Finance Bill 2018: Report Stage (Resumed)

The Chamber should be cleared of Members not participating in the debate on the Finance Bill 2018. The Chamber is not available as a chat room, I am afraid. On the last occasion we got as far as amendment No. 16, which arises from committee proceedings.

I move amendment No. 16:

In page 92, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:

“Report on exclusion of Cork City and Council

26. The Minister shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the exclusion of Cork City and County from the tapered regional uplift in relation to the film tax credit in section 481 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and to set out in the report the options for addressing this issue.".

We have not yet discussed the amendment.

I know that. It is why I called you.

Thank you. I was just clarifying where we are starting. In the budget announcement and provided for within the Finance Bill is a very welcome regional uplift of 5% with respect to the film tax relief. As I understand it, the uplift of the tax relief across the regions is underpinned by the European Union regional aid guidelines. The map accompanying those guidelines indicates the greater Dublin area and Cork are excluded. Nevertheless, there is film, television and animation activity in Cork and this means, in effect, that my city and county will be at a very significant disadvantage in that qualifying activity there will attract less relief than in other parts of the country. I wish to raise the matter with the Minister on behalf of Film in Cork, which is the local organisation providing production and location support services to those working in film, television and animation. It is an initiative of Cork county and city councils, and it quite justifiably makes the point that the exclusion of the city and the county from the regional uplift element of the extension of this relief will have consequences. It will mean, when it comes to investment decisions, that Cork will inevitably lose out.

I understand the background and the EU regional aid guidelines. My question is whether there is any flexibility. Does the relief in the application of the regional uplift have to be underpinned by those guidelines, which explicitly exclude not just Dublin but also Meath, Wicklow and Kildare, as well as Cork city and county. The rest of the country is included under those guidelines. If it cannot be done in this way, I know that in the past Screen Ireland, the national organisation that is the development agency for Irish film, television and the animation industry, had a regional support fund. That does not currently exist but perhaps it is an avenue that could be examined as well.

I support the amendment proposed by Deputy McGrath and it is right and proper that we consider the extension of the uplift to Cork city and county. Deputy McGrath mentioned Film in Cork, an organisation that has been going for a number of years. It not only supports film-makers but also development and young people in the industry. There is a strong tradition of film in Cork and in recent years we have seen films like "War of the Buttons" and "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", along with many more. There is a great deal more potential for film in Cork, including in employment for both rural and urban locations. It would be of value to industry, film and the arts in Cork if the regional uplift could be extended to the city and county.

I support the amendment and as all that is called for is a report, I do not see a reason for the Minister not to accede to the request. As has been mentioned, there has been quite a lot of film activity in and around Cork city and county. There is a very strong arts base in the county. In the absence of this or an alternative arrangement to bring Cork to the same scale of support as other areas for a significant sector of the arts, Cork would miss out. In the context of all that has been done to develop the arts in Cork and the large amount of artistic activity that exists, including in film, and because of the interconnection between people engaged in different elements of the arts, I ask the Minister to give consideration to what is, after all, just a report. If there are impossible issues that cannot be negotiated to remove the disadvantage for Cork, at least the Minister would at least have made an effort to have a report prepared on the subject.

There has been much discussion on section 481 both on Committee and now on Report Stage. We focused on those topics last night.

Specifically, we discussed the economic benefits of section 481 in terms of jobs, social impacts and so on, but I would like to hear more from the Minister about the rationale for the regional uplift measure that he has proposed. Do not get me wrong - we need to stimulate, promote and encourage film making in the regions and in areas beyond where it is currently taking place. As Deputy Michael McGrath's amendment implies, though, there may be a difficulty, in that the measure is encouraging film production and film investment to go to particular places, possibly at the expense of other places that would equally like to develop a film industry or where a film industry already exists.

Could this underpin the decline and demise of Ardmore Studios in Bray? The Government made a terrible decision in selling its share to the people who own Troy Studios and who now have a serious conflict of interest between their ambitions for Troy Studios and the fact that they also have Ardmore Studios. The latter is potentially prime real estate and there have been attempts to rezone it. Whoever gets it rezoned will make an absolute fortune. There may be a material interest for the owners of Ardmore Studios and Troy Studios in redirecting investment and production to the latter at the expense of the former. I do not raise this as a parochial matter, as I would argue that the local concerns about employment and the tradition of Ardmore as effectively the national studio are also national issues. The bigger questions are whether this could happen and would it be desirable? It would be desirable for some, but not for the development of the film industry as a whole.

