This applies only to selected areas, including the Custom House Dock zone. It does not apply to the Shannon Airport zone.
Finance Bill, 1996 [ Certified Money Bill ]: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Final Stages.
As regards designated tax areas which have been put in place over the past number of years. I raised an issue in relation to Knock International Airport on Second Stage. Given that this is the tenth anniversary of the opening of that airport, will the Minister consider extending designated status to the airport? It would add to the viability of the airport, which is making a profit at present, and it would benefit the region because this airport is the gateway to the west.
I am informed that this section applies to activities as distinct to specific regions and that the activities qualify regardless of where they are carried out. Knock airport is a separate matter which I will come back to.
I move recommendation No. 9:
In page 37, before section 25, but in Chapter II, to insert the following new section:
"25.—Section 15 (1) (e) (iii) (I) of the Finance Act, 1991, is hereby amended by substituting the following paragraph for paragraph (a):
`(a) the operation of tourist accommodation facilities for which the Bord maintains a register in accordance with the Tourist Traffic Acts, 1939 to 1987, other than hotels, guest houses and self-catering accommodation, except that Bord Fáilte may at its discretion, where the characteristics and tourist needs of an area so justify, admit a hotel, guest house or self-catering accommodation as a qualifying tourist undertaking which would obtain the same treatment as a holiday hostel.'.".
We have not extended this provision to hotels because they already enjoy a generous capital allowance scheme. While some will argue that this is necessary, that can be discounted by the amount of hotel activity which is ongoing throughout the country in terms of the building of new hotels and refurbishment. The existing system of capital allowances is very generous, so we do not propose to extend the BES to hotels.
There are areas where there may be unusual circumstances which merit some consideration and where hotels should be given the same treatment as holiday hostels. I urge the Minister to consider such situations in the future.
I would be happy to reconsider that in due course.
This section relates to concessions to people with mines and to those carrying out work in areas where mines were located.
The sequence of sections has changed; this section relates to filming.
Recommendations Nos. 10, 11 and 12 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move recommendation No. 10:
In page 43, line 5, to delete "1996" and substitute "1997".
I am concerned about the proposed changes in the resort scheme before it really gets under way. The ground rules for the operation of this new scheme have been changed and this will be detrimental to the overall drive to make these resorts a success. The scheme has been worthwhile and has made a contribution to the development of the areas involved, including Kilkee and Lahinch in my constituency of Clare. The only problem they had was that sewerage and water facilities were not adequate to deal with the development which took place. The reason I put forward these dates is to extend the scheme by another year as it is only getting started. I have a problem with changing the scheme before we see how it is working and with limiting it to April 1996 as opposed to April 1997.
The Senator referred to schemes in County Clare, of which he is a very eminent representative. It is probably testimony to the persuasive powers of Deputy Bhamjee, who has a certain way with words, among other things.
He does not even know where the two places are.
Anybody who is worried about the duration of this scheme should take comfort from the way in which the urban designated area scheme has functioned. It is necessary to have a short time window because that concentrates the mind and forces people to make investment decisions. If it is open-ended, we will not get the concentrated effect. We must understand that we are not creating new investment but redirecting existing potential investment to particular sectors. That is only effective from the point of view of market intervention if one has a short time frame. If the scheme is working well and if people have a legitimate argument for its extension, that will be looked at in the future, as has been the case in the past. People have a certain number of years to get their act together or else this tide will pass. That has worked elsewhere and we are applying the same principle here.
As regards changes in the rules, approximately 11 categories of investment are covered by the seaside resort scheme. It was in respect of two of these — holiday cottages and apartments — that a tax regressive, legally constructed tax plan was presented to us in respect of a number of developments. This was way in excess of what was the convention and of what we had intended. We intervened to correct not what was a loophole but a much more liberal interpretation of the tax allowances. They were interpreted legally, cleverly and creatively by the people who presented the schemes and who received a much wider and more substantial tax allowance. As the jargon would put it, it was a fair cop for those lucky enough to get it. We have now reverted the system to meet the intention originally provided for it in the legislation.
Time should not be a problem and anybody who is worried about it should take comfort from this. People should enter the system now if they want to benefit from any time extensions which there might be. I am not giving any undertaking that there will be any such extensions but nobody will be penalised by virtue of the fact that they started before the time elapsed. However, we will not leave the situation open-ended. It must be concentrated for cost purposes. The constraints in respect of cottages and apartments were necessary to bring them back into line with the normal kind of tax incentives which prevailed.
