inspectors carry out inspections of employers' employment records and workplaces to determine compliance with employment law and an employee’s statutory entitlements. In 2014, NERA carried out over 5,500 such inspections, including on construction sites. The policy of NERA is to seek voluntary compliance where breaches of employment law are detected. NERA works with employers and trade unions and it allows employers every reasonable opportunity to rectify breaches. Allegations of non-compliance with employment rights legislation should be referred to NERA which investigates matters brought to its attention.

It is not within the remit of NERA to make determinations regarding the employment status, for example, of individuals vis-à-vis employment or self-employment. That is a matter of responsibility for the Department of Social Protection. Other agencies would be concerned with that area also, including, for example, the Revenue Commissioners. It is important to restate this. It has been an issue in the construction sector, in particular, which has been brought to our attention and has been a matter of significant public focus. The very fact we are seeking to reintroduce a sectoral employment order approach is really designed to ensure that standards are retained in an industry like construction. If there were to be a sectoral employment order in the construction area, it is important we use it to try to promote industrial harmony to ensure people are paid adequately and fairly for the skilled jobs that the do and to ensure we have a level playing pitch in terms of tendering, labour costs and so on. At the same time, we must ensure standards, skills and competencies in an important industry for the country are maintained and protected. Where we do not have these structures, standards slip and nobody wins and, in fact, we are all losers in such scenarios.

I thank Senators for their contributions. We will have another opportunity to deal with the matters raised today in some more detail on Committee and Remaining Stages. I look forward to that engagement.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan I thank the Minister of State.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Hildegarde Naughton: Information on Hildegarde Naughton Zoom on Hildegarde Naughton Next Tuesday.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Denis O'Donovan Zoom on Denis O'Donovan Is that agreed? Agreed.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 7 July 2015.

  Sitting suspended at 5.55 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.

  7 o’clock

Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2015: Committee Stage


An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris.

  Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, are related. Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 are cognate. Amendment No. 4 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, therefore, may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, to delete lines 20 to 26 and substitute the following:
“(c) by substituting the following definition for the definition of “retail credit firm”:
“ ‘retail credit firm’ means a person prescribed for the purpose of paragraph (g) of other person who holds itself out as carrying on a business of, and whose business consists wholly or partly of, providing credit directly to relevant persons or owning such credit or both, but does not include—

(a) a person who is a regulated financial service provider authorised by the Bank or another EEA regulator to provide or own credit otherwise than under this Part, or

(b) a person who is an authorised credit intermediary under Part XI of the Consumer Credit Act 1995 when carrying on the activity of a credit intermediary, or

(c) a person who provides credit on a once only or occasional basis, but only if the provision of the credit does not involve a representation, or create an impression (whether in advertising, marketing or otherwise), that the credit would be offered to other persons on the same or substantially similar terms, or

(d) a person who is exempted, or who belongs to a class of persons that is exempted, under section 29A from being required to hold an authorisation as a retail credit firm;”.”.

I will speak to amendments Nos. 1 and 3, the Sinn Féin amendments. In respect of amendment No. 1, there is a difficulty for many who find that their mortgage holder is no longer regulated. A total of 18,000 people fall into this group, approximately 13,000 of whom are with the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, IBRC. The stories other elected representatives and I have heard about their experiences are amazing. The danger is that the process has opened the door to firms which seek to profit-strip from the crisis and have received reductions or write-downs on the size of the mortgages. For example, they may have bought mortgages at 60% of the market value and, therefore, see an opportunity to sell houses as soon as possible to realise a profit. The system has created a commercial opportunity that works against the interests of citizens whom we are here to represent and protect.

  One individual who was in Leinster House when this legislation was in the Dáil was a couple of days behind in his mortgage repayments. He received a letter from the mortgage provider, which was outside the system of regulation, for repossession. This shows that these guys were jumping at the opportunity to repossess homes. I know another individual who bought a house and was €2,000 in arrears for four months, whose house was forcibly sold. When it was sold, he was left with a debt of €80,000. I think the Minister of State would agree that kind of practice is shocking and disgusting.

  The fact that mortgages were sold off in the first place is significant. We were not able to restructure debts for citizens, or do any restructuring or write-down of debt for those in mortgage distress, yet these vulture capitalist firms were able to come in and buy distressed mortgages from the IBRC. They pocketed the write-down by getting the loan on the cheap, while the mortgage holder still has the full debt. It beggars belief.

