Ceisteanna - Questions

Programme for Government

Micheál Martin


1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the actions he has taken to strengthen Cabinet accountability as outlined in A Programme for a Partnership Government; if the examination of the role of Ministers for State has been completed; and if it will be published. [26881/18]

Brendan Howlin


2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the actions taken to strengthen Cabinet accountability as outlined in A Programme for a Partnership Government; and if a report will be published on the outcome of the examination of the role of Ministers of State. [29005/18]

Martin Heydon


3. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Taoiseach the steps taken to promote Cabinet accountability as outlined in A Programme for a Partnership Government. [30990/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

The Government recently approved the annual report setting out progress on the programme for Government. It sets out detailed progress since May 2017 on commitments being implemented across government. It will be published shortly and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

In addition to delegation orders that assign responsibility for specific statutory functions, I have also assigned Ministers of State specific responsibilities. Following the appointment of Ministers of State, a set of policy priorities was agreed between me, as Taoiseach, Cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State. On the establishment of the Government, I met each Minister and his or her Ministers of State on a bilateral basis to discuss their short, medium and long-term policy priorities. I have since regularly met Ministers of State to receive their updates on the progress they have made in implementing their programme for Government priorities.

This collaborative model is operating effectively in the Oireachtas, with the Business Committee managing the weekly Dáil business and the new Parliamentary Budget Office established to provide independent and impartial information, analysis and advice for the Oireachtas. The cross-party group on Seanad reform held its first meeting in May and recently I met the Chairmen of all Oireachtas committees to discuss a wide range of issues relevant to their work.

The Taoiseach and his predecessor entered office claiming that they would implement a new approach to accountability for Ministers. In fact, the Taoiseach's predecessor said he would have annual score cards for Ministers, which never materialised. In the Taoiseach's case, we were told that he would hold Ministers to account very closely for their delivery. Has he looked at the work of all of his Ministers? Is he happy there are no issues of concern?

On specifics, despite the number of times the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, might put on a high visibility jacket, it must be acknowledged that the failure to deliver in the area of housing illustrates a lack of accountability within the Government in meeting the targets the Government set itself.

Seven or eight various schemes have been announced in the past three years and the targets outlined for all those schemes, from repair and lease to rapid build to the affordable homes loans and so on, were not reached. The bottom line is that the facts now paint a different picture from the rhetoric and soundbites emanating from the Government relating to housing, particularly the fact that homelessness is up 24% since the Taoiseach and the Minister took office last year. Child homelessness is up an astonishing 32% in the same period, with almost 1,000 more children homeless. That is unacceptable and represents a clear failure to deliver. Last November, the Taoiseach declared, "We have a plan and it's working", but since his announcement, approximately 500 more children have become homeless. Is he happy with that record?

What are his views on the progress on disability matters by the Minister of State with responsibility for the area, Deputy Finian McGrath? I particularly refer to access to therapies, respite care and mental health matters, which I outlined earlier, and the problems with CAMHS? The Minister of State at the Department for Health, Deputy Jim Daly, is responsible for home care packages so will the Taoiseach comment on the lack of any transparent assessment of needs in that area and the real crisis emerging there?

In the programme for Government there is a reference to strengthening Cabinet accountability, stating the Government will support an enhanced approach by Ministers of State playing a more substantive role in decision-making. Will the Taoiseach explain exactly how that has been achieved? The document also indicates the Government will consider the creation of unpaid parliamentary private secretaries. I am unsure whether any Fine Gael Deputies do not have a job currently. I suppose the former Taoiseach or Minister for Finance could hardly take on a role as a parliamentary private secretary, although maybe they will. Perhaps it was the idea of the Taoiseach's predecessor but has he thought about it and is there a role for a parliamentary private secretary, which the programme for Government indicates would examine the balance of power and responsibility between Government and the Civil Service? I am not sure how exactly that would happen.

There is a commitment in the programme for Government for all Ministers to appear before the relevant Oireachtas committee on a quarterly basis. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether that has been achieved? There is an indication that the Taoiseach would appear before the Working Group of Committee Chairmen twice per year. Has he done that? Is that commitment being adhered to? In a general sense, there are 19 Ministers of State, which is as many as we have ever had in any Government. Was there 21 at one stage?

The law was changed.