We should stimulate the development of film production in places other than where it is currently being done. It might be of interest to the Minister to note something in this regard. I attended one of the pre-screenings of "Black 47", the director of which said something interesting when speaking about the production. He basically said that the film did not really work out quite as he had wanted, as the production did not have sufficient investment. Interestingly, it could not afford to go to Mayo to film parts of "Black 47" as desired. A digital landscape had to be used for part of the film. I do not know whether people have seen it. Do not get me wrong - it was a great effort by the writer and director to do what they had to with limited resources, but the director said that, for the lack of €50,000, the production could not go to Mayo. This film about the Famine, which is a seminal moment in Irish history, was made on a shoestring. I will not go into the other issues that arose on the employment front, but many of them also revolved around a lack of investment and so on.

To cut a long story short, if we want to develop the Cork film industry, a film industry in Connemara and a film industry in Limerick while maintaining the industry in places like Ardmore and Dublin, and given the suggestion made by some film workers in my area that we should build a film studio in the old terminal building on Dún Laoghaire pier - it is not a bad idea, as the terminal is almost ready made for it-----

They could name it after the Deputy.

As the Minister knows, there has also been talk of building a new film studio-----

"Boyd Barrett Pier".

Not to be parochial about matters, but there has been talk of building-----

A nice monument.

-----a film studio on the Poolbeg Peninsula. To my mind, all these options would be good, but what would not be good would be us robbing Peter to pay Paul, with one area benefitting and others losing out.

Given that we have such a pool of talent at every level in this industry and the associated sectors, we should start looking at this matter in the way we look at theatre. The Abbey Theatre's existence is not an ad hoc one based on tax reliefs, where it gets reliefs if it happens to put on a good production but otherwise disappears. Instead, we say that we want a national theatre as well as theatres in Cork, Galway, Dún Laoghaire, Limerick and so on. I do not know why we would not build studio capacity and a standing workforce that is trained and specialist in the various areas of film production in a few locations around the country. If we created that capacity, we would get much more State and external investment, allowing us to produce more and better films in a way that benefitted everyone. It might also end some of the scrapping that is going on in the background in the industry.

I would like to hear from the Minister whether he accepts that there is a concern about this measure inadvertently favouring just one or two locations, most likely Troy Studios, at the expense of everywhere else.

I thank the Deputy. Whatever about the locations, there is no doubting that he has great stage presence.

He is auditioning.

He is very jovial right now.

In addition to extending the section 481 film tax credit for a further four years, the Bill provides for a short-term, tapered, regional uplift for productions in areas designated under the state aid regional guidelines. It should be noted that this is subject to state aid approval. The regional uplift will be phased out on a tiered basis, with 5% available in years one and two, 3% in year three, then 2% before reducing to zero.

The purpose of the regional uplift is to support the development of new local pools of talent in areas outside the current main production hubs and the geographic spread of the audiovisual sector. The regions availing of the uplift will be limited to areas sanctioned to receive regional aid under the EU regional aid guidelines, which was Deputy Michael McGrath's point. Those guidelines allow each member state to provide enhanced rates of state aid in its least economically developed areas. This enables the State's enterprise development agency to grant state aid at enhanced rates to businesses in order to support new investment and employment in Ireland's most disadvantaged regions.

Based on these guidelines, areas that do not qualify for regional aid will be outside the scope of the regional uplift. That includes Dublin, Cork and the mid-east generally, that being, most of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. The uplift is subject to state aid approval and my officials are in the process of notifying the aid to the European Commission. Should it transpire during our engagement with the Commission that the geographic regions able to avail of the uplift can be amended, it may be something that we can consider.

It should also be noted that productions in regions unable to avail of the uplift are still able to benefit from the existing film tax credit of up to 32% of eligible expenditure. Therefore, while I cannot accept the amendment, I assure the Deputy that options in respect of the geographical applicability of the uplift will be discussed by my officials during the notification process.

Deputy Boyd Barrett made a point about the scheme. On Committee Stage, I went through the rationale for this change. I am trying to encourage a more even spread of the industry across the country.

