Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Tax Code

Michael McGrath

Question:

33. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he expects the Revenue Commissioners to bring forward new guidance on flat rate allowances; when he expects it to be brought forward; the measures he plans to ensure lower and middle income earners are not adversely affected by changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46675/19]

Pearse Doherty

Question:

50. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the categories of flat rate tax expense the Revenue Commissioners propose to abolish from the beginning of 2020; the anticipated increase in tax revenue arising out of the abolition of the certain flat rate expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46691/19]

My question is largely a repeat of the first priority question on the flat rate expenses allowance. I wish to add to the points I made earlier that my main concern is we will be presented late in the day with a fait accompli. Will there be a report we can interrogate? Will we have the opportunity to review the evidence and ask questions before any changes kick in? It is a reasonable request, given the scale and significance it could have for many workers.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 50 together. It is a reasonable request. We discussed the matter earlier. I cannot commit on behalf of the Revenue Commissioners as to what they will do or what engagement they will have with the Oireachtas. Nevertheless, as soon as I have absolute clarity on the matter and the Revenue Commissioners respond to me, I will immediately make the information available to the Deputy.

I thank the Minister. With the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's indulgence, I will segue to another important issue. The Revenue online service, ROS, has again experienced problems this morning. My colleague, Deputy Brassil, raised the matter in the Chamber yesterday. I acknowledge that Revenue extended the deadline for online returns to 6 p.m. today.

I am told that the problems have now been fixed this morning after a recurrence of the issue. I want an assurance that no one will be adversely affected by these issues through the application of surcharges or any other penalty. Given that the system is clearly under pressure and struggling to take all of the returns, would it be better to extend the deadline to midnight on Friday? That would allow the returns to be spread over a further couple of days. It would allow time and space for people to get them in and for the system to have the capacity to handle them. Clearly, there is a significant issue. The first priority is to ensure no one will be penalised having tried to make a return that was unsuccessful through no fault of his own or her own.

Penalties and how they are levied are matters for the Revenue Commissioners. I know the reason Revenue made the decision to make the change for today. It was its determination ensure no taxpayer would be penalised as a result of the systems issue that had developed. As the Deputy knows and has acknowledged, efforts have been made to address and resolve the issue in the operation of the system which Revenue has made available for a further period. I have no doubt that if it decides further changes are needed and that more needs to be done to ensure the timely filing of tax returns, it will make the necessary arrangements. However, given the sensitivity of the matter for tax practitioners, not to mention to those who are paying their taxes, it is solely a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. I will leave it to them to update the public on the matter during the day.

I wish to come back in on that issue. There have been further problems this morning. That is the point I am making. The system was down again for a period this morning. Clearly, there are underlying issues and problems with the capacity of the online system to handle the number of submissions coming in at the same time. If they continue throughout the day, Revenue will have no option but to further extend the deadline. It seems that the most sensible solution would be to spread it out over several days. We all recognise the importance of ensuring the integrity of the system. People need to be assured that their returns have been received properly. It is important for the Exchequer that returns be made a timely manner and that they be accurate and fully uploaded onto the system. However, if the problem continues during the day, Revenue will have no option but to further extend the deadline. If it happens again, the Minister should be in direct contact to at least have a discussion with it.

I thank the Leas-Cheann for allowing me in. I also thank Deputy McGrath for raising the issue of flat rate allowances, an issue I have raised in the past with the Minister and Niall Cody at the Committee of Public Accounts. I know that the Minister has stated it is an administrative issue for the Revenue Commissioners and that he is awaiting the findings of a review, but the issue is causing concern, in particular among a large cohort in my constituency. I am referring to the brave miners at Tara Mines in Navan, the largest zinc mine in Europe, which employs 620 people. In previous reviews they actually enjoyed an increase, yet there is a genuine fear among them that it could be removed in its entirety. Last month I spent an entire day with the miners. We were 900 m underground in the belly of the mine which is the deepest spot in Ireland. I saw at first hand the harshness of the working conditions they experience. I call on the Minister to recognise that the allowances are genuine. Perhaps he might journey underground and join me and the miners in the belly of the mine. With Niall Cody, we could all go together to see the harshness of the working conditions experienced by the miners.