  We also know that when citizens try to engage with these unregulated vulture funds, they are dealing with an opaque system. There are mortgage holders who received letters from a company called Acenden in Sweden about particular mortgages. When they went back to the company, they found they were dealing with some other company which knew nothing about the parent company and operated through a PO box number. When they wrote to the other company associated with Acenden, which is Mars Capital - probably well named, if we are to be honest - it took a long time to obtain the information. There are no telephone numbers for these companies. Individuals receive statements with no opening balances, just the details of the year involved. If they look for other information on their 2014 statements halfway through 2015, that detail cannot be provided. They make payments to central accounts that have no reference codes and they cannot obtain a digital receipt or information from the firm involved.

  We have a Wild West-type system of deregulation for a significant cohort of individuals. In the main, their situation is the result of a Government decision. We hoped the Government's response to this crisis would be to fulfil and safeguard the rights of citizens as much as possible. I cannot understand why it has not been achieved in this instance. In overall terms, the Government has fallen short on supporting families in mortgage distress. Although the Minister of State will say differently, the banks still have a veto. They still do not have to deal comprehensively with the range of options which should be available to those in mortgage distress, such as split mortgages, mortgage to rent, and restructuring of debt. None of that is being actively pursued by most banks, as they are just sitting back and not really doing much. We have recently found out that some banks were even in breach of the code of conduct for mortgage arrears. It shows that even the weak protections which are in place are not respected by the banks.

  The Minister of State will recognise the text of the amendment because it is taken from the original document. It seeks to regulate all players operating in the mortgage system. There should be no separation or difference between owners and service providers. It should also include those who own the credit. It is a legally complex issue, but the first objective of any Government should be to ensure that the people concerned are fully protected. I appeal to the Minister of State to return to the track he was on initially to ensure full protection for all mortgage holders.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson Just to be clear, in respect of amendments Nos. 2 and 4, my intention is to resubmit them on Report Stage.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Simon Harris): Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank the Senators for their amendments. We are all here to do the same thing, which is to try to ensure mortgage holders are protected, regardless of who owns their mortgage book. That is the very reason the Government is bringing forward this legislation and it is eager to work with the Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure it can be enacted as quickly as possible.

  I will discuss the Sinn Féin amendments, Nos. 1 and 3, together as they are broadly aimed at the regulation of owners of credit. The purpose of this legislation is to protect consumers whose loans are sold by regulated financial service providers to unregulated firms. I welcome the broad support given by Senators to this overall objective. We are all agreed that our aim is to protect the consumer and to ensure these protections are put in place as soon as possible.

  Over the course of discussions on this Bill, the question of who should be regulated has arisen. I take the opportunity to further explain the evolution of thinking on the Bill. As has been pointed out previously, the initial thinking was that the best approach would be to regulate the new owners of the credit. However, this thinking evolved over the course of preparing the legislation. Often, governments are accused of not listening. The Department of Finance ran a comprehensive public consultation last July and August, seeking views on the proposed legislation. This was followed by further engagement with the Central Bank and Office of the Attorney General. The public consultation process highlighted an issue with this approach, as it was possible to envisage cases where owners would effectively be passive special purpose vehicles, SPVs, and where they would outsource servicing of the loans to a firm that would not be regulated. This was one of the factors we considered and we saw that there was the potential for a lacuna to arise if a foreign-based unregulated owner were to use a local credit servicing firm which was not regulated.  It, therefore, became clear from the consultation process that if we were to effectively protect the consumer it was better to regulate the process of credit servicing as that is the customer-facing activity. It is the part of the operation with which our constituents and citizens interact and it is very important that it is regulated. However, if an owner does not outsource credit servicing and instead undertakes the activity himself or herself he or she will be required to be regulated. In other words, at all times some regulated entity will be responsible for all credit agreements. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure consumers retain the protections they had prior to the sale of their loans. This Bill will require entities dealing with consumers to be authorised by the Central Bank and subject to its code of conduct. Dealing with consumer credit servicing and the definition of credit servicing is broad.

