Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Revenue Sheriffs.

2.

asked the Minister for Finance the names of the recently appointed Revenue sheriffs; the amounts collected to date by each of them; the payments made to each of them by way of commission, bounty or fees; and whether it is proposed to appoint any more such sheriffs.

5.

asked the Minister for Finance the average amount of money held by each of the Revenue sheriffs for payment to him-her during each of the months of 1987; the average length of time between collection or seizure of arrears of taxes and their payment to the Revenue Commissioners; to whom the interest on money so held is payable; and the amount of interest received by each Revenue sheriff on money so held to date.

39.

asked the Minister for Finance the procedures, if any, which have been established to deal with complaints relating to seizure of assets by the Revenue sheriffs; whether there is a nominated officer with discretion to control the sheriffs or to vary their instructions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 5, and 39, together.

There were 12 sheriffs appointed to take over from the county registrars the function of executing tax certificates under section 485 of the Income Tax Act, 1967. I propose to circulate their names, and the amounts of tax and interest paid over by each of them to the Collector-General, on a separate table in the Official Report. The aggregate amount received to date from the new sheriffs is, in round figures, £21.7 million.

The fees and expenses payable to sheriffs are set out in the Fees Orders made by the Minister for Justice under section 14 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926. These fees and expenses are levied on the defaulter and are retained by the sheriff to meet the costs of executing his office. Sheriffs account monthly to the Collector-General of the Revenue Commissioners in respect of tax and interest but are not required to return particulars of fees and expenses levied under the Fees Orders. Consequently, statistics of these amounts are not available.

There are at present no plans to appoint additional sheriffs.

Detailed statistics of amounts of tax held by sheriffs are not available. Sheriffs are required to transmit to the Collector-General the moneys received in full settlement of a certificate in a month by the middle of the following month. The sheriff is required to provide, in relation to each payment, the date he received the amount from the defaulter.

Interest earned on moneys in the hands of sheriffs pending transmission to the Collector-General accrues to the benefit of the sheriff. The sheriff is not required to provide particulars of this interest in the monthly return he makes to the Collector-General and, consequently, statistics of the amount of the interest are not available.

Though the new sheriffs have the sole responsibility of executing tax certificates under section 485 of the Income Tax Act, 1967, they were appointed under the statutes relating to civil debt collection and are officers of the court. In the exercise of their function they are bound by the laws and regulations governing the collection of civil debts of any kind.

The sheriffs operate under general guidelines from the Revenue in relation to administrative matters such as the time taken to process warrants and the transmission of moneys to the Collector-General. However, in relation to the execution of warrants they are constrained by the provisions of the civil debt collection law and would be answerable before the courts for any breach of that law.

Sheriff

Counties

Amounts paid over to Revenue to date

£000

Mr. Frank Lanigan, Carlow

Carlow, Kildare

1,197

Mr. Seamus Mallon, Castleblayney, County Monaghan

Cavan, Leitrim, Longford, Monaghan

1,006

Mr. Plunkett Hayes, Limerick

Clare, Limerick

4,360

Mr. Brendan Twomey, Dunfanaghy, County Donegal

Donegal

843

Mr. William Glynn, Galway

Galway

3,249

Mr. Donal Kelliher, Castleisland, Co. Kerry

Kerry

646

Mr. Thomas Murran, Waterford

Kilkenny, Waterford

2,683

Mr. Frederick Binchy, Clonmel, County Tipperary

Laois, Offaly, Tipperary

362

Mr. Patrick Cusack, Oldcastle, County Meath

Louth, Meath, Westmeath

3,455

Mr. Charles Kelly, Swinford, County Mayo

Mayo

740

Mr. Thomas Callan, Boyle, County Roscommon

Roscommon, Sligo

172

Mr. William Ruttledge, Wicklow

Wexford, Wicklow

3,033

21,746

(Limerick East): Will the Minister explain how the statutory obligations of the sheriffs will interact with the proposed tax amnesty announced by him?

The incentive to bring tax affairs up to date, as was explained on budget day and since, operates on the basis that for anybody who is in a position to bring their tax liabilities up to date including cases where a warrant is with the sheriff, the relevant interest will be waived, provided that all tax that is due for payment under the incentive is paid.

(Limerick East): Can I take it that the activities of the sheriff will be suspended some time before the introduction of the amnesty and that a circle of sheriffs will not be active during the course of the amnesty?

I do not think it is an amnesty; it is an incentive to pay and it has been operating since budget day. Sheriffs have been operating under that incentive proposal announced by me on budget day since the day after the budget.

In the interests of equity, will the Minister agree that those who paid their taxes with interest prior to that date should now be entitled to a refund if those who did not pay are now being allowed off the hook, as it were, by being allowed to pay the basic sum due only?

No, I am glad the Deputy raised that question because, in the 21 years in which I have been in public life I have listened to representatives of that party talk about the amount of tax outstanding. Yet, when we take some action to try to collect it they complain as well.

That does not answer my question.

I have answered the question by saying "no".

In equity, would the Minister not consider paying those good citizens who paid their taxes——

I said "no".

We are having repetition now.

Let me say, in response to the Minister——

I am sorry, Deputy, statements are not in order here.

(Limerick East): Will the Minister reward the labourers in the vineyard?

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but I understood him to say that where there are warrants with the sheriff to recoup tax, if those against whom such warrants exist pay their taxes, the amnesty will apply to any interest that would have accrued on the taxes due. May I ask the Minister in circumstances in which people have paid their taxes in full without the issue of a warrant but where they have subsequently been billed for interest — prior to or subsequent to the Minister's budget announcement — what are the Minister's intentions with regard to that interest? I draw to the Minister's attention the fact that the suggestion arising from his proposal would be that those for whom the Revenue Commissioners had to obtain warrants will now be exempt from interest whereas those people who brought their taxes up-to-date but who have not yet made interest payments — and who are now being billed for interest because they brought their taxes up-to-date — will have to make those interest payments?

I get the Deputy's point. I understand he is talking of people whose cases have not been with the sheriff at all, people who have done their own business but who have not paid interest. If interest is being levied on them now even though all the capital — if one likes to call it such — all their tax due has been paid, then, as long as all of their taxes due under the terms of the incentive are paid, the interest will be waived in those cases.

We cannot follow this question much longer. There are many others on the Order Paper.

I am aware of constituents who have received such interest demands since budget day. It appears from the inquiries they have made that there is a great deal of confusion in the Revenue Commissioners as to what approach they should adopt. Will the Minister clarify for the Revenue Commissioners what approach is to be adopted in the context of such interest demands being made?

I thought I had done so in response to the Deputy's previous question. I would hope that it would be operated accordingly by the Revenue Commissioners. Even though what I say is correct, perhaps what the Deputy or some of his constituents say may be correct also, because perhaps there are further tax liabilities in relation to those cases in addition to the interest with which they have been levied and, therefore, they would not be entitled to a waiver of the interest. That is the point. That is where the problem as regards qualification under the incentive might arise. Obviously, we all want to see clarification in relation to that matter, from the point of view of the individual taxpayer, the Exchequer and the operations of the Revenue Commissioners.

Has the Minister received any legal advice to the effect that the granting of a waiver of interest in respect of arrears due by way of an amnesty and the non-granting and, correctly, penal demand of interest in relation to another group of taxpayers in precisely the same circumstances is deemed to be unconstitutional? Furthermore, will he agree that the Revenue Commissioners will rapidly find themselves before the courts if they go ahead with the collection of interest payments.

In so far as I am personally concerned I have not got any legal advice; perhaps the Revenue Commissioners have, but I do not accept at all what the Deputy has said.