I am cautious about making changes to reliefs of this nature which is why I have introduced this relief on a tapered and reducing basis. The objective is to develop some alternative clusters of production and development talent beyond those already established. However, I only buy the argument that this should be available for a limited period of time. We should not be bringing in a relief at the expense of the Exchequer which continues indefinitely. If after the period of time outlined in the Bill the relief does not deliver a cluster of employment and capital in some additional areas or build up beyond what is there at the moment, then the scheme cannot deliver the objective laid out for it. This is why it has been introduced on a tapered basis. Making it available for four years is adequate and provides enough time for new hubs to be further developed. After that point, frankly, the hubs are either developed or not and the relief has either done its job or has not been properly crafted. Putting it in place for a four-year period should deal with some of the concerns raised.

I thank the Minister for his response and acknowledge the spirit in which he has offered those words. He has given a commitment to seek to explore and stretch whatever flexibility may be available in the course of discussions with the European Commission. The regional uplift has been welcomed as a positive step but I ask the Minister to consider it from the perspective of people involved in this sector across Cork city and county. They are now in a worse position relative to the rest of the country, with the exception of the other excluded areas including Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare and Meath and the three local electoral areas of Kells, Athy and Arklow. That is the position in which they find themselves. They are of the view that existing jobs and the lives of stakeholders in the sector in Cork city and county will be negatively affected for the next five years. Obviously, when it comes to investment decisions the fact that there is less tax relief available when this comes into effect for productions in Cork city and county than in surrounding counties and elsewhere in the country, apart from the other excluded zones, puts Cork at a disadvantage.

I am not going to press the amendment but ask the Minister to reaffirm that he will, in a genuine way, explore with the European Commission and with departmental officials the possibility of including Cork city and county within the scope of this relief scheme. If not, I ask him to consult other stakeholders, including Screen Ireland, to see what supports might be available to counterbalance the impact of this.

Can the Minister give the Deputy the confirmation he needs?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 17:

In page 111, after line 42, to insert the following:

“Report on intangible assets

28. The Minister shall, within 6 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on restoring the 80 per cent cap on intangible assets onshored between 2015 and 2017 that can be written off against profits at the rate of 100 per cent.”.

This amendment calls for a report on restoring the 80% cap on intangible assets that were onshored between 2015 and 2017 which can be written off against profits at a rate of 100%. Those intangible assets that were onshored after 2017 revert to the 80% rate. Prior to 2015, a rate of 80% was all that was allowed. We know the history of this and I discussed it at length with the Minister during the debate on last year's Finance Bill and during the Committee Stage debate on this Bill. A change was made in 2015 that allowed for international multi-national companies to onshore intangible assets. Previously they could only offset 80% against their tax liability but the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, decided to increase that to 100%.

I have noted before that when a suggestion was made to change the rate to 90% rather than the 100% rate that finally emerged in the Finance Bill, a senior tax policy advisor to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said that he disagreed with this on reputation grounds and argued that it would reduce the potential effective rate from 2.5% to 1.25%. He said that 1.25% was too low and that such a change could backfire and backfire it did. The rate was changed to 100%, which meant that the effective tax rate in certain cases was zero. Billions of euro worth of intangible assets were onshored in this period, with one particular company availing of this loophole in a major way. All of this played out in the international press. Apple restructured itself following the closing of the double Irish and, in particular, the stateless companies rules and used this mechanism to write down its tax liability to a very low level indeed.

I acknowledge that in last year's Finance Act the Minister closed this loophole but only did so for intangible assets onshored from that date forward. The problem is that next year and in every subsequent year, the assets that were onshored in the relevant period can be written against profits at 100%. The Minister for Finance commissioned the expert Mr. Seamus Coffey to look at corporation tax. He made it clear, as part of his recommendations, that the 100% rate should no longer apply and that it should revert back to 80%. He was very clear that what the Minister for Finance did last year did not go far enough and that it needed to be reduced for the intangible assets that were brought onshore during the period in question, 2015 to 2017. He debunked one of the arguments made last year that this is retrospective taxation, which it is not. We are not arguing that those who availed of this provision during that period would be penalised or that we would look for a clawback from them. What we are saying is that if they use those intangible assets to write down their tax liabilities in 2020, 2021 and so on, they can only do so at the 80% rate. That is the rate that now applies to any other company operating on the island of Ireland that has onshored such assets.

This is not small potatoes. This week we discussed the fiasco of the Government stripping away the flat rate tax allowances from moderate and low-paid workers. Sinn Féin welcomes the fact that this has been deferred but will fight the Government on that issue. I have written to the finance committee to ask that officials from Revenue would appear before it to answer questions on the review currently under way. In that case, we are talking about a couple of million euro and while it is not a small amount of money, it is across a large group of people.