I thank the Deputy for the invitation, but I am well aware of how hard the work is for those involved in mining. I am also well aware of their concerns. I assure and inform them that the matter has also been raised with me by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, who are also being contacted by constituents about the issue. I hope the Deputy is aware that it is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners which are aware of its sensitivity. Deputy Michael McGrath was impartial and fair enough to acknowledge the importance of ensuring the integrity of the information technology system and its importance in collecting tax. Given the importance of ensuring tax returns are made properly and that there is no ambiguity about where taxpayers stand, responsibility for communication on the matter has to sit solely with the Revenue Commissioners. It is up to them to decide if further changes are required during the day. They have issued one communication on the issue. I am unaware of further changes, but if they happen, taxpayers and their representatives will need to listen to what they say on the matter.

Budget 2020

Bernard Durkan

Question:

34. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance to outline the degree to which he remains satisfied that his budgetary strategy remains on target, irrespective of Brexit or international pressures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46602/19]

With this question I seek to ascertain the extent to which the Minister remains confident that the budgetary projections identified in budget 2020 will continue to remain valid throughout.

The Government decided in September that budget 2020 would be based on the assumption of a disorderly Brexit at the end of October. Given the information available at the time, this was the safest and most appropriate course of action. Since I published budget 2020, the risk of the United Kingdom departing the European Union this year without a deal has been reduced. However, the ultimate outcome is still highly uncertain and a disorderly Brexit in 2020 remains a possibility.

Should the United Kingdom leave the European Union on an orderly basis, Ireland's fiscal position will, all else being equal, improve relative to budget 2020 projections, with increased revenues and lower expenditure. The fiscal forecast published with the summer economic statement in June is instructive on the budgetary position in an orderly scenario. The summer economic statement outlined the path for the headline deficit, which involved a technical assumption of tax reductions of €600 million each year and an increase in annual current spending of 3.25%. In such a scenario the summer economic forecast indicated a surplus of 0.4% of national income in 2020.

As I indicated yesterday to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, I believe it is likely yet again that we will see corporation tax receipts for this year exceed where they were one year ago. We expect the figure to be higher than the projected €11 billion. We expect it be to in line with or above the €11 billion now included in our forecast. That is significantly ahead of what I indicated one year ago. However, I also said that while I expected us to face into another year of potential growth next year in our corporation tax receipts, I also believed it was likely that at some point in the near future that growth would stabilise and then begin to decline. That is why I believe it is now really important that the surplus we established this year is built again if we avoid a no-deal scenario next year. The country must get into the habit of ensuring we run regular surpluses in order that in the event of money not being available to us in future we will not face the risks we have faced in the past.

I thank the Minister for his reply and preview on "Morning Ireland" today. I presume he has assured himself that the targets are prudent and attainable and that they will stand the test of time. Are there external issues other than Brexit that might impact to some extent or other in the course of the year?

While the answer I gave on "Morning Ireland" may have been a preview of the position today, it was a review of the postion yesterday. I went through many of these issues yesterday with the Deputy's colleagues at the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. For the benefit of all colleagues, I will emphasise some of the points I made. They relate to the point the Deputy put to me about other issues in addition to Brexit emerging. In particular, from a tax point of view, I highlighted three issues, the first of which is the increased level of corporation tax receipts, a large amount of which is attributable to the large increase in corporate profitability associated with several large companies. Were this ever to change at some point in the future it is likely it would have an impact on the tax receipts that we are discussing. The second factor of which we have to be mindful is that we could face a situation where corporation tax arrangements would become more competitive in other countries.

The consequences of OECD reforms, and the changes I have touched on on a number of occasions, could be a factor for Ireland as well.

In the event of a negative decision, from Ireland's point of view, in the case before the European courts in respect of corporation tax, might there be a tendency on the part of some foreign direct investment prospects to locate elsewhere?

It would probably be premature to say investors or large companies might invest elsewhere as a result of the Apple ruling, particularly as regards companies that are already here. However, the loss of the Apple case would pose exceptionally important challenges for our corporate tax policy, requiring deeply serious consideration. I am very conscious of the magnitude of €14 billion and it would require defending some very important principles, that are worth defending, in order to be able to explain to the Oireachtas how the money is not ours and why we should not collect it. The principle cuts to the core of tax policy, which is that all taxpayers are treated equally and any company that locates in our country will be treated the same as another company. This cuts to the heart of our tax code.

