Deputy Ring was in possession. He is sharing time with Deputy Sargent.
Finance Bill 1999: Second Stage (Resumed).
Before the debate adjourned, I asked who would police the police state? That is what we will have in the new powers conferred on the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. It will create serious problems for many people.
Families are being attacked once again with the increase in VRT on small saloon cars. The Minister was unable to look after the family man who needs a car to bring his children to school or to travel to church or work. When Ireland joined the EU, we expected to be able to buy cars at the same price as other European citizens. Instead, successive Governments have used the car industry to raise revenue. The recent budget offered an opportunity to leave the car industry and the family man alone. It is disgraceful that such an attack was made on ordinary people.
The Minister looked after his friends in the racing fraternity. We see millionaires and billionaires travelling by helicopter to the Phoenix Park to place £500,000 bets. I know he likes a little flutter and likes to attend race meetings, as do many other Ministers but they would be far better off if they went out to meet the common people and listened to their problems and fears. VRT will affect many families.
I was disappointed the recent budget did not contain any major initiative to address the serious housing crisis. Details of urban renewal schemes will be announced today and I am delighted that Ballina will be included. I am very disappointed that my own home town, Westport, is not included but was delighted I was able to achieve its inclusion when Fine Gael was in Government. Westport is paying a price for not having a TD in Government. People in Swinford, Ballyhaunis and Kiltimagh will be very disappointed that their towns are not included in the scheme. I will highlight that issue and inform the people that they have been let down once again by this Government. They are becoming accustomed to it. They have been let down time and time again.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta Ring agus a chomhleacaí as Fine Gael as ucht a gcuid ama a roinnt liom. Ba mhaith liom cúpla rud a rá faoin mBille Airgeadais; tosóidh mé leis an bunphointe. I listened carefully to the Minister's Second Stage speech. He boasted that the budget and the Finance Bill were fair, reasonable, balanced and well thought out. However, the widening gap between rich and poor remains unchallenged. The situation which has been highlighted by many agencies, not least by the ESRI, demonstrates that the gap is a very real one. According to the ESRI, between 1995 and 1998, the richest 10 per cent gained 4 per cent over and above the simple indexation rule while the poorest 30 per cent gained 2 per cent less than that from various social welfare increases. The ESRI also points out that over the past four years social welfare rates have increased by 16 per cent whereas incomes have risen by 22 per cent. There is clearly a section of society which feels very left out. If the Government is serious about being a Government for all the people, there is some ground to be made up and a need to establish a more equitable system. Having done that, it would be necessary to ensure that progress from that point on would be sustainable.
Today on the Order of Business, I raised the issue of the lack of sustainability in our general economic activity. That will land us in serious trouble because of our obligations and also because of wider unsustainability factors.
The Minister has introduced legislation on the Bretton Woods Agreement. I do not believe that legislation is necessary at this point. Previous Governments have resisted signing up to that economic straitjacket. I am glad to see the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell, in the House as I am aware she has a keen interest in this area and in the economic systems of other countries. Apart from our country which is not receiving due attention in terms of equity and equal treatment for all citizens, we are now exporting inequality through our support for the IMF, as expressed in the Bretton Woods legislation. We have got ourselves into a situation from which this Government does not seem willing – whatever about capable – to get out.
The Finance Bill refers to the drift to urban centres. However, the radical changes required to address that are not in the Bill. The Minister referred to the rural renewal provisions in section 41. They fall far short of what people outside of this House would expect from someone serious about rural renewal. Rural Resettlement Ireland – an organisation for which I have a great deal of respect – is constantly crying out for funding and support but that support is not forthcoming. Talking about rural renewal reliefs in terms of revenue falls short of the job which must be done; it gives rise to expectations but does not follow through on them.
On section 11, the Minister stated that employment of a carer will now extend to the hire of a carer through an agency. He has recognised to some extent the huge volume of work being done in this society on a voluntary basis. Carers are currently experiencing a very difficult time, as they always will because of the nature of their situation. I hope the Government will alleviate the huge burden of work placed on them, if only because they are saving the State an enormous amount of money by avoiding the cost of institutional care for the people being cared for.
The child care provisions outlined in section 11 are principally considered in the context of people in full-time employment. This has given rise to enormous anger among people who stay at home to look after their children. They do not feel valued. I am sure the Minister has seen the letters in the newspapers to that effect. They feel even less valued when child care is dealt with almost exclusively in terms of people in full-time employment. Some people who stay at home to look after their children probably give up many career opportunities and do not wish to be excluded from the child care provisions in the Bill.
Section 16 refers to tightening up relevant contracts tax whereby tax is deducted at source in the case of certain subcontractors in the construction, meat processing and forestry industries. I wonder if such tightening up of the tax system will squeeze the largesse of some of the larger contributors to some of the political parties in this House. We will know that when we will see how it will affect contributions to political parties. Through the Freedom of Information Act and other ways, I look forward to finding out what effect this measure will have.
Section 17 provides that an individual will have a greater role in the investment of accumulating funds during the contribution period, but it does not refer specifically to ethical investment. In light of revelations concerning financial institutions, increasingly people will want to know where their money is being invested and the ethical use to which it is being put. There are many institutions dealing in unsavoury activities. I mentioned the arms industry. The organisation promoting investment in Britain states there is no need to set up trade unions as it is possible to get away with paying staff reasonably low wages.
The Bill provides that the minimum period of the lease of properties eligible for section 23 type allowances will be reduced from one year to three months. If this provision is designed to adequately deal with problems in the housing sector, it falls far short of what is required. It also falls far short of dealing with problems in the rental sector. It is time these problems were addressed. There is a lack of monitoring of rental income. Landlords are required to register, but vast numbers of them are not registered. At one time I assessed that the owners of 80 per cent of rented accommodation were not registered, yet rental allowances from the health boards, which is public money, makes up some of the rental income of some of those landlords. Such income must be monitored by enforcing the rules governing this sector.
Section 63 provides 100 per cent capital allowances for the provision of park and ride facilities. This has been extended to allow for commercial and residential development. It will tempt large contractors, who want to promote out of town shopping, to avail of this provision, but the Minister should not allow that to happen.
Sections 75 and 76 refers to tax measures to eradicate undesirable exploitation and they relate to non-residential tax structures, but they are being circumvented. The Bacon report allows for investment outside this country.
The Deputy's time is exhausted.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Roche and Moynihan.
That is agreed.
This Bill gives effect to what is undoubtedly the most radical and reforming budget we have had in many a day. Even the most visionary commentators would not have thought last year that the Minister for Finance would introduce such radical change, particularly in the income tax system by the introduction of a tax credits system.
I will confine my remarks to a number of issues, the first of which relates to provisions which will affect older people. The £6 per week increase in pension benefit, plus the £3 increase for qualified adult dependants is extremely welcome. The provision for extra beneficiaries of the fuel allowance has also been greatly welcomed. The income taxation limits for persons aged 65 and over has been increased by 30 per cent.
There are major improvements in the guidelines for medical cards for people over 70 and the increase, particularly for those in the older age bracket, has been widely welcomed. A married couple aged 70 to 79 years can have a weekly income of approximately £179. Many pensioners, who were excluded from eligibility to a medical card up to now because they were in receipt of occupational pensions, will be able to benefit from one from 1 March. That is an important social inclusion measure in this year which has been designated as the international year for older people.
This Bill will give effect to the budgetary proposal that the income tax limits for those aged between 65 and 74 years of age be increased by 30 per cent from £3,000 to £13,000 for a married couple and by £1,500 to £6,500 for a single or widowed person. For those aged 75 or over exemption limits have been raised by 18 per cent to £13,000 for a married couple and to £6,500 for a single or a widowed person.
Another welcome provision is that of capital allowance to encourage investment in private convalescent facilities. There is a shortage of nursing home care and of step down care facilities. This provision is extremely welcome and will encourage the provision of more bed places which can be made available to the various health boards.
The disabled person's grant scheme has been reformed and improved. I have asked various Ministers to do this down through the years and I compliment the Minister on doing it now. I compliment, in particular, the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, and the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, for dramatically increasing the level of the grant to £12,000 for a house extension for a disabled person. That budgetary provision has made a great difference to many people.
The Minister talked about urban renewal. I was delighted to learn from the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, today that the areas, for which Dublin Corporation sought tax designation following their submission of integrated area plans, will receive residential incentives initially which will apply for a three year period from 1 March. This scheme will transform the centre of Dublin city in particular. The Government has committed approximately £180 million to rejuvenate the 2,500 housing units in the Ballymun area. This is the largest urban renewal project in Europe. The next largest one is the rejuvenation of Beirut, which is also being carried out by a Dublin architect. I compliment Danny O'Hare, chairman of Ballymun Rejuvenation Limited, its board and the Ballymun community for the way they responded to the consultative process.
The heritage rejuvenation project around the Smithfield area which stretches to Collins Barracks is also welcome. The old Inchicore-Kilmainham area will also be transformed, as will the Liberties and the Coombe and the north east inner city. We look forward to the transformation of the main boulevard in this city, stretching from Parnell Street to O'Connell Bridge, under the O'Connell Street millennium project.
Another sector of beneficiaries is younger people. The reform of the income tax system will benefit first time earners. For the first time in years they will have much more money in their pockets.
Section 23 relief is extended for a limited period to cover the conversion, construction and refurbishment of residences for third level students. I expect Dublin City University, which is in my constituency, will avail of this. On capital allowances for buildings used in third level education, I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Martin, for their vision in introducing the provision whereby 50 per cent of funds are provided by the public sector which will also be able to avail of the provisions in the Bill.
