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Dail Diary

Dáil Diary no 52 – 25th September  2015

Still No Real Reform of How we do Policing…

 

The Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has finally introduced the Police Authority Bill, with the usual, not unexpected, fanfare. The Bill is a serious disappointment, as it leaves the paws of the Government of the day, all over Policing. We really need to depoliticise Policing in Ireland, and this Bill does little or nothing for this objective. What I would say about it, is that it is consistent with so much of the hallmark of this Government – A lot more spin than substance. The media coverage of the Bill was at least as disappointing as the Government’s effort – Ireland would be so much a better place if we had a serious, independent media. Here’s my 20 minute contribution in the Dáil. -

“I would have liked to have an hour. Before the summer, we did a great deal of work on this legislation and went through the various sections. I will have time to cover just a few sections today. Generally speaking, I consider that the proposed authority is much weaker than the one we proposed in our Bill. It is clear that ministerial and political control over the authority, the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner is to be retained. The proposed authority will be a weak and toothless body tainted by Government and ministerial influence. It will not have the capacity to provide adequate oversight and monitoring functions over An Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner. It will not have the capacity to hold the Garda Síochána and the Garda Commissioner to account.

 

The Government seems to have missed the point completely regarding the primary function of the authority, which is to provide democratic accountability. A policing authority should be a way for the citizens to hold the Garda to account through a more direct form of democratic accountability than is currently provided for through parliamentary accountability of the Garda through the Minister for Justice and Equality in the Dáil. Membership of the authority is to consist of Civil Service representatives and people with legal and human rights backgrounds. There is no mention of representation of civil society groups or minorities, who are most at risk of Garda malpractice, as we had proposed. The Bill permits the authority, subject to the consent of the Minister, to ask the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to investigate any behaviour of the Garda Commissioner in the context of his or her functions relating to policing matters that leads it to believe the Commissioner may have committed an offence or behaved in a manner that would constitute serious misconduct. How can the authority be expected to hold the Commissioner to account when it cannot investigate the Commissioner without the Minister's consent? The Commissioner remains under the political protection of the Minister.

 

The issue of national security remains one of the over-riding issues in the proposed legislation. Uniquely in Europe and other common law countries, An Garda Síochána has responsibility for both policing and national security issues. Conor Brady, who is a former GSOC commissioner, has noted that the invoking of national security by An Garda Síochána to prevent full investigation is already a huge obstacle. Under the proposed legislation, the Minister is the final arbiter if there is disagreement on whether an issue is considered a policing or a security one. As the Minister may be self-interested in this categorisation, it is illogical to consider this a safeguard of any sort. The proposed definition of national security includes "acts intended to subvert or undermine parliamentary democracy of the institutions of the State but not including lawful advocacy, protest or dissent unless carried on in conjunction with any of those acts." It is clear that the current Government would consider the May Day and Shell to Sea protests, and more recently the water charges and water installation protests, to come under this national security heading. This would allow the Minister to retain full and direct control. Therefore, the authority would have no role to play in any policing issue arising.

 

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald That is ridiculous.

 

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace I have mentioned some of the issues in Part 1 - sections 1 to 7 - of the Bill, so I will not go back over them. Part 2 of the Bill relates to the personnel and organisation of the Garda Síochána. On the appointments issue, section 8 of the Government's Bill sets out that the Garda Commissioner and any deputy Garda Commissioners are to be appointed by the Government and the Government shall accept the nomination of the authority. However, the authority can only nominate in accordance with the recommendation of the Public Appointments Service, PAS, which will provide it with one name only. The authority will have to seek the prior written approval of the Government before it can ask the PAS to undertake a selection competition. It will also have to get the approval of the Minister before agreeing the selection criteria and process with the PAS for the competition. Furthermore, the Government may veto the authority's nomination in "exceptional circumstances", a phrase that is not defined.

 

Section 8 also sets out that if the Garda Commissioner or any deputy resigns, he or she will have to address his or her letter of notification to the Minister, and the Government will notify the authority later that the Commissioner or the deputy has resigned. Under the Government's new Bill, removal from office may be by Government decision alone, with only a duty to consult the authority if the reason relates to policing services. This is for the same reasons set out in the 2005 Act. The authority can only recommend to the Government that the Commissioner or deputy be removed if the reason relates to policing services. In any event, the Government is obliged only to consider that recommendation and not to act upon it.

 

This Bill also provides that both the Government, for policing and State security reasons, and the authority, in terms of policing services, have the power to remove assistant commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents. It also proposes that the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform will determine the number of appointments to assistant Garda Commissioner, chief superintendent and superintendent but that the authority may make these appointments, subject to a selection competition and any regulations that may be made. As this means the system under the 2006 and 2014 regulations will remain in place, it will not be a question of selection by the PAS. Instead, the promotions advisory council and the promotions advisory board, controlled by the Garda Commissioner and the Minister, will decide the candidates that the authority will be asked to rubber-stamp.