  In order to further strengthen borrowers' protections in this area a new section, section 5, was added to the Bill on Committee Stage. This is a statutory obligation that states a credit servicing firm cannot do something or fail to do something which would be or would not be a prescribed contravention if performed or if not performed by a retail credit firm. It also prevents the owner of a credit firm from instructing a regulated credit firm to perform such an action. This is a belt and braces approach and its purpose is to try to address some concerns and further enhance the consumer protection element of the Bill. As such, I am not accepting the amendments as the decision to regulate the credit servicing firm as a customer-facing activity has been carefully considered and put out to public consultation. There has been extensive engagement on this and it is the best way to go about this. The decision was not arrived at lightly and many scenarios have been discussed at length. In consultation with the public, the Central Bank and the Attorney General, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, and the Government have reached a decision that this is considered to be the best way to protect borrowers.

  Regarding amendments Nos. 2 and 4, I thank the Senator. The Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, discussed them on Report Stage in the Dáil, but I am glad to have an opportunity to clarify the reasons they are not being accepted. I understand and welcome the intention behind the amendments, that is, to impose regulation on firms that take an active role in managing the relationship with borrowers even when the borrower is not in financial difficulty. However, I am glad to be able to inform the Senator and the House that the amendment is unnecessary because the definition of credit servicing is broad enough to capture this already. Currently, borrowers whose loans are sold to unregulated entities are not protected. It is, therefore, imperative that we enact protections as soon as possible.

  We all want to strengthen the protections for consumers whose loans are currently with unregulated entities by restoring them to the position they were in before the loan was sold. The Bill is about ensuring people will have the same level of protection under the various codes and Central Bank provisions after their loans are sold as they had beforehand. That is not the case today for many of our constituents, which is why we need to pass the Bill.

Senator David Cullinane: Information on David Cullinane Zoom on David Cullinane I thank the Minister of State for his lengthy response. I support the Bill, for which thousands of families have been waiting. Many who are in this situation have campaigned for some time. Others may only be waking up to the reality that their mortgages are owned by venture capitalist firms and they will receive new demands in the post from such companies. I want to mention people like Denise McCormack and the IBRC mortgage holders group who put this issue firmly on the agenda. Had it not been for their campaigning we would not be here today. It is a credit to their bravery and courage that we are discussing the Bill.

  The Minister of State has mentioned that there was consultation. That is good and we welcome it, but when one considers the paragraph we are seeking to remove, one would believe it was included based on lobbying by the vulture fund companies involved in the purchasing of mortgages. We have met people who are affected and those who have had their mortgages sold to vulture fund companies. We are here to represent people who have been affected by such sales. The Bill should not limit any recourse action against such companies. Therefore, it would be strengthened by the removal of the paragraph. While the Minister of State says there is no need for it, those affected do not believe this. They have asked us to put forward an amendment to remove the paragraph for the reasons I have stated. Having said that, I welcome this as a very positive step forward in the context of the Bill. I will not need to speak again as I support the Bill. I thank the Minister of State for his contribution and will listen to any response. We will press the amendments.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank the Senator and other Senators for their broad-based support for the Bill. We are all united on what we are trying to do, that is, provide a level of protection which they do not have today to mortgage holders whose mortgage books have been sold and that is what we need to get on with doing.

  I do not just believe the amendment is unnecessary; rather, it would inadvertently weaken consumer protection for the technical reason I have outlined to the House. Some owners of credit are, in effect, special purpose vehicles, and if they were to outsource credit servicing there could be lacuna in the law. I am not being difficult by not wishing to accept the amendment. My decision is based on extensive consultation with the Central Bank. We believe this is the best way to proceed, from a belt and braces point of view, to ensure the consumer is protected.

  Amendment put and declared lost.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I will resubmit amendment No. 2 on behalf of Senator Darragh O'Brien on Report Stage.

  Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, not moved.

  Section 1 agreed to.

  Section 2 agreed to.


Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, between lines 10 and 11, to insert the following:
“(2) Section 33A of the Central Bank Act 1997 is amended by inserting the following subsection after subsection (5)—
“(6) The Bank shall also impose, on a debt management firm and or a credit servicing firm, a condition that a customer shall, within 30 days of his or her credit agreement being sold be:
(a) advised of the terms on which his or her credit agreement was sold,

(b) advised on any material change to the terms under which the credit agreement is serviced,

(c) advised whether the loan was sold at a discount, and

(d) provided with details of his or her rights under—
(i) the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears 2013, and

(ii) the Financial Services Ombudsman.”.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Darragh O'Brien for the amendment. From the discussion on it on previous Stages in the Dáil, I understand its aim is to ensure the consumer is correctly informed and protected, but I am not accepting it for reasons I will now outline.