Section 34 provides for tax concessions to encourage people to carry out renovations to mines. There are many quarries throughout the country, especially in scenic areas. Will the Minister consider extending this concession to owners of quarries or to communities in the vicinities of them?
This is the first time this proposal has been presented to me. I will look at it sympathetically. I take the point made by the Senator. There are a number of unsightly quarries, many of which are abandoned and are no longer commercially active. To use a commercial phrase, the companies which own them may no longer be trading. There may be a limit to the effectiveness of tax incentives or write offs. This is certainly an issue which should be looked at and I would be happy to do so.
What is the predicted uptake of this scheme, what grants have been sanctioned and what effect will the scheme have on the unemployment situation?
I am not in a position to give the Senator the detailed information he is looking for because it is not available to me at present. Much of it is in the Department of Enterprise and Employment. I will try to obtain it for the Senator and I will write to him about it.
Is the scheme generally working and having an impact on the unemployment figures?
In this section we are talking about exemption from double taxation for employment grants.
The section also deals with recruitment subsidies.
We expect that approximately 5,000 people will benefit from recruitment subsidies. The main subsidy of £80 a week will not come into effect until 1 July. It is too early to answer the Senator's question.
I move recommendation No. 13:
In page 72, between lines 35 and 36, to insert the following new subsection:
"(2) Section 51 (as amended by the Finance Act, 1995) of the Finance Act, 1988, is hereby amended in subsection (1) by the addition of the following:
`(e) machinery or plant or an industrial building provided by a company for use for the purpose of trading operations carried on by it in the IDA Business Park, Dangan, Galway.'."
This amendment proposes to include machinery or plant or industrial buildings provided by a company for use for the purpose of trading operations carried on by it in the IDA Business Park, Dangan, County Galway. I am advised that the Finance Act, 1988, and subsequent Finance Acts phased out accelerated capital allowances. In general, such accelerated allowances are now only available in respect of certified trading operations in the International Financial Services Centre and in the Shannon Airport region. It, therefore, would not be appropriate to reopen that closed chapter. Even if it were appropriate, it would not be possible to single out one specific location or entity such as the park in Galway.
If this proposal is not possible in this situation, where could it be considered? In view of the success of the IFSC and other sectors of the international services industry — I refer only to international services so described in the relevant IDA documentation — it would be worthwhile to consider a further location for such services, perhaps with specific types in mind. Ireland deals with only approximately 0.2 per cent of international reinsurance, which is a major industry confined to the major financial capitals of the world, such as London, Paris and New York. There is significant potential to attract to this country some of the international companies which deal in insurance and reinsurance. The fact that mail order companies can now operate in the Shannon region is significant.
I appreciate it may not be possible, but other segments of the international service industry could be expanded and a new location for this expansion should be considered. The IDA business park in Galway was opened almost nine years ago in a prestigious location on the outskirts of the city. However, there is just one tenant in the park at present, an American firm in the service industry. It is a fine site, in a prestigious location close to the university grounds. It needs an impetus and I urge the Minister to consider designating this site in order to attract further international service companies to Ireland.
I understand the Senator's concerns, but the 10 per cent corporation tax regime applies across the country for manufacturing and international traded services. I understand firms engaged in either of these activities, such as international reinsurance, qualify, although the precise nature of a project must be examined by the relevant authorities. Under European Union taxation law it is not possible to introduce zones which would qualify for additional specific tax relief. It was necessary to secure the agreement of the Commission to provide the IFSC and Shannon schemes because they are now deemed, and properly so, in effect a form of State aid.
Under European competition law Ireland cannot engage in competitive disadvantage or advantage between one tax regime and another without the agreement of the Commission. It is not exclusively within the remit of the Irish authorities to extend to Galway or anywhere else the regime which currently pervades within the IFSC or in Shannon. The agreement of the Commission is required and it is not well disposed to providing such an extension at present. In common with the rest of the country, the business park at present enjoys a favourable tax regime, relative to international competition, and I fail to understand why it is not trading more successfully. I am surprised there is only one tenant.
There is only one tenant, and the attraction of Shannon or the IFSC may be a factor. Has it ever been put to the Commission that a further area should be designated? I understand from industry sources that existing business in this sector and allied sectors is being lost to Ireland and Europe because other countries are offering significant advantages, such as those which can be enjoyed in the two designated areas. For this reason a request to the European Commission for a third location in Ireland is merited.
