The first item is statements on the Paradise Papers, ráitis maidir le Páipéir Paraidís. I call on the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, to make a statement under Standing Order 45. The Minister of State has 15 minutes.
Paradise Papers: Statements
I thank the Chairman. The Paradise Papers is the name given to a collection of documents published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and was reported to media outlets worldwide in recent weeks. Coverage of the Paradise Papers has included coverage of the tax affairs of certain individuals and companies. I do not propose to comment on any individual taxpayer or taxpayers as such issues are confidential between Revenue and the taxpayer concerned. As is the case when any information comes into the public domain, it is a matter for Revenue to examine the information and determine if any tax issue arises. I am informed by Revenue that it is examining the Paradise Papers with a view to identifying all persons and entities, including Irish-registered companies, mentioned in the papers with a possible connection to the State. As these cases are identified, the information from the Paradise Papers will be compared with the information held in Revenue's own files. All information available will then be assessed and if individuals or entities associated with Ireland are identifiable or identified as possibly having tax issues, whether in the form of evasion or unacceptable tax avoidance, Revenue will take whatever action necessary to recover all taxes legally due together with all associated interest penalties and surcharges.
Revenue is determined that any tax evasion identified as a result of investigations arising from the papers will be thoroughly investigated. Where tax evasion is uncovered, Revenue will seek to have the maximum sanctions applied up to and including criminal prosecutions. Ireland recognises that co-operation between countries is essential to tackling the worldwide problem of tax evasion and avoidance if the international community is to succeed in ensuring that there will be no hiding places for those who seek to escape their tax obligations. Revenue will also continue to work in close co-operation with other tax administrations in the framework of the OECD's joint international task force on shared intelligence and co-operation in addressing issues raised by the Paradise Papers, and will, as appropriate, share information under existing legal frameworks.
Revenue's work in the area of identifying offshore tax evasion has been and continues to be a priority. In 2003 Revenue commenced an investigation into the use of offshore bank accounts and other financial products to evade tax. The amount collected by Revenue over the course of the investigation in tax, liabilities, interest and penalties exceeds €1 billion. Work is ongoing on a number of cases as part of this investigation. The international environment has changed significantly in the years since Revenue started to investigate offshore bank accounts and other offshore assets. Tax authorities worldwide now co-operate on a much wider and more intensive basis in investigating those who hide their profits or gains offshore than they did in the past. Activities such as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, FATCA, an intergovernmental agreement to share financial account information with the United States, the EU's directive on administrative co-operation and the OECD's common reporting standard are all now helping to ensure that tax administrations have greater access to information in respect of the offshore assets and income of their residents. Revenue will make full use of information received from other jurisdictions under these new initiatives on offshore assets to identify and pursue those who have attempted to use offshore accounts, structures or assets to evade or avoid their tax obligations.
In the context of these new information-sharing initiatives now becoming available, the Government introduced specific measures in the Finance Act 2016 to ensure that, as of May 2017, tax defaulters whose default relates to offshore matters are unable to avail of the benefits of the qualifying disclosure regime. Anyone who did not come forward by 4 May 2017 to regularise his or her affairs now faces the prospect of substantially higher penalties; publication in the quarterly list of tax defaulters; and possible criminal prosecution. I am advised by Revenue that the number of disclosures made following this change exceeds 2,700 and amounts to a value of almost €84 million.
With regard to the reference to the Irish banks in the media coverage of the Paradise Papers, Deputies will be aware that I have no direct function in strategic or operational decisions made by the banks in which the State is a shareholder. Decisions in this regard are the responsibility of the board of management of each institution, under the supervision of its regulator and the equivalent authorities in its jurisdictions that are relevant to its operations. I must ensure that the bank is run on a commercial and independent basis and in this regard a relationship framework has been specified that defines the nature of the relationship between the Minister for Finance and the bank. These frameworks can be found on the Department of Finance website.
With regard to AIB and Bank of Ireland, both of these banks have been very clear that they do not support or facilitate tax evasion and that they act in accordance with all relevant tax and data protection laws in any jurisdiction in which they operate. Both banks made decisions a number of years ago to close down their operations in the Isle of Man and on the Channel Islands, which are referred to in the Paradise Papers. The banks have also advised me that they fully comply with a series of disclosure orders made by the High Court in Dublin between 2004 and 2012 in favour of the Revenue Commissioners and in respect of information held by the banks' Irish operations as part of the Revenue's offshore investigation.
I am informed by Revenue that on 20 November 2017, it wrote to the financial institutions concerned, seeking disclosure of any information not already disclosed to Revenue which the institutions have relating to the opening of an account or depositing of funds by persons, including Irish registered companies, in the offshore operations owned by the institutions that the financial institutions have confirmed have now been closed.
In relation to Irish corporation tax rules, the leaks from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists make a number of points about changes in the Irish tax system. It rightly points out that Ireland had already acted to address definitively the issues on stateless and double Irish companies. In the Finance Bill we have been discussing changes to our regime for capital allowances that will be introduced once the Bill is enacted.
I have consistently said the issue of aggressive tax planning by multinational companies is a global problem and requires a global solution. Ireland has played a full part in implementing international tax reforms. An update of Ireland's international tax strategy was published with budget 2018. The update provides concrete evidence of the measures already taken by Ireland to ensure we continue to meet the highest international standards in corporation tax. The Coffey review of the corporate tax code includes a comprehensive review of Ireland's corporation tax code and we have begun taking action on the recommendations in that report. As part of this work, we are holding a consultation process about how we implement the remaining OECD BEPS reforms.
At EU level, Finance Ministers agreed a list of jurisdictions that do not meet international good tax governance standards. As part of this listing exercise, member states receive significant commitments from a large number of jurisdictions to amend their harmful tax regimes, to improve transparency, and to commit to the implementation of the OECD BEPS recommendations. This has been a very successful exercise, and it shows the list is a powerful tool to encourage all jurisdictions to comply with agreed international standards.
I am also supportive of work at EU level on agreeing a proposal, known as DAC 6, which will require all member states to introduce rules requiring the mandatory reporting of tax avoidance schemes. Ireland is one of only three member states to have such a requirement in place already. The OECD BEPS process made recommendations on how mandatory disclosure rules should be designed, and I am supportive of a directive being agreed that is in line with these OECD best practice recommendations.
I reiterate that I am confident that Revenue will make full use of any information that comes to light in the Paradise Papers. Revenue has a strong track record in this area and will continue to co-operate with tax authorities worldwide to ensure there will be no hiding places for those who seek to escape their tax obligations. In respect of corporation tax, the continued implementation of the OECD BEPS reports, as well as further development of information reporting, sharing and exchanging agreements between tax authorities, is vital for aggressive tax planning opportunities to be shut down.
Members have requested copies of the Minister of State's script.
Before I speak on the Paradise Papers, on my behalf and on behalf of Fianna Fáil, I welcome the joint report published this morning by the negotiators on behalf of the European Union and the United Kingdom. It is a very contentious issue, but I welcome the fact the report has indicated that the position of Ireland, as a result of the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, is unique. I welcome the fact the agreement recognises the significance and achievements of the Good Friday Agreement, or Belfast Agreement as it is referred to in paragraph 42. Now we should proceed to the second phase of these negotiations which, being realistic, are probably going to be more complicated than the first phase.
In respect of the Paradise Papers, many of us in the House may have studied Paradise Lost when we were doing English in the leaving certificate. The first lines refer to:
man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world,
Mr. Milton did not go on to refer to the other disobediences, but if he had referred to the second, third or fourth, I would say he would have got to tax evasion, because it has been with us for as long as there have been any records of societies or states for the purpose of trying to regulate affairs. If we go back to ancient writings we see that tax collectors were never really treated with much praise and they were generally treated with contempt. For as long as we have been on this planet and for as long as there has been tax collection, there have been efforts by individuals to evade their tax.