The power of the authority has been weakened since the proposed heads of the Bill in November, in which the authority alone had the power to remove assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents from their positions. Now, both the Government and the authority have that power.

 

It is difficult to see how An Garda Síochána can be expected to function as a cohesive and disciplined body when, depending on one's rank, one can be removed by, and thus answerable to, one, two or even three different bodies, namely, the Government, the authority and the Garda Commissioner. Further confusion arises where one body appoints and another has the power to remove, for example, in the case of assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents, where the authority makes these appointments - at least nominally, with the Minister deciding how many appointments are to be made - but both the authority and the Garda Commissioner can remove such appointees.

 

The authority should have full power of appointment of the Garda Commissioner, subject only to consultation with the Government. It is unfair and irrational to ask the authority to be responsible for systemic issues and policies and performance issues when it cannot appoint or remove those responsible for implementing those policies and priorities, in other words, the Garda Commissioner and the deputy Commissioners. Given that the assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents all work in a hierarchical structure under the Commissioner and deputy Commissioners, who are appointed by the Government, giving the authority the power to appoint and remove them is meaningless. Furthermore, this power of the authority is largely circumscribed by existing regulations regarding promotion, which will continue. Through these regulations the Minister and the Commissioner will continue to make these decisions through their proxies on the promotion board. It is also unfair and irrational to expect the authority to be responsible for resources, budgets and staffing if it has no part to play in deciding the number of appointments to be made to senior management ranks, for example, assistant Commissioners, chief superintendents and superintendents.

 

On the code of ethics, the Bill now proposes that the authority shall, within 12 months, establish a code of ethics that includes standards of conduct and practice for members and internal whistleblowing provisions. However, the authority is obliged to consult more bodies than the Minister would have had to consult had she ever drafted the code of ethics. For example, the authority will have to consult the Garda unions whereas the Minister would not have had to do so under the 2005 Act. The authority also has to consult the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Public Expenditure and Reform. In addition to European policing standards, the authority must also have regard to the policing principles when drafting the code of ethics. The clause regarding a breach of the code of ethics being a breach of discipline which was in the heads of the Bill in November is not in the finalised legislation. Similarly, the code of ethics as guidance for gardaí in carrying out their functions was included in the very important new policing principles but has been removed. Currently, the 2007 discipline regulations ensure a breach of the code of ethics, if it existed, would be a breach of discipline. However, the regulations are only secondary legislation and can be revoked at any point by the Minister and regulations, when drafted or being revoked, never go before the House to be debated as they are just the exercise of Minister's executive power. Therefore the authority will bring in a code of ethics with great fanfare but breaching it will not be a breach of discipline because of the changes in this Act. There will be no sanction for breaching the code, rendering it meaningless.

 

The introduction of the trade unions as one of the bodies the authority is required to consult is curious as the Minister would not have been required to consult the unions if she had ever gone ahead and drafted a code of ethics. There is a requirement to consult the Garda Commissioner as representative of an Garda Síochána and this really would have been sufficient. It is curious also that there is a requirement to consult the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, as setting standards of conduct and policing practice cannot be considered an industrial relations issue. There is no reference to the code of ethics or the Garda code being published. The biggest problem with the newly proposed legislation is that there will be no sanction for breaching the code of ethics which makes it meaningless. This is even weaker than the position under the current 2005 legislation, where we have no code of ethics because no Minister ever went ahead and drafted one.

 

On the roles of Minister, the authority and the Garda Commissioner, the Bill now proposes that section 20 be amended in order that the authority, with the written approval of the Minister, shall determine the priorities of the Garda Síochána and establish performance targets and can only determine or revise them following consultation with the Garda Commissioner. The Minister will lay these priorities before the House on receipt from the authority. The Commissioner must inform the authority of measures taken to achieve the objectives of the priorities determined and performance targets established and supply that information within the time specified by the authority. Regarding security services principles, the Commissioner shall follow the same procedure but just be answerable to the Minister.

 

Section 21 sets out that the strategy statement shall be submitted by the Commissioner to the authority rather than to the Minister for approval but removes from the authority the power the Minister had to set the form and the manner of the statement. The Commissioner is required to have regard to Government policy, the priorities determined by the authority regarding policing and the Minister regarding security. The Garda Professional Standards Unit, GPSU report under section 24 shall now be submitted by the Commissioner to the authority and not to the Minister. The Minister's power under section 25 to issue directives to the Commissioner remains solely with the Minister and the authority may only recommend to the Minister that he or she issues a directive. The Bill provides a new power to the Minister to issue directives to the authority also. The Commissioner is still required to have regard to any relevant policies of the Minister or the Government and any ministerial directive issued to him or her when performing his or her functions, along with the new policing principles, as per section 5.

