Other Questions

Infrastructure and Capital Investment Programme

Bernard Durkan

Question:

6. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which he is exploring options to fund strategic infrastructural capital projects to meet housing, transport and energy requirements off balance sheet in a way sufficient to meet infrastructural deficits and comply with prudent banking regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17482/16]

This question relates to the obvious requirements in terms of infrastructural development, the capital costs of which, if on balance sheet, might cause problems. I raise the issue to highlight the necessity for vital infrastructural development and investment by whatever possible means.

The formulation and implementation of policy decisions around strategic infrastructural capital projects such as meeting housing, transport and energy requirements are primarily a responsibility for the relevant Departments.

My Department has a role in monitoring the State's activities or projects that might have implications for the general government balance, the general government debt levels and compliance with the fiscal rules. This includes the consideration of requests for ministerial approval of borrowings and guarantees from Departments, commercial semi-States, State agencies and other State bodies, including local authorities. 

My Department also provides ex ante advice to Departments on the statistical classification of policy proposals that are considered.

The question of whether an investment is off balance sheet is a statistical matter and at national level the Central Statistics Office is responsible under EU regulations for ensuring that all investments within the economy are classified according to the rules set out under the European System of Accounts 2010. EUROSTAT is then the ultimate arbiter on the classification of investments in relation to excessive deficit procedure returns and other Government finance statistics.

The Department of Finance has an important role in supporting alternative financing models for State infrastructure, particularly in relation to increasing investment in productive infrastructure so as to mitigate constraints on economic growth. My Department led the negotiation of the European Fund for Strategic Investments, EFSI, and has co-ordinated with a number of Departments and entities such as the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and NewERA to oversee implementation in Ireland. This EU initiative which is managed by the European Investment Bank seeks to advance the use of borrowing for key infrastructure projects that might not otherwise be delivered due to perceived risk. As a recent example, my Department has worked closely with the National Development Finance Agency, the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in progressing the primary care public private partnership project to a financial close in May this year. This project, which is a key element of the Government's health care agenda, is being supported by the EFSI.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I would further encourage, perhaps, the possibility of identifying the most serious infrastructural deficits, such as those in the areas of housing, energy, transport and health, with the view to putting together a package that is acceptable to the European institutions and which is capable of doing the job required to be done through the various Departments. Could the Minister see his way to encouraging the introduction of a financial structure or vehicle to facilitate those serious and much-needed projects?

It is a continuing work in my Department, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and elsewhere in the system. If one were to categorise infrastructural investment, one would divide it into economic infrastructure and social infrastructure. On the economic infrastructure side, if one were to list priorities, I assume most of us would agree that housing supply, both social and affordable, is one. Broadband and, in particular, its extension to rural areas is another. A third one would be completing the roads programme. There is a road from Cork to Limerick that many people would like to see finished.

On the social side are further primary and secondary schools. They are working well with public private partnerships, that is, bundles of schools, as are health centres. I am sure we can all think of a number of priorities that would apply either in our respective constituencies or nationally. We are working through an increased capital programme to fund them but we are also trying to get matching funds from the European Investment Bank so that we can provide more infrastructural investment.

I welcome the Minister's willingness to proceed along that road and I know that some provision has been made in the programme for Government in that regard. Would it be possible to establish a criterion whereby a particular deficit in infrastructure would automatically trigger the necessary or desirable capital expenditure? As the Minister just stated, this has both an economic and a social advantage, since one complements the other.

Would the Minister not agree that it is imperative we proceed in that direction, in the shortest time possible, with a view to achieving for the electorate - upon whom we all depend - the best possible result?

Deficits are fairly well known to most people, especially those in the Dáil and in the Seanad. The former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, launched the national capital programme last year. That stretches out for six years and has identified deficits project by project. In the summer economic statement 2016, his successor, the current Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, increased the amount of funds available for the capital programme by €5 million. However, he has not yet transferred that funding into specific projects. That will be a matter for the Estimates campaign with individual Departments. At the same time we continue to explore the possibility of getting more leeway to spend on infrastructure.

Before we proceed I remind Members of the new Standing Orders, which provide for 30 seconds for an introduction, two minutes for the Minister's initial reply and a further one minute each for two single supplementary responses. Members must be in the House as the questions arise. I am allowing a certain latitude today. I invite Deputy Donnelly to put his question.