It has not been put to the Commission that additional areas should be designated. Shannon had such status historically and it was a tax free zone when Ireland joined the EU. The IFSC was specifically negotiated in the context of the big bang and deregulation of financial markets and the attempt by the European Union to foster the growth of regional financial centres. It was possible to argue successfully for this concession in the context of a once off window. However, unlike the rest of the 10 per cent, it does not extend to the year 2010; it is confined to the year 2005. I cannot give the Senator any comfort and I would mislead him if I did so. In my time in office there will not be any approach to the Commission to designate further areas.
Ireland's existing tax regime is attractive in terms of inward investment and I will raise with the Minister for Enterprise and Employment the reason the business park does not appear to be developing as rapidly as it should. I am familiar with the site because I pass by it relatively frequently and I am surprised there is just one occupant. It is a big capital investment which is not returning its cost.
The Minister is aware that some years ago a successful grant scheme was introduced to enable Irish shipowners to invest in additional capacity for the Irish fleet. The scheme was most successful in so far as it extended. It was discontinued due to financial constraints, but a number of important developments occurred in the short time the scheme operated. For example, Arklow Shipping, a successful Irish company which has been trading for many years, was in a position to put a sizeable number of additional ships to sea. This increased the Irish tonnage and also the number of people employed in the shipping business.
I am not sure of the Minister's view on this matter. I am aware that he dislikes grant schemes; but given that so much of our trade depends on shipping and given that the Irish fleet is small and vulnerable, it is desirable to examine the possibility of reintroducing the shipping grants scheme to enable further ships to be put on the Irish register.
I acknowledge the Senator's interest in this area and the contribution he made when he held that responsibility. However, the proposed changes are in line with the requests made by the industry through the current Minister for the Marine; they generously meets its requirements as we understand them. The certification process requires that the Minister for the Marine must be satisfied that a ship which is the subject of a lease will result in the enhancement of the fleet and meet current safety and environmental standards as well as having potential positive economic and other benefits.
Furthermore, the certification process will allow ship leasing to be monitored and remedial action to be taken if necessary. There are also requirements to ensure a maximisation of the Irish content so that it does not become a flag of convenience. The proposals to relax the previous tight constraints will meet the current demands of the industry. If its demands or needs change in due course, I and, I am sure, my successors will be as sympathetic as possible.
Recommendations Nos. 15, 16 and 17 are related and may be discussed together.
I move recommendation No. 15:
In page 87, after line 42, to insert the following new paragraph:
"(g) in the administrative county of Clare — Scattery island;".
I draw the Minister's attention to Scattery island which he may not have had the opportunity to visit.
Is it a place or state of mind?
Perhaps Deputy Bhamjee has taken the Minister to the island already. With the recent acquisition of a new boat, I hope the Deputy will be able to travel between Kilrush and Scattery island and that the Minister will have the opportunity to visit it during the summer.
I would be honoured.
The island is an important historical and monastic settlement which has been in foreign ownership — by Belgians — for many years. Due to the initiative of the local Catholic canon a few years ago and the Kilrush Community Development Association, SFADCo and the county council, a successful arrangement was made whereby the island was put back into local ownership. It is managed by the Kilrush Community Development Association, SFADCo, Clare County Council and Kilrush Urban Council. The Office of Public Works proposes an important development in the form of landing facilities. There are seven churches on the island and it contains one of the few round towers in Ireland. It is, therefore, an important historical site which has not been touched for generations. The first preservation order put on any historical site in Ireland was put on Scattery island by the British authorities. Some important items found on the island are currently in British museums.
There is now a keen wish to undertake restoration and construction work on the island. It would be beneficial if the island was included under the provisions contained in this section. In addition, there are a number of old residences. I am sure the Minister is aware that nobody resides on the island any longer. The intention would be to use this provision to enable reconstruction of some of the properties and to encourage some of the families who have left the island to return, even on a temporary basis.
The island contains an important historical monastic settlement, one which will be further developed by the State in the future and by local authorities and local development associations. It would benefit from concessions included under the provisions of this section.
I learn something every day about the geography of my own country. I was not aware of Scattery island and I am indebted to the Senator for adding to my knowledge and education. However, I regret to advise him that there are two criteria under which this tax exemption scheme is being granted to all islands. The first is that there should be no connection to the mainland and that the island can only be accessible by sea or air. The second is that the island community has been resident on the island for at least one generation. There are many islands around the coast——
Some 365 in Clew Bay.
The purpose of this provision is to attempt to reinforce the fragile economic infrastructure of islands that have permanent resident communities 12 months of the year. The recommendation made to us was on foot of a report from Comhairle na hOileán, which the Minister of State at the Department of the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Carey, proposed. These are tight criteria. We have added to them.
Could the Minister of State not have included the island?
