THE OIREACHTAS IS a strange place to work. Standing orders, speeches in a big empty room, circular conversations with chief executives of banks. And holidays. Lots and lots of holidays. There’s a few weeks at Christmas, a mid-term, Easter, the entire summer, and then another mid-term. It’s as if the whole thing were designed by teachers. The media, understandably, makes great play of these holidays, so when TheJournal.ie asked if I would share what I did last week on my mid-term break, I thought, sure. So here goes:
Okay, I really did take Monday off, but c’mon, it was a bank holiday. Highlight was the new James Bond movie. Those with kids will understand the almost unimaginable luxury of spending over two hours in a cinema…in the middle of the day. Skyfall was superb cinema, but, well, I can’t really say more without ruining the movie, and who wants to be that guy?
Spent the day in the constituency office in Greystones. Started with clinics and moved on to working on individual constituent issues. These included children with special needs losing their teaching supports, people having their homes repossessed, schools changing patronage, domestic abuse, child custody, immigration, emergency accommodation for a mother and children, the household charge, development levies, rates, healthcare access for a toddler, withdrawal of community supports for the elderly, seed capital for start-up businesses, unsustainable debt, noise pollution and illegal dumping. At 6pm I attended the Joint Policing Committee where the Gardaí shared the latest crime figures. Some good news (public order offences and shop-lifting down), some bad (burglaries and drunk people punching each other outside house parties up).
I was meant to be in Leinster House for an all-day Finance Committee session. IBRC (formerly Anglo and Irish Nationwide) and AIB were in to answer a few questions. In particular, I wanted to ask Alan Dukes how much of the €18 billion in interest we’re paying on the promissory notes we’re likely to get back.
(Quick aside: In 2010 the Government invented a debt to Anglo Irish Bank. One minute we owed them nothing, the next, we owed then €31 billion. We got nothing in exchange. It gets worse – now that we owed them €31 billion, we also needed to start paying them interest. You couldn’t make it up. Karl Whelan estimates that the total interest payments will amount to €18 billion . We’ve been told not to worry about that because really we’re just paying the interest to ourselves as we own the bank. Fine – IF there’s €18 billion sitting there for us to take back once Anglo’s liabilities have been fully discharged. I’ve asked Michael Noonan to confirm that that’s the case, but he couldn’t. Next year we will pay Anglo €2.35 billion in such interest payments, on a made-up loan a dead bank. That’s two-thirds of the entire €3.5 billion budget correction coming our way this December. So between and and mid-December, when you hear “Oh but we’ve got to tax and cut because we need to close the deficit”, remember that that’s rubbish – we’re taxing and cutting to pay Anglo Irish Bank billions of euros of interest on a loan that was never made).
However, one of my kids was due to have an operation at Crumlin Children’s Hospital, so I couldn’t make it. I asked Peter Mathews if he’d put the question to Alan Dukes on my behalf, which he kindly did. We’re still trying to unpick the exact implications of the response, but our best guess at present is that we may be able to recover about €6 billion of the €18 billion.
The rest of Wedneday was spent in the constituency office, working on constituent cases, doing analysis for a budget submission and preparing for the following day’s Finance Committee. The evening was spent doling out sweets to goblins, witches, vampires, superheroes and ghosts. Some took apples, which was weird.
Spent the morning prepping for the Finance Committee, where Richie Boucher, the chief executive of Bank of Ireland, was appearing. To say that the session was frustrating would be an understatement. I used my time to ask if the bank had to date engaged in any level of debt surrender to holders of unsustainable mortgages. He refused to say. So I asked if the bank would even consider debt surrender under the upcoming Personal Insolvency Bill. He refused to say. You can watch the video above - I’m not going to lie, the content is dull as dishwater, but the general tone is unmistakable.
The afternoon was spent reviewing a proposal for home care for the elderly, and meeting with the excellent Marian Harkin MEP on all things Europe and with two Fine Gael TDs on all things Anglo.
The morning was spent on the Personal Insolvency Bill with Ross Maguire of New Beginning, after which we met with Minister Shatter on the same issue. There are a few important changes I would like to make to the Bill, but I have to say, I was impressed. This is the most important piece of legislation to come from this Government in regard to tackling the economic crisis, and specifically in this case, the household debt crisis.
It was our intern’s last day (he’s just landed a cool job in London), so we brought him out for lunch (note – we’re looking for an intern for Leinster House!). Then is was back to Wicklow for a meeting on a fantastic branding & enterprise strategy for Greystones.
Friday night, I wrote a piece for the Sunday Independent, Saturday morning, I wrote this. And I’m off shortly to meet a very clever data analyst who’s going to explain how social media can be used to support communities of volunteers. Obviously there was a mass of the usual random stuff we all deal with in our jobs and our lives, but I’d say that that’s about the headlines for my week off.