Mortgage Arrears Proposals

Stephen Donnelly

Question:

5. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Finance to provide a timeframe for the implementation of the mortgage resolution measures contained within the programme for Government; if funding has been allocated for these measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17745/16]

I thank the Acting Chairman for the direction, which is very much appreciated. The new programme for Government contains very ambitious and laudable aims for the mortgage crisis. I and other members of the finance committee have looked for these changes for years and I am delighted to see included in the programme a new national service to standardise supports, changes to the thresholds for personal insolvency arrangements, a dedicated new court, amendments to the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, an information campaign and more. Critically, and obviously, this is time-sensitive, as arrears and repossessions are growing. I would appreciate a comment from the Minister on whether funding and a timeline for implementation are available. Have timelines been set and has funding been dedicated to meet this ambitious and laudable new aim for mortgage arrears?

The Deputy will be aware that the Government is very committed to reducing the level of mortgages in arrears and that significant progress has been made in this regard, as demonstrated by the latest Central Bank quarterly residential mortgage arrears and repossessions statistics for the first quarter of 2016.  He may also be aware that the Cabinet committee on housing and homelessness and associated senior officials group are meeting on a weekly basis to identify solutions to the full range of commitments in the programme for a partnership Government relating to home protection and home ownership.  This ongoing work will also consider what budgetary allocations are required to provide the mortgage resolution measures as set out in the programme for Government.

The Government attaches great importance to addressing the issue of mortgage arrears and wants to keep families in their homes and avoid repossessions in so far as possible.  In this context, it is important to note that there are a number of protections already in place to protect borrowers in arrears, including the code of conduct on mortgage arrears, the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, a dedicated mortgage advisory service, and personal insolvency solutions, including the court review of sustainable proposals for personal insolvency arrangements involving the principal dwelling home that have been rejected by a majority of creditors.  Many of these initiatives are relatively new, having been introduced in the past 12 months, and I believe that they will generate increased borrower engagement and improved levels of resolution of mortgage accounts in arrears.

It is clear that where a borrower actively engages with his or her lender under the CCMA with a view to agreeing a sustainable arrangement to address mortgage arrears, it is more likely that an equitable arrangement will be found and that a borrower will be able to remain in the family home. Data released recently by the Central Bank show that the number of mortgage accounts for principal dwelling houses in arrears has declined for 11 consecutive quarters.  More than 120,400 principal dwelling house mortgage accounts have been restructured up to the end of the first quarter of 2016.

Other than the fact that some officials are now meeting to think about the measures, it all sounds like business as usual. Some 86,000 principal dwelling home mortgages remain in arrears. In the first quarter of 2016, almost 1,900 cases have been issued for possession against owner occupier homes. In the past six months, more than 300 repossessions have occurred. We know the figures are falling for arrears, which is very welcome, but it is still a huge issue. Proceedings are being issued very rapidly. The gap between the current situation and what is contained in the programme for Government is very big. While the programme is laudable, will the Minister consider reporting back to the House on when he thinks some of these initiatives may be in place for borrowers? They need to know when the new court and the new service will be in place and so forth. Will the Minister consider a moratorium on repossessions until the new regime is in place?

The Department of Justice and Equality is working on the proposals for the new court and on raising the threshold amounts for the personal insolvency arrangements insolvency legislation. The Department of Social Protection is working on a programme to increase the range and effectiveness of MABS and is being provided with additional funding to do so. I have had discussions with the Governor of the Central Bank to see if legislation is required to give additional statutory protection to persons whose loans have been transferred from an entity with a banking licence to an entity without a banking licence.

Is a moratorium something that the Minister would consider?

A moratorium----

The Deputy can ask that in his supplementary response.

I reiterate that it sounds as though progress is being made but it would be very useful to have timelines against these proposals. I am sure the Minister has been contacted by people. I am being contacted by people from all over Wicklow and all around the State. They know big changes are afoot and ambitious targets and changes are being put into the programme for Government but they say to me, "I am in court on Monday so what should I do?", or "I am in court in two months time so will these measures be in place for me?". Perhaps the Minister will clarify if it would be possible to put some deadlines against these measures. We all know that things can drift and these issues are pressing for families all over the country right now. Will the Minister issue a statement to the House on his expected deadlines for implementation? Does the Minister believe it is reasonable - I hope he does - to issue a moratorium to the banks which would hopefully be just for a few weeks or a few months to say that as the new regime gets into place people who are currently in proceedings should be able to avail of those measures?

I cannot give deadlines for the work of other Departments. I can assure the Deputy that the work I have outlined is proceeding as a matter of priority in the Departments I spoke about. It is being engaged with as we speak.