He was not able to because the council which made the recommendation could not, by definition, have included it.
The Minister makes the decisions.
The Minister makes decisions on foot of good advice.
I am offering good advice.
The Senator's advice does not address the issue for which this tax incentive is intended, however well intended his proposals. They may qualify under different categories. This proposal is designed to reinforce a fragile economic infrastructure and to provide a limited form of tax incentive and support for permanent communities on islands around the coast. They have been clearly defined and are open to statistical evaluation.
Two islands were mentioned in the course of representations made by two Deputies in the other House — Coney island off Sligo and Gola island — which are in the process of being rehabilitated. The role of the Minister for Finance with regard to this and to urban designated areas is to take the advice on location and designation from the relevant authority or line Department. With regard to urban areas, this comes from the Department of the Environment. Nobody from the Department of Finance — neither officials nor the Minister — carves out areas on a map. We take the advice because we are not competent to designate areas; our competency is in other areas.
Likewise it is the Minister of State at the Department of Arts Culture and the Gaeltacht, who is responsible for the offshore islands who has given us this list, based in turn on the advice of Comhairle na hOileán. While I am advised, for the first time, by Senator Daly that this is an island of significance, unfortunately it does not meet the criteria. If I were to accede to it I would have to accede to such uninhabited places as Inishvickillaune, where doubtless the residents are desperately in need of financial support, and other places. I am not sure the Senator wishes me to do that.
I will not get into any discussion about Inishvickillaune. While the provisions are desirable and welcome, other matters should be considered, including the historical significance of the monastic settlement, which is in need of protection and consideration.
What about the rural rehousing scheme?
I am glad to note there are no inhibitions on the part of the Minister in agreeing recommendation No. 17. I hope he will strike a blow for democracy today in doing so. Clifden is probably the outstanding resort in the country that has not been included in the qualifying list of resort areas under the designated areas. In view of its peripheral geographical location, the town has not progressed in the same way as similar towns around the country.
The Minister is familiar with the area and is always welcome there. There is major dereliction in Clifden. It is a town in west Connemara which has become very popular. Inclusion in this scheme would have a major economic impact on the area.
A few years ago, when I was Minister of State at the Department of Education, we gave a grant of £300,000 as part of the scheme for leisure facilities. The people of west Connemara were genuinely unable to come up with their 30 per cent contribution to draw down that grant. As Minister of State I had to go to individuals in Dublin who took holidays in the area to get them to put up some money so that I did not have to withdraw the grant. Such is the economic level of people in the area. There is a lot of dereliction. Announcements were made recently about significant developments in Clifden. If the Minister includes Clifden, he would not only go down in history and bring me with him, but he would give a major impetus to development in west Connemara.
I regret I know little about the district to which the Senator referred. For a Labour Party Minister to throw incentives at a town which is already booming would be like throwing petrol on a fire.
It is not booming.
It is not booming. We should go back to the origins of the seaside resort scheme, which was conceived when Deputy McCreevy was Minister for Tourism and Trade in the Fianna Fáil/Labour Administration, with the assistance of the current chairman of Bord Fáilte, Mr. Padraig Ó hUiginn — a much respected retired mandarin from the Civil Service. It was designed to address the particular problem of traditional seasonal seaside resorts around the coast which used to cater for families before package holidays brought them to Spain, Greece and Turkey and whose infrastructure was built up to sustain and support that market demand which was vibrant for 20 or 30 years. The advent of greater affluence, more sophistication and cheap package tours meant that these people left not only our coasts but those of the United Kingdom and other northern European centres for places like Torremolinos and elsewhere.
It was considered at the time that a taxation scheme modelled on the urban designation scheme would regenerate the activities of those places. A limited number of seaside resorts grew during the debate across the Cabinet table. We have now confined the scheme to 15 resorts, some of which fit comfortably into that category, like Tramore, while others do not. Kilrush and Kilkee in Senator Daly's constituency are classic examples of what I am talking about.
And Achill Island. The people whose parents took them on holidays to Kilkee or to Achill Island now go on their traditional family holiday with their children to places like Benidorm.
The scheme was introduced to reinvigorate those traditional seaside resorts. I only have the limited knowledge of a passing seasonal tourist, but I believe that Clifden does not fit into that category. The construction of a large new hotel was recently announced in Clifden. Large numbers of tourists visit the town during its short season, but it is not in the category of the seaside resorts for which the scheme was intended. While I would like to accommodate the Senator and secure his place in history, I cannot add one town without risking an avalanche of demands from all types of towns. Every seaside town would then be so designated and this would mean no one would win.
