Leaders' Questions

Last year, we went to much trouble to shut down tax avoidance by vulture funds. The then Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated clearly that the funds were using the loophole called section 110 in a way that was not intended. Critically, they were using section 110 to avoid paying taxes on profits generated in the Irish economy. This week, we have new revelations that other investment funds are using section 110 to avoid paying taxes on Irish profits, that they are doing so with the full blessing of the Government, or at least the former Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, when he was in situ, and that they are working directly with the State via the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. Not only is public money being used in a tax avoidance scheme, so too, potentially, is money from the European Investment Bank. In response to parliamentary questions by Deputy Michael McGrath, the Government has admitted that the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund is availing of four section 110 companies. The journalist, Mr. Jack Horgan-Jones, has obtained the accounts for two of these companies, and reported on the same in The Sunday Business Post. Earlier this week, we received copies of those accounts.

The first company is called WLR Cardinal Mezzanine Fund. "WLR" stands for Wilbur Ross, the current United States Secretary of Commerce. It is a new investment fund in Ireland, with €70 million in assets and its notes are listed on the stock exchange in the Cayman Islands, for obvious reasons. In 2015, it took in €3 million from its activities, and it paid €250 in tax. The second company is called BlueBay Ireland. BlueBay has €160 million loaned out. Between 2015 and 2016, it took in €36 million, and each year, it paid €250 in tax. Both of these funds make their profits from the domestic economy, including real estate, renewable energy, forestry, restaurants, televisions and so on. Both are able to get their profits out of the country completely tax free, other than a notional payment of €250. I am aware of no other country that allows investors to make money on the domestic economy and to then export those profits tax-free out of the country. My understanding from the work we did on the vulture funds was that this type of thing was going to be stamped out, and if one made profit on domestic activity, one would pay taxes here.

My questions are as follows. Is the Minister aware that no other European country tolerates tax avoidance of this kind? Does his Government stand over this practice? Does his Government stand over the State investing money from the European Investment Bank in this way? If not, will he, as a matter of urgency, initiate a full independent review of the use of section 110 companies in Ireland? Will he commit to this House that profits made in the domestic economy in Ireland will be taxed in Ireland?

I thank Deputy Donnelly for raising this issue. The position is that every year, in the Finance Bill, we review tax avoidance. As long as I have been here - which has been a long time - we have seen loopholes being closed each year when they are being abused or exploited in a way that was never intended. In all cases, initiatives in the tax code - which I have seen over many years - are designed by politicians with the best of intentions. Others employ armies of accountants to find ways of using them for other purposes and, every year, one has to deal with that. We have given the Revenue very strong powers not only to pursue abuses, but to put those who are designing schemes that might be anticipating abuses under threat as well. We have a very strong code in this respect.

On our international position, we are taking a leading role in the base avoidance and profit-shifting initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. We have moved ahead of the posse to deal with issues in our tax code that could be construed as being abuses in the international arena. We have moved very rapidly to do that and that is absolutely right. We need to ensure that this process is done properly and that we do not have unintentional avoidance or abuse of provisions where companies play one country off against another. We are very committed to that process. The ISIF has a dual-role. One is to earn money and the second is a developmental role. It does not have a responsibility for revenue issues. I assure the Deputy that I will ask the Minister for Finance to examine the issues that he raises and if they are areas where there is a need for initiative, I have absolute confidence that he will take those initiatives in the appropriate manner.

I thank the Minister for his response. I appreciate it and his acknowledgement that this could be seen as an abuse and that we must always look at how the tax code is being used. The problem is that I have seen the responses from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to Mr. Jack Horgan-Jones and we have on the record the response from the then Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, to Deputy Michael McGrath. Both the former Minister and the ISIF maintain that the current use of these section 110 companies is absolutely legitimate.

That is why we want an independent investigation. The Government's stated position may have changed with the new Minister, Deputy Donohoe, but as of February, in response to Deputy Michael McGrath, the Government's stated position is that the section 110 companies are being used properly. ISIF stated to Mr. Jack Horgan-Jones only a few days ago that as far as it is concerned they are being used properly. As far as I, Fianna Fáil and everyone involved in the vulture fund tax loopholes are concerned, this is an improper use and it needs to be shut down.

I appreciate the Minister will raise this with the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, but we are asking that he goes further. We are asking that the Government commits to a full independent review of the use of section 110 companies in the Irish economy and that it makes a commitment to the House that, as a policy principle, profits generated in the Irish economy must be taxed in the Irish economy as they are in every other country on earth.