This measure, on the other hand, brings in €750 million. A total of €750 million can be availed of if the Government implements the recommendation of the author of the expert report. There is no reason not to do this. This could go a long way in terms of dealing with some of the very difficult social problems that we have in Irish society, not least the fact that we have so many families and individuals that are homeless, so many children waiting for needs assessments and so many families struggling to get by because of the high cost of energy, childcare, insurance and so on. Significant resources can be made available to the State if the Minister accepts this amendment and puts it into effect by ensuring that intangible assets can only be used to write off against 80% of profits and not 100%, as the Minister has allowed for in last year's Finance Act for those that were onshored between 2015 and 2017.

I to support this amendment. It could be called the let-us-tax-the-leprechaun amendment given this window was opened after the double Irish arrangement was closed down because of political pressure. This window was the mechanism through which the companies that had availed of the arrangement then moved into a new tax avoidance mechanism which seemed to be designed for them. It is a scandal.

The consequence of that was a massive onshoring of intangible assets that spiked Irish economic growth rates to the levels where we became the laughing stock of the entire world and gained the name leprechaun economics. It is not glib to say the leprechaun should be taxed because we are talking about hundreds of millions of euros from these companies which are making staggering profits and even granting an 80% relief on these intangibles is extraordinarily generous to these companies. The intangibility of assets is precisely the means through which these large multinational corporations can essentially put whatever price they like on their intellectual property and move it from one arm of their company to another, with one arm charging for the use of that asset, or paying for that asset or the royalties on the use of that asset, and, through that mechanism, they can essentially write their own tax bill. To give those companies 100% relief was extraordinary and inexplicable.

I believe it was explained by several high level meetings that took place that year between Ministers and executives of a certain company, called Apple, after it was obvious that the double Irish had to close down and there were moves which were going to lead to it being closed down. I cannot explain it any other way and particularly when we then discovered afterwards that officials were saying this should not be done, but it was done anyway.

The minimum we could ask is for a report on why we should not do this. It is not just the left saying that. The fact that Mr. Seamus Coffey recommended this suggests that it is not an ideological demand. It is a reasonable demand to close a window that should not have been opened to allow extraordinarily profitable companies avoid vast amounts of tax. At the end of the day, we lose out. Those revenues would make a substantial difference in housing or health. We also lost out, and are losing out, because we have to pay larger contributions to the European Union because of artificially inflated growth rates. I do not have the figures in front of me, but I think we are talking about a couple of hundred million euros worth of additional contributions to the EU based on the size of our GDP, which is inflated because of the tax avoidance mechanisms being used by these companies.

This issue has been debated at length. Does the Minister accept that the Exchequer would taken in an additional €750 million if he made this change? The cap would apply in respect of the capital allowances associated with the intellectual property that was onshored during the window. Does he accept that?

Can he again outline for the House the reasons he decided not to do that? Is it because he regarded it as damaging the reputation of Ireland? Is it because he regarded it as moving the goalposts? It is well accepted that capital allowances are a legitimate tax deduction in our corporate tax code. That is certainly the case. Before the cap was lifted, we had a restriction on the income that could be offset by the capital allowances on this intellectual property. It was 80%, it was removed, and a staggering volume of onshoring took place during that window that Deputies Boyd Barrett and Pearse Doherty referred to. Now the cap has been reinstated.

The Minister had made the point previously that this is a timing issue and, all other things being equal, it is just a timing issue but there is no guarantee that the companies concerned will maintain the same tax structure, will continue to make profits of the same order for years to come, for this to be a timing issue over time. We cannot say that is certain.

At the same time, our corporate tax receipts are booming. The Exchequer has taken in close to €10 billion in 2018, with more than €1 billion in additional, unexpected receipts being collected around now. Whatever changes have been made, whether in our tax code or the tax structure that multinational companies are using, tax receipts are booming and have doubled in four years.

The Minister needs to explain whether he accept the figures that have been put forward and to outline his reasons for ensuring the cap does not apply in respect of the capital allowances associated with the intellectual property that was onshored to Ireland during that window.

I have put forward a Private Members' Bill, which proposes that Ireland would have a minimum effective tax rate on corporation tax profits and that we would also have a standing commission to examine matters of taxation.

