Electoral (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 837 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Eamonn Maloney: Information on Eamonn Maloney Zoom on Eamonn Maloney] Two types of person, or perhaps more, suffered as a result of the fallout from this country's economic collapse. Those who fall into the first category are what I would call small borrowers, namely, people who had small businesses. They might be contractors or owners of heating companies, electric companies, etc., who in some cases borrowed modestly to extend their businesses during the false boom. There is another category, however, whose members share more of the blame for this country's economic collapse, and I do not evaluate them in the same way I do the small borrowers. I refer to the great and the good who had so much money that apart from buying up Ireland they were buying yachts, racehorses and so on. I am convinced they have a different responsibility in terms of their borrowings than the ordinary men or women running small businesses who took a risk, albeit a more modest risk.

I listened to the contributions of some of the previous speakers. It is sometimes forgotten that when things went pear-shaped for many of the substantial borrowers in the construction industry - developers, etc. - they brought down many innocent small subcontractors who lost their livelihoods and whose employees lost their jobs. In some cases workers lost their pension rights. That was widespread.

I always qualify the argument about developers by saying that not all developers were engaged in this activity, in the same way that not all bankers were involved in the frenzy of throwing money at people. There were decent people in banks who should not be put into that category, but there is a view that they have some responsibility, similar to those who borrowed in an insatiable way.

I heard the Minister's contribution earlier and I understand the point about letting the people decide whether these people should be allowed to contest local or European elections, but I would argue that we as legislators should make a stand regarding the so-called great and the good who made the decisions about borrowing that we are now discussing. What is morally right about someone who caused the demise of half a dozen contracting firms and, in some cases, caused hundreds of workers to lose their jobs running for election? What moral argument can be made that we as legislators should allow those people to run for Parliament or in local authority elections? That is not right. We should take a lead in this matter. That is what legislators are supposed to do, not to follow events as they happen.

In his presentation - other people have made this point also - the Minister stated that 18 EU countries had augmented their legislation to the effect that those who become bankrupt have the right to run in these elections. That may be so, but it does not make it right. None of those 18 countries had this country's experience in terms of economic collapse and what our people have suffered through emigration, which thankfully is improving due to the measures this Government is taking. The people I refer to have committed many sins. I do not believe they are fit to go before the people, and legislators should say that.

On reading the 1992 Electoral Act, a particular subsection caught my eye. It refers to persons of unsound mind. It does not give a definition of "unsound mind" but if the Minister and I scratch our heads we might come up with a definition. Are those in the banking institutions who went crazy and threw money at people of sound mind? I would argue they are not, and I doubt if anyone would argue that they are of sound mind. Are those who were running construction companies and borrowed money they did not need to do what I referred to earlier - namely, to buy racehorses, etc. - of sound mind? Of course they are not of sound mind. They should never have been let get away with that.

Without meaning to give him any more coverage, I heard a former guru in this country on a radio programme advocating that those people in financial difficulty should head off to another jurisdiction, live there for a while, come back to this domain and live happily ever after. I disagree with that. The majority of us are tax compliant but in many cases those people owe the people money through the Revenue Commissioners, and I take exception to the idea that their slates can be wiped clean. It proves the point that the great and the good in most of these matters can walk away unscathed. I do not agree with that.

As I said at the outset, I understand the legal implications of the case that has been referred to, but if it stood on its own, the Minister and I would not be in agreement on this legislation.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate on this short but important Bill. I will not go into the details of matters concerning other items of legislation, on which people got some latitude, but I note what Deputy Maloney has just said. One never knows. We could have been on the same side of the argument but there are circumstances in which we have to look at matters legally in a broader way and how we can harmonise them to the extent necessary, particularly in the context of legal advice we get on matters currently before the courts or whatever.

I thank the Opposition Members for their support for this legislation also.

  Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan Next week.

  Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 15 April 2014.

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