The Circuit Court is where repossession orders are usually processed but they are not being actively pursued. To a large degree, the practice is to adjourn. The repossessions that are granted are usually for people who do not contest the repossession order, perhaps because the house is vacant and they have moved on or because it is a rental unit and they have moved on from it and there is no one pressing it. However, to announce a formal moratorium would, in my view, be quite risky for the mortgage market. The basis of mortgage lending is that money is given to somebody to acquire a home on the basis of the home being the collateral. If one removes collateral out of the system, and if the lender in theory and under law can no longer acquire the collateral, then there would be no lending. There would certainly be no new lending as it would just dry up. While the clear signal to the courts was that the policy is to keep people in their own homes, there would be risks if one were to formalise the position.

NAMA Assets Sale

Catherine Murphy

Question:

7. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the details of his Department's discussions with the National Asset Management Agency officials regarding the decision to shorten the duration of time for disposal of the agency's assets including if these included a discussion on outlining both the pros and cons of such a decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17497/16]

My question relates to the disposal of NAMA assets and the thinking behind reducing the duration of time for the working through of those assets. One of the consequences of that measure was that assets were bundled into very large portfolios.

Did we get the best value possible by doing that? What was the thinking and rigour behind it?

NAMA's purpose and objectives are set out in the NAMA Act as established by the Oireachtas. NAMA's primary objective is, as per section 10 of the NAMA Act, to obtain the best achievable financial return for the State and to deal expeditiously with its assets in achieving this objective. The strategy which NAMA adopts in pursuing its objectives is a matter for the NAMA board.

As Minister, I do not have a role in NAMA's commercial decisions. However, while respecting NAMA's independence, I and my officials regularly engage with NAMA regarding its performance and strategy.

I maintain a regular dialogue with the NAMA chairman and receive appropriate updates regarding NAMA's ongoing progress and future plans. I have also met occasionally with the NAMA board, which provides me with an opportunity to share my views and understand the board's views.

My officials meet with NAMA executives on a monthly basis to discuss NAMA's current and expected performance.

In mid-2014, my officials produced a report under section 227 of the NAMA Act, assessing the extent to which NAMA had made progress toward achieving its overall objectives and whether the continuation of NAMA was necessary for the purposes of the Act.

The report concluded that NAMA had made significant progress in achieving its overall objectives and, based on its performance and financial projections in light of the strength of investor interest in Ireland, was well positioned to achieve its overall objectives and so continued to be necessary.

In the context of this report, consideration was given to the various strategic alternatives that may or may not facilitate NAMA achieving and ideally surpassing its objectives. This report is available on the Department of Finance website.

Extensive engagement around this report and ongoing regular engagement with NAMA has allowed my officials to form an independent view of NAMA's progress and the strategic options reflected in this report. This engagement continues and the ongoing consideration of strategic options naturally includes an element of challenge from both sides in evaluating the pros and cons of various strategies.

It is very difficult to see how the optimum is achieved if people who want to purchase assets are removed. The bundling into very large portfolios at a time when the market was rising does not seem logical in terms of getting the optimum return. Was it considered at the time that the fallout from accelerating the sales would necessitate that kind of approach? We had moved a little bit away from the crash in respect of property values, even when the last Government took office in 2011. Was the bundling of those assets evaluated?

I have no expertise in the sale or valuation of property but I understand that the NAMA board had a view that it should take advantage, to the greatest extent possible, of favourable Irish market conditions by increasing the flow of assets to the markets while remaining faithful to its purpose and objectives under the NAMA Act. I think it is right that it cannot sell a property portfolio house by house, field by field or business by business. It would have to bundle them to do its job effectively because it had so many assets to dispose of and had to get the best return for the taxpayer. We could argue about how big the bundles should be but that is for the property people who have the expertise in this area and all evaluations of NAMA to date have been that it is doing a pretty good job.

I am not saying they should not be bundled. It is very obvious that there can be an advantage in bundling assets for sale but some of the portfolios are so large that they are only attractive to very large investment funds from outside the State. It is hard to see how that brings the best value. Is the Minister happy that that was, in hindsight, the best approach and that it brought the best return possible?

I have no particular expertise in property values or in the technical area and have no role under the NAMA Act in anything relating to making a commercial decision. That is a matter for NAMA. I do know that the theory of bundling is to put good with bad. If the lots are very small, the tendency would be to cherry-pick. Many of the good assets would be sold and NAMA would be left with assets that had little or no market value. By bundling large, the good and bad are all sold and the taxpayer gets a return. It is a debatable point. NAMA follows the debates here in the Dáil very closely. If the Deputy likes, I will ask NAMA to contact her directly to give its point of view.

