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Personal Insolvency Bill 2012: Report Stage (Resumed) and Final Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 781 No. 2

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  7 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins]  Will it be done through the public advertising of positions and interviewing? Has the Minister information on that? Also, will the Minister give us an overview of how he envisages the regulation of the personal insolvency practitioners, PIPs?

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly Zoom on Stephen Donnelly I wish the Minister luck with this. A final matter, which was not relevant to any of the amendments but which would be incredibly useful, is that there should be clear communication of the Minister's intent for how this should work. That would be important not just for the PIPs but also for the public. There is so much fear, worry and lack of information among the public. When this is completed there should be a small number of case studies. It could be very simple because I believe 80% of the cases would probably fit into a quite standardised set. That would provide huge comfort and certainty to many people. Perhaps the Minister would consider issuing case studies as it would let everybody know what is expected from this legislation.

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter To take up the point made by Deputy Donnelly, this is complex legislation which contains many new mechanisms. It is very important that we communicate to the general public how it is intended to work. The insolvency agency will have a particular function in that regard. If we achieve our objective of enacting the legislation before Christmas, an information process for the benefit of the public will start very early in the new year by way of a website and other mechanisms. After the enactment of the legislation there will be a phase of trying to assist the public to understand what the legislation is about in non-technical terms. We must be careful in doing that to ensure that nobody is misled about any aspect of it. I will rely on the insolvency service to perform that function. It has a particular function in that regard.

On Deputy Collins's query, there is no board for the insolvency service. The chief executive officer who has been appointed came through the public appointments system. There will be advertisements for the recruitment of the rest of the staff on Friday this week. In addition, there is an internal recruitment process where we can identify within my Department, for example, individuals who have the skill sets that would be of assistance to work in the agency. That will happen in addition to the outside recruitment that might be necessary. We have identified professionals who will need to be recruited from outside the public service and that advertisement will take place. It will be dealt with through the Public Appointments Service.

Deputy Niall Collins: Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins There will not be a board?

Deputy Alan Shatter: Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter No, but the connectivity between the agency and the Houses of the Oireachtas will be through an annual report that will be produced and laid before both Houses. The justice committee will be engaged. There is no particular reason or need, and the legislation does not provide for it, to create a board of people who have oversight in circumstances where we appoint a chief executive who can run the agency, produce its annual report and report to the Houses of the Oireachtas. The justice committee will be able to ask questions and raise issues.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions on all Stages. It has been a lengthy process since we published the heads of the Bill. That was a worthwhile process as it facilitated the justice committee receiving submissions, which contributed to the development of the legislation. I thank all the Deputies who engaged with the Bill at the justice committee stage. I also thank all the individuals and organisations outside the House who made submissions to help us fine tune and refine the Bill. I must point out to those groups or organisations and, indeed, the financial institutions that we have had to make our own judgments on aspects of the legislation. We have taken account of submissions received but the legislation is not designed in the image of something the financial institutions want or something for which a particular group is lobbying. Indeed, the representative body of the financial institutions, the Irish Banking Federation, is somewhat unhappy with some aspects of the Bill.

I hope we have produced a balanced legislative measure that will be of genuine assistance to those who are in serious debt and are unable to discharge it, that is, those who genuinely cannot pay as opposed to those who simply will not pay. We hope we have provided the balance that will facilitate people working their way through financial troubles in a manner that is fair to both debtors and creditors. In the context of the mortgage interest issue and people in negative equity, where there are substantial mortgage repayments outstanding or arrears accumulated, we hope that this will provide a mechanism to facilitate many people, either through debt forbearance or debt forgiveness, working their way through a process which facilitates their retaining their home and seeing genuine light at the end of the tunnel.

I particularly thank Deputies who have been engaged in the marathon we have run in the last 24 hours on Report Stage. We will take on board a number of the suggestions for further improvements in the Bill, and I have mentioned some of those. We will also reflect on some of the other issues that arose. The Bill will be subject to further development, which we will have to agree with the Attorney General's office and the Parliamentary Counsel, as it goes through Committee and Report Stages in the Seanad. Deputy Collins quite fairly asked me what areas we have not addressed that will be dealt with in the Seanad. We will deal with a number of areas. There will be a new Part 5 to replace the current Part 5. It will provide extensive provisions for the regulation by the insolvency service of the new personal insolvency practitioners. I will not go into the details but there will be regulatory provisions, oversight and provisions to ensure there are indemnities to guarantee that where funds are being dealt with, those using personal insolvency practitioners are protected.

As I said in the course of this debate, many of the regulatory mechanisms already exist in other contexts. It is a question of adapting them to the insolvency legislation. A substantial amount of work has been done on that. There was an issue at one stage as to whether it would be the Central Bank or the insolvency agency that would deal with the regulatory side but in the context of providing a unified focus on the insolvency area it was decided that it would be the insolvency agency. I was optimistic that we would be in a position to bring the amendments before this House on Report Stage but we will have them for the Seanad proceedings. Members will have an opportunity to consider them when they come back from the Seanad.

There will also be a new Part providing for the revision of courts legislation, which is necessary to operate the new insolvency processes efficiently and effectively. On the various Stages we have discussed the provisions which envisage the new debt resolution arrangements being forwarded by the new insolvency agency to the court, which is essentially the Circuit Court. We are preparing an additional Part for this legislation to ensure that this is done with maximum efficiency so we will not have a backlog of arrangements waiting to be addressed, or a backlog of applications where somebody might wish to go to the court and rely on the circumstances in which one can raise an objection to an arrangement being approved. A detailed Part in that regard will be published. It will be designed to ensure that matters are dealt with efficiently, effectively and in a manner that does not incur unnecessary expenditure.

The transfer of the functions of the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy from the Courts Service to the insolvency service will take place. It makes sense that the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy is part of the insolvency service, so we will be dealing with that. We will also be improving the practical workability of the Bill's provisions both for debtors and creditors. This is very complex legislation and we will look at whether there are other areas to consider or address to ensure that no areas of uncertainty could arise.

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