Employees who receive travel passes from employers are liable to income tax on the value of the benefit. The Finance Bill will exempt employees from taxation on travel passes provided by employers where the passes are valid for a period of one month or longer. This is an excellent provision and certainly will help the traffic congestion problem which bedevils the city.
Deputy Sargent referred to section 63 which provides a 100 per cent capital allowance for the establishment of park and ride facilities in the larger urban areas to help alleviate traffic congestion. It is an excellent provision. My big concern about park and ride facilities was that we would end up with rather bleak, grey, multi-storey car parks surrounded by almost desert conditions. However, I am glad the Minister has responded to representations which will allow commercial and, more importantly, residential developments to be associated with park and ride facilities, subject to the residential element of any project not exceeding 25 per cent of the total allowable expenditure and the residential and commercial elements combined not exceeding 50 per cent of that expenditure.
The Finance Bill includes many more provisions which I welcome.
I thank Deputy Carey for sharing his time. The budget is quite remarkable and it has not been properly or appropriately recognised. It is visionary and has brought real tax equity for the first time. We are beginning to put in place major tax changes. Tax reliefs amounting to £581 million are the best news ever for personal taxpayers. Taking 82,000 taxpayers at the bottom of the scale out of the net is a real sign of progress. This being the case, I do not recognise the macabresque version of events set out by Deputy Sargent. It seems the Deputy has not read the Budget Statement and certainly has not read the same papers I have.
There are so many measures in the budget, that in the short time available one can only dwell on a few. In addition to the positive measures on personal taxation there is a series of innovations, some of which have been mentioned in the debate and which deserve recognition. I welcome the tax relief improvements introduced by the Minister in the creation of the scientific and technological education investment fund. This will provide very valuable additional capital investment in the education sector. It is a use of the tax system which we have failed to grasp over the years. For a country which has introduced a vast array of tax breaks for a variety of causes, some good, some bad and some indifferent, it is amazing that it is only in recent times we have begun to really focus on the issue of tax breaks, third level education and the entire education sector. The decision made by the Minister to which the Bill will give effect will be regarded in future as prudent, timely and far sighted.
I also welcome the tax inducements to improve the situation pertaining to student accommodation. As a parent and somebody involved in third level education, I have been increasingly alarmed in recent years at the crisis in accommodation for third level students. There has been a major crisis in this area which has grown over the past five or six years. It is a major problem for families and students and I welcome the provisions being introduced by the Minister. In the recent past some creative uses have been made of the tax system, for example, the creation of the student villages in UCD which are a remarkable use of land and which showed an ingenious adaptation of the tax system. The general extension of section 23 reliefs to cover the construction and conversion of accommodation for student use on or close to campuses is very welcome and one which will have a major impact in the years ahead.
I hope the third level colleges will use the certification role they are identified as playing as a pro-active way of levering investment in the vicinity of third level colleges. In particular I mention some of the smaller towns and cities where the institutes of technology are based. This provision will be tremendously beneficial in Carlow, for example, and I hope to see major initiatives.
It is also worth pointing out that students, parents and accommodation providers will not be the only beneficiaries of this measure, as the accommodation created under this measure will not be in use as student accommodation during June, July and August when it can be turned to other uses. For example, it can be used in the tourism sector.
Deputy Carey touched on the remarkable things happening in Ballymun. Ballymun is very close to DCU and there are a huge number of potential student accommodation units in some of the tower blocks. In this context it is a bit of a pity that we have decided on total destruction rather than conversion. However, that is a matter for Deputies from the area.
Another important measure which I welcome is the roll over of the existing tax relief for the film industry. I live within yards of Ardmore Studios and I represent County Wicklow, Ireland's premier location for film production, where the local authority has put its money where its mouth is by creating a very innovative film commission. I welcome this measure. However, I ask the Minister to consider another taxation measure, perhaps not this year but in the years ahead, namely, a tax break to assist studios and production companies to protect Ireland's film heritage. We have established quite a unique production record dating to the 1920s. Yet there is no measure in place to protect some of this unique heritage. It would be a major attraction in towns such as Bray, for example, if sets and props of films such as Braveheart, Excaliber and the Blue Max were protected rather than torn down, burned and dispersed. Perhaps the Minister will examine this matter in the next budget.
The decisions on urban renewal are very welcome. However, I remind the Minister, and will again if I get a chance to speak on Committee Stage, that he and I share a common interest in the seasides' resort scheme. It was due to be reviewed and the review was supposed to be published in the middle or at the end of last summer. To date the Department has been silent on the issue. The Minister and I when in Opposition pressed the case for Bray. Bray is unique, being Ireland's first seaside resort. We were looking for designation of a very narrow strip along the Victorian sea front. That did not come, not because the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, did not reckon the value of seaside resort status for Bray – he did, and he said as much in the Seanad – but because Deputy McManus, then a Minister of State, did not push the issue. That was a fundamental error. Bray is suffering and I ask the Minister when the seaside resort examination has been completed, to consider sympathetically the phrases he used in Opposition. Certainly, I will remind him of what he said, and I am sure Opposition Deputies will do likewise.
I also welcome the seafarers' allowance. That was something for which I had looked for years. We have had a problem as an island nation in that we have not been able to attract young men and women into the seafaring life. The provision of the £5,000 tax free allowance for seafarers who are away for 169 days is welcome. I question the stipulation of 169 days, but one cannot have everything. This is something for which the seafaring unions and certainly the shipping companies have looked for some time. I am delighted the Minister has introduced the measure.
I would like to inject a little realism into my contribution because I do not want simply to welcome sycophantically everything the Minister has done. There are two issues on which I ask the Minister to pause a little. One of the issues is the VRT measures. I understand fully that the Minister has said – it is a defensible position – that he wants to do something about larger motor vehicles, which are problematic in terms of emissions and the environment. I suggest to the Minister that his advisers in this regard might be looking in the wrong direction. It is my belief that if the issue to be addressed here is not revenue, which we are assured it is not, but in fact a reduction in pollution, a more proactive role can be played by the Department and by the tax system in future years by attempting to move the population as a whole, in particular fleet owners and specifically heavy fleet owners, to LPG.
We in Ireland ignore variations in the prices of petrol. As Deputy Durkan travels in from that beautiful part of County Kildare he will pass ten separate petrol stations and each one, I guarantee him, has a variation of 1p or 2p per litre on prices. People are remarkably price ignorant in this country.
Up to 8p.
It is a wealthy area.
Had the Minister put 1p on the more environmentally friendly levels of fuel and 2p on the environmentally unfriendly ones, he could have created a fund out of which he could have put a tax inducement to every motorist and fleet operator to move from petrol and diesel to LPG. I mention, in particular, bus fleets. It is extraordinary that Bus Éireann is in the process of rebuilding a fleet with the taxpayers' money which will be driven by fossil fuels other than LPG. It is bizarre.
My other point relates to what I described elsewhere as the nuclear option, that is, the changes the Minister is making in the Bill as regards significant new powers for the Revenue Commissioners, including greater powers of access to information held in financial institutions. In a sense, it is either a foolhardy or a brave political representative who would stand up in the current climate and suggest that maybe we might be going a little far, but I will put my toe into this shark infested water. I suggest to the Minister that this is something we need to consider very carefully.
I fully appreciate the basis on which the tax advisers in the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners have indicated to the Minister that we must adopt not only a proactive but a blitzkrieg attitude to the corporate culture in the State which tolerates tax abuse. I have no time whatsoever nor remit for those involved in exploiting legal, taxation and accounting skills to dodge tax. My view is that if everybody in this country paid their fair share of tax, those of us who are tax compliant would pay a hell of a lot less.
I am a little concerned that we may be going somewhat over the top here. I strongly believe these measures, to some degree, are necessary. Perhaps what has happened, however, is that the Revenue Commissioners having been caught in the spotlight by recent revelations are now advising the Minister to go for a series of options which make sure they are never caught in the spotlight again. I would want to be assured that these measures will not cause hardship and cause decent law abiding citizens, who are by and large tax compliant, any difficulties. I would always support the fullest possible measures against tax evasion and the crooked corporate culture which has grown up in this nation in recent years.
I am a little concerned at the matter in which the new powers can be deployed. I accept the Minister's view that law abiding compliant taxpayers should have nothing to fear from the use of the powers, and I accept that is the Minister's intention and that of his advisers. When introducing extraordinary measures, however, one must also introduce some type of safeguard or cooling off process – a process to ensure there is not over-vigour. I ask the Minister, particularly in the context of Committee Stage considerations, to consider what protections are needed.
Otherwise, this is a very fine Bill and it was a fantastic budget. It does not surprise me in the least that the Bill and budget were excellent because that is what I would have expected from an excellent Minister for Finance.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Finance Bill. I compliment the Minister and the Government on the Bill and on giving effect to a very innovative budget. There are three issues on which I wish to speak. The first relates to the budget as regards rural Ireland. Over the years my area of Duhallow, in particular, has seen a decline in population and a haemorrhage to larger urban areas. The buzz words in Europe and among various Government bodies are "rural decline" and the need to do something about it. Nearly every expert is talking about rural decline and various reports have been compiled and commissions set up.