It is not possible to have 21. It is contrary to the Constitution.

No, the Ministers are fixed by the Constitution but Ministers of State are fixed by law. Is the law still that 21 are allowed but there are just 19? Did we change the law? I cannot remember.

I believe it allows 20 and we have 19. I will check that.

Have they all written statutory responsibility? Is there a delegation order for each of them? The Taoiseach might circulate that to see exactly what specific role each of the 19 Ministers of State has.

With respect to Cabinet accountability, I will raise a point from my party's perspective. The role of each and every one of us elected to the House is to hold Ministers to account and question them on certain areas. The responsibility is no less for a Government backbencher than it is for any other Member. As chairman of the Fine Gael Party, I know my colleagues and I feel that dividing speaking slots evenly between political groupings of different sizes leads to a disproportionate impact on Government backbenchers. This is manifested in debates on Private Members' Bills, for example, where it is required that a Minister must open and close the debate on behalf of the Government. The time available for Deputies in my party to raise points in such debates is next to none.

As an example, there was a Private Members' debate not that long go regarding community employment supervisors. I had constructive points I wanted to make about their pension entitlements but I could not get speaking time here. I had to seek a meeting with the Ministers, Deputies Paschal Donohoe and Regina Doherty, afterwards to make those points. I feel a bit aggrieved that my constructive points or questions to the Minister could not happen here and go on the record. It is not ideal and my mandate is the same as that of everybody else. The nub of this is the equal splitting of time between political groupings of different sizes. It can perhaps give a disproportionate voice to those in the Opposition benches.

The Deputy is part of the Government.

A solution would be to treat the Fine Gael grouping differently from Ministers. A Minister, as the holder of an office, has a role and responsibility to hold the view of his or her Department. Ministers do not necessarily represent the view of their political party or constituents. I feel strongly that it is a challenge for us on this side of the House.

The Deputy should speak with his Whip.

I do not know how many Government backbenchers there are.

I am not sure there are any.

My point is-----

I understand the point. An equal point is that is a very small group.

There are 23. That is not small.

They chair committees.

In addition to the questions raised by colleagues I ask about the programme for Government commitment that as part of the next wave of local government reform, the Minister, having consulted widely with all relevant stakeholders, will prepare a report for the Government and the Oireachtas by mid-2017 on potential measures to boost local government leadership and accountability. That report has not been published, despite being promised a year ago.

We have it here. It has not yet been published, admittedly.

The Taoiseach has it.

He does not have it yet. I have it.

Bingo. The Minister of State has it.

May I see it?

When will the rest of us have it? I very much doubt the Minister of State will hand it to me across the Chamber. When will it be made available to Members of the Oireachtas and the public?

The programme for Government indicates that this Government should be judged on the basis of how it addresses the housing crisis. I wonder how accountability for that commitment is being pursued, given the ever-worsening housing and homelessness crisis and record numbers who are homeless. There has been a pretty pathetic output of public housing.

I ask particularly about two of the big ideas from the Government in dealing with housing: Housing Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, and the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF. We were told when LIHAF was introduced that 40% of any development with such funding would deliver affordable housing. That was then dropped with no explanation. Now, essentially no percentage is guaranteed for money that was supposed to deliver affordable housing. It is a similar problem with HBFI, which is a major fund for lending to private developers but absolutely no commitment, guarantee or obligation on the part of those who get those funds to deliver housing that is affordable. What is the point in these initiatives if they deliver large sums to private developers but with no guarantee whatsoever that they will deliver housing that will help address the housing crisis and meet the Government's commitment to address that crisis?

There are only three minutes remaining in the slot so I ask Deputy Burton to be brief.

There are 15 Cabinet members and there are 19 Ministers of State, only a small proportion of whom are women. The former Tánaiste, the Taoiseach's colleague, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, recently called for 50% of future Governments to comprise women, whether at Cabinet or Minister of State level.

I have given that viewpoint as well. When I was Tánaiste, it was 50:50 or 45:55 with Labour Party women and men in terms of our appointment mix, including the Attorney General. That is the highest level of equality that has ever been achieved by a party represented in Government.

As a newish leader, does the Taoiseach have a commitment to an equality Government that will, as far as possible, be made up of equal numbers of women and men from whatever party or parties command the Government?