As the Minister said, he is a seasonal tourist. Clifden and west Connemara are bleak places for approximately eight months of the year. While I accept that the scheme was introduced for specific types of resorts, there is a need for future incentives for peripheral areas such as Clifden. While the development to which he referred is welcome and will enhance the future of Clifden, small bed and breakfast operators are concerned that they will not be able to live up to the competition. They will have to invest in the upgrading of their premises. I am concerned about this and that is why I am disappointed with the Minister's reply.
I ask the Minister about the extension of the resort scheme to Liscannor, which is part of Lahinch. I am not sure if the Minister knows the location of Liscannor; it is the extension of the coastal area from Lahinch town. Liscannor and Lahinch are almost tied together and they form part of the economics of that region. Lahinch has enjoyed success under the seaside resort scheme and I appreciate the Minister's work in that regard. However, it has resulted in developments moving out towards Liscannor and Liscannor pier where private developers are interested in investing in leisure and amenity facilities at the harbour. This would also facilitate Lahinch as it is part of the overall economy of the area. I am glad Senator Howard is here because it seems we are fighting a losing battle. We do not want to develop a new town, but we want the existing designated area of Lahinch to be extended to the Liscannor area.
The other area I want to mention is the marina in Kilrush, which has been successful. When it was being constructed the Government introduced restrictions on the BES which tightened up the amount that could be raised. Initially, £2.5 million could have been raised to undertake BES schemes but that was reduced to £1 million. This caught the developers at the half way stage and was the main reason the marina project came to a standstill. Politicians, local community organisations and the urban council are keen to reactivate this project.
The marina is beginning to be successful and some new developments have been approved there. A new £1 million scheme is underway at present and private companies have also expanded. This has meant that the marina, which is adjacent to Scattery island, is beginning to have an impact on the economics of the area, which was run down and neglected. It would be a further incentive to invest in some of the old derelict buildings at the old harbour in Kilrush, which is now the Creek Marina, and where 600 or 700 boats operated before the carriage of goods and services by sea into the western areas was overtaken by developments.
I ask the Minister to extend Lahinch by introducing a small technical amendment and to make some arrangement for the marina which would encourage much needed investment in an area which has been neglected.
I welcomed this scheme last year because it was a great initiative. We can monitor the 15 areas which have been included to see how they are progressing. Major developments have taken place in Achill Island, Westport and Mulraney. I would like other areas, such as Newport and Belmullet, to be included but I understand why this cannot happen. We should monitor how urban areas, such as Westport and Salthill, have progressed in comparison to rural places like Achill Island. Major progress has taken place and I welcome the Minister's great initiative.
Now that we have done a tour of Mayo, Galway and Clare, I ask the Minister to reply.
While I am sympathetic to what Senator Daly has said, the initiative in designating the geographic location is in the first instance the responsibility of the local authorities. When the seaside proposals were announced the local authorities were invited to draw the lines on the maps. They submitted those to the Department of the Environment, who in turn submitted them to us. The Department of Finance has neither the capability nor the aptitude to get involved in extending townland boundaries. Even if we had that aptitude, I would not be inclined to exercise it.
We have concentrated on areas that by general consensus are in need of rejuvenation. There is a limited amount of investment capital available and we have made some projections about how much it is likely to be, based on previous experience. The amount of investment capital, credit and other finances available at present is probably about enough, perhaps slightly less. We want to get those areas developed.
Senator Daly spoke about extensions to existing areas that have designation status and moving the line by about a few miles, if I understood him correctly.
In Lahinch, yes. Marinas are separate.
Let the potential investment in the localities involved take place. If there is demand for additional investment activity when the existing areas have been completed, I am sure we will be sympathetic to considering an extension. However, the scheme is only one year old and is scheduled to run for a minimum of three years. It will probably be extended. Let us concentrate on the areas that have been designated. If we increased the number of resorts this year we would just add to the uncertainty and that would not be good for investor confidence. They must know that the areas and the number of towns are fixed and that, if they want to do business in these places, the ground rules upon which their investment decisions are made will not be shifted. While I will be happy to consider an extension in due course, if I have responsibility at that time, it would be misleading and counter-productive to change it now.
I welcome the Minister's proposal that 100 per cent of construction expenditure will be allowed against tax. I also welcome the application of that provision to the conversion of certain buildings. Building on an island involves enormous transport costs because the goods must be taken to the island by boat. Will the transport of cement blocks and other materials be included as part of the construction costs? Development on the islands is badly needed. There are seven islands off the coast of County Cork and many people live on them. Incentives such as this will be of tremendous benefit.