Consumer Protection

Joan Burton

Question:

8. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance his plans to ensure that mortgage holders, tenants and small to medium sized business with loans or credit from non-bank lenders or vulture funds are fully protected; if he is considering extending the provisions of the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2015 in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17521/16]

Does the Minister have plans to further extend consumer protection and regulation to people whose loans have been acquired, particularly relatively small scale borrowers, mortgage holders, tenants of mortgage holders and small to medium sized businesses, by hedge funds and vulture funds and so on?

As the Deputy will be aware, the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2015 was enacted on 8 July 2015. It was introduced to fill the consumer protection gap where loans were sold by the original lender to an unregulated entity. The 2015 Act introduced a regulatory regime for a new type of entity called a credit servicing firm. Credit servicing firms are now subject to the provisions of Irish financial services law that apply to regulated financial service providers. This ensures that relevant borrowers whose loans are sold to third parties maintain the same regulatory protections they had prior to the sale, including under the various statutory codes, such as the consumer protection code, the code of conduct on mortgage arrears and the code of conduct for business lending to small and medium enterprises.

The Central Bank is now the competent authority for the authorisation and supervision of credit servicing firms. Credit servicing firms must comply with all relevant requirements of financial services legislation, including the various codes mentioned already and fitness and probity standards, including minimum competency requirements.

In addition to compliance with Central Bank codes of conduct, credit servicing firms will have to demonstrate to the Central Bank that they have robust governance and adequate resources to ensure compliance, agreements with loan owners that enable the credit servicing firm to fully comply with its obligations under Irish financial services legislation, and adequate and effective control of loan servicing in the State to enable Central Bank oversight.

As the Deputy will be aware, policy in this area is kept under review to ensure that consumers are adequately protected. In this regard, the code of conduct for business lending to small and medium enterprises has recently been updated. The code of conduct on mortgage arrears has also been reviewed and updated over time. The Government will work with the Central Bank to ensure that the code continues to be relevant, fair and balanced in respect of the legitimate interests of debtors and creditors all the while promoting the availability of sustainable solutions to address genuine mortgage difficulty. In that regard, I have recently raised the issue with the Governor of the Central Bank.

Has the Minister met with the purchasers of these loans, the vulture funds and hedge funds? By and large, they bought with the idea of flipping these loans within a relatively short period of three to five years.

We are now at a stage where, as the Minister said, we are reducing the number of distressed mortgages, but those left in distress are probably much worse cases and many have not engaged with the process.

Has the Minister directly met these funds? On various international trips he has occasion to meet some of these organisations or people connected with them, but has he met them in Ireland and talked about our society and how difficult the final work-out is? Many people who have not engaged are in deep difficulty and are likely to go under financially unless a structure is put in place to help them.

I meet various investors from time to time, at home and abroad, at their request. I cannot recall specifically meeting any of the investor companies that would generally be described as vulture funds, but if the Deputy tables a specific question I will have it researched within the records of the Department and give the Deputy a full answer.

I spent perhaps three years trying to persuade the Minister's Department that the Money Advice & Budgeting Service should be able to accompany people to court. We only got the go-ahead for that less than a year ago, and it has already proven to be extremely useful. Many people have not engaged at all and they are terrified of the approaches from these funds. What will be done? Many of these people could have sustainable arrangements with their mortgage holders.

In Tyrrelstown, which is in my constituency, the loan holder was given authority for tenants who were in long-term tenancies, who were working and who could afford the rent but could not afford to buy their properties to be put out on the street. There has to be a response to that.

As I said, we have legislated on a number of occasions because the policy intention is that if a loan is sold the obligations of the new owner are the same as the legal obligations of the original owner. As far as I am concerned, the legislation that was brought through the Houses of the Oireachtas achieves that. As I said to Deputy McGrath, because he had a particular issue, if there is a lacuna in the legislation I am prepared to make an amendment on some appropriate vehicle going through the House. I have no clear insight that there is a lacuna along the lines suggested by the Deputy.

Tax Code

Mattie McGrath

Question:

4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will assist registered farm contractors by introducing accelerated investment allowances to allow them to invest in high-capital-cost machinery, as occurs in the United Kingdom (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17492/16]

As the Minister knows, farm contracting is a very expensive business and the cost of equipment is enormous. Farmers need this equipment to deal with climatic conditions. Farmers want to get silage and harvesting done very fast. Other countries have special credit allowances. I have supplied the details of the situation in England to the Minister. It is to be hoped the Minister could consider introducing such a scheme for registered farm contractors in Ireland.

Members have to read their Standing Orders and be aware of what the process is, and be present in the Chamber for their questions.