I am not into the practice of keeping scorecards on ministerial accountability but I certainly keep close note of whether Ministers are achieving the objectives set for them in the programme for Government and in bilateral meetings. I am happy with the work of my Ministers but of course there are always issues of concern. Where there is concern, it is shared concern and my job as Taoiseach is to work with Ministers and assist them in meeting their objectives.

We should never forget where we are coming from with housing. We had seven years during which virtually no public housing was built because the Government was broke. We had seven years during which the private sector built few houses because the banks were bust and the construction industry was on the floor. We should not forget where we were in 2011. House prices were plummeting and many people were distressed because of that. Many were stuck in negative equity and paying mortgages on houses that were worth far less than they paid for them. There were ghost estates all over the country, homes infested with pyrite and tens of thousands of construction workers on the dole. I appreciate that the Leader of the Opposition apologised for that but the people are still suffering from the consequences of the housing, construction and credit bubbles and what they caused.

We are now seeing some progress. For the past two quarters, rents have increased by 1% or less than 1%. Having increased dramatically, they are now levelling off and that is encouraging. We have seen rough sleeping fall by 40% on the most recent count. Central Statistics Office figures show us that 14,446 new homes were built last year. That was a 50% increase on the year before and a 75% increase on the year before that. Of course that does not include 1,000 unfinished houses that were finished and nearly 2,500 that were reconnected. Student homes are being built too. We are finally starting to see an uptick in construction. Some 7,000 houses were added to the social housing stock last year through various mechanisms. However, we are catching up on a period of seven years when almost no new homes were built, so we have a way to go yet.

The Deputy asked me if I am happy. No, I am not happy and I will not be happy until the numbers of people in emergency accommodation are falling. I will not be happy until home ownership is increasing. I believe in home ownership. I know it is not possible for everyone to own their own home but I want as many people as possible to own their own homes. It distresses me greatly that people who are now buying their first homes are, on average, in their early to mid-30s, whereas it was the case for a long time that people in their mid-20s or late-20s would buy their first homes. We need that to change. We need to get back to the situation where home ownership in Ireland is rising again. That is very much an objective of mine and of Government. We will focus on this issue in the same way as the previous Government focused on solving the employment crisis. We want to apply the same effort and commitment to resolving the housing crisis.

The legislation on Housing Building Finance Ireland is now before the House. LIHAF has made two funding rounds, if not three. The objective of LIHAF is to provide infrastructure to sites so that they can be developed for housing with a proportion of those being affordable housing. I am not sure of the answer to Deputy Boyd Barrett's question but I will check up on it. Obviously, it is public money and if public money is being used to provide access to sites, then a decent proportion of the homes built on those sites, where practicable, should be affordable housing. The same principle should apply with Housing Building Finance Ireland. It is important to bear in mind when it comes to HBFI that the finance is not a grant. It is a loan and the developers will have to pay the money back in full with interest. This is something that the taxpayer or Exchequer will benefit from. It is very different from LIHAF, which is an Exchequer grant to local authorities to access sites. It is important not to confuse the two. I know no one in this House has but people in other places have.

The issue of unpaid private parliamentary secretaries has not been pursued. I do not propose to create any unpaid private parliamentary secretaries, or paid ones for that matter, during the period of this Government. However, it is something that could be considered for the future. I am aware that there is an unfair division of labour among Departments, Ministers and Ministers of State. It is evident that the Departments of Justice and Equality, Health and Housing, Planning and Local Government are required to be in the House far more often whether because of legislation, private members' business or committee work. There is a case to have private parliamentary secretaries in those busy Departments if they need to be represented in the Chamber all the time. The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill has been debated for 72 hours so far in this Chamber and the other Chamber. That is a vast amount of time for the Minister for Justice and Equality and the sole Minister of State at the Department to be in the Chambers. There is a case for the posts in the Departments with a busy parliamentary load but it is not something that I am pursuing during the period of this Government.

We are way over time now, Taoiseach.

Am I over time?

It is not the Taoiseach. The whole lot of us are over time, I am afraid. That is something we need to consider.

I am only on the first page.

Either we take time from the other questions to allow the Taoiseach to give us his comprehensive answer or we can take it from elsewhere.

We should allow the Taoiseach another minute because he was asked two further questions.