I hesitate to offer advice of this nature to somebody from west Cork. However, I am sure the contract price agreed between the contractor and the client would include transport of materials and labour to the site where construction is being undertaken. That is usually the case. There is nothing to suggest that transportation costs, which are an integral part of a contract construction price, would not be included. The site cost is excluded. It is presumed that the site cost would already be subsumed because the person would already own it. Construction costs include all the associated costs.
I move recommendation No. 16:
In page 102, before section 71, but in Part I, to insert the following new section:
"71.—The Third Schedule to the Finance Act, 1995, is hereby amended by the addition of the following to the list of qualifying resort areas:
`(i) The village and adjoining harbour in Liscannor, County Clare,
(ii) Kilrush Creek Marina and adjoining lands and buildings adjacent thereto in the town of Kilrush, County Clare'.".
I move recommendation No. 17:
In page 102, before section 71, but in Part I, to insert the following new section:
"71—The Third Schedule to the Finance Act, 1995, is hereby amended by the addition of the following to the list of qualifying resort areas:
`The Town, Hinterland and Foreshore of Clifden'.".
- Bohan, Eddie.
- Byrne, Seán
- Cassidy, Donie.
- Daly, Brendan.
- Dardis, John.
- Fahey, Frank.
- Farrell, Willie.
- Fitzgerald, Tom.
- Honan, Cathy.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Kiely, Rory.
- Lanigan, Mick.
- McGennis, Marian.
- Mullooly, Brian.
- Norris, David.
- O'Brien, Francis.
- Wright, G.V.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Calnan, Michael.
- Cashin, Bill.
- Cosgrave, Liam.
- Cregan, Denis (Dino).
- D'Arcy, Michael.
- Enright, Thomas W.
- Hayes, Brian.
- Henry, Mary.
- Howard, Michael.
- Mc Aughtry, Sam.
- McDonagh, Jarlath.
- Maloney, Seán.
- Manning, Maurice.
- O'Sullivan, Jan.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Reynolds, Gerry.
- Ross, Shane P.N.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.
- Townsend-, Jim.
- Wall, Jack.
I move recommendation No. 18:
In page 102, before section 71, but in Part I, to insert the following new section:
Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Capital Acquisitions Tax: Reliefs in Respect of Part-Time Third Level Education Fees
71.—(1) A person shall be entitled to deduct from his taxable income such sum as he has incurred in payment of fees in respect of part-time third level education.
(2) A company shall be entitled to deduct from its taxable income such sum as it has paid to its employees to defray the fees incurred by them in respect of part-time third level education.
(3) No such payment as aforesaid by a company shall be treated as a gift for tax purposes".
We discussed this issue earlier.
I welcome the £1,000 old car scrappage allowance made by the Minister last year, and the decision to make it more flexible this year by including spouses in the definition of "the person concerned". How successful does the Minister think this provision has been? I think it has been very successful. There has been a big increase in the number of new cars on the road in the last year. It was a great initiative and I compliment the Minister for introducing it; perhaps he can tell me when the scheme will expire.
I thank the Senator for his generous comments. The proposal was not born in the Department of Finance or in my own political group. It was submitted to me by the industry, based on the experience of European car industries, including France and, I think, Denmark. The scheme will expire at the end of this calendar year. It has been a considerable success. The representative for the Society of Irish Motor Industry, Mr. Cyril McHugh, proposed it among other measures; his great concern being the large volume of second hand imports from the United Kingdom. Approximately 13,000 units have benefitted from the scheme to date. By completion, it will have run for 18 months — from July last year. This small amendment is to adjust the practice of including a spouse, which had been incorporated effectively and sensibly by the Revenue Commissioners; the Senator is familiar with what is proposed. It is a good, win/win scheme because the Department's revenue from VRT and related income is very high. The silence from SIMI has attested to how well things are going. Content can be measured by its silence and discontent by its noise. There is such silence at present that it can be concluded there is great contentment.
When is the expiry date?
The end of this year.
Does this section deal with the rounding of amounts on machines?
Is it rounded downwards?
When, in history, has anything been rounded downwards — except when you are getting something from somebody else? Excuse me, I am being facetious and I should not be. It is rounded off to the nearest unit — if it is 71p it will be rounded down to 70p, if it is 73p, it will be rounded up to 75p. It is for unit convenience. The Senator knows this is about avoiding the difficulty of cigarette stock machines having 2p and 1p wrapped as change, and causing a shortage of coinage. It is a classic anti-red tape measure which resulted in cigarette suppliers having to repack and get the coins, which was a nonsense. I suspect the rounding is to the nearest unit and is either up or down. I hazard a guess it is up.