Insurance Costs

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

35. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Finance the priority measures he is putting in place to tackle the growing insurance crisis facing businesses, community groups, charities, sporting clubs and outdoor activities nationwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46565/19]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

48. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Finance the status of his plans to deal with the rising cost of motor, home and business insurance; the steps being taken to prevent businesses from closing and bring down premiums; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46616/19]

The Minister addressed the issue of insurance earlier with my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, but I am taking the opportunity to raise it again because it is one of the biggest issues our businesses, sports clubs, community groups and crèches are facing. It has to be a priority because the cost of employer liability and public liability insurance is a direct threat to the competitiveness and sustainability of many of our businesses and community groups.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 48 together.

I am very conscious of the difficulties referred to by the Deputy. While neither I, nor the Central Bank of Ireland, can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products, nor compel insurers to provide cover in the first place the Government, through the work of the cost of insurance working group, has identified the key problems that need to be addressed if we are to reduce significantly the cost of business insurance in particular.

In this regard, the work of the Personal Injuries Commission, PIC, has been of critical importance.  It found that the level of awards here for soft tissue injuries were 4.4 times higher than in England and Wales.  Such a discrepancy is unjustified and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

As the Deputy is aware, with the passage of the Judicial Council Act it is now a matter for the Judiciary to put in motion the necessary process to enable the introduction of new guidelines to recalibrate award levels and replace the book of quantum.  I have allocated €1 million in budget 2020 to enable the council to be established.  I am confident that the Judiciary recognises the need to prioritise this exercise and that they will take account of the PIC’s findings.  The Law Reform Commission is currently undertaking a detailed analysis as to whether we could establish constitutionally sound legislation to cap or limit the amount of damages a court may award.  It is due to report back next year.

I accept that the Minister has identified issues, particularly around the level of awards which are 4.5 times what they are in our nearest neighbours, particularly around soft tissue issues. They are unjustified but it is one thing to identify issues, while it is another to take action on them. The Minister said the Judiciary recognises the problems but again, while recognition is good, it is another thing to take the necessary action to protect our businesses and our community and sporting clubs. The Minister mentioned the Law Reform Commission report is due to be published next year but the insurance issue did not just appear overnight and it has steadily been getting worse over many years. Fine Gael has been in Government for almost nine years so I would have hoped and thought a lot more would have been done to protect businesses, such as the ones I represent in south Kildare and parts of Laois, as well as community and sporting groups.

I am aware of the importance of this issue and I am glad to be able to tell the Deputy how much work has been done on it. The Minister of State and I are very much aware of the many issues being created for small and medium sized businesses and for the leisure sector all over the country. This is why we put in place the Personal Injuries Commission. It is why we enacted the Judicial Council Act 2019 and why the Insurance (Amendment) Act 2018 was passed. It is why we put in place the national claims information database and why we worked with An Garda Síochána, while recognising its independence, to develop a divisional focus on insurance fraud which will be guided by the Garda national economic crime bureau. We are very much aware of the cost this causes for so many across the country and the actions we have taken show our determination to make a difference. I am confident that these actions, in totality, will lead to even more progress on the issues.

I acknowledge the work that has been done, in particular the efforts of the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, who has grappled with the issue and has tried to make a difference. The Minister said that when these measures come into place in totality, we will see a shift and a change, but when will that be? Businesses are closing and the Spin Activity Centre, in my town of Newbridge, has had to close because of the cost of insurance. Community groups are not able to get the insurance they need to keep their doors open so the time element of this is absolutely crucial. We need to send a very strong message to those businesses and community groups that we are doing our very best and that the issue is at the top of our agenda. I accept the points the Minister makes but I am not sure the issue is at the top of the agenda, for Cabinet or for Government as a whole.

I wish to raise the case of the leisure industry, which is at the acute end of this crisis. With the withdrawal of Leisure-Insure from the Irish market, what steps are being taken to ensure that play centres, bouncy castle operators and outdoor activity centre owners will even have the option to renew insurance, leaving aside the question of the rate and the price which are other matters, so that they can continue their businesses? What is being done to ensure that, following the vacancy created by the departure of the dominant player in the sector, Leisure-Insure, cover will be provided?

The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, and I are well aware of the importance of this issue and that is why the Minister of State went to London a couple of weeks ago to meet key insurance underwriters and to press the case for the coverage of the sector. I am aware that the withdrawal of any form of insurance in the sector makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many to provide their services, which in turn affects the jobs they provide. Many different sectors are affected by this and I need to take care in singling out any particular one. However, the Minister of State is pressing the case for deepening coverage in particular parts of our economy where coverage is currently diminished.