 

The authority cannot be considered independent from the Minister if it is in a linear hierarchical relationship with the Minister, as is demonstrated by the power in the amended section 25 which permits the Minister, on the approval of the Government, to give written directives to the authority regarding any of the authority's functions under the Act and the authority shall comply and shall also inform the Minister of the measures taken by the authority to comply. There is limited usefulness in severing the Commissioner's linkage with the Minister if it is intended to restore this linkage at the authority level. It is no use just sticking the authority in between the Minister and the Commissioner if the authority itself answers to the Minister and so becomes just an extra link in the same chain. As argued by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, "if it is to break the historic cycle of unwholesome ministerial influence on policing, Ireland's new authority must be fully independent". Furthermore, the authority is not given any power to issue directives to the Commissioner. The authority can only recommend to the Minister that a directive regarding policing be issued to the Commissioner from the Minister. The Minister's power under the 2005 Act to give directives to the Commissioner, that is, to give direct orders to the Commissioner, remains the same and is not even shared with the authority. Thus there is no change in the potential for direct ministerial influence on the Garda Commissioner's operational control of an Garda Síochána. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, emphasised that the independence of the police service from Executive control is central to the credibility and capacity of the police service to protect human rights, yet An Garda Síochána remains under direct Executive control under the new proposals. There is also no change to section 26(3) which makes the Commissioner directly accountable to the Minister in the performance of his or her functions and those of An Garda Síochána. This accountability provision has been criticised by Professor Walsh as reinforcing ministerial control powers by rendering the Commissioner statutorily accountable to the Minister for the first time in the history of the State.

 

On the issue of accountability, Part 5 now proposes no change to section 40 which sets out that the Garda Commissioner shall account fully to the Government and Minister through the Secretary General for any aspect of his or her functions, including the duty to provide any document. Clearly, the Commissioner remains accountable to the Minister and Government only. The new Bill just adds a section setting out that the Commissioner shall report to the authority with regard to policing services to facilitate the performance by the authority of its functions under this Act and extends the duty of Commissioner to provide documents to the authority also. The wide breadth of communication between Minister and Commissioner remains under section 41 and a clause is added to set out that if and in so far as a report by the Commissioner to the Minister relates to policing services, the Minister shall inform the authority of those matters. The Minister does not even have to provide the authority with a copy of the report. Furthermore, there is no comparable duty on the Commissioner inserted to keep the authority informed on significant developments relating to policing, for example, peace and public order, but only to keep the authority informed of matters relevant to the authority's functions.

 

No change is proposed to section 47 to provide the authority with crime statistics. Surely crime statistics should now be reported to the authority and not the Minister, or at least to both. It will be difficult for the authority to deal with policy issues if it is not entitled to the full statistical data that are available. There is no change to section 40 regarding direct accountability to the Government and Minister nor to section 40(2) and the all-encompassing duty on the Commissioner to provide any document or statement in the possession of An Garda Síochána that the Minister requests, for example, documents relating to Deputy Paul Murphy's arrest, which Professor Dermot Walsh has referred to as an "alarming provision".

 

The Bill, as published, rows back on commitment in the heads of the Bill to make the Garda Commissioner fully accountable to the board alone regarding policing matters. As with the 2005 Act, the Commissioner is to remain solely accountable to the Minister and Government. This is a fundamental change to the proposal in the heads. What is the point of having a Garda authority if it is not being asked to hold the Commissioner to account and if the Commissioner remains lawfully accountable to the Government and Minister? The Commissioner's duty to provide updates regarding policing continues to be owed to the Minister rather than the board, which is also a departure from the proposal made in the heads.

 

According to the legislation, the first eight members of the Garda authority will be directly appointed by the Government following advertisements that were placed in June. The first authority will set the tone for the relationship between the authority and the Garda Commissioner and Garda Síochána. This is a negative step for an authority that is supposed to be strong and independent and mark a departure from politicised policing.

 

Membership of the authority is to be drawn from Civil Service representatives and individuals with a legal or human rights background. The failure of the Bill to make reference to representation of civil society groups is a major disappointment. In addition, the Garda authority should include some political representation, albeit not a majority, with the Opposition and Government being given equal representation. This would be in line with a recommendation made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Dr. Vicky Conway and Professor Dermot Walsh. In an effort to retain Government control over the authority, the proposals do not allow for any political representation or membership, perhaps because to do so would require Opposition involvement.

 

The chairperson-designate of the Garda Authority is a career civil servant who was appointed without an interview process, having resigned as head of the Revenue Commissioners one month prior to her appointment. This was clearly a set-up and means of exerting and re-channelling ministerial influence through the chairperson by having, as it were, the Minister's man on the inside. The process used amounted to an interference in the independence and impartiality of the Garda authority before it has been even established. Moreover, Josephine Feehily was involved the selection of the new Garda Commissioner in her first indirect wielding of political power over policing.

As the Minister will be well aware, Deputy Clare Daly and I introduced Garda Bills in 2013 and 2014. The Garda authority proposed in our legislation is unrecognisable in the authority proposed in the Bill before us. I do not know how the Minister can claim the authority is independent when it clearly has the paws of the Government all over it.