The Government is on notice, and I am sure the Minister is well aware of it himself, of a situation whereby global companies, whether financial companies, social media companies such as the FANG - Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google - companies, cannot continue to operate on a global basis where, effectively, they contribute little or no taxation in different jurisdictions in which they both provide and sell their goods and services. It is not reasonable to expect that we become perceived as some kind of global centre for an unacceptable form of tax mitigation and avoidance.

I have a later amendment asking that, in a similar way, the Minister would make provision for a report in respect of digital taxation because now, and in the recent UK budget, even the Tories, from the heart of the city of London, proposed a digital tax commencing in 2020. This is intimately related to any review because we are talking about people making excessive profits. I am sure many of the Minister's economic heroes, from Adam Smith on, would look favourably at returns and taxation which are fair and do not have the distorting influences on economic activity of the extreme position that is now shown to prevail.

We need a response from the Minister. I am sure it will be thoughtful.

The Minister might say that the 12.5% rate is not the lowest tax rate in Europe but we know that. He might say that the rate has been a bedrock of the Irish offering in respect of foreign direct investment, but it is not being applied in the case of these companies. If the Minister were to say that, notwithstanding investment into assets of different kinds and the write-offs they might generate, there would be a minimum effective rate of 6.5% or 7%, that would at least mean that these companies were paying something. At the moment they effectively choose the figure and they are choosing to pay pretty much nothing. Ireland is just drinking in the last chance saloon in respect of these kinds of tax breaks.

There are also many correlative adjustments. The Minister and his officials were obliging in supplying me with the figures, which are big. In respect of many of the FANG companies,, national and regional jurisdictions in countries such as Italy are saying that the companies must either pay some tax on what they are selling and the profits they are making in the country or they must provide for a location in the country. That is happening increasingly in different parts of Europe and even in different parts of the United States. Does the Minister have a strategy to address this at all or is he just going to pull down the entire deck of cards? What is happening with many of these companies has become economically absurd. Not even the most right-wing economist in the canons of economics would defend it.

Given where we are - it is nearly 11 p.m. - will we ask the Minister to respond?

The Deputy's questions are pertinent. If the Minister could give us a brief response, we might be able to deal with this particular important amendment now.

I will just deal with the questions that have been put to me, as opposed to giving a lengthier response. Deputy Doherty and I have debated this issue on many occasions and we have differing views on it. While he acknowledges the decision I made in respect of the change, he feels it should have been handled over a different period. I have offered my reason as to why I believe this is the right decision on other occasions.

Deputy Michael McGrath is right to acknowledge that corporation tax figures are doing well at the moment. As to why I made the decision I made in respect of timing, I will briefly reiterate that my view is that to change it in the way Deputy Doherty is advocating would have consequences for the certainty that should be, and needs to be, at the heart of the tax code for a small and open economy. I believe this change needed to be made and that is why I made it in last year's budget. On Deputy McGrath's second question, which related to the figure Deputy Doherty quoted, it is difficult for us to put an exact figure on the tax revenue that could be reinstated because it is difficult to be accurate in respect of the degree to which available allowances will be drawn down and when. However, I acknowledge that the figure in this regard will be many hundreds of millions of euro. It is revenue that will come in to us, just over a longer period.

Deputy Burton asked me if I had a strategy. Yes, I do. I published the roadmap on corporate tax reform a number of weeks ago. There are reasonably few countries laying out the kind of changes they believe need to be made in their corporate tax policy with the clarity with which we have. The Coffey report lays out the effective tax rates for companies that have paid corporate tax here in Ireland over recent years. At their lowest point, these rates are still higher than the effective tax rate figures the Deputy quoted.

Mr. Coffey was not talking about what I was talking about. It is quite a clever report.

On the claim the Deputy made in respect of minimum effective tax rates, when we get to that motion in Private Members' time, I will be clear in my view that, first, any suggestion that we adopt a minimum tax rate would ignore the fact that each company is different and will, therefore, draw down a limited number of allowances in different ways and, second, that any message going out from Dáil Éireann that we support a minimum effective tax rate that is any way different from our 12.5% rate would be used by competitors that are looking to shift jobs out of our country.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 26; Níl, 49; Staon, 18.

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Buckley, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Quinlivan, Maurice.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.

Níl

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

  • Brassil, John.
  • Breathnach, Declan.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Harty, Michael.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Lahart, John.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Moynihan, Michael.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Smith, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Pearse Doherty and Jonathan O'Brien; Níl, Deputies Seán Kyne and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.
Debate adjourned.
The Dáil adjourned at 11.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 22 November 2018.