One of the most important industries in rural Ireland is the agriculture industry which has gone through hell on earth in 1998 and previously as a result of prices and weather conditions. Before the budget, the Government said moneys would be made available for the restoration of three on-farm investment grants, and it was also mentioned in the budget speech. I refer to the control of farmyard pollution, dairy hygiene and installation aid schemes. I know there will be a full debate on CAP reform and Agenda 2000 tomor row and I will leave my detailed remarks until then. The Government must ensure that places like my native Duhallow are able to rely on the traditional industry. The necessary tax incentives or measures to rejuvenate that industry should be introduced.
Looking back to 1986 or 1987, which was around the time I completed my leaving certificate, many people were leaving school and going straight on to the emigrant ships to Britain, which was booming at the time, or to America. Few people would have said that in ten or 11 years Ireland would be booming and would be able to provide employment for all its people. We should look at the way we have turned the economy around over the past ten years because we now have an industry which is in decline and under severe pressure. Like it or not, it is no longer a trendy industry into which people go with the encouragement of their families or the institutions of State. The industry can be turned around provided there is the will to do so.
I welcome the tax reforms in the budget and the Finance Bill. For too long, we have heard that it paid people not to work but we have turned the system around and there is an incentive for people to work. They are being rewarded for their work, which I welcome. It is right to encourage people to work.
The town of Kanturk in my area has a tag, whether flattering or otherwise, as being the oldest town in Ireland, meaning that it has the oldest population. That is as a result of constant depopulation and the drain of young people from the area. The Government is committed to allocating moneys to provide services at the local district hospital. The initiative on nursing homes and disabled persons' grants is welcome. Judging from the statistics, there will be an enormous demand for additional care facilities.
A tax break has been announced for employers who supply their employees with bus passes, which will not be treated as benefit-in-kind. This will be of benefit mainly to employers in urban areas. Employers in rural areas – I have specific companies in mind – who provide a bus service for their employees should be able to avail of a similar incentive.
The application of the urban renewal scheme to small towns with a population of 6,000 and more has been mentioned. I welcome the initiative of the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, to extend the townscape restoration scheme to smaller towns. The biggest town in my constituency of Cork North West is Charleville which has a population of just over 2,000. This initiative should lead to their rejuvenation with the retention of services and the creation of employment.
A tax incentive scheme has been announced for the upper Shannon region. There are many other areas, including Duhallow in my constituency, which would welcome the opportunity to be included in the scheme.
I wish to share time with Deputy Broughan.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The budget had many good features on which many Deputies will concentrate. There were, however, significant omissions and failures. In discussing a Finance Bill one is discussing what is planned for the economy; it is not simply a tax administration or consolidation matter, it is an expression of economic policy.
The economy has recorded historic growth in double figures, interest rates are low and unemployment is decreasing but how has the Bill addressed the issue of inequality? The gaps between the five quintiles in terms of incomes have widened. To what extent has the Bill addressed those who are excluded? How has it addressed the issue of the low paid, of which there are many in the Department of Finance? It is not stated sufficiently that there is a small army of staff who are badly paid in the lower grades of the public service. They have received minuscule rises compared to the arrangements made for those on higher salaries.
The Department of Finance adopts an extraordinarily provocative attitude in resolving disputes, from the Botanic Gardens, the museums, Collins Barracks to Údarás Na Gaeltachta, in relation to gradings, salaries and increases in staff numbers. Ministers and Ministers of State often find themselves in a position where they cannot solve disputes which are resolvable on the basis of good industrial relations. These are issues of management within the Department. The suggestion was floated at one stage that the Secretary General of a Department should be able to reach over the head of the respective Minister or Minister or State and deal directly with the Secretary General of the Department of Finance. That would have resulted in a significant erosion of the power of Ministers and Ministers of State.
The double digit growth of the economy can be traced to the expenditure of Structural Funds, high capital investment, a highly educated workforce and a fall in unemployment. If this is to be sustained at a time when there are shortages in significant areas of the workforce, capital investment in infrastructure will have to increase. I would place a question mark beside the figure advised by the Department of Finance to the Minister as to what is the appropriate level. This is not just my opinion but that of conservative economists.
Housing is our most serious problem and it is clear that one cannot solve this issue through a set of taxation measures on the supply side. There is a need for specific short-term and long-term allocations. Short-term assistance should go to those affected by the crisis in the rental sector where special allocations could have been made to organisations such as Threshold.
It is incomprehensible that the Minister is not accepting the general thrust of the findings of the working group on credit unions. The only dissenting voice to changes in the tax regime which would favour credit unions came from the Department of Finance's representative on the working group. The Minister would have the support of all sides of the House if he accepted the qualitative difference between credit unions and the banking sector. I do not want to be drawn into more controversial areas, but one bank has reported an extraordinary level of profits. Such results have an immediate effect on shares. Therefore, owning shares in a bank means owning an asset.
Credit unions which are doing well do not have such assets in terms of shares. They are founded on a completely different philosophy. When the Minister is advised by officials in the Department of Finance that there is no need to treat credit unions more favourably than at present, he is missing the point as to the philosophy, basis, function and nature of deposits in credit unions, and the qualitative difference between such deposits and money lodged in banks or held in shares. I am deeply disappointed by the Bill on this issue. The Minister may wish to return to this matter but my views are shared by all sides of the House. He should take action on this issue and listen to proposals which may arise on Committee Stage.
I wish to turn to two other extraordinary matters. The Bill's provisions concerning the film industry are appalling. The Minister is reflecting what was written for him but in his speech he stated that he hoped the clarification will calm matters in the film sector. I assure him his speech will not do so. When I was Minister with responsibility for film, it was clear that anyone planning investment in film, even a low-budget film, needed a minimum of 18 months to put a financial package together. Ideally one needed at least three years so that one could move from one project to another. It is impossible to put film finance together within one year. Under pressure from the Department of Finance, the rate was reduced from 100 per cent to 80 per cent, but the compensation was that the scheme would be in place for three years. That proved to be the case from 1996 to 1999.
It is incredible that those who are unsympathetic to film have succeeded in dislodging the Minister. Between 1993 and 1996 when I changed the scheme the results were there. However, I noticed the Department of Finance had a jaundiced eye when it came to film. In 1993, 16 feature films were made in Ireland; in 1994 the figure was 18; in 1995 it was 27; in 1996 it was 25 and it rolled on. Other independent productions increased from 43 in 1994 to 95 in 1996.
In 1994, the Irish spend from the film industry was £44.8 million; in 1995 it was £73.9 million; in 1996 it was £53.2 million and in 1997 it was £78.7 million. The industry was growing in terms of spend. In 1997, £46.1 million was sought in tax relief, yet the Irish spend in that year was £78.7 million. In 1996, £30.3 million was sought in tax relief while the spend was £53.2 million. In 1995-96, the tax relief sought was £42.9 million while the spend was £73.9 million. Whatever one was granting by way of tax relief one was more than getting it back in the value of spend and the employment generated.
The excuse now being offered is that the INDECON report, which favours extending the relief, has to be reviewed. However, that report was carried out some time ago. The report of the industry group established by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Deputy de Valera, has been available for some time, as have other reports. Deputy de Valera stated in an answer to a Dáil question that we could expect the industry's future to be outlined in the Minister's Budget Statement. However, that statement was silent on film, as were the heads of the Finance Bill. The only reference in the Bill is to a one-year extension which sends the wrong impression abroad just as the film industry is expanding.
If the extension was to be for one year under section 481 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, previously section 35, one would need to explicitly state that this scheme is being replaced by one which will run for three, five or ten years. When I was Minister, Deputy de Valera stated she wanted a long-term strategy for five or ten years. I support that view but where is such a provision in this Bill? There is a 12-month extension which is useless in terms of being competitive internationally on financing and securing funding. This is very dispiriting, not just for the film community. We should remember that in 1996, 95 independent television productions were completed. Huge numbers of people are involved in the industry.
There is also complete silence on the adequate funding of the training module. The reports are there and by Committee Stage I hope the Minister will be provoked into giving details of what scheme the Department has in mind to replace section 481. The Department of Finance must overcome its prejudice towards film and cultural industries in general. Its attitude seems to be that if this was worthwhile it would have been done years ago by the IDA or someone else. I perceived this hostility. It is time the Department got over its prejudice as there are millions of pounds in income and many jobs at stake.
At least two reports were published before I left office which suggested the employment potential of the music industry. Three years ago that industry was worth a minimum of £250 million per year in exports. Far more importantly in terms of job creation, there were young bands who wanted to see an expansion of the BES to recording. They wanted facilities provided for the distribution of music. There is no need to wait for a report because two are already available. One was produced by the music industry and the other report on the economic potential of the music industry was commissioned. However, there was not one word about the potential of this area in the Minister's speech. It is most important to consider how jobs can be created in this area if we wish to do so. A report on film training needs up to the year 2000 was delayed for approximately a year for the want of less than £500,000. As a result, training modules could not be set up. This is outrageous.
My unusual opinion is not necessarily shared by members of my party but the conservative view of the management of finances, irrespective of economic implications, that has emerged from the Department of Finance is working against the development of a modern economy. I have always been in favour of allocations to Departments which could be used with discretion in an accountable manner on a multi-annual basis in terms of the construction of the budget. However, a greyness is creeping in. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands is about to go to the United States to announce a screen commission. She will talk about Ireland competing internationally in film making and distribution. However, she will also have to explain that there was a scheme which was an extraordinary success and people from all over the world considered it. It was run in three year modules but it is now contracted to 12 months. How could anybody who understood the industry think in those terms? It is a great tragedy.