I am happy to continue but it is in the hands of the Members.

It is fair that he answers the questions that were asked.

I was asked about the Working Group of Committee Chairmen. I have met that group once in the past year, not twice, but I would be happy to meet them again.

All Ministers of State have assigned responsibilities. They do not all have a delegation order, however, as delegation orders only apply if statutory functions are being transferred to Ministers and Minister of State. That would be the case for approximately half of them.

I fully acknowledge that there are not enough women in ministerial roles in this Government. However, only 12 female Deputies support the Government. Of those 12, seven are Ministers, so more than half the female Deputies who support the Government are in ministerial roles. Clearly that demonstrates the problem. We do not have enough female Deputies. With my Fine Gael leader hat on, I am trying to ensure that we have as many new female Deputies elected to the Dáil as soon as possible. Fine Gael has more female Deputies than any other party. I want us to have far more than any other party after the next election, whenever it comes. In recent days we have selected or added a number of female candidates and there are more to come. We are going to put a major effort behind getting them elected to increase the pool of female Deputies so that many more can hold international office.

I note that Deputy Burton was a party leader herself and was in a position to appoint six Ministers to Cabinet, but only appointed one other woman aside from herself. I am sorry that opportunity was not used.

The Attorney General was also a full member of the Government. There were three and six appointed.

She was not a Minister though. I am sorry the opportunity was not taken when Deputy Burton-----

There were three-----

Can we let the Taoiseach answer, Deputy?

No, he needs to get his facts right.

I think the super-junior is not being counted either. Aside from Deputy Burton herself, the only other full Minister who was appointed to Cabinet was Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, if I remember correctly. The opportunity was lost on that occasion for gender parity, but I anticipate the opportunity will arise in the future for others; I hope it does anyway.

I strongly agree with what Deputy Heydon had to say. We need greater proportionality of speaking time among political parties.

The Government Chief Whip does nothing about it at the Business Committee.

Every Deputy's mandate is equal, whether he or she is elected by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour Party, Sinn Féin or any other party. I believe the larger parties are discriminated against in terms of speaking time. As Deputy Heydon has pointed out, there are as many Fine Gael backbenchers as there are Sinn Féin Deputies, so surely Fine Gael backbenchers should have the same amount of time as Sinn Féin. However, that is not the case at the moment. That is an inequality and it is unfair not only to those Deputies but, more important, to their constituents who elect them.

I was asked about the local authority leadership, governance and administration reform report. The report is with the Minister but he has not shown it to me yet. It is intended to go to Government next week.

For the purpose of clarity, the Sub-Committee on Dáil Reform has done everything that it can possibly do - I thought it was to the satisfaction of all parties - to ensure that proportionality was applied wherever it could be in the allocation of speaking time.

Anyone who is concerned proportionality is not being applied in a specific area should bring the matter to our attention and we will revisit it.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Joan Burton


4. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with a person (details supplied) on 18 June 2018. [27493/18]

Richard Boyd Barrett


5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent meeting with a person (details supplied). [27746/18]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.

I met Mr. Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple, on 18 June in Dublin. Apple is a major investor in the country and employs more than 5,000 people in Ireland, mostly in Cork. I regularly meet companies with a presence in Ireland and it is right for me to do so. During our meeting Mr. Cook highlighted Apple's continued investment in Ireland, in particular, a new extension to the Cork facility which was completed in May this year. We discussed some topical issues, including the impact of Brexit, the digital Single Market, digital taxation and data protection. We also discussed the European Commission's state aid case and noted that payments were being made by Apple, in accordance with the agreed schedule, into the escrow fund which had been set up pending the appeal submitted to the European Court of Justice. We discussed the Athenry data centre site and noted the new policy and legal frameworks we were putting in place for future data centre development.

Apple is a very important employer in Ireland, particularly in the Cork region, and extremely important to the economy. Was it the Taoiseach's office or the Office of the Ceann Comhairle which was responsible for the rather delicate wording of the question, namely, "To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with a person (details supplied)", the person obviously being Mr. Tim Cook of Apple? I would have thought he was world famous and entitled to his name, even in the wording of the question. Someone who is a private citizen falls into a different category.

