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Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan] I am afraid some of the Members who spoke either did not deal with many queries on behalf of their constituents over the past 15 or 20 years or knew what they were saying was incorrect. The fact of the matter is there always have been issues in that Department because of a huge budget. When I was a Minister of State, that Department had the biggest budget of any Department in the country. There always must be safeguards. My objection in the past has been to the manner in which some of the rules were applied. It comes as no shock to me and I hope my constituents were not the only ones targeted over recent years. Again and again, I had to intervene on behalf of constituents to such an extent that I became persona non grata in certain quarters but my job and my duty as a public representative is to represent my constituents, rich or poor, in all states and at all times and to assist and advise them in their best interest and that of the country. I would like to think I can still do that and will attempt to do that.

  The points that have been raised appear to have been raised in the context that new, intrusive regulations have been introduced. They have not. They have always been there and operating. I do not say they were what I would have wanted but they were there. There was severe scrutiny of individuals up and down this country over the years. I have as much experience of that business as anybody in this House and more than many. I went to the appeals system more often than I can account for. Sometimes I won and sometimes I lost but, generally, I won on the basis of the rules that were there and the manner in which they should be interpreted.

  I want to make the point that we should be factual, particularly in opposition, and God knows that we in our party spent a lot of our lives in opposition. We need to put forward points of view that are realistic and fairly accurate. Otherwise, we generate antipathy among the public, not for any individual - although that has happened in the past, as well - but antipathy to the institution we represent. Generating antipathy towards the institution we represent in this House is wrong and does not do anybody any good. It serves the short-term purpose of popularity for those who do so but it does not address the issues the people are concerned about.

  I believe we are doing what is necessary in restoring the economy. In relation to the boost for the housing deposits, for instance, I am not certain that is going to work because it certainly will not reduce the cost of housing. One thing we learned over the years was that the more the housing market is supported directly with a direct injection, the more expensive houses become. What we really need, and in this I agree with the last speaker, is to build more houses. We need to build more local authority houses and more affordable houses. There is no sense in saying it cannot be done. This has been said to me again and again over the past ten or 15 years. Of course it can be done. It was done when we had less aptitude in that area in the past. We were able to build houses to meet the needs of the country down through the years when we had little mechanisation and very little money. We, as a country, did what we had to do in those circumstances and it was successful.

  We can spend all the time in the world crying about what we have not got, calling for more, becoming depressed and depressing everybody else. We can shout and roar and point to our individual constituencies and say how bad they are. We can depress the people we represent more than is needed. People go through a lot of trauma. There was trauma during the financial crisis. There is trauma during this crisis and we will continue to go through it. We need to assist them and assuage their fears insofar as we can. We need to be realistic. We should not exaggerate. We should try to do the best we can for them and to do it in the way we would like to have it done to us. We have had various scares over the years and Deputy Jim O'Callaghan referred to the fact that there is a crisis on the horizon all the time and there always will be. That is the way it is. However, we have to be prepared for it and prepared to do the right thing to assist those who need assistance, to do it in a positive and supportive way and to recognise that one day, we will turn that curve and it will be to their benefit and ours. We need to address the issues of concern as shown by the people in the most recent general election. There is no doubt that there were issues there. It is the job of the present Government to deal with it. In the financial crisis, we had to restore the financial structures, the banking system and the economic system of the country and we had to restore confidence in the country, both national confidence and international confidence. That was done. The next phase is to restore the social fabric of the country and its people and to make it meaningful for them so they know the Government they have in office at any given time is mindful of their needs and concerns and that such a Government is willing, ready and able to respond.

  Denigrating and castigating ourselves will not do anything for us. We have to revive ourselves and our enthusiasm. We have to look forward in the clear knowledge that we can do it and we will have to do it. That is the way it has always been and always will be.

Deputy Carol Nolan: Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan I am happy to speak on this important but technical Bill. As we know, the purpose of the Bill is in part to provide access to funding sources by enabling the State to participate in European instruments designed to deal with economic impacts of Covid-19. One of the main instruments is the European scheme for temporary support to mitigate unemployment risks in an emergency, SURE. With respect to this scheme, as I understand it from reports in the Financial Times, at least 18 member states have submitted expressions of interest for loans totalling €94.5 billion from the SURE programme. This selling of almost €100 billion of new debt will make the EU the largest issuer of bonds in Europe, aside from the national governments. This is in addition to the €50 billion of bonds that are outstanding, most of which were used to fund loans to Ireland during the debt crisis. From what I can see, these bonds will be backed by a system of voluntary guarantees from the EU's national governments worth €25 billion. Can the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, provide some clarity on the nature of Ireland's relationship to the voluntary guarantee aspect of the SURE scheme? This is important because we need to know if Ireland will be financially exposed, given the high levels of Europe-wide debt about to be created.

  The Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, accepted during a debate on this Bill in the Seanad recently that one of the most important and prudent conditions on the instrument is the requirement that no more than 10% of all loans will fall due for payment in any one year. He also mentioned that one of the benefits of this guarantee mechanism is that it ensures member states do not have to pay any money upfront. I seek more detail on when the money will have to be repaid and when will the period of not-upfront run out. I acknowledge that there is a sense among some EU observers that, while SURE goes some way towards creating much needed lending capacity, it is far too modest to have a significant impact on the EU's fiscal response to the Covid-19 crisis. According to the Bruegel think tank, the main limitation of SURE is that it solves the wrong problem.

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