 

Lack of speaking time means I have only referred to some sections of the Bill. That this legislation does not stand up to serious scrutiny with regard to independence is a major disappointment. The Minister had an opportunity to do things much differently and God knows that is needed. I do not mean anything personal in expressing serious disappointment with the Bill as I do not know how much control the Minister or her officials had over the final document. I wish things were different and we had a policing authority that bore some resemblance to the authority proposed in our Bill.”

 

Mick Wallace.

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Housing Crisis is not going away…

 

Dail Diary no 51 – 12 August 2015

 

The Housing Crisis has not gone away, and given the poor response of this Government, it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. In fact, it is most likely to get worse before it gets better. Before the Dáil summer recess, I lodged over 20 Amendments to the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015. I spoke on most of these and here are some extracts from my Dáil contribution in the chamber. -

 

 

“It is horrendous that NAMA could not deliver housing units for Dublin, in particular where there is such a serious housing crisis. It beggars belief. The argument was spun that certain property was not really suitable. The funny thing about that is that NAMA did not want to give much of the property that was suitable to the State because it was attractive to investors. What has happened is that vulture funds, mostly from the US, were allowed to cherry pick the best of it because NAMA sought to sell the best of it to them. It then considered some of the other property, which was not quite as attractive to the vulture funds, for social or affordable housing.

 

The Minister of State referred to the private sector. As he might understand, I would not cut it out. Rather, I would consult with it. The private sector has a few different parts. The construction sector alone comprises land bankers, developers and builders. Most of the units currently being built will be rented rather than sold. One might say that at least they will be put on the market. The Minister of State said NAMA sold land that would allow 10,300 units of housing in Dublin alone, but whom was it sold to? Many assets are being sold in parcels so large that Irish individuals, including builders and developers, have not been able to buy them. The people with the deepest pockets have mainly come from places outside Ireland, such as America. NAMA refused to divide assets and sell them in such a way that private investors in Ireland could afford to get involved. I will not go into the decision to sell all of the Northern Ireland portfolio in one block; it is an argument for another day.

 

The Minister of State referred to land that would allow 10,300 units of housing. When will they be built? It is not attractive for a builder or developer to build a serious number of units in Ireland today. It would be difficult to get the money from a bank because the figures do not add up; too many assets have been sold in fire sales, particularly by NAMA and the banks. Units were bought too cheaply, for less than the cost of building them. How can one build and compete with such units? It is a major problem.

 

I am not sure where the idea to levy the local authority is coming from. Putting a levy on a land-banker who sits on his land and refuses to develop it is obviously a great idea, but I do not see why the Government wants to do the same to local authorities, except that it thinks the local authority will sit on it as well. If a private investor has a site that is zoned for development and he decides not to build on it, there is a reason for it. He is deciding that it is a better idea not to develop it just yet. He is making a financial decision. If the local authority decides not to build, or is not building, I imagine it is because it does not have the money. The Government has decided it will only levy sites where housing is needed, although I would prefer if all land zoned for development that was bought for investment purposes was levied, but we will argue about that in later amendments. If the local authority has land and there is a need for housing, obviously the State should give it to them.

 

I said in my last contribution that it is really important that the private sector plays a part in the construction of apartments and housing, but the truth is that we will continue to have a housing crisis until the State decides to start building housing again. There is a number of factors at play. I agree with the Central Bank's new rules, but the result is that up to 50% of people, young people between 20 and 30 years, who might be looking to buy a home in the near future if they settle down and start a family will not be able to afford to buy a property. That is for a number of reasons, including the Central Bank regulations. They are sensible, but the result is that the State must take more responsibility for providing housing for those who need it and who cannot afford to buy it. That number is going to grow. Some local authorities have land and are not developing it because they could not get State money because the State did not want to invest any more in the construction of housing than it had decided. Sadly right now there does not seem to be an appetite for the State to start building many houses.

 

As the Government's so-called strategy specified before Christmas, it will remain very dependent on the rental market for its housing. The lack of joined-up thinking is a bit scary. I have made the point in here on a number of occasions that much of the development land that is out there now has been bought by the big investment funds. Of the ones that have decided to build on it, I can assure the House that they will not sell the majority of the units they build because from a financial point of view it is not a very clever thing to do at the moment. It makes far more sense, if they have the money to invest in building them and given that they got the land much cheaper than they would normally expect, to rent them out. That is what these big players have been doing and it is one of the reasons rents have gone so high. As I pointed out before, I have seen the rent for a rental property in a working class area of Dublin city centre on the north side of the river go from €1,000 a month to €1,400 a month in three years. The reason is that there are now so few players controlling the rental market. They can dictate the price. Whatever influence they have on the price currently, it will increase because these guys bought land at a fire-sale price, they had the deep pockets to do it because the land was sold in large parcels, and now they are going to build on it and rent out units.