What we are talking about in the Paradise Papers is not tax evasion. We are talking about tax avoidance. It appears from the Paradise Papers that we have not been able to identify examples of illegality, but this does not mean we should not be making efforts as a country to try to change our laws to ensure this type of very aggressive tax avoidance is stopped. We should be able to stop it.
There is a broad breath in terms of tax avoidance and what it involves. On one level, people working here who are self-employed are perfectly entitled as a means of tax avoidance to write off against their tax any expenses which are wholly and exclusively for the purpose of their employment. People can also avoid tax by reference to any contributions they make to private health insurance or to pensions. What we are speaking about in the Paradise Papers is tax avoidance at a completely different level. The tax avoidance identified in these papers involves people moving their assets and money to faraway locations out of the jurisdiction for the purpose of avoiding tax. This is what makes it particularly galling to the ordinary taxpayer. The average PAYE worker has no opportunity to move his or her money to exotic offshore locations. Their tax is taken straight out of their pay packet. Hard-working self-employed people throughout the country know that no such opportunity exists for them to move their funds to Jersey or the Isle of Man, although it is probably a misnomer to refer to the Isle of Man or Jersey as places of paradise. In general, the reference to paradise is places in the Caribbean.
It is also worth pointing out that people in this country who have been paying income tax over the past number of years have borne the brunt of the crisis in our national accounts. We have seen in recent years the burden on income taxpayers has risen. In 2007, it was under 29% of our total tax burden and almost 40% of the total tax this year is from income tax. It increased by more than 11% from 2007 to 2016. In 2007, income tax took in €13.6 billion while in 2016 it took in €19.2 billion. This is an extra €5.6 billion in income tax taken from people's working payments and the load on them is increasing. It is important to note these figures for the purpose of this debate because it is the regular income taxpayers who are paying higher tax, while a very select few are willing and able to move their funds offshore to avoid paying tax here.
We can understand why people get frustrated and angry when they read in newspapers about the great and the good, whether it be actors, artistes or people who are ostensibly in favour of every right-on cause, and they find out that in fact the cause in which they seem to be primarily interested most of all is saving themselves paying tax. It is unusual that people who have an awful lot of money seem to be particularly greedy when it comes to holding onto all of that money.
It should also be pointed out that the vast majority of taxpayers in this country, whether they are rich or poor, are very happy to pay tax. They recognise it is part of the social contract that exists. They want to be part of a community. They recognise their taxes are relevant and necessary to support hospitals, schools and the gardaí. It is important in this debate that we do not convey the impression a significant number of people in this country go out of their way deliberately and aggressively to avoid tax.
It is the function of the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners to close off loopholes in the tax code. As I have said before, apparently no laws were broken in the cases revealed in the Paradise Papers, but it is important that we continue to close off those loopholes to ensure this aggressive form of tax avoidance is not permitted. As legislators we have to ensure the mechanisms and resources are available to the State to ensure these loopholes are closed off.
However, we cannot underestimate the challenge we are facing in that it is very difficult to stop individuals or businesses from moving their capital offshore. One of the functions in being a member of the European Union is to ensure there is free movement of capital within the Union, but there is also, to a certain extent, free movement of capital beyond it which is difficult to regulate. However, we should recognise that our objective must be to ensure we try to close the loopholes that permit aggressive tax avoidance, as I think the Minister has recognised. We are also not in the business of lecturing people about their tax affairs. People are free to do what they wish within the law. However, we believe those who live and work in Ireland should pay their taxes here, although there are always mechanisms by which people can get beyond this.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Paradise Papers is the role played by the two most senior banks in this process, namely, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks. It is clear from the Paradise Papers that both facilitated the moving of funds to offshore locations. It appears that AIB moved funds offshore with the express intention of hiding that information from the Revenue Commissioners. If that is the case, it is absolutely unacceptable that a bank that required billions of euro of taxpayers' money to be bailed out should engage in this activity or has engaged in it in the past. To the average taxpayer, such behaviour is completely unacceptable. People have endured higher taxes as a direct result of financial assistance being provided to keep the banks afloat and it is now very difficult for them to hear that the same banks are facilitating tax avoidance. Some questions remain for Allied Irish Banks to answer. It is unclear whether it eventually co-operated with the Revenue Commissioners and provided the information for which it was asked as part of the investigation that commenced in 2004. While the operations outlined in the Paradise Papers appear to have come to an end, both AIB and Bank of Ireland need to confirm this and that there are no similar operations today.
There are also revelations in the Paradise Papers about Apple's tax structure. They have come at a very bad time. Clearly, there is a concerted effort on the part of some of our friends in Europe to undermine our industrial strategy and the revelations in the Paradise Papers are likely to be used by those countries that are seeking to challenge our 12.5% corporation tax rate. The papers reveal how Apple changed its tax structure after stateless companies were outlawed in budget 2014. We now know that Apple has three Irish incorporated companies, two of which are tax resident in Jersey, while the other is tax resident in Ireland.
The issues outlined in the Paradise Papers must be seen in the context of what was happening both in Ireland and globally at the time. The double Irish regime was closed in budget 2015. At the same time, Ireland signed up to the base erosion and profit shifting process and the 80% limit on capital allowances for intellectual property was removed. With all of this change globally and in Ireland, a truly massive amount of intellectual property was moved to Ireland. According to answers to parliamentary questions, a staggering €300 billion worth of assets was placed onshore in Ireland. This led to the remarkable and unprecedented increase of 26% in GDP in 2015. We know that in 2016 the European Commission decided that Apple had received state aid from Ireland. Fianna Fáil disagrees with this decision. We do not believe Apple received preferential tax treatment and support the Government in its appeal. The revelations in the Paradise Papers do not change our assessment of the validity of that appeal. We believe it is very important that, as a country, we defend our 12.5% corporation tax rate. We do not support the European Union's common consolidated corporate tax base proposal. We do not believe tax harmonisation across Europe will solve the problem. It will be solved by aggressively closing loopholes which permit tax avoidance. We firmly believe corporation tax sovereignty is what the people signed up to in the Lisbon treaty.
Ireland cannot be a global taxman. Any solution to this problem must be global in nature. It is simply naive to think Ireland on its own can resolve the issue. As I mentioned, companies will always find ways to lower their tax bills and if we close loopholes in isolation, they are likely to respond by moving their operations elsewhere. It is for this reason we support the base erosion and profit shifting, BEPS, process, but it may not solve the problem. Perhaps another BEPS process might be required. It is at this level that Ireland can make a positive impact. In working constructively with our international and European counterparts we must collectively arrive at a resolution of this issue. The Fiscal Monitor published earlier this week showed that corporation tax receipts were nearly €400 million ahead of budget. Of the entire tax take, according to the the 2016 figures, 15.4% comes from corporation tax. In 2016 over 40% of the corporation tax revenue came from only ten multinational companies. This represents a figure of approximately 6% of entire tax revenue and it comes from these ten groups. It, in turn, translates into nearly €3 billion in tax revenue. The changes in budget 2018 in restoring the 80% limit are likely to add to the concentration issue. We agree with the changes made, but it is important for us to recognise this. If we make radical changes off our own bat, we could very easily jeopardise this very important revenue stream. In recognising this, we called for the establishment of a rainy day fund which, as we proposed, would receive some of the corporation tax receipts. This was in recognition of the fact that our corporation tax receipts might perhaps prove to be unsustainable.
The Paradise Papers are a very stark reminder that, as legislators and a country, we need to remain vigilant when it comes to tax avoidance. People will always react to changes to the tax code. As I said, tax avoidance is as old as tax itself. I am confident that the Revenue Commissioners will take a rigorous approach when it comes to the Paradise Papers, but we need to ensure they have the resources and tools necessary to tackle some of the issues highlighted. Both the Oireachtas and the Government need to examine the tax code continually and ensure loopholes will be closed.
In the event that Deputy Jonathan O'Brien arrives, he will share time with Deputy Peadar Tóibín. Is that agreed?