It will be necessary to return on Committee Stage to the issues of specific measures in relation to housing, the need to address the report of the working group in a positive manner in relation to credit unions, the issue of low pay, the negative influence in terms of Ministers not being allowed to solve disputes about gradings and the disposal of staff in their Departments, the failures in relation to film and the failure to mention music at all. I hope the Minister will be his own man in being political about these matters. It is the political economy which matters, not the negative and badly informed type of thinking which is being offered to him.
A survey carried out by a newspaper at the most recent Fianna Fáil Party Ard-Fheis showed that the most popular candidate as next leader of that party was the Minister for Finance. I wonder if his current standing owes something to his major U-turns throughout his political career and as Minister for Finance in recent years, particularly in relation to the introduction of tax credits. Under pressure from the Labour Party in particular, the Minister has made a small start along the road towards a much fairer distribution of taxation for employees and also in his new measures directed against criminal tax evasion.
In relation to overall macro-economic policy, the Government appears to have no interest whatsoever in the low levels of income which much of the population must endure. Recently I raised the problem of adult dependants on unemployment assistance and other social benefits with the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs. According to the recent budget, which is copperfastened by the Finance Bill, these people receive the princely sum of £43 a week on which to live. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, the Fianna Fáil Party and the Progressive Democrats have no interest in the topic of income adequacy and whether tens of thousands of people and their children have the basic wherewithal to live.
The total social welfare budget amounts to £5 billion compared to a GDP of £50 billion. A third of our countrymen and women must exist on less than 10 per cent of the national income. Unlike much of the Finance Bill, they have no recourse to schemes. The Fianna Fáil Party made categorical promises during the last election in 1997 to consider basic income. However, over the past two years it has thrown the matter around like a hot potato and everybody has been anxious not to have anything to do with it.
The fundamental problem of the low income levels of many people must be addressed. As my colleague Deputy Higgins said, it is essential that another of the Government's election promises regarding a minimum wage is implemented on 1 April 2000 at the latest. There must not be another cavalier abandonment of an election promise.
A number of Deputies referred to section 26 of the Social Welfare Bill, which is an extraordinary provision. Under this section, the police and social welfare inspectors will be empowered to stop vehicles to check on social welfare fraud. My party is bitterly opposed to any type of fraud, including social welfare fraud and tax evasion, but that provision is a ludicrous, over the top approach by the Government. This is why I welcome sections 189 and 190 where the Minister for Finance at last begins, in the face of his earlier pronouncements and those of his party and the Progressive Democrats, to take basic measures against the massive level of tax evasion.
As I noted when I was a member of the Committee of Public Accounts in the previous Dáil, at the outside social welfare fraud year on year amounts to approximately 0.5 per cent of the total budget. However, according to studies in Linz University in Austria and elsewhere, tax evasion could amount to up to 10 per cent of our GDP or at least £5 billion, which is the same size as our entire social welfare budget. I am glad there is a sense of proportion in this area. When the Labour Party Leader, Deputy Quinn, was Minister for Finance, he introduced section 153 to try to make accountants and lawyers accountable with regard to tax compliance. There was much screaming from the Opposition benches at the time, particularly from the Progressive Democrats who were bitterly opposed to the measure. Many elements of the Fianna Fáil Party said the world would collapse if that modest measure in relation to tax compliance was adopted.
Sections 189 and 190 of the Bill are long overdue and will give a basis in this area. However, I do not understand the Minister's comments on those sections. He referred to a judicial review of the powers of the three Revenue Commissioners. To what extent will the new powers work in practice in relation to events such as those in recent years, some of which are now the subject of tribunals of inquiry?
The limited overall budget strategy adopted by the Minister for Finance is reflected in the Finance Bill. He projects a 2.5 per cent increase each year in the health budget. However, it is obvious that he will use the increase in the health levy to cut back on this budget. While in Private Members' time we are appraising the disastrous failures of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen, it must be stated that the Minister for Finance is also to blame for the current health and waiting lists crises.
There are huge needs in the area of housing, to which my colleague referred. I have also referred to social welfare. We hear the continuing mantra in relation to cutting back on the total tax portion of GDP in this economy but, according to EUROSTAT, our tax and social contribution at 34.1 per cent of GDP is the lowest of all the countries in the EU – Sweden's contribution is 54.1 per cent, Denmark's is 53 per cent, Finland's is 47 per cent, Belgium's is 46 per cent, Italy's is 44 per cent, Portugal's is 37.9 per cent, Spain's is 36 per cent and the UK's is 35.9 per cent with its 20 per cent and 40 per cent tax rates. It is extraordinary that we still have to listen to this mantra from Fianna Fáil and PD Ministers year on year in regard to our huge tax burden when obviously we are the least taxed country in the world.
We have seen already from replies to recent questionnaires that people want whatever resources are necessary for health and housing. They are demanding that we put in the resources necessary for a decent, inclusive society. My colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, has written about the difference between an economy and a society. The parties in Government have treated us like an economy in difficulty rather than one with the highest growth rate in the history of economics and projected growth rates of 6 per cent over the next ten years.
Besides the health and housing crises, we have a water supply crisis in the Dublin region. Because the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, is not prepared to spend more than 5 per cent per annum on growth and capital budgets, the water supply system on the north side of the city is on a knife-edge.
Section 17 relates to pensions. It is a subject to which I will return in the next few weeks when we are debating the Social Welfare Bill and in discussing the amendments on Committee Stage of this Bill. I would like to know who made the demands which form the basis of section 17. It is obvious to most Deputies that the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, totally ignored the Pensions Board. He ignored the Minister for Social Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and has ridden a coach and four through the central thesis of the Pensions Board's report by coming up with these provisions. The idea of giving people more autonomy and deregulating the private pensions market for the self-employed has some merits, but the Minister has created an extremely dangerous situation by creating a huge divide between employees' pensions and the pensions of the self-employed. Placing such a low limit of £50,000 when people are capitalising on pensions gives rise to the real fear that at a certain stage we could be faced with a situation where people who had been self-employed or in business will have to depend upon the non-contributory social welfare system, in other words, on our taxation system. I ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, to consult his colleague, the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Deputy Ahern, about this matter.
I welcome the U-turns of this Minister. I hope to have the opportunity to return to them on Committee Stage.
I propose to share my time with Deputies Conor Lenihan and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. This debate gives us a rare opportunity to look back over what this Government has done in the year and a half it has been in office. Our colleague, Deputy Broughan, says that taxation should be increased. I hope he will publicise that to those who will benefit from the changes in personal allowances. Our taxation system needed a radical shake-up and in this budget a start has been made.
Certain benefits of the tiger economy over the past two years have accrued more to the eastern part of the country than to the part I represent. The Celtic tiger has found it very hard to get past Mullingar. This year's budget contains some incentives that will help to deal with the problem of lack of industrial development and lack of development generally, particularly in the region I represent.
In last year's budget the Minister for Finance introduced the rural renewal scheme, an innovative scheme aimed at trying to redress the imbalance between east and west. In his Budget Statement the Minister indicated that he would be making changes. We all welcome the changes he is proposing under section 41 of this Bill. The changes in the rural renewal scheme mean that there will be an incentive for people to move to and live in the designated areas. It might also help to alleviate some of this city's problems. It might be hard to believe, but I have constituents who commute on a daily basis from my constituency to Dublin, because of the quality of life in rural Ireland and the cost of housing in this city. This is something that will have to be looked at more and more. In other countries commuters spend anything up to two hours commuting to and from work. However, in this city if one happens to get caught up in the traffic it could take an hour and a half to commute ten or 15 miles. There are incentives in the budget to try to deal with that, incentives such as park and ride schemes and the bus ticket initiative. These initiatives have a positive impact in encouraging people to leave their cars at home. It will also encourage people to move out to within the hour or hour and a half train journey if there is a proper rail service because that is becoming acceptable to many people – it is better than being stuck for an hour and a half in the traffic gridlock in this city.
The tax changes in this budget are phenomenal. The increase in the tax free allowance for the PAYE sector is one of the largest I have seen in my 21 years in this House and will be of major benefit. It will encourage people to go to work – it has to be Government's aim to ensure that there is an incentive for people to work. There are also changes in the tax free allowances for senior citizens. That is important because these people have made a lifetime contribution to building this country and they are entitled to a reasonable share of what they have contributed to when it comes to tax provisions. These increases are welcomed by everybody because they will benefit people who made an enormous contribution to this country over their lifetime.
In the context of the rural renewal scheme, there is a need to look at the square footage that is being suggested and possibly increase it because many old farm houses in my area are over the limit. Rather than leaving such farmhouses to decay, it would be more productive to increase the square footage allowed so that these houses can be inhabited and the rural landscape rejuvenated. Without people there can be no local economy. We have to give people an incentive to live in rural areas. Our small towns and villages depend on that. If the proposed Shannon corridor scheme is successful, similar schemes could be initiated in other areas in the future. It has been proven and EUROSTAT has come to accept that the counties singled out for a continuation of Objective One status are entitled to that status but it is something many people do not accept.
A measure which will be welcomed by parents of third level students is the proposed incentives for the provision of accommodation for such students. The amount rural parents must pay for accommodation in towns and cities for their children attending third level has caused nightmares for them. The increases in grants are not sufficient to sustain students in any reasonable lifestyle and their parents have had to make enormous sacrifices to keep them in third level education. If this scheme is properly run and sufficient accommodation is provided, it will help reduce the rents paid at present for accommodation.
The changes concerning facilities for the elderly are welcome. Greater use of private nursing homes will mean that in many cases the State will not have to maintain people in public hospitals. That situation is developing at the moment.