Places like Dublin are brilliant places to rent property. They are hard to beat. I am not exaggerating, but one can rent a two-bed apartment in Turin for €300 a month and we are looking at around €1,400 in Dublin. That is the place to be. There is no point in those fellows building apartments in Turin and renting them out. They will not be going over there, but they will like this place. If we are going to have a housing strategy that is geared towards huge dependence on the rental market, rent supplement is going to be too expensive for the State. Currently, rent supplement does not meet the rent, because rent is too high and the State does not want to pay too much in rent supplement. That gap is going to grow. If the Government wants people to avail of the private market, because there will not be State-built houses for them, its bill for rent supplement will be so large that it cannot be a sustainable way forward. The Government will have to rethink it. We have so many issues around it. It does not look likely that we will introduce serious rent control and even if we did, it would take a couple of years before it would work properly.

 

The chances of us getting to grips with the housing crisis in Ireland in the next two years are almost non-existent because of the approach we are taking. I know the Government cannot provide social housing overnight, but although Rome was not built in a day, they did start it one day. We should start building houses ourselves now. I do not agree with the public private partnership model. One of the most outrageous laws in the European Union is that an EU state is not allowed to borrow money at market rates to invest in infrastructure. They insist on it going on the books. States are confined by the rules about 3% of GDP and are not allowed to escalate it. If a state borrows all this money for infrastructure, it ends up breaking EU rules.

I do not see much sense in that and I would like to hear someone make a good argument as to why the EU would not encourage investment in infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure is a powerful use of money. It is an investment in the future and it creates significant employment. Although money is so cheap - one can borrow significant sums for less than 2% on the markets - the Government will not borrow it for social housing because the EU rules do not really allow that. There are different mechanisms to get around this. They are creating little pockets where one can do different things, but how in God's name can the EU stand over the rule that the State is not allowed borrow money cheaply, keep it off the books and invest it in infrastructure? It is a no-brainer. There is no logic to not allowing it. What happens is that the State can only invest X amount in social housing or other infrastructure because it is confined by the rules. If it wants to do something else in the public sector, it must go to the public private partnerships, PPPs. PPPs are really a licence for the private sector, like vultures, to feed off the carcass of the State that cannot borrow any more money at market rate. We want the work done but we have exhausted the borrowings that we are allowed to work into the system without breaking EU rules so we must now go to the PPPs. PPPs can cost anything up to approximately the 15% mark. Thanks to EU rules, instead of the State borrowing money for less than 2%, it will give private investors 15% over a longer period of time for their investment.

 

I still almost feel uncomfortable using the word "neoliberal" in the House but the core of neoliberalism is the drive to privatise social services. Obviously, another aspect of it is the reduction of workers' rights and conditions. It has led us to a situation where there has been a serious increase in zero-hour contracts. Everyone throws their hands up in the air when workers, such as those in Dunnes Stores, are on the receiving end of that same philosophy. Everyone states this is not fair, but yet we go along with the neoliberal philosophy. That is why I believe that if people want fairness in Ireland, they should challenge every person who stands in the next election to state whether he or she is prepared to be part of a neoliberal grouping after the election or not. It is that important; it is crucial. Obviously, I will not get into the argument about Greece but it is part of the same argument. It is sad the way in which it has developed. 

The European Union was about something else, or at least I thought it was, when it began. I thought it was about not only keeping peace in Europe and avoiding wars but about raising the living standards of people across Europe in general, in particular, on the peripheries, closer to that of those who were doing better than themselves. Sadly, as it stands, I now see neoliberalism as driving down living standards. It is reducing democracy and Greece is very much on the receiving end of it. Many in Ireland also are on the receiving end of it. 

 

When in years to come people read the history of the period from 2008 to date, and probably later, how NAMA has operated, who has benefited from it and who is picking up the tab, they will find it hard to believe. We have serious problems and, as I keep saying, our housing crisis is not disconnected from that. The failure to build State housing now and the strategy of over-dependence on a rental market, which we are not able to control and which we will even struggle to ensure is affordable for many people, will be a massive problem.”

 

Mick Wallace.

 

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Dáil Diary no 50 – 29 July 2015 – Government's Climate Bill leaves much to be desired...

On the last week of the Dáil sitting, we began to discuss the Amendments to the Climate Change Bill, already 5 years overdue, which will again be discussed in September. The Bill leaves so much to be desired. The truth be told, it has to be one of the most disappointing pieces of legislation in the lifetime of this Dáil, and bears all the hallmarks of Politicians living from one election to the next, with little regard for the long-term good. Here's my opening contribution -

There is no reference in the proposed Bill to any baseline years for any of the greenhouse gases listed on page 4 of the Bill. This amendment will allow us to have a reference point for these greenhouse gases against which the advisory committee, or whoever is involved in the monitoring process and the drawing up of the action plan, can measure our progress and around which it can organise. Without a baseline to work off, the Bill makes little sense and without targets to reach that reference, the Bill as a whole does not amount to anything. Obviously, the years proposed for the baselines in this amendment are highly ambitious, but that is exactly what we should be trying to do with this legislation. Scotland has similar years referenced in its legislation on climate change which is, in stark contrast to the Bill we have before us today, an example of international best practice.