The Taoiseach mentioned the European Commission's judgment. Why has the tax payment which is being made into the escrow account - I assume it is the full €13 billion, but the Taoiseach might enlighten us in that regard - not included in the Exchequer returns? Many tax payments are made by businesses to the Revenue Commissioners where the final tax liability is in dispute; however, they are included in the normal Exchequer returns. There can be a corresponding note if it is expected that they might be paid to somebody else or not held. Why has there been a departure from a strong tradition in the publishing of Exchequer returns in this case?

Apple is among several significant companies that are being used in citing Ireland as a tax haven. During the years, I have participated in extensive discussions with the OECD on tax reform. I am very concerned that the goodwill towards Ireland is being diluted by constant references in different reports, among them, the Panama Papers, the Luxembourg Leaks, the Commission's report on the Apple tax issues and Wikileaks, all of which cite Ireland.

The Deputy should conclude.

Has the Government given any consideration to this commentary which potentially is very damaging to our reputation? Has it considered introducing a minimum effective corporation tax rate? That would mean that, no matter what tax mechanisms were open to a company, notwithstanding the 12.5% corporation tax rate, they would have to pay at a minimum rate of, say, 6.5% or 7.5%, and genuinely pay at that rate.

I do find it slightly ironic, but I am glad that the Labour Party is now proposing the introduction of a minimum effective corporation tax rate.

We always did.

When we proposed it, when the Labour Party was in government for five years, it did not bring forward a minimum effective corporation tax rate.

It did not bring forward a minimum effective corporation tax rate. That is a fact. There is no history to read. We asked the Labour Party to do so time and again. I am glad that it is now in favour of it.

We always were.

Under a Labour Party Government.

It is amazing.

It is strange that Tim Cook's name cannot be mentioned. It is a little odd. Perhaps it is symptomatic, or just an office thing, but there is a fear of and deference shown to Tim Cook, Apple and similar corporations which I find extraordinary, with the access they enjoy. The Taoiseach and I disagree on Ireland's role in tax avoidance by Apple, but one thing is beyond dispute or doubt - Apple is an aggressive tax avoider which uses, exploits and abuses loopholes, whether it be in the Isle of Man, on the Cayman Island or here to evade tax. I find it odd that we do not challenge it about it, or, specifically, that the Taoiseach does not do so. Instead, we roll out the red carpet; it is given extraordinary access and there is no statement from the Taoiseach to say we think Apple should pay its taxes and that it is unconscionable one of the richest corporations in the world pays less than 2% in tax. How can that be anything other than obscene? When the Taoiseach met Mr. Cook, did he mention the extraordinary housing crisis in this country and the massive deficit in investment in water infrastructure, two issues which should be of importance to him, as well as the €110 million deficit in the public health service? In that context, did he perhaps reconsider, with Mr. Cook, whether it was a good idea to engage in a legal action to try to prevent the €13 billion from being paid into the Exchequer in taxes the European Union believed Apple owed to this country? Do the huge deficits in housing and infrastructure provision not give the Taoiseach and Mr. Cook cause for thought?

On a contrary approach, one of the entirely false accusations made against some of the large companies that operate out of Ireland is that they are somehow brass plate entities or that they are only tax vehicles. That is nonsense. Apple has been one of the biggest employers in Cork for almost four decades. I can recall that in the late 1990s, when we had just entered into government, there was huge clamour from the Opposition to do what we could to prevent Apple from closing in Cork. It was related to its pipeline at the time and so on. The late Joe Gantly who was managing director of Apple in Cork went to Steve Jobs and told him that they could do different things in Cork, in the provision of customer support and financial operations in the European and the Middle East and Africa, MEA, region. The level of employment was not significant at the time; I do not think it was as much as 700 or 800. Its growth has been dramatic and the real innovation has been the advent of touch screen iPhones, the iPod, the music revolution, Apple's research capacity and so on, which transformed its operations in Cork, in both manufacturing and also service support for the MEA region.

Whether we like it, a report was published today on growth in Ireland from the 1980s to date. Notwithstanding the global financial crisis and its impact on this country, growth has been upward. Without question, our foreign direct investment policy has been the linchpin of Ireland's industrial and economic growth from the 1980s and before, the 1960s and 1970s. If one looks to see what was the defining change historically, it was opening the country to foreign direct investment.