It is important that we recognise in this Chamber the work of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its efforts in bringing the Paradise Papers to light. One of the most damaging aspects of life on our planet is the gross wealth inequality between rich and poor. Oxfam has stated eight men now own half of the wealth on the planet. That is shocking and it is very difficult to get one's head around that fact. There are 1,876 billionaires on the planet, yet tonight 1 billion people will go to bed starving, without proper shelter or education and without the food they need to raise their families. I ask the House to think about that for one second. We know that there is a crisis in the distribution of wealth throughout the world. This country has huge experience of it. It is not like the 1960s or 1970s when there were rich and poor; the fact of the matter is that the gap between them is now yawning massively. The most affluent 20% of the population own about 73% of the wealth, which is another startling figure. The least affluent 20% own 0.2% of the wealth and this is happening under the Government led by the Minister of State's party. We regularly hear about the squeezed middle. The squeezed middle has as much wealth as the richest 5%. Is the Minister of State happy with this? Is he happy to preside in a state in which a very small number of people are exceedingly rich, while the middle and lower deciles of the population are getting poorer and poorer? This has not happened by accident; there are a number of key drivers of this wealth inequality.
Let us think about that. He described an output of the actions of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government at the time as leprechaun economics.
On 11 October, in budget 2018, the new Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, our knight in shining armour, reversed the tax dodging policy of the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, by way of capping the capital allowances linked to the investment of IP assets at 80% instead of 100%, which while not 100% what we want is a better move but one has to look at the small print. This tax reform introduced by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, studiously avoids the whole-scale on-shoring of these assets up to the date of the budget such that the €26 billion hocus pocus surge of assets onto our GDP rates is avoided and thus the money generated from it, for years to come, is isolated from the new cap of 80%. This is a shocking indictment of the current Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. It links him directly to the ongoing policy of tax injustice.
Mr. Seamus Coffey notes that if the cap applied to all claims, existing and new, it would lead to €1 billion in extra taxation for the State. If the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, had done the right thing and included all the intangible assets, we would have €10 billion in extra tax after ten years. The hocus pocus increase in GDP means we will have to pay €200 million extra per year to the European budget, which amounts to €2 billion over ten years, such that, in total, the action of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on budget day in this Chamber, over ten years will cost this State €12 billion. This is not my analysis but that of the analyst Seamus Coffey. That €12 billion is an opportunity cost. It is the diversion of money from everything that we need in this country into the pockets of large corporations or into the EU budget. This money would pay for the construction of 24 new hospitals, tens of thousands of new houses in a national housing crisis and additional railway lines, motorways and broadband provision for all. It is tax foregone by this Government. At the heart of the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael instinct is deference towards multinationals. This is not a loophole but a policy choice of this Government.
A number of questions arise. I believe the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, and the current Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, still have not answered these questions. First, why was the 80% rule not applied to all on-shored assets? Second, how do we fix this because it must be fixed, and fixed soon, if we are to realise the taxation that we are entitled to in this country. One of the ways we can do this is by ensuring that all of the assets that have been on-shored are covered by the 80% rule.
Is this the only tax dodging situation we have in this country? No, it is not. Deputy Pearse Doherty recently proposed an amendment to a Bill which would have ensured that the banks which have 20 years of corporation tax free earnings would have to pay some of that money in corporation tax but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael refused to do that. There are numerous other tax breaks available for vulture funds in this country. Until such time as we require companies to pay their fair share of tax, we will have people in poverty, homelessness and major difficulties.
An argument is made by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that if we mess up the taxation system and create some justice in it, we will threaten foreign direct investment. Interestingly, foreign direct investment is typically used as a tool in an emerging economy to create the necessary industrial function in order that a country can transition to having a stronger domestic economy, but for some reason, this country has never decided to make that transition. So much of the economy is still focused on foreign direct investment. I welcome foreign direct investment and think it is good, but it should not be pursued in the absence of seeking to pursue having a stronger domestic economy. What is interesting is that the foreign direct investment sector wants the same things as the domestic economy sector. It simply wants to have access to customers, an educated and skilled workforce and decent infrastructure, including telecommunications, all of which necessitate investment in infrastructure, but everything is in a mess in that regard. There has been a car accident on the slip road on the M50 and all of the roads leading to the M50 will be jammed for up to two hours such is the tightness of our infrastructure. There are major infrastructural gaps. If we were to invest in removing them, we would make business easier for those involved in domestic business and engaged in foreign direct investment, but we have the second lowest spend in Europe on infrastructure. The only country that has beaten us to the bottom is Romania because the Government has put all of its eggs in one basket. It has stated that having a bargain basement corporation tax rate constitutes our competitive engagement with the world and until that changes, there will be major difficulties.
Major problems have come to light with AIB and the rest of the banks. It is startling that a short period after AIB received €7 billion from taxpayers in a bailout, it developed a business strategy to attract Irish people as part of which they would not be paying tax. Do the banks not know that it is circular, that taxpayers' money cannot be put into the banks to bail them out if they seek to break the social contract with citizens under which they pay taxes to receive services and make sure nobody is left behind?
In the context of this discussion and the breakthrough this morning which will allow us to move to the next stage of the Brexit negotiations, one little island did not and possibly will not merit a mention in any future discussion, namely, the Isle of Man. It is a small island about an hour away from Dublin, Belfast, Scotland or the west coast of England, yet it is probably the location of one of the most effective tax avoidance and evasion operations of which we know going back decades to the days when some or all of the accounts held there by many people were reflected in the first of the banking scandals. Many services of Irish companies, North and South, are routed through the Isle of Man. They range from waste to financial services. We really do not know very much about this location just off our shores with its secretive tax-efficient operations.
When we have a debate about tax issues, we need to think things through in order that we will have a rounded view. For example, as I understand it, both Sinn Féin and the DUP in Northern Ireland favour having roughly the same corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland, presumably post-Brexit, as is applied in the South.
It has been said in promotional conferences that both parties, when in government over a long period of time, said that when selling the North of Ireland internationally in terms of jobs.
The reality of Irish tax planning is that, as with yesterday's discussion and the importance of our neutrality, there is a triple element to addressing widespread tax planning abuses, avoidance and evasion that is undermining the principle of tax fairness and justice on a global scale. If we are to be honest about it we need to think in global terms.
To address the issues raised in the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers, the questions on taxation I have raised frequently in this House over the years resulted in us getting the information about the billions of euro of tax losses Irish banks are now sitting on, which will mean that as they now return to profitability they can choose what, if any, corporation tax they will pay for the next ten to 20 years. Four banks - AIB, Bank of Ireland and two of the smaller banks - stated in recent reports of having €5.5 billion of deferred tax assets currently available to them - that is not all they have available to them - that they can choose to use when they so wish.
If we were to have a taxation triple-lock approach, what would that involve? Clearly, it will involve Ireland and how we arrange tax affairs and arrange for tax fairness and justice because we belong to the European Union. It would also have to be not just on an OECD basis but on a globalised basis. We would have to have that in a triple-lock arrangement that would, in effect, see a change in regime where there was a global approach to the collection of fair taxation sufficient to provide for the needs of the societies of different countries around the world and, importantly, for our own and for those countries that are at a developmental stage where many people live in conditions of poverty that are difficult to imagine unless one has been there.
When the subject of international taxation comes up, there is a barely suppressed panic in Government circles and in Fianna Fáil as well. It is almost like a physical reaction of tight breathing and negativity. It applies to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael but it can apply to other parties. It is almost as though we have agreed not to talk about that in front of the citizens of this country and of other countries.
In any kind of discussion I believe we would agree that tax avoidance on a global scale is a zero-sum game and the only people who lose are the citizens of the various countries. The people who gain are the people who are advising on this and creating these structures. The people who gain, in particular in the developing world, are the corrupt leaders who have an entire network of banks and financial structures that facilitate them taking money away from their extremely impoverished people.
