Govt needs new approach on all-party ‘co-operation’

Last night, Fine Gael used their Private Members Time in the Seanad to put forward a motion relating to banking in Ireland. Naturally, the Government side put forward their own amendment. Below is my contribution to the debate. Click here to view Labour’s proposals on the dealing with the banking crisis.

I am glad to have the opportunity to support the Fine Gael motion. I have noticed repeatedly on Private Members’ business and across the board that Senators on the Government side of the House frequently complain about the Opposition’s refusal to be positive and co-operative. Senator Boyle got particularly exercised in this regard this evening in his contribution. Senator Hanafin mentioned this too, but was somewhat less exercised on the issue.

I find it difficult to take the frustration of the Government side seriously because the Fine Gael motion is very reasonable. I cannot see how any reasonable person, including Members on the Government side, can argue with the motion. However, the Government side proposes to delete the Fine Gael motion and substitute its own for it. This goes to the heart of the issue of co-operation and Opposition politics. If Senators Boyle, Hanafin and others are serious about wanting co-operation, why do they wish to delete the Fine Gael motion and replace it with their own?

I can understand that some aspects of the Fine Gael motion might give some pause to the Government side of the House. It might find it difficult to agree to phraseology that calls on the Government to take more decisive action to restore the reputation of the Irish banking system. I understand too it might find it difficult to accept one or two other aspects of the motion, and if I was on that side of the House, I might want to amend or vary those aspects. However, I see no reason for the Government side to strike down the basic thrust of the Fine Gael motion.

The motion recognises that the reckless and incompetent management, regulation and oversight of the domestic Irish banking system has damaged domestic and international confidence, that the Irish economy cannot recover from the deepening economic depression without a functioning banking system that enjoys the trust of depositors and everybody else and the public perception that the resolution of the banking crisis is being manipulated in the interests of powerful and wealthy elites. Perhaps the Government spotted itself in that phrase, but it does not necessarily refer to the Government.

Perhaps there is some paranoia in that regard. The phrase “powerful and wealthy elites” does not necessarily mean the Fianna Fáil Party and could be a reference to other people.

I see no reason therefore for scrapping the Opposition motion and introducing a totally new amendment. I have made the point before that I am relatively new to this forum, but I have been dealing with motions and amendments to motions since I became involved in student politics.

Then, the view was always taken that if one was to amend a motion and suit it to one’s own argument and point of view, it would not be done with a blunderbuss or hatchet. One would go through it and select the parts one agreed with and the part one wished to delete and where one wished to substitute one’s own point. That is the spirit and kind of co-operation Government Senators claim they want from the Opposition. However, when they have the opportunity to make common cause with the Opposition on an issue such as this, they take a different approach. We cannot take them seriously with regard to co-operation given that approach.

The Minister of State referred to the code of practice on mortgage arrears. He stated the code will ensure mortgage lenders can only commence legal action for repossession six months from the time arrears first arise. I have a serious concern as to whether the length of time that will be allowed for this moratorium is sufficiently generous or lengthy.

I am aware, as I am sure are others, that already in the courts there is, appropriately and reasonably, a measure of indulgence - if this is the right word - given to people who have difficulty making repayments in respect of mortgages and bank loans. It is very rare, particularly on the first or second and often on the third and fourth occasion for a judge to make an order for repossession. Already there is an element of flexibility in the system. I would not like to see this being zeroed and replaced by the new code and period.

The new period being allowed should be added on to the existing flexibility in the system and not be a replacement for it. I do not want to see the banks simply adopting a position of pocketing the flexibility that is there already rather than affording to people an additional element of flexibility and a longer period of time and moratorium than is already there in practice if not by reason of law or any code.

Colleagues dealt with the question of regulation in the course of the debate. I welcome, however belated it is, recognition on the part of the Government and its spokespersons of the importance of regulation. Until recently, regulation was almost a dirty word in debate about economic matters and business. Now it is back in vogue and everybody is in favour of it and this is good. I was always in favour of a fairly high level of regulation. I am not a convert to this as are some people. I do not mean the needless officious regulation we sometimes see. There was always a very compelling argument, in good times and in bad, for a very high level of regulation of the banking and financial industries. We lost sight of that and now we have almost to reinvent a regulatory system given the crisis we face.

I note the various bullet points set out by the Minister of State and I am a little frustrated. I would prefer to see the Government making one solid clear statement of principle and intent in terms of legislation to be introduced urgently in these Houses in respect of regulation. I get a little concerned when I see not one clear bullet point but four or five. When there are four or five different answers to a question one does not have any answer to a question. The regulatory authority is reviewing its overall strategic regulatory approach, the Financial Regulator business process review is now close to finalisation, the Financial Regulator is processing a strategic plan for 2009 which will address the EU and guarantee scheme, new regulatory proposals are being made at EU level and ECOFIN is also getting involved. I do not state that any of these initiatives are unimportant. However, I would prefer to see a single clear commitment from the Government as to its intentions in respect of introducing a vigorous regulatory regime.

In respect of accountability, the Minister of State stated, “We have already seen a number of senior people stand down for various reasons and the Minister is quite clear that more will follow when that is appropriate”. If the Minister is clear that more will follow, he must be clear that there is wrongdoing or potential wrongdoing on the part of those persons. If he is clear there will be further resignations why must we wait? How long will we wait? What exactly does the Minister mean?

I wanted to make some points on the Labour Party’s proposals in respect of bank regulation and how to deal with the crisis but I will not have an opportunity to do so. I will flag the fact that they exist so the Minister of State is aware of them.

With regard to pay, the committee will report next week on 5 March, but why was a committee required to deal with the issue of pay? I cannot understand this and I want an explanation for it.

Of course, one subcontracts many of these matters so one does not have to make a decision. President Obama can make an executive decision that there will be a maximum pay of $500,000. He just made a decision.

Let us have a decision from the Government.

More :: Click here to read Labour’s proposals on dealing with the Banking Crisis