First, I am strongly of the view that we should use the Revenue to ensure that everyone pays their fair share of tax and that has always been the case. The Government and, indeed, predecessors have dramatically reformed Revenue. I remember when the Revenue system was leaking, and even people had a sneaking regard for the sort of abuses that took place. That has been entirely changed. There is a very strong culture of compliance enforced properly by the Revenue Commissioners.

To suggest we need an independent investigation is something Deputy Donnelly would need to put to the Minister for Finance.

From my considerable experience in this House, the Revenue Commissioners are the most effective at identifying abuses of this nature and identifying the way in which they can resolve them, and every year they come forward with the closing down of areas where there is abuse. The idea that we need to have someone overseeing the Revenue Commissioners or some independent assessment does not strike me as being in accordance with the approach we have taken. By all means, Deputy Donnelly should present his case politically of what changes or study of these cases he wants to see to the Minister for Finance, but I am strongly confident that we have the competence within the Revenue to deal with any such abuses and to develop our tax policy in accordance with the highest international standards.

I want to talk to the Minister about Jacob Dooley. Jacob is the middle child of Edel and Anton Dooley and he has been diagnosed with severe autism. The Dooleys are, in their own words, "a family in crisis." For months they have been appealing to Ministers for help but they have been ignored. I have written and spoken directly to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, about this family and their desperate search for respite care for their son.

At a recent case conference where their case was discussed, the Dooleys predicament was laid out in detail. Jacob is eight years of age and engaged in aggressive behaviours toward his parents and siblings causing injury. As Jacob gets older and stronger, he poses a greater risk to his family, other students and staff in Foxfield school, and to the staff working within the family home. Jacob is displaying significant behaviours that challenge, such as biting and scratching. Edel herself has been bitten and scratched on a regular basis and Jacob recently tried to strangle his mother. Previous applications to St. Michael's House for respite, host family and link have all been submitted but to date none of these have been put in place.

This is one case of dozens I have been dealing with. The Minister will be keenly aware that there is not a Deputy in this House who does not receive emails and calls on a daily basis from desperate parents and family members who are seeking nothing more than respite. Anecdotal evidence may not count for much and given the responses to the desperate pleas from the Dooley family, and no doubt the Minister's unwillingness to comment on individual cases, I will look at the facts. Figures released to me by the HSE show that while the number in need of respite is going up, the allocation of respite hours is decreasing. In the first quarter of last year, 44,141 overnight hours were provided. This year the figure had fallen to 40,597. There is no urban-rural divide on this. All counties in this State are being treated equally badly. For example, Dublin North, where Jacob lives, is down 503 hours. If we look at Donegal, there has been a loss of 559 hours from last year. Shockingly, Dublin Central has seen a loss of 1,553 hours of overnight respite care.

Last week the Dooleys told their story on the Sean O'Rourke show. They are a quiet, private family and it pains them to have to do this. However, it appeared to work because immediately following the programme they received all sorts of calls from interested politicians. Indeed, they have now secured a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, a mere seven months after asking for it.

My question is this. Will there be an increase in respite hours to cope with the additional demands that the school holidays place on families? Will Edel Dooley have to watch life pass her and her family by again this summer while she is unable to leave her home? Will the Minister acknowledge that there is a serious problem here? Will he commit here this afternoon to halt the decline in the provision of respite hours and to increase this basic service for struggling families such as the Dooleys?

First, I express my full sympathy with the family. I have dealt with many families who are very distressed in dealing with children of this nature, trying to access services and having a clear understanding of what is available for them. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has been working hard to try to improve the access to both information and service and he has applied additional funds to these purposes. The Minister of State has expanded the number of places, for example, for adults - children who reach the age of 18 and need additional places.

Clearly, this is an area of respite which, from my own experience, is a particularly acute pressure point in that provisions have been made in good faith for respite provision but because of a particular individual who has very challenging behaviour, sometimes it is not possible to continue to provide the planned respite because all attention has to be devoted to one very complex case. We need to have a better planning framework for this.

In my own area in education, we have made very substantial increases in provision for children with special education needs - a 41% increase in the case of resource teachers and 32% in the case of SNAs. We are investing very substantial funds to try to support children like this, staying in the education system and having their caring needs supported through the education system.

I am glad that Deputy Louise O'Reilly is able to report that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is meeting the family in question and I will certainly bring her concern to his attention. In my own area, I have seen pressure on respite in the recent past due specifically to difficulties in dealing with particular individuals and we need to try to plan for that in a better way. That is why we are seeking to develop a ten-year approach to health issues so that we can plan these resources in a consistent way. In the same way, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is developing a disability strategy so that these various elements can be resolved.