The very big corporations dealing in basic commodities manage to wash the profits through, perhaps by using three, ten or 30 countries. Something that may be very valuable intrinsically in Africa might leave very little there for the local population. What is left is very often subject to a very high level of corrupt take. We are not directly responsible for that and we cannot directly change that process. We can change it if, as a country, we decide it should be dealt with out of fairness and with the aim of developing a vibrant democracy right around the globe. We need to act with respect to our country, the European Union and global matters. Will the Government concede that point?
When I was a member of the Cabinet I was a really strong supporter and argued constantly for us to be part of the OECD process. This is not because I see the OECD process as perfect - far from it - but rather that in this area we must replace rhetoric with taxation law that works for different countries. We must also recognise that in Ireland, many tens of thousands of people are employed by global multinational organisations that see Ireland as a very attractive place in which to locate. It is legitimate for us to seek those companies to become major employers in Ireland. We must talk this through in an honest way rather than a process that is only about rhetoric. It is not just a debating game and this affects people's lives.
Global international companies nowadays touch down around the globe for product development, customer service development and sales development. We can help to supply that, and we do, because of the calibre of our graduates and other advantages that we offer from Ireland. It would be wrong to lose sight of the importance of that in this debate, particularly with regard to developing a robust economy in this country that can compete internationally. As I stated, both parties in the Northern Executive have for the past 12 years sought to do precisely that. The Republic of Ireland in its trade missions has supported the efforts of the Northern Executive in that respect. We should be a little honest about it.
How should we approach this work? The first action should be to look at loopholes as they arise, as tax is a planning, legal and constitutional matter. It is technically very difficult for the many people not involved in tax matters, accounting and legal affairs. There is a large number of law and accounting firms in Dublin. In the annual Finance Act, we must close loopholes when we become aware of them and as they arise. We have just passed the Finance Act and without a doubt I know well-paid people will spend their Christmas having a look at it and seeking possibilities to be used that we did not spot. They will seek to mitigate the burden of taxation, whether it is income or any other form of tax, such as corporation tax.
One of the initial ways to address the problem is to utilise a concept called minimum effective taxation, whereby tax is levied at minimum rates.
I found it really upsetting that the Revenue Commissioners recently said there are ten very large companies that really pay no corporation tax. That is wrong. There should be a minimum effective tax rate. I have been involved, as have others here, in discussions going back decades because the other side of the issue of tax and the effectiveness of tax collection is that if a country does not collect enough tax, it has to borrow a lot of money. If it borrows a lot of money and becomes enthralled to having borrowing funding its basic services and is unable to repay it, the country can end up completely bankrupt as has happened to many countries around the world. We need a minimum effective tax rate.
We need to establish a structure that will allow us, outside of but alongside the Revenue Commissioners, to look at tax issues as they arise, to give advice and information about the cost of these developments, how much tax is collected as a consequence, how much is lost as a consequence and how to strike the balance of a fair and effective taxation system. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil do not accept my suggestion of a standing commission on taxation, which I have suggested for many years. Fianna Fáil recently did not accept the notion of minimum effective tax rates. Its finance spokesperson was concerned that he did not fully understand what it would have involved. We need a standing commission on taxation parallel to the Law Reform Commission because there is no perfect answer to this. It keeps changing. Good work has been done with regard to Ireland and our membership of, and participation in, the OECD. For many people, the OECD is by the by, but it is a quasi-global organisation. The next step in global organisations, going back to how we approach issues of military neutrality, is to look, for example, at UN-based structures and to see over a period of time if we can formulate a UN approach which would be tied into the millennium development goals. Those goals seek, for example, to ensure that every child is able to go to school and that we have basic health and infrastructural services in developing countries for people who are very poor. Those countries should be encouraged and supported by us all collectively to develop themselves and their democracies. Those are the three things we need to do in Ireland and for Ireland's presentation and presence on the international stage.
Going back to Brexit, we probably need a couple of hundred lawyers and negotiators to work on the details of the next stage and we need probably 400 extra staff in the Revenue Commissioners to deal with these difficult issues and the scandals disclosed by the Panama Papers and Paradise Papers.
There is no doubt that securing a commitment to have no hard border between the North and South was a hugely important issue and failure to do so would have had a severe impact on people in the North and the South. It was right therefore that there was much concentration on that in public debate this week but it is worth saying that there was no significant divergence of opinion in this House about the stance that we needed to take. Having secured the issue of the Border, we hope, the question is if the fruits of economic growth and wealth in Irish society will be shared out fairly.
Will the economic benefit that derives from protecting our economy from one threat mean anything for ordinary people?
It is a source of frustration for me that issues which should get every bit as much attention such as rampant tax avoidance and tax evasion by the wealthiest corporations in this country are the subject of very little debate. For a brief period the Paradise Papers, and the Panama Papers before them, shone a light on it, as did the scandal around the €13 billion of tax highlighted by the EU which Apple should have paid but which this Government did not collect. However, most of the time this double standard of the rich and the big corporations not paying taxes is not discussed and ordinary people are encouraged to fight over the crumbs.
We are faced with an absolutely catastrophic housing and homelessness crisis. Our health service is a shambles and causing immense suffering for those who rely on it. We have the most overcrowded classrooms in Europe. We have a massive deficit in our water, public transport and broadband infrastructures. The list goes on. Most of the time, however, public debate is about having only a few crumbs to play with and the fiscal space so we give a little bit to housing, a little bit to health and a little bit to education. Meanwhile, as the Government and much of the media discussion encourages us to focus on fighting over the crumbs, a small group of people are running away with the cake. That is what the Panama Papers, or the parasite papers as I like to call them, reveal.
Generally speaking, we are hypnotised by false debates and disputes over how we share out the wealth when the real wealth is being stolen from under our noses, facilitated by the tax code and the two main political parties in the country. I have to point out that it is deeply ironic to have Deputy Joan Burton stand up and talk about a minimum effective tax rate. She forgets that up until last year she was in government when we on this side of the House were screaming since 2011 for a minimum effective corporate tax rate and that the big corporations were getting away with murder through the double Irish and tax loopholes. We were asking for a minimum effective tax rate but Deputy Brendan Howlin joined with Deputy Michael Noonan in saying it was rubbish and constantly repeating the phrase that there was no pot of gold and that we were talking nonsense. Of course, the Apple scandals, the Paradise Papers and the Panama Papers have revealed that the left was right about what was going on and the scale of it is absolutely astonishing. On a global level, the result of that is the extraordinary fact that the eight richest people in the world now own as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion of the population. It is so mind-boggling, obscene and staggering, it is not possible to get one's head around it.
To bring it home, last year the number of millionaires in Ireland increased by 15,000. We now have 125,000 millionaires in Ireland. This figure is up from the figure in 2006 when a Bank of Ireland study showed that there were 33,000 millionaires. At the height of the Celtic tiger period, we had 33,000 millionaires but today we have 125,000 millionaires. Who are those people? I will tell the House who they are. They are the parasites at the top of the big corporations and the banks and the people who are making a fortune out of the housing and homelessness crisis. They are absolutely creaming it and paying no tax. They are the banks, vulture funds and corporations and building contractors who pay no tax.
This was facilitated all along the way by tax loopholes engineered successively by Fianna Fáil and, more recently, Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Let us consider the irony of Deputy Joan Burton complaining about this. The Labour Party was in government in 2014 when the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, changed the law to ensure Apple would not be punished as a result of the changes to the double Irish tax scam which had already cost us €13 billion. The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government applied the 100% tax allowance to intangible assets. Mr. Seamus Coffey who nobody can accuse of being a left-wing firebrand or scaremonger said categorically that in 2015 it had cost the State €800 million. Imagine where we would be now in resolving the housing crisis if we had had an extra €800 million in 2015 and we would have had the same amount in 2016 and 2017. According to Mr. Coffey, had the Government made the change that occurred in the last budget, namely, to reduce the intangible assets allowance to 80%, we would have an extra €1 billion next year. Imagine what that could do to resolve the housing and homelessness crisis, in addition to the health crisis. It would give us extra funds for our creaking infrastructure and allow us to invest in education. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, made a decision not to do what I have described, to the benefit of the big corporations which apparently need certainty. Ordinary people also need certainty that they will have a roof over their heads and not be homeless on the streets over Christmas, but it appears that this is less important to the Government than giving Apple the certainty that it will pay no tax on the €119 billion made in sales last year. It is absolutely shocking. All we can do is ring the alarm bells and try to get the truth out to the people. Frankly, it will take a revolution to shift the political establishment towards dealing with the gross inequalities associated with tax and wealth distribution in this country.
