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Dáil Speech on Personal Insolvency Bill – Wed 18th July

I welcome the Bill which is a positive step in dealing with the financial crisis in which we have found ourselves in recent years. Many have been waiting a long time for legislation such as this. One of the first people who spoke to me following my election asked me whether it would be possible to do something about the bankruptcy laws. The Bill is a welcome step in that regard.

I frequently refer to the language used in Bills.

All constitutions stem from the Magna Carta, which was issued back in 1215. I believe the Magna Carta must have been written by a barrister or a lawyer because it was written in Latin, which was a dead language at the time. It was then translated into the vernacular, which in England happened to be French, before being translated into English. I often wonder in what language some of those who write the Bills that appear before the Oireachtas work. In this context, I again mention section 97(6), which includes a sentence of 367 words. I do not know the person who wrote it but most of us who were obliged to write essays for our leaving certificate examinations would easily get two essays out of that single sentence. I know people who may have fallen asleep by the time they got half-way through it and would have been obliged to focus on it again. I again plead for the language used in Bills introduced to the Oireachtas to be made as simple as possible in order that ordinary Joe Soaps like me may be able to understand it.

I also have a couple of suggestions with regard to the Bill, the first of which pertains to the debt relief notice. Such debt relief notices will allow for write-offs of up to €20,000 and specifically are being provided for those who have no assets and no possibility of paying back the loan. Under a debt relief notice, one is liable to be under supervision for three years. Many young people were caught up in the tide of the Celtic tiger and now find themselves in a position in which they are in debt. Some of them may only owe €5,000 or €6,000 but have no means of paying it back. However, if they avail of a debt relief notice, there will be an onus on them to be under supervision for up to three years. If possible, I suggest that this period be staggered. For example, for write-offs of up to €10,000, one might only be under supervision for a period of one year, for a write-off of up to €20,000, one could be under supervision for two years and for more than €20,000, one could be under supervision for a three year period. I specifically refer to those younger people who bought cars or who took out unsecured loans for holidays and so on and who now find themselves in a position whereby they cannot get out and move on with their lives for a period of time. I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of including such a measure in the regulations. Depending on the scale of what such people owe, the Minister might consider periods of one, two or possibly three years in the case of amounts of more than €20,000.

I have a major concern regarding the regulation of the proposed personal insolvency practitioners. The current crisis arose from much poor regulation of the banking system and my concern is that the regulation of personal insolvency practitioners might be weak. The Minister should strengthen whatever legislation or proposed regulations he has with regard to the aforementioned practitioners. My fear is that certain individuals, who would not be fit for purpose as personal insolvency practitioners, would manage to advise people. My concern is the advice such people gave in the past may have led to individuals getting into trouble, only for the former to now advise the latter on how to emerge from trouble.

I also have a slight issue with something that got many people into the position in which they now find themselves whereby they need this legislation, that is, some of the products that were sold by banks. While each individual person must make up his or her own mind with regard to what products to take from banks and what decisions to make with regard to financial security, banks sold and offered products to people who in no way were fit to make a proper decision about them and who in consequence find themselves in need of this welcome legislation.

I wish the Minister the best in respect of the passage of this legislation. It is a vital cog in the future of Ireland’s economic recovery and I will support the Bill in its passage through the Dáil.