I understand that the HSE keeps a certain emergency capacity to try to deal with very special cases in a sympathetic way. Clearly, this is a case that it has sought to respond to.

All I can say is that I will certainly report the Deputy's concern to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, who, to be fair to him, is striving continuously to make the case not only for additional resources but for additional understanding of the needs of people with a disability throughout our services. He is making very significant progress in that area.

One need not be a genius to figure out that while demand for this service is going up and the number of hours are going down, the Government is contributing to the problem. I asked the Minister some fairly specific questions and I also pointed out to him that the number of hours is decreasing while the demand is going up. That is not due to one, two or three individuals. That is due to a failure by the Government to treat these people with any sort of decency and respect.

The family got a meeting with the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, after they had been on the Sean O'Rourke show, just as the Devereaux family had their case dealt with after they had been on Joe Duffy's show. What are we to do? RTE can only provide so much of an outlet. We can only put so much pressure on. These people need action. They should not have to go to RTE.

These people are watching this discussion and are listening to what the Minister is saying. He is not offering them anything other than platitudes and that is an insult to the Dooleys and to the thousands of people who are now facing into a summer of desperation because they cannot access respite care for their loved ones.

I have to say to the Deputy that if she was serious about having the detail of this case dealt with she would not be raising it on Leaders' Questions since she knows I do not have advance notice of the issues. If she wanted to do so, she would have asked the Ceann Comhairle for special notice provision, whereby the Minister responsible could have been here to respond in detail.

That is not true. The Minister was well aware of this.

I am providing Deputy O'Reilly with the sort of response that she can expect from someone who is taking Leaders' Questions.

I have just told the Minister what is going on.

I can tell Deputy O'Reilly that we have massively expanded our provision for caring. A total of €1.2 billion is being spent as we speak on home carers and support for home help hours on respite.

I have before me the Minister's figures; they are not mine.

We have €1.7 billion being spent in the education sphere. All of those provisions are expanding rapidly. As I have outlined, even in the very difficult years, we expanded those provisions by over 40% in the case of support.

I am not pretending that there are not cases where need is not met.

There are thousands of them.

The need in this area is growing rapidly. However, it ill-behoves Deputy O'Reilly to come in and try to pretend that we are not addressing the issue when she does not allow any possibility of the case of that family being addressed by someone who is aware of the circumstances and could have responded.

This is not a problem I have.

I take Deputy O'Reilly's shock and awe with a large grain of salt.

Every one of the Government Deputies has received representations from this family.

Would someone please tell me what is going on in this Chamber in respect of bin charges and the hike in the bin charges? I heard Deputy Jack Chambers on the media giving out about Panda increasing charges and the new contract that will allow the company to do dynamic things, such as enter a premises to check what is in a bin; the right to alter the charges in light of Government regulations and other issues, such as a rise in fuel costs; the right to charge €30 for cleaning a bin at the end of a contract; and the right to ensure the customer should indemnify Panda against any loss or damage to the bin. As Deputy Jack Chambers said, an empty Pringles packet in the wrong bin could result in a hefty fine. This is the Deputy Chambers who belongs to the Fianna Fáil party seated beside me that did a deal with the Government the other night to agree the party's motion in order to stop any other alteration of motions from ourselves and Sinn Féin.

Where was Deputy Smith?

Fianna Fáil did a deal.

Where was Deputy Smith for the debate?


Deputy Smith, without interruption

Yesterday, the Taoiseach said that he is about to reward people who treat their community and the environment well. How is this awarding people who treat their community and environment well with this nonsense from Panda?

The cartels are being allowed to do what they like. They have already said that they do not fear a regulator. They do not fear the set-up that the Government and Fianna Fáil have agreed.

It is a watchdog.

They may have their confidence and supply agreement, but they are certainly supplying each other with a lot of freedom to enable the bin companies do what they want with an important and essential service that people are paying dearly for.

The only thing that can be done to safeguard the service in future and to keep the environment safe in our cities and towns is for this service to be taken back into the ownership and control of the local authorities. The City Manager of Dublin City Council agrees with this. The city council is browned off - not to put too fine a pun on it - collecting illegally dumped waste while those who are getting the profits from the waste do not pay towards it. Last year, a total of €1.5 million was spent by the city council dealing with illegally dumped waste. The situation will get worse. It will get far worse with the hikes that are going to ensue. The Government need not tell me that this agreement will not raise them because it will.

The bin companies say they do not fear the regulator and that says it all. Will the Minister please tell me what is going on here? On the one hand the Government is making an agreement, while on the other, those involved are dividing among themselves about that agreement. They should get it right, do the right thing by the citizens and give the local authorities control of the services.