A comprehensive review of tax matters pertaining to the farming sector was announced in budget 2014 as a joint initiative between the Departments of Finance and Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The purpose of the review was to analyse the benefits of the various tax measures to the agricultural sector and the wider economy versus the costs to ensure tax policy aligned with the objectives set out in Food Harvest 2020.

The review focused on three key policy objectives for agri-taxation policy, including increasing mobility and the productive use of land, assisting succession, and complementing wider agricultural policies and schemes through actions such as supporting investment to enhance competitiveness and environmental sustainability, alternative farming models such as farm partnership and the responses to increasing income volatility. Following this review, a significant number of measures were introduced, retained or refocused in the last two Finance Acts to assist with succession and support young trained farmers. These include, but are not limited to, targeting of capital acquisitions tax relief for agricultural property to ensure it is used by active farmers; broadening the capital gains tax requirement relief so that, for example, individuals can now lease out land for up to 25 years prior to disposal and still be eligible for CGT retirement relief; extending duty relief for non-residential land transfers between certain close relatives; extending general stock relief, stock relief for certain young trained farmers and stock relief for registered farm partnerships; and extending the stamp duty exemption for young trained farmers.

In addition, a new succession transfer partnership proposal was introduced in the Finance Act 2015, which is subject to State aid approval. There were a number of suggestions during the review regarding widening and accelerating capital allowances, but the review highlighted that capital allowances are the most costly to the Exchequer of any of the agri-tax measures.

As the Minister knows, the agricultural industry and exports are vital, and good harvesting, crop management and environmental issues are important. My proposal is aimed specifically at assisting registered farm contractors in Ireland. I must declare that I am a member of its representative body. I ask the Minister to introduce measures to assist them in the purchase of large machinery, which is computerised and extremely costly. Some tractors cost €150,000 and implements could cost the same. Combine and silage harvesters cost €750,000.

The UK has special incentives to assist farm contractors with tax breaks and low finances. I ask the Minister to consider such a proposal. It has nothing to do with the handover or use of land. My question refers specifically to registered farm contractors who operate above board, are represented by their association and are recognised throughout Europe. They are members of European associations.

The Deputy's question referenced a review. The UK does not currently offer a capital allowance measure targeted at the agricultural sector. However, farmers can qualify for the annual investment allowance, which permits 100% first-year allowances on certain business, plant and machinery expenditure that would apply to general businesses. Interestingly, the IFA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, when a full review of all of the agri-sector tax reliefs was done, did not recommend anything along these lines. I will refer the Deputy's question to the tax section of my Department and get a view from it in advance of the next finance Bill.

The IFA is not the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and does not represent contractors. They might not want this. The IFA is a very powerful lobby group, which I support - it lobbied this week. I am referring to a specific national organisation representing hundreds of contractors who are registered, pay their taxes and employ people. We could not deliver our agri-industry without them. They are a vital cog in the wheel. The IFA does not want to know about them. We had issues with the IFA. It wants complete control. This matter is nothing to do with the IFA. Farm contractors have a separate, established, registered and recognised organisation in Ireland. The machinery costs an enormous amount of money. I appreciate that the Minister said the IFA did not recommend tax measures. We need specific incentives to help farm contractors. The IFA controls a lot, but it does not control everything.

The Deputy's suggestion seems to be that for one sector of the economy there would be an accelerated capital allowance in respect of machinery that would amount to 100% in the first year. The practice across taxation is that costs such as this are written off over a period of years, as I understand it. We will examine the issue. It would be out of line with the practice.

Insurance Costs

Martin Kenny

Question:

9. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the steps he will take to ensure that returned emigrants and immigrants are not discriminated against in the provision of car insurance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17511/16]

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his flexibility in allowing me to take Deputy Martin Kenny's question. The question relates to the cost of car insurance, an issue we have debated in the House for some time. The question is specifically about returned emigrants. The Minister will have heard that many people are thinking of returning home, and it is great to have them return home, but they are being completely fleeced by the insurance industry because they have lost their no-claims bonus. Despite the fact that they might have been driving in this country for ten years claim-free, if they are gone for two years and have not driven in another jurisdiction they lose their no-claims bonus and are faced with massive increases in their insurance premiums, with quotes as high as €5,000. Does the Minister plan to take action to encourage and allow such emigrants to come home and drive safely on the roads?

As Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation but I am prohibited from interfering in the provision or pricing of insurance products. The provision of insurance cover and the price at which it is offered, including the granting of no-claims discounts, is a commercial matter for insurance companies and is based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept and adequate provisioning to meet those risks. The risks are considered by insurance companies on a case-by-case basis. The costs and risks of providing motor insurance cover can vary between different countries.