Does that mean we ought to ignore tax avoidance?

No, but I challenge the Deputy and others to talk to the workforces in these companies, including Intel and the pharmaceutical companies. I was the Minister with responsibility for enterprise for four years. Who are we up against? It is not other European states but Switzerland, Israel and Singapore. People from Singapore were knocking on every door on which representatives of IDA Ireland were knocking.

That is what we are up against. We cannot change unilaterally or arbitrarily target certain companies. I say this at European level. There is protectionism in Europe. We have to be very careful not to change taxation policy unilaterally in a way that would favour larger economies in Europe. That would be the net outcome of some of what is being proposed. I accept that global companies should pay tax, but there has to be a global resolution of this issue. Equally, we have to revise and review our industrial policy. What worked for the last 40 years might not work for the next 30, in the light of what is happening in America and Europe and the changes that are occurring globally.

There is an element that keeps targeting and hitting companies that have been providing thousands of jobs in various parts of the country for well over four decades. I would like to see the alternative blueprints others might have for creating similar numbers of jobs. How do they propose to facilitate the creation of thousands of jobs in the decades ahead? I am prepared to work on that issue. The attacks on our largest employers have been far too simplistic and negative so far. What does the Taoiseach understand to be the likely timing of future movements in the Apple tax case?

It is important not to have a false argument. Although there are brass plate operations, I did not hear anybody make a blanket assertion that all of the large foreign direct investment corporates are simply brass plate operations. I hear an increasingly unanswerable case for fair taxation, for large corporate entities to pay their fair share, but that does not represent an attack on large employers. I would have thought it was simply a fairly basic statement in an open democratic society. Just as citizens comply with the law, play their part and pay their taxes, corporate citizens should do likewise. The Deputy should not get excited or go off on a false tangent.

I am not getting excited. I am getting very real. I am focusing on the jobs in the economy which are often ignored.

Of course. Everybody wants people to be in jobs. That is the type of nonsense that has prevented a thoughtful debate on fair taxation in this jurisdiction. The minute one mentions fair play in terms of corporate entities-----

I support foreign direction investment and the generation of high quality jobs, just as the Deputy does.

That was not the case for a long time.

Everybody wants people to have decent work. Taxes are needed because we have to pay for things.

I agree with fair taxation.

I have seen documents from the Department of Finance and the then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation related to the decision taken by the former Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, to raise to 100% the amount of intangible assets multinationals could write off against profits in any given year. The result of this decision was a massive placing onshore of billions of euro of such assets. While the documents to which I refer leave some questions unanswered, they shed some light on the motivations behind a move that is costing the State €650 million a year. At the time, a senior policy adviser in the tax unit of the then Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation warned against the former Minister's proposal, saying he disagreed with it "on reputation grounds" on the basis that it "would reduce the potential minimum effective tax rate from 2.5 per cent to 1.25 per cent, as 1.25 per cent is too low and such a change could backfire." Rather than taking this advice, the former Minister decided to increase the threshold which was under discussion in the paper in question, from 90% to 100%. We know from a letter that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, sent to Deputy Pearse Doherty that the Department of Finance admits that Apple raised these precise changes in 2014 during the passage of the Finance Bill. The Department will not release the minutes of four meetings it had with Apple which was the largest beneficiary of this tax move. Why are the meetings with Apple at which this issue was discussed being kept secret? Will the minutes be published for the purposes of transparency? Was this issue discussed when the Taoiseach had his meeting with Mr. Cook? Will budget 2019 close the gap and make these billions of euro of assets taxable?

For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. Tim Cook's name can be mentioned in the Chamber. His name was mentioned in my response. I do not know why it did not appear in the question. I have used his name in the Chamber. I do not think there is any person in the world whose name cannot be mentioned in this Chamber.

The money that has been mentioned is being paid into an escrow account which is now open. Billions of euro have been deposited in it so far. It is being paid into the account in phases according to a schedule. It has not been paid in full into the account.

How much has been paid in?

I do not have the exact amount that has been paid in so far.

Is it the full amount?

It is not the full amount, but it will be by the end of the year. It is being paid in in tranches on the basis of an agreed schedule. I do not know why it is not part of the Exchequer returns. I will ask the Minister for Finance to provide an answer for Deputy Joan Burton in that respect. I am sure there is a good reason, but I honestly do not know what it is.