The Paradise Papers, following on from the Panama Papers and the Luxembourg Leaks, have exposed to the eyes of the world the major tax scams being engaged in by corporations and the wealthy elite in society. They also clearly expose one of the reasons for the major growth in inequality across the globe. There is massive wealth at one pole and massive poverty at the other. This is now the reality of the capitalist system. The annual Oxfam reports have been very revealing. In 2014, 85 people had the same wealth as the poorest 50% of humanity. That is a shocking figure. In 2015 this number had reduced to 62. In 2016 it was eight. What is the Government's position on all of this? This year the number has reduced to just five. The same number of people who would fit into an average car now hold the same wealth as half of the globe.
Tax avoidance scams and tax havens facilitate this inequality and reduce the tax intake of states which, in turn, reduces the funding available for vital public services. While this small elite increases its wealth, luxury and decadence, working class people and the poor across the world experience increased misery. The profits and wealth hoarding of the super rich and big corporations fuel and drive the massive growth in inequality across the globe. Seven out of ten people now live in a country that has seen a rise in the level of inequality in the past 30 years. Between 1988 and 2011, the income of the poorest 10% across the globe rose by just €65 per person, while the income of the richest 1% grew by €11,800 per person. That means that the income of the richest 1% grew by 182 times more than the income of the poorest. This does not just happen in developing countries, it also happens in the most advanced capitalist countries. In America, for instance, the average pay of a CEO rose by 937% between 1978 and 2016. The median wage of the CEO of a Standard & Poor's 500 firm is now $11.6 million, up 6.3% in one year.
However, real wages have stagnated, even in the US. In the US currently, Donald Trump's Administration is pushing through a whole range of massive tax cuts which will benefit the rich and corporations. It is known as the so-called "Trump bump" and it will further escalate the inequality in the US where three people now have the same income as the bottom 50%. In Ireland the same is true; in 2016 the CEO of Cement Roadstone Holdings, CRH, one of the largest companies in the country, received a pay increase of 32% to €5.5 million. His pay is 87 times that of the average worker in the company. The CEO of the Kerry Group will receive a pay package which is 84 times that of the average employee.
Developing countries and women are those who are most especially hard hit by tax avoidance. Oxfam estimates that developing countries lose $100 billion a year through corporate tax avoidance while Action Aid estimates that they also lose out on $138 billion through the provision of tax incentives and exemptions. Let us look at how life could be radically transformed in developing countries if this tax was received by the state and spent on vital public services. Up to 8 million deaths could be prevented if just one third of the tax which is avoided was paid; 6 million children could be provided with health care; and 124 million children across Africa could be provided with education. Kenya loses $1.1 billion through tax incentives and exemptions, which is twice the amount of its health budget and it is a country where one in 40 dies during child birth. Nigeria loses $2.9 billion through tax incentives, which is twice its education budget. It is a country where 6 million girls do not go to school. Not only would health and education for women be improved dramatically, but the lives of women and girls would be fundamentally transformed. Women are often in the lowest paid sectors and face the highest levels of discrimination.
In Ireland, we know about corporate tax avoidance because the establishment over decades has created a tax haven for companies, which the Paradise Papers have further exposed. It has been revealed that 90% of the world's largest companies have a tax base in at least one tax haven. In 2012, US multinationals poured $80 billion in profits into Bermuda alone. The same can be said of Ireland, a country which multinationals use to launder their profits. Billions go through the accounts and there is leprechaun economics while at the same time more than 3,000 children are in homeless accommodation and there is consistent poverty despite the recovery. A global race to the bottom is taking place on corporation tax. That will only result in increased profits for the 1% and increased misery for the 99%. If the Government was in any way concerned it would immediately take the money that is owed by Apple without contesting it and invest it in housing and vital public services. It would tax companies such as Starbucks, which in 2014 paid virtually nothing in tax in this country and certainly less than most of its employees have paid individually. The Apple tax scandal showed the sweetheart deals that are available.
We must take note of any developer taking advantage of tax havens such as those revealed in the Paradise Papers, for example, McGarrell Reilly, which is building houses in Hansfield where the Taoiseach spoke about affordable homes for €320,000. Those developers should not be given any further State contracts or benefits from the State such as dole outs from the Irish Strategic Investment Fund, as is the case with McGarrell Reilly.
I wish to share time with Deputy Joan Collins.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The Paradise Papers is a strange name when we consider what they are. They are providing new revelations about tax dodging by companies and individuals across the world. This is coming at a time when an EU parliamentary committee has been investigating the Panama Papers. It looks as if there could be a permanent job for such a committee. The Paradise Papers continue the story of tax evasion, tax avoidance, money laundering and fraud. With the Panama Papers scandal we got access to 11.5 million leaked documents from more than 200,000 offshore entities and only for that leak and for the journalists who were investigating it we might not have known.
We know that offshore business entities are legal but some of these companies were being used for illegal purposes. People make a distinction between tax avoidance and tax evasion, but I think the two amount to about the same thing, which is not paying lawful taxes. This kind of aggressive tax avoidance and evasion has created and exacerbated inequality. It has widened the gap between the rich and poor and it is also widening the gap between the rich and the ultra-rich.
The background is what one would expect to read in a thriller such as The Wolf of Wall Street. It is really about the lengths to which individuals and companies go to hide away money so that governments cannot find it for tax purposes. Initially, it was simple with Swiss bank accounts and offshore shell companies. Then, that gave employment to lawyers and accountants who developed creative ways to avoid and evade tax.
I read an article which stated that 8% of the world's wealth, $7.6 trillion, was in tax havens, and that this means a tax revenue loss of $200 billion yearly. An economist reckoned that corresponds to $35 billion lost in the United States and $78 billion in Europe. When it appeared a register of beneficial owners would be drawn up, instead of simply paying the taxes those involved looked for other countries where this creative accountancy could work for them.
Companies flourish in such places. They do the paperwork, registration, sort the nominees and directors, create virtual offices and use anonymous names so that the rich can keep their financial affairs secure. The rich include certain politicians and their families, drug dealers, international arms smugglers, corporations, sons of sheikhs and Russian oligarchs. Those involved also facilitate the moving of wealth from mineral-rich African countries. Often, these are poverty stricken countries, but their despotic rulers are able to move this money so that their countries cannot benefit. This comes through transfer pricing, double non-taxation, profit-shifting, layering and lax corporate laws. We always hear about rich people advising each other on how to continue to avoid tax and coming up with more creative ways to avoid it.
What is needed is the naming of tax havens and transparency on the intermediaries. These include the consultants, lawyers and accountants who work for their clients on avoiding and evading taxes. We need strict anti-laundering directives and public country-by-country reporting.
Of course, the biggest obstacle to fairness is certain governments. On 5 December, EU Finance Ministers produced a list of non-co-operative tax jurisdictions, in other words, tax havens. A total of 17 countries were named for failing to meet agreed tax governance measures. Panama is back on that list. A total of 47 countries have committed to addressing the deficiencies. No EU countries were on the list but we know from the work that has been done by NGOs like Oxfam, Christian Aid and Debt and Development Coalition Ireland that Ireland is far behind when it comes to tax justice. I do not say this as an attack on foreign direct investment, but I believe there are other reasons besides taxes why corporations come here. When I came to the House first in 2009 I was practically a lone voice on the corporate tax issue. I was trying to find out the effective tax rate and what exactly was paid.