The provisions in the Finance Bill for education are welcome. The recent announcement by the Minister for Education and Science regarding the local contribution for school extensions and new schools is of major benefit to local communities in that there will now be a cap on the amount they will be expected to pay for the provision of new facilities.
Another important measure is the additional funding for the Department of the Environment and Local Government. The increase in road grants of 13 to 14 per cent will make a tremendous difference to people in rural Ireland. In my county, it means road works schemes scheduled for 2001 and 2002 will be carried out this year. That is of enormous importance. Certain sections of the national road system need to be dealt with urgently and extra funding should be provided for that. There is a need to examine other incentives which could help upgrade the road infrastructure.
The rail system is in need of upgrading – I have said this on previous occasions in the House. The commitments given by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, to the rail lines to the west are to be welcomed and supported by everyone living in the region. If the regions are to be developed, the infrastructure will have to be provided. This is something which is tremendously important to me.
I heard Deputy Broughan refer to the health debate which will take place later. He is being unrealistic in not giving credit to the current Minister for the increases he has obtained for the health service. Health is a major issue but people only take notice of it when someone in their family falls ill. The Minister's proposals for reducing waiting lists are to be welcomed and encouraged. However, we should also be aware that there are certain areas in the health service in need of a little belt tightening. People in need of surgery should not be subject to belt tightening in terms of resources available to them, but there are other areas where some tightening could occur and perhaps that could be examined.
The proposed changes in the Finance Bill are welcome. There is a little unease regarding the powers being given to the Revenue Commissioners. People have nothing to fear, except those who have been involved in tax evasion. However, to boost public confidence, a public statement should be made that these powers are not intended to make life awkward for compliant taxpayers. Perhaps it could be examined on Committee Stage whether safeguards could be included in the Bill to allay people's fears of an unscrupulous Revenue Commissioner going over the top. The Minister has gone a long way to clarify the matter in his speech and, if there is need for further clarification, I am sure he and his officials will deal with it between now and Committee Stage.
The Finance Bill will help prolong the growth rate in the economy which will be important in allowing us lay the foundations for the next generation. We are able to do so now and, at the same time, give people many extra incentives to work and assist the poorer sections of the com munity. The Social Welfare Bill, which will shortly come before the House, will do much good for people caught in the poverty trap.
Like my colleague, Deputy Ellis, I was struck by the contribution of Deputy Broughan. It sounded like something old that we had not heard for a long time. It will be hard for him to get the genie he has let out in this debate back into the bottle. Deputy Broughan told us the old socialist thinking of high taxation and confiscatory taxation policies is back in business in the Labour Party. His was a remarkable contribution in that regard. We were fed propaganda in the past week or two since the merger of the Labour Party and Democratic Left that this was some seismic socialist or social democratic shift on the political landscape. From what Deputy Broughan had to say, it appears it is the opposite. He has clearly indicated that the Labour Party, if returned to Government, will be in favour of raising taxation rather than lowering it. Deputy Broughan clearly believes that, while this is a low taxation economy, it should be transformed into a middle or high taxation one. That is a remarkable policy.
I thought the Labour Party had moved with the times when Deputy Quinn became leader but it appears not. Rather it has been left to Fianna Fáil to represent the social democratic principles which are prevalent everywhere, be it in America, on the Continent or in the UK. It appears Fianna Fáil is the one true custodian of the social democratic spirit in Irish political life. I thought all the old socialist thinking went out when the Berlin Wall collapsed, but clearly even among the younger and newer Deputies in the Labour Party, of which Deputy Broughan is one, this thinking continues.
It is very surprising that, in his contribution on the economy, Deputy Broughan spoke of the U-turn of the Minister, Deputy McCreevy. This is a remarkable statement and does not stand up to rational analysis. The Minister has been one of the most remarkably consistent Deputies in the House. He was for many years outspoken, open, honest, frank and forthright in his approach on the need for fiscal rectitude and prudent management of the public finances, even though it was to the disadvantage of his career when Mr. Haughey was leader of Fianna Fáil for him to argue against his own Government and highlight the profligate approach being taken with the national finances. The Minister, Deputy McCreevy, deserves to be commended for that.
However, it is not just a position he held then. It is not a matter, as Eoghan Harris puts it, of "That was then and this is now". What one finds with the Minister, Deputy McCreevy, is a remarkable degree of consistency. Not only did he state those views in 1979 on what was best for the wellbeing of the economy, he had the foresight, consistency and dedication to carry them through many years of disturbance in Fianna Fáil to the time when, belatedly in his political career, he became Minister for Finance. He is an open, honest and frank politician determined to continue the good work of the Government in taxation and other matters. Fianna Fáil is a party committed as much in spirit and in practice as the Labour Party to social justice in the economy and that will not be ignored by the Government. The Minister, Deputy McCreevy, is also remarkably consistent in his approach to this matter.
I was flattered that Deputy Broughan thought it appropriate to quote our Ard Fhéis delegates in saying that Minister McCreevy would be a favourite for the leadership of our party.
After the Deputy's good self.
I am sorry to disappoint Deputy Broughan but there will not be a leadership contest in Fianna Fáil for some time. We have a young and able leader who is determined to stay in power and lead this Government, in conjunction with our Progressive Democrats coalition colleagues, for the next five years. I have no doubt, however, that if there were to be such a contest in the long-term, Minister McCreevy would make an outstandingly good candidate for the job.
The profligate man said something like that.
I do not wish to linger too long criticising the Labour Party. I was struck by Deputy Higgins's contribution which was in stark contrast to that of Deputy Broughan. It appears Deputy Higgins is much more flexible, pragmatic and ready to move with the times, in terms of both his previous socialist thinking and his arrival at social democracy. I agree with his admonishment to the Minister in relation to the credit unions which have a special role to play.
I also commend the Labour Party on coming up with the idea of the third force in banking when it originally set out its stand before the 1992 election. We are now in the enviable position of seeing not only a third but a fourth and fifth force in banking. The TSB-ACC merger and the building societies and the Irish Permanent in particular are a sort of fifth force in banking.
We are not being radical enough in relation to the banking sector. The Minister could take steps to create a more competitive environment in our financial and banking sector. In this regard, I would like him to put forward the case for creating a new joint venture for An Post so it can transform itself, with its excellent communications infrastructure and its many retail outlets, in a joint venture with another post office bank abroad and become a sixth layer of the banking sector.
I would like An Post to develop for the benefit of its workforce and champion the cause of electronic banking. It appears little is being done in this area by the mainstream banks. They are not making the necessary investment for our banking sector to remain competitive in the larger European set-up when the era of electronic commerce emerges. An Post, particularly through its subsidiary PostGEM, is ideally placed to take up this role, a role that has been taken up by a large number of post office banks in the Scandinavian countries.
I was struck by Deputy Higgins's suggestion about the music industry. The Minister should examine the possibility of extending the taxation benefits given to the film industry to the music industry. There are enormous wealth and job creation possibilities if the music industry were developed in the way the film industry was developed in recent years.
This Minister has an enviable record in relation to his budgets. They have been consistent, fair-minded and dedicated to lightening the tax burden on the ordinary individual taxpayer. I stress the words "ordinary" and "individual" because the individual taxpayer has had to put up with a great deal. The recent political history of our State is perhaps defined by the tax march of 1979. In fairness to the Progressive Democrats, they grew as a party because they identified the problem that the country was over-burdened with tax. I am not talking about big businessmen but ordinary taxpayers who were paying too much tax.
This budget is a radical shift in terms of lightening the burden on the ordinary PAYE taxpayer, but at the same time moving the essential principles that underpin our tax system to a solid grounding in the principle of equity of treatment with the focus on the middle to lower paid earner. It is a remarkable achievement that 80,000 people have been taken out of the tax net and I suspect most Members opposite would like to have had the opportunity to introduce that budget. The Minister pointed out that the 80,000 people taken out of the tax net includes 15,000 elderly people. Again, this was a serious issue that many Deputies faced on the doorsteps. Older people, particularly those on lower incomes, felt their pensions were being eroded by high taxation.
Another remarkable aspect of this Finance Bill is the new powers being accorded to the Revenue Commissioners. Many people are complaining about that and I suppose that will always be the case in a country like ours which is moving from a background of high taxation to a new environment of low taxation. As a result of the Finance Bill and the tribunals ongoing in Dublin Castle we are marking out a definitive shift from a culture of non-compliance to one of compliance. Ordinary PAYE taxpayers have nothing to fear from the additional powers being given to the Revenue Commissioners. The PAYE taxpayer is not being placed on notice as a result of these powers; it is the repeat non-compliant taxpayer who should fear these measures.
I was reassured by what Mr. Dermot Quigley, the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, said in a lunchtime radio interview the other day. He said this measure would not be directed at the ordinary taxpayer, but at those who were involved in serious larceny against the State by way of tax evasion. That is as it should be and it is time we made a shift in that direction to ensure those who offend in this manner are punished by the full rigours of the law. The Revenue Commissioners are now capable of conducting a policy of criminal prosecution against people who perpetrate persistent and serious fraud against the taxpayer. That is a welcome development and I am glad this Minister, and previous Ministers, have given the Revenue Commissioners the resources needed to do this. It is shameful that until the past year or two the Revenue Commissioners did not have a sufficient number of legal advisers available to them to pursue the full route of criminal prosecution of tax evaders. That is another welcome feature of the budget.
The Minister has emphasised, as did the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, Mr. Quigley, that there must be prima facie evidence of serious tax evasion before these powers can be invoked. That is good news. We are now moving from a culture of non-compliance to one of compliance and that value is shared by all Members of the House, irrespective of party.