On Committee Stage, the Government ruled out of order any amendment that included a reference to targets on the basis that Opposition Deputies cannot propose amendments to legislation that may have a potential cost to the Exchequer - perhaps the second most undemocratic instrument in Irish politics after the Whip system - and gave no defence of the ruling. By refusing to commit to ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, this Government is incurring a cost to the Exchequer and a global human cost that is only going to get worse. Those who live on or near the Equator line are already faced with daily life or death circumstances as a result of climate change and this Government's lack of action makes Ireland complicit. However, the insular and short-sighted thinking that dominates Irish politics today has no room for this reality nor does it see the lives of people - either those in Ireland or abroad - as having any real value, as evidenced by the decision to rule out any possibility of climate justice or real climate change mitigation because there might be a short-term cost to the Exchequer. If this analysis is too harsh, we can at least say that this Government understands the value of money but not the value of humanity.

Therefore, let us speak its language of quantity above all else. According to the European Commission, "early action on climate change will save lives and money. The EU-wide cost of not adapting to climate change could reach at least €100 billion a year by 2020, rising to €250 billion a year by 2050." Elaborating on the internationally accepted position that climate change poses a threat so serious that it could reverse the past 50 years of progress in global health and development, the European Commission has said that climate action would bring benefits of €38 billion a year in 2050 through reduced mortality caused by air pollution. The World Health Organization has estimated that, considering only a few of the associated health risks and assuming continued progress in economic growth and health protection, climate change would still be likely to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year by the 2030s. A recent report by researchers at the International Monetary Fund identifies the omission of health damages from polluting fuels as the largest of the subsidies provided to global energy production and use, which will total $5.3 trillion in 2015, which is more than the total health expenditure of all the world's governments.

What is clear is that climate change and its causes are the greatest risks facing human health. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that when making a climate change mitigation plan, the Government has a reference point from which it can make long-term national commitments that are binding and those in power can be held accountable if they fail to protect the Irish people and the wider world. It is obvious that fast and meaningful action on climate change will have economic benefits for Ireland, but more importantly, it will mean the Government cares about the well-being of people. Failure to commit to targets and a fast-track of the mitigation plan will demonstrate that the opposite is the case.

As I have outlined, there is a wealth of peer-reviewed research showing that climate change will result in astronomical costs to governments the world over. There is also a long series of very coherent arguments from scientists, economists and international bodies that highlight the immense savings that will accrue from co-ordinated, effective and sustained commitment to ambitious emissions reductions targets. In light of these facts, a situation where the Minister refuses to entertain amendments that would commit us to national emissions targets on the basis that to do so would incur a potential cost to the Exchequer is Kafkaesque. This stance by the Minister is one of the starkest examples of the Government sticking its head in the sand on an issue. We would like to challenge the Government's use of Standing Orders as an excuse not to have to take seriously our concerns about the lack of any commitment in this Bill to reduce carbon emissions. Our argument is that contrary to the Standing Order ruling, it is the Opposition Deputies who are trying to save money for the Exchequer and it is the Government which wants to burn it and, simultaneously - I am not being over-dramatic here - the world with it.

A closely monitored and targeted emissions reduction strategy is essential for the economic and social well-being of this and every other country on Earth. The end result of refusing to commit to a significant target will be our collusion in the deaths of untold millions of people. he purpose of the amendment is to give some meat to the Bill. As it stands there is no reference to a baseline or an end goal, making the Bill effectively not fit for purpose. The amendment is based upon the text of the Scottish Parliament's Climate Change Act 2009. That Act, in stark contrast to the proposed Bill, clearly outlines the targets to be met, the criteria under which those targets should be assessed in their feasibility by an independent body, an ambitious timeframe for the publication of that advice and the framework around the responsibility of the Minister in regard to that advice.

The proposed Bill has little or no detail surrounding this issue and at worst, it allows an advisory panel that is not genuinely independent to draw up proposals that will not be provided to the public before the drafting of the adaption plan or sectoral adaption plans. Furthermore, as is clear from a reading of the Scottish Act, the aim there is to arrive at the highest target possible and that a full explanation as to why higher than their proposed minimum targets cannot be achieved. The proposed Bill comes nowhere near this level of commitment to tackling climate change.

By failing to act on this issue, this Government is cementing its legacy as a regressive and destructive force wholly bound to free-market ideology, no matter what the cost to the planet or the people on it. This is a crisis that needs governments to lead by example and to rein in the economic system that has brought the human race to the brink of extinction. This would mean an end to privatisation and an end to austerity, an increase in public spending to build up the public services and infrastructure that will be our best protection against climate change. It will mean reining in the behaviour of the biggest polluters, for example our beloved FDI partners, instead of the current practice of corporate welfare that is so widespread today. It will mean fighting for better building regulations rather than the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government effectively banning international best practice for building properly insulated homes, as happened recently.