We have had Luxembourg Leaks, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers. What is next? Experts reckon that 80% of tax-dodging activities remain to be disclosed. Where will Ireland be when we get more disclosures?
We have had the Paradise Papers, Panama Papers and the Luxembourg Leaks. We have to call these leaked documents by their proper name: they amount to an international white-collar criminal conspiracy on an industrial scale.
Let us consider the so-called legal end of the conspiracy: tax avoidance. Oxfam estimates that $100 billion per year is lost in much-needed state revenue. This particularly affects poorer countries, which are more reliant on corporation tax than income taxes. On average, corporation taxes account for 16% of income in developing countries. That is double the 8% average in the developed world. This is lost tax income that could be spent on basic health services and education. Oxfam estimates that one third of the $100 billion could prevent 8 million unnecessary deaths every year. How can any government stand over the fact that 8 million deaths, that are unnecessary, can occur every year because of this conspiracy?
That is only one side of the conspiracy. Another is made up of tax havens and the lawyers, solicitors, accountants, tax consultants and the various parasites who feed off them. They are essential to tax evasion and money laundering. They are essential to organised crime, the drug trade, people smuggling, the illegal arms trade and the corrupt cliques who are asset stripping their own countries.
Without the legal tax havens and the industry that surrounds them, it would be much more difficult to launder this money and wash it clean of the human misery from which it is earned.
This week, I read an opinion piece in The Irish Times by a certain Mr. Cronin, the vice chairman of Deloitte Ireland, a company which knows a thing or two about the tax avoidance business. Mr. Cronin argues that we should not overreact to the Paradise Papers and that a little tinkering might be required to assuage public opinion and maintain a beneficial environment for businesses and investment. I do not know how it is possible not to react with outrage to what the Paradise Papers have revealed. The super rich, the wealthiest and the biggest companies in the world, along with organised crime and corrupt dictatorships, are stealing from the poorest and most vulnerable, denying them basic health care and education and denying 8 million people, including children, the right to live. According to Mr. Cronin, we should not overreact and he casually suggests that a greater focus should be placed on consumption and property taxes. Talk about the unacceptable face of capitalism. This is a case of leaving the rich alone, move along because there is nothing to see here and tax the poor because it is easier. In sub-Saharan Africa, 66% of tax income comes from VAT, a consumption tax that hits the poorest hardest. When Mr. Cronin speaks of property, he does not mean major assets held in the form of property or zoned land hoarding, but a local property tax on ordinary homes. How these people sleep at night is beyond me.
Action will have to be taken by the OECD and European Union. The record of the OECD in this area is not good. It produced a blacklist of tax havens for the G20, which managed to identify only one tax haven, Trinidad and Tobago, a country that apparently did not have sufficient clout to have itself excluded from the list. The OECD's effort was more of a whitewash than a blacklist. The European Union did better, producing a report this week which listed 35 tax havens. However, the EU list also has a problem in that it only examined non-EU countries. By this sleight of hand, it did not include the four tax havens in the European Union, namely, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Ireland. The EU criteria were transparency, fair taxation and co-operation internationally on tax issues. Many of the countries on its list have zero rates of corporation tax. While this is not the case with the four EU countries in question, when special deals and deliberate loopholes mean companies such as Apple pay an effective corporate tax rate of less than 1%, it equals tax haven status. There is no other way around it. When royalties constitute 26% of a country's gross domestic product in one year and exceed the combined royalties of all other EU member states, there is something dodgy going on. Incidentally, living in a tax haven is of little benefit to those who do not count among the elite, for example, 32% of the population of Panama live below the poverty line.
On the not unimportant issue of jobs and investment, the World Economic Forum's global competitiveness report indicates that of 12 considerations for investment, the most important are infrastructure, a healthy and educated workforce and social stability. These areas all require significant State investment funded by taxation, including relatively high and progressive levels of corporation tax. The record of Scandinavian countries on inward investment is proof that the race to the bottom on corporation taxes is self-defeating.
Measures can be taken to tackle this international conspiracy. Ireland should press to require transnational companies to produce country by country reports. These companies should be forced to give a breakdown of their turnover in each country in which they operate and provide details on employee numbers, assets, sales, profits and taxes paid or unpaid. This is the most effective measure we could take and much more effective than BEPS. We must be realistic.
Until we move beyond a system based on the maximisation of profits as opposed to the common good, a system based on gross inequality and exploitation, these injustices will persist. It should be part of this country's remit to go into the EU and argue for this, and have a transparent company register with everything on it, including where they pay their taxes and unpaid taxes. If we do not do so, the poverty and inequality that we have seen developing over the past ten or 15 years will continue, and it will be on the Government's head. The Government will be seen in history as part of that triangle of greed.
I, too, am happy to speak today on the Paradise Papers.
Some weeks ago, I raised the matter of our banks' predatory behaviour with respect to tracker mortgages during Leaders' Questions with An Taoiseach. As I stated at that time, I believe it important to speak on this because such episodes as the tracker mortgage scandal reveal where the real centres of power lie in this State.
The position that there is one law for the rich and another law for the rest of us has only been compounded by the revelations contained in the so-called Paradise Papers. Unprecedented levels of tax evasion or aggressive tax avoidance have been uncovered. It is simply staggering to see the scale of the problem, the international complicity and the entire tax system that has been built up to allow this happen with a veneer of legality.
Let us imagine, for example, if we turned on the news tonight and it was shown that someone had walked into a bank and stolen €50 million. We all would be shocked and stunned, and yet this kind of thing is happening every day of the week with respect to the large financial institutions, quite simply and without violence, from within. They do not have to walk in at all - they are inside, deep in the boardrooms - and they are robbing us all blindly. They simply walk in, as I said, and manipulate tax codes to such an extent that tens and hundreds of thousands and millions of euros go missing or unpaid. It is obscene.
Prior to the American War of Independence, their rallying cry was "No taxation without representation". That principle has now been completely reversed. Indeed, it is clear that all of those who paid little or no taxation have all the representation, and that has been alluded to by many speakers here this morning. They have access to and, indeed, control the levers of power and have rights that an ordinary working person could not dream of.
In my statement some weeks ago, I also said that during the 2016 debate in this House on the Panama Papers, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, stated that he was bringing forward legislation to enable tax defaulters to make a qualifying disclosure to Revenue. The Minister went on to state that defaulters who have used offshore accounts or assets in their evasion "will find themselves in a very difficult position if they do not come forward quickly to regularise their affairs with Revenue". They were neither shaking in their shoes nor afraid of being reprimanded following that statement. I am still unclear as to how many of these defaulters have found themselves in that situation. Very few, I would say. Clearly, this is not happening. They know, and they are laughing all the way to the bank.
Institutional tax avoidance still appears to be rampant in this State. Mr. Colm Keena, in The Irish Times, has reported that AIB, Ireland's largest bank of which we own 90%, continued to target Irish customers who wanted to avoid paying tax after the bank had been bailed out at a cost to the public of €7 billion, a cost that our grandchildren and future generations will pay. They treat us like this with impunity. It is sickening. It beggars belief that AIB can do that. We were called here late at night in September 2008 to save them from ruin on the basis of the lie told to us that there would be no money in the ATMs the morning after when there was a Ponzi scheme and all the bondholders the bank had that we are paying off were insured. They had insurance bonds. They were paid by the taxpayer and their bonds are untouched. Their insurance premiums would not even be raised because there was no claim.
Mr. Keena went on to state that the report, based on the leaked files from the Isle of Man offices of offshore law firm, Appleby, revealed Government-owned AIB refused to give the Revenue Commissioners access to the data on its offshore customers when responding to a court order. The Revenue Commissioners had to get a court order and the bank refused. What level of contempt, arrogance and blatant disrespect for lawmakers, never mind taxpayers, does that show, but what do we do? We pat them on the back, go play golf with them and invite them into the Minister's office for talks. It is unbelievable. One would not read it in a crime novel.