There are other challenges remaining. Those who analyse poverty have pointed out that up to 20 per cent of our population live in poverty. If that is the case it is a scandal which must be addressed. The Government is moving decisively in that direction, but if the figure of 20 per cent is correct, there is a huge task facing everybody in the House, not least the Minister for Finance, to tackle that problem. We must focus on the issue of social disadvantage, but we must ensure spending is targeted at those most in need, whether it be in housing, child care or education. The people who must benefit are those who live in disadvantaged communities. We should not pass on the benefits of our economy to advantaged communities but to those that are clearly not benefiting in any way.
A working group from the social partners has been set up to examine the question of child care. I have some questions about the thrust of the group. It appears that at least in some cases the social partners become rather obsessed about those in work and forget that there is a community of people who are either on low pay or who are unemployed. We must cater for those people particularly in relation to child care. Those people are entitled to benefit from any tax credits or child care system. We need to reintroduce those people to the world of work because, unfortunately, as Members are aware, there are many second and third generation unemployed in the system. That is not acceptable and we must try to counter it.
There is now only three minutes left in the time slot.
Child care is an ideal way to counter the problem of disadvantage at two levels. Child care policy must target—
May I interject? Is the Deputy aware that he is sharing time?
I am aware.
There is now only two minutes left.
This is crazy; I am supposed to have ten minutes.
I will give way to my learned colleague. I was told I had ten minutes. Taking all the time was certainly not intentional.
There are two and a half minutes left in the time slot.
A Cheann Comhairle, can you do anything about this?
The Chair has no discretion. I must call the next speaker at 6.04 p.m.
I am deeply disappointed that the arrangement has not been honoured.
On a point of order, I was told I had ten minutes and I took my full time.
How many minutes did the Deputy take?
The Deputy took 14 minutes.
Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for that clarification.
When I spoke in the budget debate in December, I said the Minister for Finance had clearly been conscious of the widespread and correct interpretation of his previous budget as one for the wealthy. The Government had to acknowledge that the benefits of the economic up-turn were not enjoyed by great numbers of the population. I welcome the positive aspects of the budget, such as the easing of the tax burden on the lower paid, some of which measures are contained in this Bill. What has yet to be acknowledged, let alone addressed, by the Government, however, is the fundamental inequality in society which sees the gap between wealth and poverty widening as increased wealth is created. Key provisions in the Bill will reinforce that trend.
The Bill gives extensive new powers to the Revenue Commissioners to access bank accounts. It is a great pity that the spotlight has not been turned on the banks. As well as facilitating those people who defraud the compliant taxpayer, the banks enjoy a position of enormous privilege. The huge profits being made by financial institutions are not being harnessed for the economic benefit of the nation. In recent days the country has been incensed by revelations of how powerful and privileged people who incurred debts to the banks can receive favourable treatment with massive debts written off in cosy appointments with the leading executives. Contrast this with the tardy and, indeed, often contemptuous treatment by the banks of the small investor and customer who is pursued ruthlessly for the smallest debt. There is no better example of the continuing culture of privilege in Irish society.
I acknowledge that in the Bill the Minister is trying to tackle tax evasion perpetrated by a range of sectors. However, the experience of the Ansbacher accounts shows that tax evasion happens in an international context beyond the remit of any Government. There is no recognition in the Bill of this international context.
It is now 6.04 p.m. and I am obliged to call the next speaker.
I am deeply disappointed, a Cheann Comhairle. It is a pity the intervention to remind Deputy Lenihan had not been made earlier.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Olivia Mitchell, Enright and Timmins.
Is that agreed? Agreed. The time slot must end at 6.25 p.m.
It is not possible to make a substantive contribution to the Bill within the time constraints in which we are expected to operate. I welcome the positive and much needed provisions in the Bill to improve the tax system. They are in line with, but not as high as, expectations. In respect of the elderly, widows, widowers and families the Bill contains some taxation improvements but there is still a considerable distance to go. Widows and widowers must live on a fixed income, which they can supplement to some extent but which is liable to tax, and it leaves them in considerable difficulties.
I do not support income tax or social welfare fraud. I wish I had Deputy Lenihan's confidence in the new measures and my constituents do not have his confidence in these proposals. I hope people do not get the impression that insufficient laws existed previously. My fear, and that of the public, is that the new regulations will not necessarily be applied against the appropriate people. For example for many years an elderly person with a disability seeking a disabled person's grant to extend his or her home required a tax clearance certificate. Such a certificate was also required by an applicant for a local authority loan despite the fact that the person might be on the housing list and entitled to be rehoused. I do not know why there is a need for this. When that requirement was in place, there were other avenues open to other people. That is where the problem lies. That is why my constituents, and many others, are looking somewhat askance at the new proposal and asking whether they will be applied to them and not to others.
In the budget and Bill it was important that the Minister addressed the problems of rural Ireland. There are improvements in the Bill but nothing which enhances the fabric of society in rural Ireland. Many areas have a small and diminishing population. Deputy Ellis referred to parts of the country which come within that category, but I do not agree with him that the Bill contains the measures necessary to resolve the problems of the people who live there.
The serious national housing crisis, which could have been addressed in the budget and the Bill remains. This serious problem is getting greater. A Government Deputy said that health was not a serious problem and the Minister was doing a great job. If that is true, somebody is codding us because the public is concerned about health issues. The Bill does not do anything to assuage their concerns nor is there likely to be because the culture and thinking of the Department of Finance on health policy is not helpful.
My final point concerns overseas development aid, an issue which prompted the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy O'Donnell to threaten to resign earlier in the year. Fortunately, she did not carry out that threat. I am not sure whether it was a good idea to issue the threat. However, the targets to which she aspired when in Opposition are far from being reached. The proposal to spread the burden over a number years to give the impression of achieving targets does not cod anybody.
I regret the absence of any realistic measures to tackle the urban traffic congestion problem and, in particular, the lack of any provision for Dublin Bus. All reports indicate that Dublin Bus cannot meet the demand for bus services without such a subvention. I welcome the tax incentives the Bill provides for park and ride services. However, a car park where it is not possible to take a bus or train is useless. The Minister has failed to make our tax system more green or to make provisions to improve our air quality and to ensure it complies with EU directives and with the terms of the Kyoto protocol. He proffered the increase in VRT as a green tax. It is nothing more than a revenue raising exercise and, as the Minister anticipated, car sales have continued to increase, as has the income to the Minister. If he had been serious about reducing toxic emissions from cars, he would have paid significant attention to changing the relative duty levels of dirty and clean fuels or perhaps funded a switch to cleaner fuels by the urban bus fleets.
If the Government is not persuaded by social or environmental arguments, there are good economic reasons for encouraging a change to public transport and for providing a good public transport system. All the economic analyses indicate that huge revenue is foregone because of the deteriorating level of traffic congestion which also jeopardises our potential to sustain growth.
The law on inheritance tax concerns a number of people. This tax rightly recognises the rights of the spouse and children of deceased persons by according them higher threshold levels before they become liable for inheritance tax. There are thousands of families in which parents are living together in stable relationships and who, for a variety of reasons, are not married to each other. On the death of either partner, the surviving partner is regarded by the tax code as a stranger, as are his or her children, although they may have been cared for over many years and regarded by the deceased person as his or her children in all but name. Such situations can result in the sale of the family home, and all the disruption that goes with that, to pay inheritance tax. In fairness and equity, the Minister should amend the Bill and give these families the same treatment as married couples. If there are revenue implications they are very minor and a deep injustice could be remedied by a simple amendment.
Public service pensioners are discriminated against because they have paid a modified PRSI over many years. The situation regarding public servants' PRSI has changed but there are pensioners who, because they pay the modified PRSI, do not qualify for social welfare pensions and, in turn, do not qualify for non-cash benefits such as the free TV licence. Many of these pensioners live in very poor circumstances, particularly as they grow older and their health costs increase. This difficulty was recognised by the previous Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, when he increased the disregarded income for eligibility by £30 per week. That was in 1996 and it is surely time to increase it again. The country can now afford to allow every citizen, or at least those over 75 years, automatic entitlement to non-cash benefits. It is inherently unjust that public service pensioners should pay tax, PRSI and levies and not receive benefits which are available to people who are in much better circumstances, receiving social welfare and occupational pensions. There is no reason for making non-cash benefits dependent on the level of PRSI payments.
Acute disappointment was felt by thousands of young families at the absence of any attempt to deal with the child care issue. Young families who voted for the Government parties on the basis of pre-election promises now see a second budget in which no attempt has been made to address the problem. This is acutely felt in urban areas, particularly in Dublin where couples are forced out to work by high housing costs while high child care costs negate the value of their efforts. This is a complex social problem which needs more than one simple solution, but that is not an excuse for doing nothing.
Much has been said about the need to attract women back to work; we cannot even keep them at work. We are losing educated, skilled, motivated and valuable members of the workforce simply because it does not make economic sense for them to stay at work and pay £1,000 per month for child care. We are making a huge investment in education to ensure people have choices in life, but these women are being left with no choice. The Minister ignores this problem at his peril.
I welcome the Minister's move to introduce tax credits. The Fine Gael Party has advocated this measure for a long time. I also welcome the extension of a tax allowance for the employment of a carer, including the hiring of a carer through an agency, for a family member.