  It seeks to impose obligations on credit servicing and other firms regarding credit which is sold. The first set of obligations concern commercial information on the deal to sell the credit, in other words, the terms under which it was sold and whether the loans were sold at a discount. However, the terms of the individual's contract with the lender are not changed by the sale of the loan. It is, therefore, difficult to see any benefit in making this information known to the borrower as it essentially concerns the contract of sale between two private entities. The term of this contract, as I have said, does not impact the borrower's contract with the person who owns his or her mortgage, therefore, his or her obligations under such a contract remain the same. For example, even if the overall loan book is sold at a discount, the amount owed by the individual borrower does not change, nor do the terms and conditions. This Bill is about ensuring one is not at a disadvantage if one's loan is sold to another provider. Furthermore, these loans are usually bundled for sale at an aggregate price and individual loans are not separately priced, thereby making it difficult for a customer to be advised of the exact terms or price under which his or her loan was sold. These bundles are often made up of non-performing as well as performing loans. The overall price of sale takes these factors into accounts. The price at which a loan is sold does not change the circumstances of the borrower because the amount he or she owes on the loan, which is the bottom line, remains the same and is not affected by the sale.

  The second set of obligations mentioned in the amendment concern the borrower's rights under the code of conduct on mortgage arrears and access to the Financial Services Ombudsman. Following the enactment of the Bill, the rights of a borrower under the code and the right of access to the Financial Services Ombudsman will be the exact same as when the loan was with the originating bank and are not changed by the sale of the loan. Therefore, I do not consider it necessary that the borrower be given any additional reminder of his or her rights. In fact, such a reminder may serve to frighten the borrower into fearing that his or her circumstances have changed when, in fact, the rights that he or she had before the loan book was sold remain the same. That is the purpose of the Bill.

  I must again stress the importance of passing the Bill in order that borrowers will have the same rights as they had prior to the sale of the loans, but I do not consider the Senator's amendment as adding to the protections for consumers, which is the aim of the Bill. I regret, therefore, that I am not in a position to accept the amendment.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I will withdraw the amendment and resubmit it on Report Stage.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Section 3 agreed to.


Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I move amendment No. 6:

In page 7, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:
“(3) A person who carries on the business of credit servicing exclusively for an already regulated financial service provider shall be required to be regulated under this Act.”.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank the Senator for his amendment. This issue was also discussed on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil and I am glad to have the opportunity to again reassure the Seanad on this matter. I should make it clear to the House that the intent was always that an existing regulated financial service provider authorised to provide credit and already undertaking credit servicing would not be required to apply for additional authorisation as a credit servicing firm. These firms have already been through the authorisation process and we do not want to impose an additional regulatory burden on them.   We are proposing in these provisions that such firms be deemed or taken to be authorised as credit servicing firms, rather than being excluded from the definition of credit servicing firms. This ensures firms servicing credit, whether newly authorised or taken to be authorised, will be treated equally in respect of that activity. In addition, if the Central Bank wishes to impose conditions on credit servicing firms, there will be a single cohort available to it. The model which operates for regulation by the Central Bank is that a single entity is responsible and answerable to the bank for actions it undertakes or that are undertaken on its behalf. This model works well and there is, therefore, no reason to change it, with the single exception of the need to address those loan books which are sold.

  If a firm is undertaking credit servicing solely or exclusively for a firm which is already regulated such as a bank based in Ireland, it does not need to be regulated itself. It is the regulated firm that is answerable to the Central Bank for any action it takes or that is undertaken on its behalf. The regulated financial service provider must ensure firms undertaking services on its behalf follow all relevant regulations. It is likely that firms which are servicing credit exclusively for a regulated firm and, therefore, do not need to be regulated may nonetheless decide to seek Central Bank authorisation, possibly in order to expand their customer base. I hope my response has reassured Members in respect of the Government's thinking on this matter.

Senator Diarmuid Wilson: Information on Diarmuid Wilson Zoom on Diarmuid Wilson I thank the Minister of State for his response. I will withdraw the amendment with the option of resubmitting it on Report Stage.

  Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  Section 4 agreed to.

  Sections 5 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.

  Title agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Senator Tom Sheahan: Information on Tom Sheahan Zoom on Tom Sheahan On Thursday.

  Report Stage ordered for Thursday, 2 July 2015.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 1 July 2015.

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