For most people outside listening to this debate and most of us here, the ins and outs of the international tax system are a complete mystery. It has been deliberately designed to be complex and hard to scrutinise. What is not hard to understand, however, is that these episodes reveal a huge gaping lie at the heart of our democracy which was fought for so dearly. It is a huge gaping untruth and falsehood. We are coming up to the celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the War of Independence, yet these are the shenanigans and corrupt practices being engaged in. This is the system we have built. Many noble men and woman fought and gave their lives for this country, yet this is what we have within a century. It probably started half way through the century. Look at the level it is at. It is unbelievable.
The massive double standards in this arena absolutely infuriate people. In the meantime, the Taoiseach makes great play out of acting the tough guy in dealing with welfare fraud, but yesterday the head guy in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said it was unnecessary and unworthy. The Taoiseach was out with his pictures. He said, "Name them and shame them," and he was out naming and shaming. I saw the picture of him standing with the placard - hashtag #Leo. Where was he when the banks were doing it? Perhaps I missed it, but I did not see him outside the headquarters of AIB or Bank of Ireland having any photo taken with a placard with helpline numbers for people to call. There was no hashtag #Leo either. I would not expect him to go outside today because it is a little too cold for him. He might want his winter woollies, but I have never seen him or any Taoiseach or Minister for Finance challenge the shenanigans ongoing in the banks. We are like a broken record in talking about it, but nothing is changing and the public are growing very tired and weary. Is it any wonder that ordinary people have completely lost faith in the sincerity of the Government to radically address these issues? There is no legislation whatsoever dealing with the banks. There is no appetite to introduce it and that is the way the system has been built.
In reply to a parliamentary question tabled by my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said, "I am informed by Revenue that it is aware of, and actively examining, the information and allegations currently being published by various media outlets that originate from the “Paradise” papers". It is aware of and actively examining the information and allegations, but what will happen about them? The answer is sweet you know what. I will not say it here and if I was to do so, the Ceann Comhairle would be very distressed. It is pathetic. It is unworthy of the words I would use to describe it. The Minister went on to state in the reply:
Revenue is determined that any tax evasion identified in relation to Irish taxpayers will be thoroughly investigated. Where tax evasion is uncovered Revenue will seek to have the maximum sanctions applied up to and including criminal prosecutions.
Every week the names of tax defaulters are published in the newspapers. The Minister of State has seen the names of people in his constituency on the list. To be fair to many of them, they are not tax defaulters. They may have run late in making their tax returns for some reason or other. Most of the headline sum is made up of penalties and interest payments, yet when farmers cannot be paid the grants they are rightly owed, the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine tells us that it is a computer glitch or that wrong information was put into the computer. The farmers affected will not receive interest and there will be no penalties imposed on the Department. It is a wrong and disgusting system. I do not read the names because I do not want to read about the misery of others. The vast majority are decent people. Perhaps things went wrong for them for whatever reason or they were late paying or had health issues. There is very little mercy shown by Revenue when one is self-employed. In this instance, we are going to apply the maximum sanctions, up to and including criminal prosecution. I wonder when that will happen. I imagine they are shaking in their boots having moved to other jurisdictions and afraid that they will be hauled in and arrested. There is not much chance of that happening.
The Minister stated that, if instances of aggressive tax avoidance were to emerge, all such instances would be rigorously investigated and challenged by Revenue. It is pathetic that he had to make that woolly statement. He continued: "Where anti-avoidance legislation can be applied to recover tax avoided through the use of unacceptable tax avoidance practices and schemes, Revenue will seek to apply such legislation with a view to recovering any Irish tax avoided, together with all associated interest and tax avoidance surcharges." That is woolly and flowery language. Revenue "will seek" to do its best, but if we owe it anything, we will receive letters, at the bottom of every one of which there is a mention of a prison sentence. These letters are sent to decent taxpayers and small employers, be they shopkeepers, undertakers, hairdressers, etc. They all have to pay their taxes, and rightly so. As Deputy Jim O'Callaghan mentioned, we do not mind paying our taxes in order to have a better society.
The Minister concluded by stating:
Revenue's work in the area of identifying offshore tax evasion has been and continues to be a priority. The international environment has changed significantly in the years since Revenue started to investigate offshore bank accounts and other offshore assets. Tax authorities worldwide now co-operate on a much wider and more intensive basis in investigating those who hide their profits or gains offshore than they did in the past.
I will not believe it until I see it happen, but why was this not always done? Why must we be told that this work is increasing?
I am sure all of this has the international cartels shaking in their boots which they are dusting down for the Christmas parties and to hell with the people in Éire. Let the Croppies lie down. The cartels are above the law. Not just for years but for decades we have been saying we will vigorously pursue them. Why are we not pursuing them? How many people have been arrested, brought before the courts, tried - they are entitled to a fair trial - and sentenced? Time and again, they have managed to evade public sanction. We must ask, therefore, whether there is any serious or genuine attempt to end these practices. One aspect is for sure - the people whom I represent, like my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group, are sick to the back teeth of picking up the tab for the bankers and the super wealthy. Ordinary people suffer and pay for the sins of others, while the rich get away scot free.
I was out for a while, but I have not seen the Minister for Finance in the Chamber once today. That shows how much interest he has in the Paradise Papers. The Ministers of State, Deputies Michael D'Arcy and David Stanton, have been present and I am not blaming either of them.
In 2007 a total of €13.6 billion was collected in income tax. In 2016 that figure was €19 billion. The extra €6 billion was squeezed out of ordinary people - the small farmer or business person and everyone else who cares. It would be squeezed out of children also if the Government could get away with it. A previous Government tried to put a tax on children's shoes. I remember seeing on television the Taoiseach of the day kneeling in front of the late Jim Kemmy begging him to vote for it. The Government is robbing people blind, but those mentioned in the Paradise Papers are laughing. They are innocent bystanders, mar dhea.
AIB has refused to obey a court order. What would happen if any of us did not obey a court order? Last week the Ceann Comhairle was almost summonsed to appear in court on behalf of the House by former Deputy Joe Costello to ensure legislation to change constituencies would be introduced. The Ceann Comhairle had to attend business meetings and a defence had to be entered. We have to respect the law. Even the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has to respect the law, but AIB can flout it and give it two fingers, four fingers or 20 if it had them. I am not blaming its front-line staff like tellers, whom one cannot even see in banks anymore. One would want to be a robot as it is machine after machine after machine. Old people are not wanted inside banks which do not want to do anything other than fleece people constantly and create more Ponzi schemes.
Where are the public interest directors? They are getting salaries for nothing. In parliamentary question after parliamentary question I asked the former Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, whether they had any responsibility. He finally told me, "No." What are they there for so? Is it just to have a spin to Dublin, receive travelling expenses, have a good dinner and perhaps a Christmas dinner or a Christmas night out and then go home? It is a scandal. They are supposed to be public interest directors, but they are not. Remove them or do not give them the name. They might as well be at home with their children, playing golf or whatever else.
That the bank would refuse to obey a court order beats Banagher, as the fellow said. Ordinary people have to work and scrounge to pay their taxes. People do not mind paying a fair amount if they get services in return, but the increase since 2007 has been savage.
The two men behind me here, Deputies Michael Collins and Danny Healy-Rae, have to organise a bus next week to bring people who are almost blind to Belfast to get operations that they cannot get in the Republic without waiting for three or four years. This is a democracy. This is the system people fought for in the War of Independence. The Government should be ashamed of itself. The circumstances should shame it, but it has no shame anymore. If it had any shame the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, would be here this morning. It has no shame and no respect for what people are doing out there.