I think it is relevant because there will be no regulations to decide the matter.
We are talking about a market mechanism. If somebody wants the convenience of getting up from their seat in a pub and going to the nearest location to buy cigarettes 2p above the odds, they can buy them. If they do not want to pay the 2p, they can walk 50 metres to the newsagents and buy them at the market price. It is simply customer choice. We are avoiding the bureaucratic imposition of wrapping 3p and 2p around a packet of cigarettes. I do not see any difficulty in this.
Perhaps the Minister could explain the purpose of this chapter in relation to VAT. Will the new directive mean prices could increase?
Most of the changes in relation to VAT in this section are of a technical or administrative nature, or are derived from the requirements of European Union Directives. As the Senator will be aware, our VAT regime is a common European entity, regulated by the Commission, ECOFIN and the member states. The Revenue Commissioners have the statutory responsibility for its administration and implementation. All these changes, by and large, relate to harmonisation or simplification requirements. They do not change the cost of VAT to the end user.
The end result will not mean an increase in prices?
There is another inadequacy in the whole VAT process. If Senator Quinn's supermarket sold a hot chicken, for example, he will not pay VAT. I have a vested interest; I am involved in the hot food restaurant business. However, if I sold a hot chicken at the same price as Senator Quinn, I must pay 12.5 per cent VAT. There are inadequacies in the VAT system.
If my friend, colleague and cousin Senator Quinn was to wrap a serviette around the chicken and offer salt with it, he would be selling a service and not a chicken. If he sold a service in the same way as Senator Burke, both of them would be paying VAT at 12.5 per cent. He is selling a commodity while Senator Burke is selling a service.
I move recommendation No. 19:
In page 121, before section 120, but in part IV, to insert the following new section:
"That owner occupied List 1 buildings within the designated areas shall be exempt from the operation of the property tax.".
The Minister may be sympathetic to this on a personal level — he has a professional background as an architect. He has been particularly sympathetic towards the redevelopment of the inner city, in particular the refurbishment of Georgian buildings. However, there is literally no incentive for people to restore houses in these areas.
Some years ago I managed to persuade a previous occupier of the post, Deputy Reynolds, to include some sections in a budget which appeared to give marginal relief to people — I had the same qualifications; they had to be List 1 buildings, had to be occupied and within the designated areas. This is because the Department of Finance, as guardian of the public purse, is necessarily rather penurious and guarded and afraid there will be a haemorrhaging of money from the Exchequer. Therefore, I put very severe restrictions on it.
I have asked on a number of occasions for information about the number of people who have taken up those provisions. I do not believe that one single person has ever triggered them. They are absolutely useless. I can certainly say that nobody in North Great George's Street, Henrietta Street or Mountjoy Square has ever gained any benefit under them because they were so restricted. It is time we looked at this situation again.
I have had correspondence with the Minister. It was indicated to me that one of the problems was political. If the Government started chipping away at the residential property tax, it might disintegrate gradually; I think it will disintegrate rapidly. I said on Second Stage that it looks very much as if there is so much rumbling and grumbling, not only from the Opposition which has a clear campaign to get rid of the residential property tax, but also substantial unease among the Minister's colleagues. If one takes the probable scenario that there will be an election next November, this will hit with a nasty bite in October. In the run up to an election, 70 per cent of the revenue is derived from the pre-key electoral constituencies in Dublin where the election will either be won or lost. It would be very wise of the Government to take this bull by the horns, abolish the tax now and do itself some real political good without having the situation eroded. My amendment is a narrower version of this, so perhaps I should confine myself to it.
In the 19th century, there was a campaign which was led with great fervour from the nationalist ranks with three platforms; fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale. There was a strong feeling about property ownership and the rights Irish people had to own, properly manage and reap the benefit from their property. One of the other legacies of that campaign was an attack on what was seen as the rackrenting system. If a tenant improved his or her property, the landlord sat idly by, watched the improving process and then, when the land had been improved, slapped an extra penal rent on top of it so the unfortunate tenant could never get out of the quagmire. This is the equivalent of rackrenting.
When somebody takes on the challenge of restoring an 18th century building, for example, with no assistance from the State — there are no grants available, unlike any other European capital city — and in doing the State's work for it in restoring its architectural heritage, its consequence, if successful, is that not only an individual house but, as in the case of North Great George's Street, and I hope, Henrietta Street, the entire area is raised, improved and made better socially, economically, architecturally and culturally. However, as a result of this, not only does a person not get a grant, he is penalised for daring to improve his area because the market will follow in, the value of the property will rise and he is in the property net.