Tax Policy

Joan Burton

Question:

36. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance if he has spoken to his EU counterparts about recent data from EUROSTAT that found Ireland to be the least taxed country in the European Union based on the ratio of tax collected to gross domestic product; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46549/19]

Is the Minister aware that, according to data from EUROSTAT, the European Union's statistics agency, and based on the ratio of tax collected to gross domestic product that Ireland is the least taxed country in the European Union? In 2018 the average European rate stood at 40.3%, whereas the rate in Ireland stands at 23%. What does the Minister propose to do to address this issue?

The publication identifies Ireland as having the lowest tax-to-GDP ratio in the European Union, at 23%. This low ratio, however, primarily reflects well known issues in the measurement of GDP in Ireland. As a result, this measurement is not an accurate reflection of the relationship between tax revenues and economic output in Ireland.

The Deputy will be aware of the work we have done to develop the gross national income*, GNI*, method of looking at national income where we strip out some of the effects of global companies and globalisation on the national accounts. As a result of this work, GNI* provides a better measure of national income, one that is more consistent with the actual level of economic activity taking place here. Accordingly, the share of tax revenue to output in Ireland is best measured by using GNI* as a base. Taxes, as a share of GNI*, amounted to 37.7% in 2018. This figure compares to EUROSTAT's recently reported EU-wide tax-to-GDP ratio of 40.3%. When the Deputy considers the more appropriate measurement of national income, tax revenue as a share of national income is still below the average for the European Union, but it is far less below the average rate than in using GDP as the denominator. It is a far more accurate metric to use to measure tax revenue as a share of national income.

First, will the Minister agree that the issue for Ireland is the fact that we have very low corporate taxes? For instance, institutions such as the banks, particularly the banks we bailed out, pay little or no tax. They pay a modest levy of €150 million on profits which now run into the billions of euro, an issue the Minister has refused to address. Second, middle and higher income workers are paying quite a lot of income tax. Low paid workers are paying relatively little tax, but they are paying PRSI. What we have is a complete distortion caused, in particular, by the very big international companies in Ireland and the fact that a lot of intellectual property has been brought to Ireland. That is seen as a scandal in the rest of the world and one can only describe it as such. Many poor countries struggle to survive because the big corporations are paying very little tax anywhere.

I notice an increasing tendency in the Labour Party to deny or share any of the experience it had in government. The Deputy was a member of a Government, a very fine member at that, who gave great leadership in the State at a very difficult time, during which she well understood the pressure the corporate tax regime was under. She understands and understood then the sensitivity of the matter of rates and all of the challenges surrounding it. What we have is an issue with the measurement of national income. That is the key issue. The Deputy is wrong to say, using this measurement of national income, that we should make a set of changes, one of which, in particular, could be very damaging. We have a corporate tax regime that levies tax on a very wide range of economic activity at a rate over which we are standing. It is not the case that I have refused to address the issue of the tax contribution made by the banks in Ireland. I have debated the issue with the Deputy on many occasions, but it is my view that changing the regime in the way the Deputy wants would have very serious consequences for other interests of the Irish taxpayer.

I thank the Minister for the compliment. Yes, I was one of the people who initiated the contacts with the OECD. We only have a limited amount of time before the rest of the world refuses to accept that in certain parts of the world there can be a situation where fabulously wealthy corporations make no tax contributions. We facilitate it, which is why I have been an advocate - the OECD is now also an advocate - of the making of minimum effective tax contributions. I have given the Minister a simple example. The banks in Ireland took the shirts off the backs of Irish workers when they were bailed out. I again acknowledge that when the Labour Party was in government, I was very much the author of the bank levy and the proposal made to the Minister's predecessor. It yields €150 million, but I am citing the small example of the banks. Paul Krugman, the Nobel economics prize winner, used the term "leprechaun economics" to describe the phenomenon the Minister has just described. When will the Minister get banks and other very large corporations to pay a fair share of tax?

The Deputy has made the assertion that we facilitate very large companies in paying no tax. What we do is we implement our tax policy fairly without regard to any company or individual. The Deputy has given no recognition to the many changes made in our corporate tax policy, including by me, in recent years whereby we have dealt with issues related to hybrids and how tax is levied when income leaves the State. The Deputy will also be aware of the changes made by the previous Government that continue to implemented by the Government. The Deputy may throw around charges of leprechaun economics which she has just repeated for her own political benefit-----

No, Paul Krugman said it.