I am concerned about the inheritance tax threshold. If a parent dies, leaving a son or daughter living in a house worth £300,000 – that would not be unusual in Dublin – such a son or daughter would have a taxable inheritance of approximately £110,000. He or she would have to pay 20 per cent on £10,000, 30 per cent on the next £30,000 and 40 per cent on the balance of £70,000. The tax on that amount would be £39,000 which, added to probate tax of about £6,000, would leave a total tax bill of £45,000. The allowance for dependent children is not sufficient and this question must be examined. The case of brothers and sisters must also be examined. The level of tax paid by a brother or sister who inherits property from a sibling is also high. I hope the Minister will examine these matters carefully.
If George Orwell were to come back to life he would say the powers the Government have acquired were greater than he had described in Nineteen Eighty Four. When a person leaves home in his car he or she can be stopped by a garda investigating motor tax and insurance, which is highly desirable. Customs officials may dip his or her tank to see if the correct diesel is being used. The Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs now proposes that people should be stopped and asked if their PRSI and tax affairs are in order.
However, the considerable power of the law has, regrettably, not been used correctly. A list of 27 people who were fined for tax offences was published in the Irish Independent on 16 December 1998. Of the 27 listed only four owed more than £30,000. Are they the only wealthy people evading tax? Given that the powers are available, ordinary individuals will be penalised for the sins of a few. The powers were sought because the system had been blackguarded. Adequate powers are essential but let us not penalise ordinary individuals. Great care is needed and if an Ombudsman is deemed necessary to protect the people, I would welcome it.
I welcome the opportunity to make a few brief points. Virtually all speakers referred to vehicle registration tax. Given that the scrappage scheme came to an end, I was surprised at the increase in vehicle registration tax. The Minister may make the argument that the sale of cars has continued to increase. Be that as it may, many families who had budgeted for a new car in 1999 have been hit by this measure; it is termed by some as a retrospective tax. Other than an income raising measure, I cannot see the necessity for it. Life is difficult enough for motorists without imposing this additional penalty. A car, in most cases, is not a luxury item, but rather a necessity.
Section 42 introduces capital allowances for expenditure on private convalescent facilities. It is envisaged that patients recovering from acute hospital treatment will be accommodated in these premises. This is a welcome measure. Not only should the guidelines, due to be issued by the Minister for Health and Children, be all inclusive and comprehensive but a system should be in place to ensure that the laid down standards of facility and service are adhered to. While acknowledging there are many fine private nursing homes, I had occasion recently to visit a new accommodation which was not too inviting as the design and structure were aimed at profit as opposed to service and comfort.
Equally, section 43 provides capital allowances for expenditure on child care facilities. It is important to ensure the correct motive is applicable and that the development will be to the advantage of the children who frequent it.
Section 44 provides relief similar to section 23 relief. While I realise the Minister has not formulated the shape of such a scheme, the accommodation should be on campus and measures should be put in place to allow the private developer carry out work and implement the lease-back arrangement. To implement it on a broad basis would not be satisfactory as this would be extremely difficult to control and we might eventually arrive back at square one. On campus student accommodation has proved successful. It can make college life much more pleasant and students are protected from landlords who do not adhere to their moral obligations. Certain control over rents can be exerted. It should help roll back some of the down sides of the Finance (No. 2) Act, 1998, introduced to implement the Bacon report.
Section 63 provides for the granting of capital allowances for expenditure on the construction or refurbishment of qualifying park and ride facilities. In many areas where there is a requirement for such a facility there is a scarcity of space. When drawing up the qualifying guidelines I ask the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to be flexible in his approach. If various clubs or institutions nearby can provide a parking facility, they should not be discounted as that may be the only option.
There are many welcome measures in the area of income tax. I welcome the move to tax credits and those measures aimed at the handicapped. This is a question we have never adequately addressed. I hope, as the economy grows and there is greater wealth, we will not leave a patient immobile in a Cheshire home for two days because the health board cannot provide a wheelchair battery.
I regret there were no tax measures to encourage investment in the areas of disadvantage in education. Such a measure was introduced last year. Has it been a success? While money has been given to the Departments of the Environment and Local Government and Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands for relief work and the renovation of listed buildings, I had hoped for some measure in the Bill. Will the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, ask his colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith, about an old building in the Glen of Imaal, Coolmoney House, County Wicklow, which is due to be demolished. When I contacted the Minister's office about it, I was informed there is a technical report on file which suggests the building is unsafe. However, I ask him, if possible, to put a stay on the demolition of the building given its historical significance for many people in the area and for former and serving members of the Defence Forces. I would appreciate if the Minister of State would bring this matter to the attention of the Minister and perhaps get an independent consultant to examine the safety aspect.
I tabled a question, a couple of times during the year, seeking to establish the tax relief given on a measure introduced in the Finance Bill, 1994. It is unusual for the Department not to cost its measures. Are all the measures in the Bill costed?
As it is now 6.25 p.m. I must call on the Minister of State to reply.
I am pleased to reply to the Second Stage debate on behalf of the Minister for Finance. I hope to deal with the main points made by the various contributors to the debate on this important and substantial Finance Bill.
Why is the Minister or the Minister of State at the Department of Finance not replying to the debate in the normal way?
My information is that neither is available at this point in time. I am in a position to deal adequately with all the points made.
With no disrespect to the Minister of State, I know he is capable of reading out the speech provided by the Department of Finance officials. That is not in question. It is customary for the Minister for Finance to reply to the debate on the Finance Bill and if he was unavoidably absent, for serious business abroad, his substitution by the Minister of State at the Department of Finance would be acceptable. To simply say he is not available at this point is not a sufficient explanation for the Fine Gael Party. We need a better explanation than that before the debate proceeds.
The Minister of State is representing the Government.
I am not challenging that. I know the Minister of State is representing the Government. I am seeking an explanation as to why the Minister for Finance is not here.
We cannot use the limited time available for the reply to the debate. We must proceed in accordance with the usual—
On a point of order, if I do not get an explanation, my party will not co-operate with further Stages of the Finance Bill.
There must be another way to get the explanation.
The explanation is very simple. The Minister of State, if answering for the Minister for Finance, should have an explanation.
The Minister of State is in possession and he must proceed.
The Minister for Finance is treating the House in a cavalier fashion. He should come in and reply to the views of Members. It is a bad precedent.
We cannot allow any more time to be taken up on this measure.
Neither the Minister nor the Minister of State is available at this point in time.
Why are they not available? Are they having their tea?
That is a scurrilous remark and typical of the Deputy. I will arrange for the reason to be communicated to Deputy Noonan.
The order of the Dáil today was that a Minister or Minister of State could reply to the debate.
That is a matter for the Whips.
Will Deputies please allow the Minister of State to continue?
I am withdrawing from the House and will advise my Whip that we will not co-operate further with Committee or Report Stages unless I get a proper explanation from the Minister for Finance. This is not acceptable.
The explanation will be communicated to the Deputy.
I appreciate how daunting it must be to come to grips with an enormous Bill of over 300 pages. I appreciate even more how difficult it is for spokesmen on that side to react to proposals to be inserted in the Bill which they have not yet seen.
I accept the force of the comments made in this regard. Every effort will be made to have the relevant provisions published in good time for Committee Stage. If the House will permit, I must explain there are particular reasons for the procedure of inserting the main pension provisions and some of the IRNR material on Committee Stage. The proposed pension changes are complex; they require particular teasing out, much discussion with officials in the Department and the Revenue Commissioners and a considerable deal of consultation with the pensions sector and various interested commentators.
The Minister insisted that, as it was not physically possible to have the legislation in the Bill as published, the fullest details should be given in the material accompanying the Bill on its publication. This took the form of a very detailed six page appendix to the summary of the Finance Bill measures issued with the Bill on 11 February.
In the case of IRNRs, the main tax provisions are in the Bill as published. These are being complemented by measures in the company law Bill to be announced shortly. The Government was anxious that a comprehensive set of company law and tax measures should be allowed simultaneously, given the hybrid nature of the problem. As Deputy Noonan indicated, the Finance Bill has a certain immutable timetable laid down in law. Ideally, it would be preferable to have the companies Bill published at the same time as this Bill. Unfortunately that was not possible. It was not feasible, therefore, for technical reasons to include some of the tax measures which cross refer to the company law measures in the Finance Bill as published and, consequently, these will have to go in on Committee Stage.
I hope the House can accept this explanation. It was the Minister's intention to avoid substantive insertions on Committee Stage, for the valid reasons explained by Deputy Noonan, but this proved unattainable. The Minister has spoken to the chairman of the committee to arrange for extended time on Committee Stage. The option is there, in ordering the time allocation, to make sufficient time available for the more important provisions in the Bill and less for those areas not requiring the same degree of parliamentary input.
One important area is that of Revenue powers. I am glad Deputies Noonan, McDowell and others welcome the provision of such powers. As the Minister said in his opening remarks, we must make a choice. If we want to seriously combat tax evasion, Revenue must be equipped with the necessary powers. We can debate, as we undoubtedly will on Committee Stage, whether we have the balance right, whether there are sufficient safeguards and what procedures and parameters might be laid down to guide those using their powers. It is clear, however, that extra powers are required.
The Revenue Commissioners indicated they will update their "Statement of Practice on Powers" in light of these new provisions and will introduce appropriate checks and balances. This is in response to the important point raised by Deputy Noonan. The proposed powers are not inserted to hound the small man or to conduct busy body searches of individual's bank accounts. They have been framed after detailed consideration by the Revenue and the Department of Finance. Part of that consideration involved a special study of revenue powers in other countries – the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, US and New Zealand – with visits to several of these tax authorities by officials from the Revenue and the Department.