Ireland is not a tax haven and we do not want it to be one. We certainly do not want it to be seen as a tax haven. That is not our industrial policy at all. We are working with the OECD, particularly in the base erosion and profit-sharing process, to remove loopholes in our tax system that companies or individuals might use to exploit our tax laws. We have got rid of the double Irish arrangement. We have also got rid of the idea of state discorporations. Under the information sharing agreements we now have, we share with the revenue commissioners in other countries how much tax individual companies are paying. It is really important for us to know how much they are paying in Germany or Ireland because it enables us to make sure tax is being paid. Today the Cabinet signed off on a further OECD-led international agreement on tax transparency and base erosion and profit sharing. It will be ratified by the Dáil and enable us to deal with the issue further.

To be frank, large corporations should pay their taxes. They should pay them in full and where they are owed. Often, there are disputes about how much is owed and where it is owed. That applies to all taxpayers.

We dispute the European Commission's view that Ireland gave Apple state aid by means of a special bespoke tax deal. I ask Deputies to bear in mind that this is a state aid, rather than a tax, case. We dispute the Commission's argument that many decades ago Ireland gave Apple state aid in the form of a special tax deal that was not open to other companies. Ultimately, the matter will be decided in the European court. We do not yet have a court date. The date for the appeal is at the discretion of the court. It is expected that we will receive approximately six weeks' notice. Although Apple's appeal is separate from Ireland's, given that they relate to the same subject matter, it is possible that the court will arrange for the cases to be heard together in what is known as a rejoinder. The US Government sought for the court to intervene in Apple's appeal, but this was rejected by the general court of the European Court of Justice.

I was asked whether housing had come up during the discussion. Yes, it did. Almost every time I meet the chief executive of a major corporation, he or she raises the issue of housing. It is a major concern for citizens looking for homes in which to live. It is a major concern for employers also because their employees need homes in which to live. Increasing housing and rental costs are putting upward pressure on wages. This is one of the areas in which the Government, the Opposition and the big corporations are totally aligned. Nobody disputes that we need more housing in Ireland. Mr. Cook and I had a particular discussion about the need to build many new homes in Cork in the context of the increasing Apple workforce in Hollyhill.

I had a very interesting discussion with Mr. Cook on the proportion of Apple employees who now work from home. Between one quarter and one third of Apple employees work from home. This has huge benefits. It means that more people can live in other parts of Cork and Munster and work from home. If they have to go into the office just one or two days a week, it makes good sense in finding affordable housing and good planning. It also spreads the benefits of investment well beyond Cork city to a much wider region. As broadband is extended to more and more parts of the country, the opportunities for more and more people to work from home are enormous. That will help in dealing with the transport problems and traffic congestion we face in cities. It will also help in dealing with climate change. We had a really interesting discussion on that issue. Apple could have even more employees working from home. Other employers might be able to follow its example by increasing the level of working from home. It would be useful for parents - men and women - if we could enable more of them to work from home.

I was also asked about the minimum effective rate of corporation tax. I will have to study it because I have not looked at it for a couple of years. I will have to understand its impact before being able to say whether it is a good idea.

One would certainly have to consider the impact it would have on research and development, the knowledge box and intellectual property. A big part of our industrial strategy is to encourage more research and development, more intellectual property development and more value creation at the highest end in Ireland. If the introduction of a minimum effective tax rate were to undermine our knowledge box, it would undermine our industrial policy and tax base. That would not be a good move. I would have to understand how the proposals being made by the Labour Party and others would affect the knowledge box, particularly research and development. Without having studied this, which I admit is the case, I would be concerned that it would be damaging. I would have to study it properly to give an informed view.

I do not have the documents that Deputy McDonald has, or at least I do not have them in front of me. The change that was made to our tax laws at the time in question was linked to the abolition of the double Irish. That is why the decision was made at the time. It has been already reversed. It was reversed by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, in the last budget, if not the one before.

The matters to which Deputy McDonald referred were not discussed at the meeting I had with Tim Cook. I was not at the meeting in question. I do not have the minutes.

Can they be published?

I do not know why they cannot be published. It may be due to commercial sensitivities. I will ask the Minister for Finance to respond to the Deputy directly on it.