We should be investing in the public transport sector, especially light rail, instead of concentrating almost exclusively on the roads network and selling off bus routes to the private sector, while we are at it. We need to challenge the ideology that places the endless pursuit of growth above all else. The world is finite, but one would not think so to listen to those on the Government benches. The fact that we gave our oil and gas fields off County Mayo to one of the worlds biggest polluters as a present and then brutalised and imprisoned the local people who objected, is a bad signifier on this front.

A national commitment to a reduction of 80% by 2050 is essential if this Bill is to carry any clout. Anything short of this will be leaving things in the hands of Europe and international agreements which have already been dumbed down. The 2030 targets of 40% recently set by the European Commission are clearly inadequate to meet the EU's own target of limiting global warming to 20 C. We need to give meaning to the words uttered by our leader, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, in New York last September when he said, "Leaders, governments and corporations have a responsibility to define objectives, make policy decisions and take action to preserve our planet and secure a prosperous future for its inhabitants". The Bill, as it stands, has no defined objectives. Was the Taoiseach talking something different because it does not match up with the provisions in the Bill?

 As well as health and social issues, a changing climate poses potential risks to global security, in particular, to secure, sustainable and affordable supplies of key natural resources such as food, water and energy, that are essential for economic prosperity and well-being, but the only food security that we seem to be worried about is the security of our beef exports that are having such a detrimental effect on the environment and on climate change. We need to have targets in this Bill and an 80% reduction by 2050 is in line with the EU commitment to stop the rise of 20C degrees rise in the global temperature. Anything short of this and the Government will not only have failed the Irish people but we will continue to play an active part in the devastation affecting billions of people in the most climate change-vulnerable regions of the planet. The situation we are faced with is stark and we need to take the lead in standing up to those who pose the greatest threat. We also need to sort out our own affairs while we are at it.

  Naomi Klein summarises the precariousness of the scenario:

    In 2011 the London based Carbon Tracker Initiative conducted a study that added together the reserves claimed by all the fossil fuel companies, private and state-owned. It found that the oil, gas and coal to which these players had already laid claim - deposits they have on their books and which were already making money for shareholders - represented 2,795 gigatons of carbon (a gigaton is 1 billion metric tons). That's a very big problem because we know roughly how much carbon can be burned between now and 2050 and still leave us a solid chance (roughly 80 per cent) of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. According to one highly credible study, that amount of carbon is 565 gigatons between 2011 and 2049. And as Bill McKibben points out, "The thing to notice is, 2,795 is five times 565. It's not even close." He adds: "What those numbers mean is quite simple. This industry has announced, in filings to the SEC and in promises to shareholders, that they're determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet's atmosphere can begin to absorb."

This Bill needs concrete commitments to national targets for emissions reductions for now and well into the long-term. Anything less is a monumental failure of the political class on this island to do something that will really make a better world, at home and abroad, now and for the remainder of our time on this planet.

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#NAMA has failed to deliver for the Irish People…

Dáil Diary no 49 - 16 July 2015

The manner in which NAMA has operated is a major concern for many Irish citizens. That the promised social dividend of this secret society, never materialised, was a great disappointment in itself. But the disappointment didn’t stop there. NAMA’s insistence on selling assets and loan portfolios for well below their real value is naturally a very serious issue for the tax payer, who is picking up the tab. The fact that they’ve been determined to sell properties in huge bulk, rather than breaking them up, has had further negative consequences. Firstly, only financial entities with the clout of US Vulture funds, have had the capacity to purchase these massive portfolios, secondly, the net financial return for the taxpayer was dramatically reduced, and thirdly, in many cases, it has allowed the same US vulture funds distort our property/ rental market, as these colossal organisations are developing a cartel, giving them a controlling influence over rental prices, which is to the detriment of any Irish people who may be trying to rent accommodation. All told, NAMA has delivered well for the massive foreign investment funds, but has failed to deliver for the Irish people. The cost of same, will remain with us for a long time. Here’s my Dáil contribution with Taoiseach Enda Kenny on Wednesday –

“Taoiseach, you said yesterday the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts are the agencies in this jurisdiction for dealing with issues concerning the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. We both know neither of them have the potential to fully hold NAMA to account. The legislation regarding the Comptroller and Auditor General does not allow for ongoing, intrusive oversight and monitoring and lacks asset management oversight functions.

There are many concerns around the workings of NAMA.

Cerberus expects to make a large fortune from the purchase of Project Eagle. The £7 million that ended up in an Isle of Man bank account will begin to look like small change. The big loser, though, is the Irish taxpayer in the South. NAMA says the sale of Project Eagle was lawful, but was the purchase lawful? I would have thought that a Fine Gael Government would have a bit more concern about slush moneys for fixers. I doubt the Taoiseach has heard the last of Project Eagle.
Does the Taoiseach know how many barristers, judges, solicitors, top-four accountancy firm partners and bankers are in syndicates which have been set up by Goodbody Stockbrokers, Anglo Private, Bank of Ireland Private, AIB Private, Davy, Warren and Quinlan which have transferred to NAMA but which NAMA has not enforced, despite personal guarantees being attached? NAMA is responsible for some people being tossed out of their homes, but it looks like some of the great and good of Irish society are blessed with NAMA’s goodwill.