-----but it is my job to ensure our reputation will continue to be built because of the changes we are making. If I was to make any of the changes the Deputy is recommending and they resulted in the loss of a single Irish job, she would be the first Deputy to come into the House to castigate me for doing so.

Deputy Broughan has the next question. I know that he will observe the time limits.

Banking Sector Staff

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

37. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance his views on the continuing job losses in the pillar and other banks and the perception among the public that banking services, including online services, are deteriorating for households and businesses. [45809/19]

Of course, I will observe the time limits. Since the economic crash, the size of the workforce, particularly in the five pillar banks, has fallen by 45%. The Financial Services Union has, rightly, complained that there has been a dripfeed of information, with AIB losing 1,000 workers, Bank of Ireland losing 1,000 workers and losses in Permanent TSB and so on. The workforce has contracted as a result of Fintech and the revised payments services directive, PSD2. Obviously, it is a major problem, in particular for the banks we own.

I am aware of reports of ongoing and potential rationalisation within the banking sector, both in Ireland and on a wider European level. Reductions in staffing levels are always a matter of regret, as are branch closures. As Minister, I hope they can be kept to the minimum necessary to ensure the banks can meet their obligations to their customers and the need for them over time to be able to contribute to the economy.

The Deputy will be aware that the banking sector is experiencing a challenging operating environment, with an ongoing period of low European Central Bank interest rates, slower than expected loan book growth and general uncertainty surrounding Brexit. In addition, the traditional banking model has been under pressure for some years to adapt and deal with legacy issues. In such circumstances, cost management is likely to remain a high priority for banks as it is an area under their control. However, these are decisions to be made by the boards and management of individual banks which need to be run on an independent and commercial basis. The independence of the banks is protected by relationship frameworks which are legally binding documents that cannot be changed unilaterally. They are publicly available and were insisted on by the European Commission to protect competition in the Irish market. Notwithstanding this, officials from my Department have contacted the various banks mentioned by the Deputy which have all stated they are investing across all channels to improve customer experience and continue to invest significantly in their IT systems and online services.

It is hard to believe the pillar banks regarding net interest margins because we are still paying among the highest interest rates in the European Union. Therefore, the Irish banking market should be very profitable. Obviously, major developments include FinTech and new structures from the European Union. With regard to Brexit, the financial services sector currently employs 40,000 to 45,000 people and we were told a lot of companies would come to Dublin, Cork and our other cities and build on the overall financial services sector. I understand we are the eighth largest provider of financial services in the European Union. It is depressing to read constant reports of people in the pillar banks being let go. We do not seem to have new structures to take advantage of the new directives from Europe.

The Deputy is correct that a lot of work went on to ensure that if changes took place in the UK as a result of Brexit, Ireland would be well placed to attract additional investment and jobs. That is what we have done. Bank of America and JP Morgan have made decisions that are a result of Ireland being a competitive and stable place in which to grow financial services. I do not think that detracts any way from the Deputy's main point. Of course I acknowledge the concerns of staff working in some of the banks that are now being associated with this kind of commentary. I know that the banks take very seriously the communication they have with their employees and they need to manage this in a careful way. I need to reiterate to the Dáil that this is a matter in which I do not play a role. It is a matter for the boards of these banks and their individual managers. I expect they will do all that can be done to keep this kind of difficult change to a minimum.

There is a perception that, along with declining work forces, there is also a lack of services as we have branches which have no managers, one manager managing four or five branches and so on. We signed up to the payment services directive and are seeing the impact of that in our current accounts when we get responses on our phones if we carry out transactions on the web. There is also the new system of open banking, which allows third parties to access our accounts. It is a profound change. Is it the case that the pillar banks have not committed enough to those services?

The Minister set up the culture board recently, which is very important for the banks. How will the Central Bank regulate a plethora of new financial providers based in Germany, Spain and so on, not to mention companies such as Google and Facebook? I was in Sweden during the summer and noticed that the country has become almost cashless, which seems to be the way things are going.

I refer to mortgage rates. In light of the comments of the deputy governor of the Central Bank, Ed Sibley, at the Banking and Payments Federation of Ireland conference and those of the Minister on "Morning Ireland" today, I wish to raise two key issues. The first is the massive differential between Irish rates and European norms and the second is the unfavourable treatment of existing customers compared to new customers. These are issues we have raised for some time. We have made some proposals of which the Minister not been supportive. In light of the comments of the deputy governor and the Minister's own views, does he intend to raise this issue with the Central Bank and find a way forward to improve the situation?