First, Deputy Smith would know what was happening if she bothered to attend the Dáil the other night when these issues were being debated. Deputy Smith was marked absent when decisions were being made and when the position that was going to be introduced was being explained. It is a matter of shedding crocodile tears now when these decision have been taken when she does not bother to fulfil her responsibility, come in and deal with these issues.

The truth is that we have a problem with waste. That is the nature of this problem. Deputy Smith's party is a party that talks about taking our global responsibilities seriously. If we want to respond to the challenges of climate change, the problems of global waste and the impact it is having on resource use in our world, then we have to change behaviour. We have to see people who deal with waste in their normal daily lives changing the way they do that. That has to happen in businesses but it also has to happen in homes. What we have at the moment is that many homes do not segregate or try to minimise the amount of waste. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, indicated that €700 worth of food is discarded every year by the average household.

We are trying to achieve a situation whereby behaviour is changing but at the same time protect people who might be vulnerable. That is what is happening here. The system applies to half of households in the country already. Customers have an incentive system based on either a charge per lift or a charge per weight. That will now apply to all households. As a result, there will be an incentive for people to minimise waste and to use the three principles of good waste management: reduce, reuse and recycle.

As Deputy Smith probably knows, we have a real problem with contamination of the waste streams. Elements are put into segregated waste - whether into the green bins or black bins - that are not supposed to be contaminated by food products. If that segregation does not happen right then we create a major problem for the environment. Deputy Smith would be the first to complain if there was a dump provided and there were foul smells as a result of the system not being applied right.

What we are trying to do is change behaviour, but we are also protecting people. There will be an oversight of price monitoring to ensure that there is no gouging of consumers by abuses of this system.

They have been gouging people for years.

Deputy Smith should have come out and voted.

We have 67 waste providers. They all will have different schemes. People can pick and choose. We will be providing oversight of that. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has the power to deal with cartels if people find there is cartel practice. The commission has major civil and criminal powers to pursue anyone who adopts cartel practices.

The House has agreed that there will be strong monitoring of this change that it is bringing in and that people will be protected by those who have the power. There will be monitoring of pricing. Appropriate action will be taken to deal with it to protect people.

For the information of Deputy Bruton I live beside a facility that does separate and recycle and that bails food and other materials. We have major problems with the operation of Thorntons and the proximity of Thorntons to the community of Ballyfermot. We campaign continuously to try to get the Environmental Protection Agency to put some sort of controls on the company. We continuously campaign on that issue. I am aware of the smells and discomfort that is caused by this process.

I was here the other night until nearly 9.30 p.m. In my naivety as a new Deputy I understood that we would be voting on these motions and amendments today.

Deputies have to call a vote.

That is not going to happen, but I can see that Fianna Fáil has an internal problem, because some of that party's Deputies are dissatisfied with the confidence and supply arrangement with the Government.

I wish to make the Minister aware of something else. He talks about the motivation for keeping the environment safe and clean.

This is helping.

What is actually happening, because of the profits and money is to be made out of rubbish, is that fly-tipping is being given the go-ahead by this system and by the Government. As the prices increase, there will be more and more fly-tipping. There was never a single incident of it when the bins were in public control. We are now organising street meetings throughout the city in order to oppose the Government plans. People need their bins but they do not need this sort of abuse from the Government.

We all know the reason why the public sector is no longer in this business. It is because parties like Deputy Smith's party told people not to pay and refused to allow increases in charges that would have allowed collection to remain as a service in the public arena.

That is rubbish. Most bin services were privatised long before then.

Deputy Smith's party made conscious decisions to destroy that possibility.

Bin charges were in place for eight years by then.

We are dealing with the consequences of parties like Deputy Smith's party driving change in policy. We now have a policy that will promote better use and better segregation.

That has been the policy for a long time.

This will, I hope, mean that the facility mentioned by the Deputy will be better managed because there will not be contaminated waste streams through it.

We have to live beside it, the Minister does not.

This is a progressive change that will bring about a better approach to meeting the huge global challenge presented by how waste streams should be managed and waste segregated and how we should minimise damage and protect the use of resources.

The Government is making a bags of it.

That is what this is about, no more, no less.

The Government's dishonesty will not-----

Deputy Bruton, 1: Deputy Smith, 0.

It is not even half time yet.