What role did a former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, John Moran, play in NAMA’s handling of the Coroin group’s portfolio? This gentleman remarked at one stage that the number of home repossessions in Ireland was unnaturally low. It would appear he was unnaturally interested in playing a significant role in the outcome of the Coroin group’s portfolio.

All is not well. I know of a construction company, Taoiseach, which wanted to exit out of NAMA, so it asked the manager of its portfolio if it could happen and he said, "Yes, but it will cost you €15,000 in cash and I want it in a bag".

A few weeks later, they delivered the money. A few weeks later he demanded the same again. They duly obliged and all was sorted - a small window into the workings of NAMA. Is the Taoiseach still happy with the workings of this secret society?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy has made a number of comments and allegations here regarding people working in different sectors, including members of the Judiciary. He made comments in respect of a former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, as well as comments generally in respect of NAMA.
Let me repeat again for him. The process of accountability and transparency in this jurisdiction in respect of NAMA is the Committee of Public Accounts in the Oireachtas, chaired by a Member of this House. Personnel from the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office work with NAMA and have access to all the papers and documents relevant to any of these transactions.

I would suggest that, as a public representative, the Deputy has a facility where questions can follow his allegations. He should go to Deputy McGuinness’s committee, the Committee of Public Accounts, a committee of long-standing integrity in this House. The Deputy can make his claims, ask his questions. The Chairman of the committee, with his members, is entitled to call in personnel in respect of the issues the Deputy raised.

The Deputy has made some serious claims here. I do not have the detailed responses to them. The Committee of Public Accounts is the authorised independent entity in the Oireachtas for accountability and transparency in respect of NAMA. I suggest to Deputy Wallace that in the interest of public accountability and transparency, he goes to the committee, presents his findings and facts - if facts they are - and allow the Chairman and his committee to do their work in the interests of their political responsibility here.

Mick Wallace:  I can only come to the conclusion that the Taoiseach does not seem awfully interested in getting to the truth. There is a stark contrast between how Northern Ireland is dealing with this and how the Government is dealing with it.

Can the Taoiseach tell me why did Mr. Frank Daly tell the Committee of Public Accounts that he did not know about the alleged £7 million in the Isle of Man bank account until I mentioned it? I know for a fact that NAMA knew this last January. What did it do about it? Did it tell the Minister for Finance or did it bury it with the rest of it? Mr. Coulter has denied the involvement of a politician. Well, he would, would he not? I decided to contact my sources this morning and ask them to what degree of certainty they could stand over the involvement of a particular politician. Their reply was, "Is 100% enough?". The Taoiseach has serious problems. Does he want answers to them? Do not bother asking me, Taoiseach, to go to the Garda

I will ask the Taoiseach again whether he is prepared to set up an independent commission of investigation. If he wants the truth, that is what he will have to do. The people would like him to do that. He owes it to them.

NAMA came to the Oireachtas last week and felt it was out of the woods leaving here, but do you know what, Taoiseach? The trees are only starting to grow.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy has stood up again now and he has made further allegations. I do not speak for anybody in Northern Ireland in regard to this. There is a criminal investigation going on there. As I understand it from yesterday's discussion here, there are no allegations against NAMA or personnel down here. I read out what the chronology of the actions of the Minister for Finance was  following the process down here. Now, let me repeat what I said to Deputy McDonald yesterday. Deputy Wallace now tells me that he has facts. He now tells me that he has been checking with his sources. He has a duty and a responsibility to bring that to the attention of the accountable body in this Oireachtas, and that is the Committee of Public Accounts.

Mick Wallace:  The Taoiseach has a duty to set up an inquiry.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Wallace is making allegations and assumptions in the middle of which he said he had facts. Well, I say to Deputy Wallace he has a duty to bring those allegations or those assertions or those facts to the accountable body in this Oireachtas, that is, the Committee of Public Accounts. The Chairman, who is present, with his members has full authority to follow through on those allegations, assertions or assumptions that Deputy Wallace makes.

As I understand it, there is no basis for any criminal charge that I have heard, either against NAMA or anybody associated with it or the Minister for Finance or anybody in the Department of Finance.

If Deputy Wallace has evidence to the contrary, he should bring it to the attention of the Garda if it is criminal or bring it to the attention of

If Deputy Wallace has facts and he has sources that he can check are authentic, he should bring them to the notice of the Chairman.

Mick Wallace:  If the Taoiseach wants the truth, he will set up a commission of investigation.

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namaleaks

THE TRUTH IS COMING....

Namaleaks is a project that seeks to uncover possible injustice and poor practice related to NAMA (National Asset Management Agency) and financial institutions in Ireland.

VISIT THE WEBSITE

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