Insurance Ireland has informed me that, in general terms, where there has been no motor insurance in an individual's name and there is a gap in cover of two years or more since his or her last insurance, the no-claims discount is deemed invalid. However, Insurance Ireland has further stated that if the individual can produce confirmation that he or she was continuously insured and remained claim-free in his or her own name while away, that will be taken into consideration.

My Department has embarked on a review of policy in the insurance sector that is being undertaken in consultation with the Central Bank and other Departments and agencies. The objective of the review is to recommend measures to improve the functioning and regulation of the insurance sector. The first phase of the review is focused on the motor insurance compensation framework, and this work is nearing completion. The next phase of the review involves examining the factors contributing to the increasing cost of insurance and identifying what short-term measures could be introduced to help reduce the cost of insurance for consumers and businesses, and also what initiatives need to be undertaken over the longer term. The work will include an examination of the issues affecting returning emigrants and immigrants and will continue over the coming months.

I might add that Insurance Ireland operates a free insurance information service for those who have been unable to obtain a quotation for motor insurance or feel that the premium or the terms proposed are so excessive that it amounts to a refusal to give them motor insurance. Such people should contact Insurance Ireland directly.

The Minister has suggested that it will take a couple of months to complete the review. We need action to be taken by the insurance industry sooner than the time it will take to produce the report in a couple of months. People who want to come home are not coming home because of high motor insurance costs. The Minister said that if they are driving abroad then they can show they have a no-claims history. People from my constituency had to emigrate because of the crash and the financial crisis. They went to Sydney, Perth and London. Many of them are working in the tunnels. Those who are living in London do not need a car because they are not driving, and they will have lost their no-claims bonus even though they have been driving on the roads of Donegal and elsewhere for the past ten years. Although they have a safe record they are being charged €5,500 per year because they are considered to be among the riskiest drivers.

I tabled an amendment to the motion that was passed in the House seeking that the report be released as soon as it was completed. Could the Minister tell us whether the report of the review - or the task force, as the Minister is now calling it - will be made available to the House as soon as it is available?

The first phase of the review, or the task force, as Deputy Doherty referred to it, is on Setanta Insurance, with which the Deputy is familiar and on which he asked a number of questions. In a week or two the task force will proceed to examine insurance in general and it will start with motor insurance. Yes, I will publish the report.

The Minister is aware that the amended motion called for the report to be published straight away, and I welcome the fact that the Minister has committed to do that because in previous replies on the matter he was ambiguous on that issue. We also called for the establishment of a task force to review the Central Bank's role on the regulation of the insurance industry and a number of other issues. Could the Minister outline progress in that regard and his intention to fulfil the will of this House, expressed by means of the acceptance of the amendment? Could he also inform us of the timeframe of the review group? It will begin to look at motor insurance issues in a couple of weeks. When does he expect that aspect of the review will be concluded? That is the really burning question. We are all aware that Setanta Insurance is a factor, but the bigger issue is when steps will be taken by the Government to help people, including returning emigrants, with regard to the significant increase in premiums. The work is due to begin only in two weeks' time. When, in the Minister's view, will it conclude and when will we see the recommendations?

The task force was in place for some months before the motion was debated in the Dáil. First, it was asked to deal with the issues arising from the crash of Setanta Insurance and the consequences of that. I had hoped to have the report in that regard before the summer recess, and I will publish it. After that, the task force will move on to other issues arising from insurance, prioritising motor insurance, and I assume that will take some months, but beyond that I cannot give the Deputy a finer timeline.

NAMA Operations

Mick Wallace

Question:

10. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Finance if he has concerns about the operation of the National Asset Management Agency; if he will call for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17484/16]

The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation announced today that it had arrested the former NAMA employee Paul Pugh, an individual who came onto our radar long before now. That makes four NAMA employees in total who have been arrested. Does the Minister not think it is about time he started asking questions? Could he tell me of any other State organisation that has had four former employees arrested without a sniff of an investigation?

NAMA continues to progress its mandate to maximise the return to the State, as evidenced in its 2015 annual report published on 8 June 2015. In addition to regular audited financial reporting, NAMA is subject to a significant level of oversight, including under sections 226 and 227 of the NAMA Act and section 9 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act, which provide for regular reviews by the Comptroller and Auditor General and my Department of NAMA's performance.