I refer to the former St. Finan's Hospital in Killarney, a well built stone building which stands on 30 acres of land on the northside of the town which borders both sides of the bypass. It is a listed building, for which plans for its future use need to be formulated. We are all aware of what happened this week to a similar building, the former Our Lady's Hospital in Shanakiel. Much of it was burnt to the ground. At one time there were 800 patients and 800 staff at St. Finan's Hospital. Years ago the building and lands were owned and managed by Kerry County Council, but they were then transferred into the ownership of the HSE. On behalf of many interests in Killarney and surrounding areas, I raised the issue of the future plans for the building and lands at forum meetings of HSE south. It is important that they are not sold to private interests. The Government and the Minister for Health need to work together to formulate a plan for what is to be done with this valuable property. I sincerely hope it is insured and that there is security in place 24/7.

Killarney is to shortly have a new community hospital which is expected to be built on part of the lands surrounding the former hospital. I am asking the HSE to liaise with Kerry County Council on the proposed use of the remaining land. As all Members are aware, we are experiencing a shortage of housing and many houses could be built on these lands. Also, part of the grounds could and should be used to provide a safer route from the town onto the bypass. There have been many accidents at the Lewis Road junction and further accidents could be avoided if another access road to the bypass was provided. The former hospital building could be adapted to provide social housing apartments or offices or for amenity use and made available to local voluntary sports clubs and other groups. As parts of the roof are leaking, the building will soon be derelict. As it is situated adjacent to the Fitzgerald Stadium, it would be a shame if it were allowed to fall into dereliction. If the property was owned by private interests, it would not be left unused, as it is very valuable. It was suggested previously that the land could be used as a graveyard or a car park. As there are many uses to which it could be put, it should not be left idle. As I said, if the property was in private ownership, it would be developed and used.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I am not familiar with the site, but I can assure the Deputy that the HSE would be very interested in working with local communities if there were viable proposals for its future use. Clearly, they would have to be stand-alone proposals. I am sure any Department would support a local initiative of that nature. I will ask the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Damien English, to examine whether there are opportunities and demands in the area. The Deputy will be aware that there has been a considerable trawl of properties in State ownership in an effort to respond to social housing needs. Where a property is identified, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is keen to support proposals for its use, but they must make sense in the context of the social housing programme in meeting demands and so on. The Minister, Deputy Michael Ring, has reminded me that this year Killarney House was restored as part of an initiative taken by Fáilte Ireland and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys. That is indicative of the Government's interest in restoring assets that can become considerable tourist attractions for communities. I will bring the Deputy's concerns to the attention of the appropriate Ministers to see what can be done to respond to them. If there is a local group that is putting plans together for which there is a solid business case, the Government will be keen to examine them in the context of whether they could be factored in in planning the future use of the site.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I am happy to say, without fear of contradiction, that my late father played a big role in ensuring the restoration of Killarney House was provided for in the capital programme in 2010.

He did not put any money into it. There was talk but no money. It was the former Minister, Jimmy Deenihan, who put the money in with me. Talk is all the Deputy's late father put in.

Will the Minister please allow Deputy Danny Healy-Rae to continue, without interruption?

The programme was put in place before the Minister, Deputy Michael Ring, landed.

He can stick that in his pipe and smoke it.

That is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Talk is all the late Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae put in.

The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, mentioned that there had been a trawl of properties owned by the State. Why then is the Government not already aware of this property? I have raised the issue several times at forum meetings of HSE south in County Hall in Cork. I call on the Government to ensure the building will not be allowed to become derelict to avoid the possibility of it burning down. The lands are very valuable in the context of social housing provision. They are located at the back of St. Allman's Terrace and border Lewis Road, which means that they are very accessible.

The Deputy cannot take advantage.

We need - this is directed at the Minister, Deputy Michael Ring-----

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae has exceeded his time and is depriving others.

There is a need for a road to be built through the lands to ensure the safety of people accessing the bypass.

We will use the Deputy's machinery to do it.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae will not have another opportunity to come in because he has taken an additional minute.

I recall that Jimmy Deenihan, who was a Deputy for many years, was a huge advocate of the restoration and reopening of Killarney House. It was a proud day for him when the Ministers, Deputies Heather Humphreys and Michael Ring, opened different phases of the project.

The person who provided the money was not invited.

I am sure there will be room for a saxophone playing department within the restored Killarney House to recognise the contribution made by the Healy-Rae family. As I said, if there are uses to which the property could be put and businesses cases could be made in that regard, the Government will be keen to examine them but only in the context of the social housing programme that has to deliver to very tight schedules in areas where there is genuine need. I cannot give a guarantee on the use of the property, but I will ask the appropriate Ministers to examine its potential within their ambitions to fulfil their plans.