I do not want to blame the Minister present, who is a decent enough person, but what is happening is a result of the system in place. We have to change that system and make the Secretary Generals accountable. Ministers come and go and new Ministers arrive. The TV programme "Yes, Minister" rings fairly true, and that is more than 20 years old. We all know that the system is in charge. Senior public servants are in charge, and they have no notion of relinquishing their power. We saw that with the banking regulator. What did he do? He got a big pay-off. We brought a mercenary into the Bank of Ireland and he is on his way again. That is the kind of thing that is done, and it will be done again. Why not, when the people allow it to happen? Something is going to have to bring the Government to heel. People are educated now, they have a lot of information and there are worldwide associations. They are waiting for the Government in the long grass. I have said this to the Minister on previous occasions. Some members of the former Government were caught in the long grass in the last election, but some were like the hare, hiding under tufts of grass, and were not rooted out. They will be rooted out on the next occasion. They deserve to be rooted out for not representing the people and not doing the job they were elected to do under our Constitution, which was fought hard for by the men in the GPO.
I welcome the Minister's remarks in that he has assured us that Revenue will be investigating the circumstances, the companies and the individuals involved in the Paradise Papers. However, Revenue must be resourced to do this. The Paradise Papers are an elaborate collaboration between banks, accounting firms and law firms spread across the world, including Ireland. One must question whether the resources are available in Revenue, because matching the expertise is a really big difficulty. There are experts available within our universities, and I often wonder whether they are under-used.
Should this investigation go wider than Revenue? Revenue will act within the law, as it must. We are constantly told that these companies did nothing illegal. One has to ask sometimes why there is no law to prevent some of the stuff that is revealed. It really undermines people's faith in a country when they consider the struggles that they go through. People know the resources that are needed to deliver public services and they see a particular cohort of people who are very wealthy being able to manage to reduce the amount of tax they pay. There is such inequality in this that it is an affront to people.
I also wonder about the cash profits. They were not just generated, stacked in big piles, put in a suitcase or a container and sent off to some foreign country. These were transactions that went through the banks. The banks are a central player in all this. It is clear there are banks within banks, and that has been the case for a while. It is not some sort of mythical thing. It can only happen in that way, and I wonder about the banks that we had control over and still have a significant amount of control over. Why was more not done on this? If one leaves the country with a large amount of money, it has to be declared. I do not understand how it happens.
There are myriad financial transactions and arrangements in place. It is a labyrinth.
I do not always agree with Deputy Mattie McGrath but I agree with his point on the manner in which money owed by ordinary taxpayers is recouped by Revenue. I pay my taxes and I am happy to do so but there are times when acts of civil obedience, as in the case of water charges, are necessary. This proposal was the straw that broke the camel's back. The reaction to an ordinary person engaging in civil disobedience of this type is very different from the reaction when large companies default on taxes. Non-payment of water charges pales into insignificance in terms of the amount involved in the latter case. Why there is not a sense of outrage and urgency to deal with this issue in a much more comprehensive way is of major concern.
Prior to the crash many people queued for days to purchase houses at exorbitant prices. Many of these houses were bought off-plan because purchasers were afraid that if they did not do so the price of a house might increase by another €10,000 the following week. People are still paying the price for this in terms of very high mortgages, negative equity issues and having to live in inappropriate accommodation in terms of size and so on. Given many developers were paid for houses off-plan I have never understood how they could all have lost in that environment. Some of these developers are re-emerging, having left carnage behind in terms of small suppliers, many of which were forced out of business. The question that comes to mind is from where are they now getting the finance. They are hardly being financed by the banks having been declared bankrupt and so it must be the case that they put money somewhere. I have never understood why this scenario existed.
The exposé of the Paradise Papers reveals very obviously that the rich - I am not speaking about somebody who is comfortable or-----
On a point of order, it shows contempt for the House that there are so few Government Deputies here. I call a quorum.
We are not talking about people who are reasonably well-off. We are talking about very wealthy people. They are the ones with the resources to engage the expertise that can allow them to put their money out of reach. One must ask who is writing the laws and where the influence is because the very idea that one can say that much of this is not illegal is really very offensive. There is no doubt that there are insiders who are getting an ear and laws have been written in their favour. We must recognise that because if it can be said that they are not doing anything illegal and massive tax planning is taking place, a small number of very big accounting and law firms are assisting this. Keeping up with it is almost an industry in itself.
One could not talk about this without referencing the Apple tax case. The amount of money Apple has been adjudicated to owe is about 5% of what it has in the bank. It certainly will not break Apple. I find it extraordinary that such efforts are being made to challenge the European direction on this, particularly when we have such a generous tax rate and the corporate sector is treated well with a significant number of companies paying well below the 12.5%. A number of accounting firms acted for the banks that crashed. They are still routinely wheeled out as though they were paragons of virtue and are asked to do quite a lot of business on behalf of the Government. I question why this is the case when they have a record that has caused us very serious problems and are actively engaged on the other side in assisting people to reduce their taxes to the point where the economy is being challenged in terms of the amount that is required to be spent on housing, infrastructure and the health service.
I will make a few comments about this issue, which has engaged the House and public representatives for some considerable time. At the outset, like everybody else, I am totally in favour of ensuring that the national and international regime regarding taxation of companies, be they indigenous or foreign, applies. We all agree that whatever provisions apply in the country should apply to each without exception.
There is a danger, however, that we are wandering into another debate - the one President Trump and others are generating - which seems to be pointed at companies that have invested in this country, in other words, foreign direct investment. The suggestion appears to be that this country must collect the taxes on the profits earned in other jurisdictions of companies that have headquarters here. That is totally outside anybody's business except the business of the country in which the profits were made. If we move in that direction and start to soften our stance on that we will eventually find ourselves with no foreign direct investment because no foreign direct investment company will want to be put in a position where, by investing in this country, it must then collect taxes on the profits it earns in third countries, some of which have a laissez-faire attitude to taxation in general. It would be very misleading for us to jump on the bandwagon without knowing what is on the bandwagon. It is hugely important that we iterate that we expect the profits that accrue from all foreign direct investment in this country are taxed in accordance with our taxation rules, which in terms of corporation profits tax is 12.5%. It has been suggested again and again that 12.5% is not paid here and that some under the counter deal is done. The Revenue Commissioners have reiterated that the 12.5% rate applies. We either believe somebody or we do not. Either the Revenue Commissioners are doing their job or they are not. If we are suggesting in the House that all of that is a fudge, which is a topical issue nowadays, there can be no fudge about that. They either do or they do not and we need clarification if that is not the case. That does not take away from the fact that all companies, in increasing their investments and upgrading their technology or whatever the case may be are entitled to tax concessions on foot of that. Otherwise, there would be no expansion of companies. They would stay in one spot and there would be no further development.
It is important from our point of view that we are absolutely clear that foreign direct investors and indigenous investors are to be treated alike. There should be no difference. In so far as taxation is concerned, it should and must apply only to the profits earned in this jurisdiction. To do other than that is simply opening the gate to create a situation whereby this country will become an unfriendly site in which to invest. That will be to the satisfaction of some international begrudgers who appear from time to time. I am sure they have no personal interest of their own but we need to ensure we protect our national interest in this situation. We need to underscore on every occasion that in the current highly competitive international market we must remember that we are our own friends and we can expect nothing from anybody except what we do ourselves and what we fight for and try to maintain. I know the Minister is aware of it already but this is not a simple situation and it is not a case of one-way traffic.
On a point of order, the Minister had to leave but he is back in the Chamber. We were not circulated with a script earlier, and we were not circulated with scripts yesterday for two or three statements. I asked all the staff here and I know it is not their fault. Scripts were not delivered. It happened twice yesterday while I was here, and it happened again this morning. That is disgraceful. The Minister was speaking but we did not know what he meant because we did not have a note to follow.
We will ask for the script, Deputy.
I asked for it at the outset. I was here to make up the quorum as well.
We will make the necessary-----
It shows contempt for the House. It is the third time this has happened in two days.
We will make arrangements that it does not happen again.
It happened today, and twice yesterday.
I assure you, Deputy, that it will not happen again.
It is not your fault, a Cheann Comhairle. It is the arrogance of the Ministers who wander into the House without a script.
It is. What else is it? It is unacceptable.