There have been a number of calls for a commission of investigation into Project Eagle. The allegations of wrongdoing that are being criminally investigated are extremely concerning. We continue to monitor the situation as these criminal investigations progress. If appropriate lines of inquiry do come to light which could usefully be pursued by a commission of investigation they will be brought forward for consideration. However, all known allegations of wrongdoing are currently being investigated by the appropriate authorities. We support these investigations and stand ready to assist in any way that is helpful. The most notable investigation is being carried out by the UK National Crime Agency, NCA, a criminal investigation by the appropriate authorities in the appropriate jurisdiction. Importantly, NAMA advises me that the NCA has confirmed that no aspect of the agency's activities is under investigation.

NAMA has also appeared twice before the Committee of Public Accounts to discuss Project Eagle. Based on recent comments by the Chairman of the committee, I understand NAMA may soon appear for a third time to discuss these issues. In that context, the Comptroller and Auditor General is conducting a value for money review of Project Eagle.

There has been much confusion and conflation of issues. However, it remains the case that allegations of wronging have not been directed at NAMA. Taking into account the investigations under way, it is not clear what specific line of inquiry could usefully be pursued by a commission of investigation in this jurisdiction. I do not believe it is appropriate to launch a commission of investigation based purely on speculation, nor to interfere with current legitimate investigations.

This position of course will be kept under review.

Deputy Wallace has one minute.

I apologise but, as this is a serious issue, I wish to state that if the Deputy has specific allegations of wrongdoing, he should make them known to the relevant authorities in the appropriate jurisdiction-----

The authorities know.

-----whether that be the NCA or the Garda.

I have gone to the authorities in both the South and the North of Ireland before now with information on the gentleman who was arrested today. These guys worked in Dublin. They did not work in Northern Ireland. Had Hanna stayed in the South he probably never would have been arrested, but he happened to be up there. The authorities there are only meant to be investigating the purchase side of Project Eagle. The Government has been adamant, like NAMA, that there was nothing wrong on the sales side and all the problems were on the purchase side. What in God's name is the NCA looking into? What is the US Securities and Exchange Commission looking into? Why is the Irish State outsourcing its responsibility and not investigating what is going on in NAMA? It is not true to state that there have been no allegations of wrongdoing against NAMA, as there have been plenty of them. I have one question for the Minister. I do not understand why, when he was told-----

-----by NAMA, as it has stated, that PIMCO was obliged to withdraw from the bidding process because its compliance department refused to sign off on the payment of a fixer's fee by the company, the Minister did nothing about it?

The Deputy will get a full supplementary question. I call the Minister.

I am aware that the media have reported the arrest of a former NAMA official yesterday, 22 June, in respect of an alleged disclosure of confidential information in 2012. The case has been ongoing since NAMA reported the matter to the Garda in February 2013. The existence of this case has been in the public domain since 2013 and the NAMA chief executive officer is on record as confirming this case in his testimony to the Committee of Public Accounts in December 2013. This case, which was brought to the attention of the Garda by NAMA, is unrelated to the questions being investigated by the National Crime Agency in Northern Ireland regarding the buyer's side of the Northern Ireland loan book sale. Members should not conflate these distinct cases, which are being investigated separately by the appropriate authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions. I hope all Members can respect these legal and judicial processes and allow them to run their respective courses unfettered. However, if there is new information in the Deputy's possession, he should give it to the appropriate authorities, whether they are in this jurisdiction or in Northern Ireland.

The Deputy, for a final one-minute question.

As the Minister is well aware, I have spoken to the National Crime Agency a few times, as well as to the Garda. The Minister stated today in the Chamber that he remained in regular dialogue with the NAMA chairman and he told Members he had no expertise in selling property as an excuse for taking a hands-off approach.

Many people know a good bit about selling property and would be fairly sceptical about the knowledge NAMA has shown of the same industry. The idea that Project Eagle would be sold for €2.41 billion and that Cerberus will go close to doubling its money is pure nonsense. It simply is ridiculous that Members are content with this.

Deals were done before the thing was even purchased. The Minister should listen: there is no rational argument against a serious commission of investigation into what is going on with this organisation.

The Minister, in a final reply. He has one minute.

It is rotten to the core. I do not know the extent to which the Minister is aware of this but it is the truth.

The Deputy is misrepresenting my position. I have no-----

I asked the Minister a question. Does he wish to answer it?

Sorry; let the Minister answer.

I have no legal authority to interfere with the legal authority of the NAMA board to make commercial decisions.

The Minister could have stopped the sale.

The Minister without interruption, please.

I have no legal authority to interfere in commercial decisions.

I am not asking the Minister to make commercial decisions.

I do my job as Minister. The Deputy makes allegations under privilege. He made highly non-specific allegations. If the Deputy has specific information, he should put it on the record and give it to the Garda.