The Central Bank and Mr. Sibley have reiterated a number of important points that I and the Central Bank have made. While recognising that these are commercial decisions in which we do not play a role, I want the rate of interest offered to existing mortgage holders in Ireland to become more competitive. In order for that to happen, other changes need to be made, particularly the level of non-performing loans in our country.

On the issue raised by Deputy Broughan regarding financial service providers in Ireland, as he will be aware, to provide a service in Ireland they need to be registered in Ireland. Any entity which is providing a service must be regulated by the Central Bank to ensure it is properly regulated. As to whether I believe our existing banks have the measure of this, yes, I believe so. Some important changes are happening in some banks in regard to the digital dimension of how they provide services. This is likely to require significant and further investment in the future from banks to make sure they have the IT systems that are capable of providing these kinds of services. Some of the companies to which Deputy Broughan referred have very low levels of staff.

Illicit Trade

Brendan Smith

Question:

38. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance the additional measures he plans to implement to deal with cross-Border smuggling and illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and drink products; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46644/19]

Brendan Smith

Question:

53. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance the recent discussions he or his officials have had with the authorities in Northern Ireland on the need to deal with the scourge of illicit cross-Border trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46645/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 53 together.

The threat that fuel fraud and the illicit alcohol and tobacco trade pose to legitimate businesses, consumers and the Exchequer is clear and I am assured by Revenue that combating such criminality continues to be a priority for it. Steps taken by Revenue to combat the illegal fuel trade include the introduction of stringent supply chain controls and reporting requirements and a rigorous programme of enforcement action. In addition, Revenue and the UK Revenue and Customs undertook a joint initiative to introduce a new marker for use in marked fuels, which came into operation from April 2015. Revenue has also conducted random national sampling programmes in the years 2016 to 2019. I am satisfied that its work against fuel fraud and the illicit alcohol and tobacco trade has achieved a considerable level of success. For my part, I will fully consider any additional proposals for change that may be brought forward by Revenue which would enhance its capacity to deal effectively with fraud and criminality in these areas.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I commend the work of the Revenue Commissioners, as well as the times when it is supported by other statutory agencies. As we know, it often works in difficult circumstances and in many instances is dealing with dangerous criminals. Unfortunately, the illicit cross-Border trade in drinks, household fuel and tobacco products is still going on. I appeal to the Minister to constantly review the situation and give diligent consideration to strengthening some of the powers of the Revenue Commissioners. As we all know, unfortunately, revenue is being lost to our State. Allied to that are the unfair burdens put on decent and honourable small and medium enterprises, which are trying to compete with people who are trading illegally. The carbon tax is an additional burden in respect of household fuel products. Products are coming from Northern Ireland to Border counties and much further south. Our decent and honourable businesses cannot compete. We need to strengthen the powers of the Revenue Commissioners and other statutory agencies to deal with this trade which is happening as we speak.

The Deputy regularly raises this issue with me and I know how important it is to the businesses and communities he represents. On a number of occasions when we have discussed this, I have made available to him information on the scale of seizures that are happening. He may be aware that as recently as April of this year, 2.9 million smuggled cigarettes were detected and removed in a single operation by the Revenue Commissioners. I will continue to respond positively to any proposals from the Revenue Commissioners in regard to additional resources or warranted powers they need. This represents a loss of revenue to our economy. It is illegal and on many occasions this revenue is used to fund further illegal and dangerous activities.

I am determined to support the Revenue Commissioners in any way I can as they seek to ensure they continue to have the upper hand in dealing with this illegal activity.

We need to send a clear message to decent and honourable businesses that they will be protected as much as possible. Unfortunately, they are not competing on a level playing field as they trade in certain products. Many businesses, particularly in the Border area, are struggling. They want to pay proper wages to their employees, pay tax to the State and pay VAT. Their business is being undermined by this illicit trade. A message must go out to industry and local SMEs that every effort will be made to curtail this illegal trade and eliminate cross-Border smuggling as far as possible.

The message I want to send to business owners is that we want to ensure they have a level playing field. More importantly for them, the right action must be taken to create such a level playing field. I hope it is apparent from the actions I have detailed in my response to the Deputy that we are aiming to achieve this objective. We will continue our efforts in that regard.