The study showed all these countries to be well in advance of what we do, particularly in regard to bank accounts. As the Minister admitted, and Deputy Noonan concurred, the best course would have been to await the findings of the various tribunals. The Government, as is its prerogative, considered it necessary to act now to allay public concern about the recent tax scandals. The proposals are not a knee jerk reaction or political ploy, as seems to be suggested. The powers are based on what Revenue sought and on its experience and knowledge of recent events.
The Minister for Finance listened with great care to the sound advice in the House and will reflect on what was said before Committee Stage. There may be confusion over the effect of the provisions on the privilege of confidentiality. There is not a proposal to impose severe penalties on professionals, solicitors and accountants who advise and assist taxpayers in ordering their affairs or who breach legal professional privilege. These provisions are not a re-run of section 153 of the 1995 Bill on reporting of tax evasion to Revenue.
Neither is there a wish to provide unfettered access to accounts or engage in examinations of accounts without good reason. Where powers of access are to be exercised in the case of unidentified accounts or classes of account holders, High Court or appeal commissioners' approval will be required. Deputy Ardagh can be assured it is not proposed to use the powers to conduct an on-site audit of a bank's affairs as a blind for a trawl through bank accounts. The rules of the game will be the responsible use of those powers. Revenue has shown itself to be measured and balanced in these matters. I am sure the commissioners recognise the need for a proportionate and targeted exercise of such new powers.
Deputy Noonan raised a number of specific issues. The pre-funding of social welfare pensions, which was also raised by Deputy McDowell, is the subject of an interdepartmental examination. On the subject of tax credits it is not fair to say the Minister took only a partial step in this direction in the budget. The standard rating of the basic personal allowances gets us almost 90 per cent of the way. The standard rating of other personal allowances will be addressed in the next budget in a way which will not leave the persons concerned worse off as a result of the move.
I am glad Deputy Noonan welcomed the so-called "Shane Broderick" provision. The Deputy has ideas on how that might be extended to other circumstances and I am sure the Minister will listen to those on Committee Stage. The Deputy also raised the issue of CAT biting even harder on domestic situations because of the rise in house prices. I am aware the Minister studied this issue in detail prior to the budget, decided to make a number of changes and look at it again before the next budget. CAT brings in more than £180 million per year. Any radical changes will cost a significant amount of the yield and will, given the nature of CAT, benefit a restricted number of taxpayers. The Minister is mindful of the issues raised by the Deputy. However, finding a balanced and fair solution at a reasonable cost is the tricky part.
Deputy Noonan also raised the issue of certain tax reliefs having to be paid back to the Exchequer under state aids. That is not on the cards but we must argue our case in Brussels. The best advice we have is that such concerns, although valid, should not be transformed into scares. The Minister has successfully secured the capital allowance regime for the Custom House docks areas concerned. A case is being actively made to the Commission for commercial reliefs under urban and rural renewal, double rent reliefs and rates remission for the area.
The Commission has set its face against double rent reliefs and rates remissions as operating aids and these will not be approved by it in the future for areas outside the Article 92(3)(a) regions. The criteria for Article 92(3)(a) areas are the same as those on which Objective One status is based. Thus, additional benefits are to be gained from securing such status for as much of the country as can be justified.
The Commission's concerns on state aids grounds relate to commercial tax reliefs. The reliefs for residential purposes do not require state aid approval. For this reason the residential reliefs are in place since last June in the case of rural renewal. The implementation of the residential tax incentive elements of the new urban renewal scheme was announced by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government today as well as a new tax relief scheme to be drawn up which is aimed at the restoration of townscapes in smaller towns throughout the country.
Deputies Noonan, McDowell, Deenihan and Ryan, among others, mentioned the film industry. The Minister has given an assurance that rolling reliefs forward does not mean the end of film relief. It is a valuable incentive to film making here and is recognised as such by the Government. We want the relief to continue to work to secure the Government's aims for the industry. We also want the publication of the special reports on the industry by the Government think-tank and its detailed consideration is the best way to address the appropriate policies for State support in this area. Deputies Noonan and McDowell made a number of interesting comments, both practical and philosophical, on profit sharing schemes and I am sure there will be a useful examination on Committee Stage of the appropriate way to proceed in this area.
Deputy McDowell devoted a large part of his contribution to expenditure policy, multi-annual budgeting, financial envelopes, the basis of no policy change estimates and the stability programme submitted to the European Commission before Christmas. While all these are matters worthy of discussion, in the limited time I have, I will deal with the items he raised that are relevant to the Bill. Perhaps the Deputy might accept the Minister responding to him separately on the budgetary and expenditure issues he raised.
I agree with the Deputy on the need for significant investment in developing our infrastructure. This Government, more than any other in recent years, has given this problem the serious attention it demands. Substantial increases in public capital investment have been and are being undertaken. The increase in voted capital spending in 1998 over 1997, based on outturn figures, was 27 per cent. The post-budget 1999 allocation over 1998 outturn provides for a 15 per cent increase. Voted capital expenditure will have increased by a cumulative 61 per cent by 2001 over the 1997 outturn.
Deputy McDowell raised two concerns in the pensions area. One was that we might make too generous a provision and, thus, facilitate tax planning rather than prudent pension provision. This is not the intention. Tax will be paid, as at present, when the fund or the income is drawn down. The tax provisions will, nonetheless, take sensitive account of certain situations of surviving spouses and minor children, and this is only right.
The second concern related to the need for security in pension provision and to avoid persons being prevailed upon by some to dispose unwisely of their savings. The Minister's proposals seek to address that by requiring that a substantial sum be kept in an approved minimum retirement fund as security. The Deputy also believes the Minister's proposals fly in the face of what the national pensions initiative proposed last year but I do not see it that way. Both initiatives seek to enhance and secure retirement provision. The national pensions initiative proposal for a personal retirement savings account, PRSA, is still on the table.
Deputy McDowell also mentioned credit unions. The Minister will publish the report of the working group on credit unions in the next few days. The Deputy will be able to see there the facts marshalled and both sides of the issues argued out. The credit unions are seeking effective exemption of credit union dividends from income tax. Credit unions already receive favourable tax treatment through an exemption of income from corporation tax. This recognises their special voluntary status. The Minister is con sidering the working group's report. One new fact to which attention should be drawn is the role of the EU Commission under State aids rules. A consideration that apparently influences the Commission in not getting worried under State aids rules about the exemption of credit unions from corporation tax is the fact that the members are liable to income tax on the dividends. This factor is worth reflecting on in the context of the credit unions' proposals.
Deputy Ardagh referred to the legitimate role of public representatives in making representations to Revenue on behalf of their constituents. The handling of such issues is entirely for the Revenue Commissioners, but I believe they have no problem with the points he made and have long-standing arrangements to ensure representations from public representatives are attended to in an expeditious manner. On Revenue powers, the Deputy also perceptively pointed to the new power for Revenue to check one's statement of assets against what one has put on one's insurance policy. I am sure some hidden assets will be revealed by this new power of cross-checking.
Deputy Hanafin felt the Bill should go further in relation to child care. The issue of child care provision is receiving detailed consideration at present. A special interdepartmental committee has been set up to examine the various reports and proposals in this complex area. It held its first meeting under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform last Monday, 15 February, with a view to the preparation of an early White Paper on this matter. The Finance Bill provides, in the meantime, for tax measures to add to the supply of child care places. I am sure the House will agree supply side measures are the effective way to address cost pressures in the child care area.
Deputy Deenihan expressed misgivings about the increase in VRT rates and indicated he would seek changes on Committee Stage. It is worth reminding ourselves that nearly 60 per cent of new cars – those up to 1400 cc – incurred no change in VRT from 1 January 1999, while for many of the rest the increases were relatively modest. The car buying population seems to have got this message, as evidenced by the fact that new car sales were up 21 per cent in January 1999. The car trade is booming thanks to other Government policies of reducing business taxes, personal taxes and interest rates. We should put all things into the balance when weighing up the VRT issue.
A number of Deputies called for the extension of rural renewal. I have a personal interest in this issue because representations have been made to me by people from County Limerick, particularly those representing the Ballyhoura area. However, any such scheme must have a line drawn somewhere and, as always, those on the wrong side of the line see themselves as losing out. I appreciate their position and concern in such circumstances.
Deputy Dukes made an interesting proposal that those promoting new tax schemes should be required to inform the Revenue. I am sure that suggestion has been carefully noted by the Department of Finance. If I am not mistaken, the US Internal Revenue Service has operated such a requirement since 1997.
I thank all those who contributed to the debate. This Finance Bill is, in many ways, a watershed. It contains provisions that reform our tax system in favour of the lower paid; it copperfastens a pro-business tax regime to maintain our job creation record; it provides much needed reliefs in many areas, especially in social areas such as accommodation, education, health, child care and traffic management; it requires those who can pay their fair share to do so; and it equips the Revenue Commissioners with powers to give the public greater assurance that this will happen.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Browne, John (Wexford).Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Daly, Brendan.Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Harney, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Cuív, Éamon.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wright, G. V.
Ahearn, Theresa.Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis.Boylan, Andrew.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.De Rossa, Proinsias.
Deasy, Austin.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Enright, Thomas.Farrelly, John.Ferris, Michael.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Flanagan, Charles.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Gregory, Tony.Hayes, Brian.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael.Howlin, Brendan.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek. McGahon, Brendan.
McGinley, Dinny.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Gay.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Owen, Nora.Penrose, William.
Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Reynolds, Gerard.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Pat.Wall, Jack.Yates, Ivan.