Nothing I have said in this Chamber has been proved wrong yet.

Sorry; would the Deputy let the Minister-----

Not a single ounce of it.

Please abide by the Standing Orders. We will move on to Question No. 11 in the name of Deputy Ó Caoláin. Deputy Pearse Doherty has 30 seconds.

Statute of Limitations

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

11. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance if he plans any changes to lift the Statute of Limitations on civil offences that may have contributed to the banking crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17515/16]

I wish to raise this issue. I note the questions are not being grouped and I wonder why this is the case, because there were other questions in respect of-----

There was no request to have them grouped. It was that the Deputy was to take them on behalf of the Sinn Féin Members, which was by Standing Order.

For future reference, is it the case that Members must ask? A number of Members had tabled questions on Project Eagle-----

I would expect the requests to be in terms of Standing Orders.

----and NAMA and would like to tease this out with the Minister, because-----

It is up to the Minister to answer them in whatever way he wishes. The Deputy's time is running out, as approximately four and a half minutes remain.

I will state to the Minister that he has a direction order over NAMA-----

The Deputy should proceed to the question.

-----which he has used but failed to use in respect of Project Eagle.

Deputy Pearse Doherty has 30 seconds in which to put his question.

When I group them, Deputies seek to have them answered separately. That is why they are answered separately.

Absolutely. The new rules are clear in the Standing Orders. I expect Deputies to read them. Deputy Pearse Doherty has 30 seconds and the time for this question is running out.

Has the Minister plans to change or would he be supportive of changes to lift the Statute of Limitations on civil offences that may have contributed to the banking crisis?

The operation of the law regarding the Statute of Limitations is a matter for my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, and I understand it is the subject of ongoing review in her Department. I am given to understand the review is taking account of the Law Reform Commission report on limitation of actions published in December 2011. That report examines the rules on time limits for bringing civil claims in the courts, many of which are contained in the Statute of Limitations 1957, as amended.

The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis was a comprehensive examination of what went wrong in the banking system. The law around time limits for bringing civil claims was not identified as a contributory factor to the banking crisis in that report. However, my Department, in conjunction with the Central Bank, is considering the banking inquiry report in the round, with a view to bringing forward proposals in response to all of the recommendations related to the Department and the Central Bank which are contained in the report, including any related issues that may emerge.

The Central Bank has the power to administer sanctions in respect of the commission of prescribed contraventions by regulated financial service providers and participation in the prescribed contraventions by persons concerned in their management. The Central Bank may investigate where a concern arises that a prescribed contravention has been or is being committed, and, following the investigation, an inquiry may be held where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a prescribed contravention has been or is being committed. The inquiry shall decide if the prescribed contravention has occurred and determine the appropriate sanctions.

The decision by the Central Bank to take enforcement action is not constrained by time limits but is determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the full circumstances of each case. There are many factors that may be considered, including the promotion of compliance by the regulated entity, the promotion of compliance within the industry or sector, the proportionality of the enforcement action and support of the strategy, objectives and policies of the Central Bank.

Two minutes remain. That means one minute each for one supplementary question and one reply.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The banking inquiry made many good suggestions. I was unable to sign up to the report because I felt it was weak in certain areas, particularly in respect of the role of the auditors and others, but the banking inquiry was not a court, nor should it have been. Unfortunately, some causes of the financial crisis undoubtedly would be classified as civil offences and, therefore, the Statute of Limitations comes into play. I believe it is necessary to consider amending the Statute of Limitations in order that banks, accountants, auditors and possibly even politicians who may through their actions have either broken the law or contributed to the financial crisis can be pursued outside of the six-year rule. This has been done previously in the Bill introduced by Deputy Ó Caoláin to lift the Statute of Limitations for victims of symphysiotomy, which passed Committee Stage. It really is a matter of political will as to whether Members wish to create a shackle there. Alternatively, information may come to light in the future that could lead to prosecutions on civil matters were the Statute of Limitations to be lifted in this area. Given the enormity of and the number of victims of the financial crisis, this should be considered-----

If the Deputy wants a reply from the Minister-----

-----as a matter the Government might wish to push.

A final reply from the Minister.

As I already have stated, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality is examining the Statute of Limitations legislation. I also stated that a decision by the Central Bank to take enforcement action is not constrained by time limits but is considered on a case-by-case basis. Under the delegation orders from the Minister for Finance, the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who played such an important role in the banking inquiry, has been given the responsibility on a cross-party basis of implementing the recommendations of the inquiry.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.