I may seem be arguing for what may appear to be a selfish case. It may appear that I am doing this just for myself, but I am not.
The Senator is in excellent company.
Thank you. At the moment I am not paying residential property tax because a person is assessed on the section of the house in which he or she lives. I am currently living in two fifths of my house because to pay for its restoration in the absence of grants, I have let out the other three fifths. There is also a defunct brothel on one side.
The Senator cannot be accused of being a customer there.
I have never been a customer but I was in it. There was a press statement during the last election about a politician being caught in a brothel; I was that soldier. I went in to rescue that lady after an All-Ireland hurling final when an over-enthusiastic and too numerous congregation were attempting to avail of her services and they battered hell out of her door. I was quite concerned for her well being so I went down with a shillelagh, which my mother took with her to central Africa to protect her virtue, and scattered them with a flood of bad language. The door opened gingerly. I was invited inside and was given a cup of tea. I must say it was exactly what a brothel should be. It was simply heavenly. There was a knitted tea-cosy on the telephone and a pink plastic bath in the shape of a heart.
The Senator was defending virtue with a shillelagh.
I was defending the right of free enterprise in this city.
In any case, I do not imagine that the existence of this facility would increase the value of my house. My other neighbours are nice people of a proselytizing religion, that is, the Moonies. I forget what they are really called, but they are known as the Moonies.
That is a class of an intellectual brothel.
Yes. It is a spiritual brothel. I do not imagine that the existence of these two institutions, beloved as they may be by their adherents, would encourage family purchase of my establishment. I have written explaining this to the Revenue Commissioners and they seem to have accepted it so I do not actually pay property tax, but some of my neighbours probably either must or will have to pay that tax. It is extremely unfair and wrong to penalise people in this way for circumstances over which they have no control.
People in good faith take the risk and buy these buildings, which are often in dilapidated condition, may have dry rot, etc., and invest huge amounts of personal effort and considerable amounts of cash in them. I have neighbours, such as Ms Desiree Shortt, who painstakingly restored an enormous house — up on scaffold, picking away at the delicate plasterwork, restoring a Percy — and spend thousands of hours on this kind of stuff. It then becomes a showpiece and the net result is that we must pay for the privilege of restoring the nation's heritage. I cannot believe this is right and I ask the Minister to consider this proposal.
Senator Norris has ably made his case, as he always does, but he is one of those people who puts his money where his mouth is and he has put enormous effort, as have those others, into these wonderful buildings in the centre of the city.
This morning I was nearly accused of being the shop steward for the medical profession and doctors of philosophy so I would like to point out that I neither live near a designated area nor in a list one house; ours is only a list two building.
I am not trying to feather my own nest or deny the State property tax, several thousands pounds of which it gets from us every year. The point Senator Norris makes is relevant: people who put an enormous amount, not just of their money but also of their time and personal expertise, into the restoration of such buildings the values of which they see increase, find themselves within a short length of time owning desirable properties which is all very well, but they still have the same income and may find themselves obliged to pay property tax. I hope the Minister can look favourably on Senator Norris's recommendation and accept it.
At the other end of the scale, the new house grant is £3,000 for a first time buyer who purchases a new house. Will the Minister consider extending this to second-hand houses because first-time buyers are usually young married couples setting out on life? They may get a chance to buy a second-hand house cheaper, so I ask the Minister to consider extending this provision to second-hand houses.
In response to the succinct case made by Senator Norris, there is, in fact, a much deeper and wider case which the Senator is equally capable of making. While his proposed recommendation is flawed and, therefore, I cannot accept it, I accept the thrust of what he said. I am examining currently a series of measures, which I hope will be included in next year's budget and Finance Bill, which will address the issue.
There are some concerns and I would be happy to meet him and other groups, particularly pioneering people like himself who have taken the risk, task, dangers and associated worries upon themselves to see how we can maintain and sustain the cultural urban fabric of the country's heritage.
There are some principles which must be clearly set out. If we are to use or forgo taxpayers' money — which amounts essentially to the same thing — to enhance a cultural asset which remains permanently in the private ownership of individuals, some safeguards, offsets and counterbalances, either tangible of intangible, must be put in place. There must be a cost-benefit analysis, the criteria for which are shared and agreed by all sides.
Culture and tourism will be one of the biggest money earners for Europe in the next century, if it is not already. For example, Prague, one of the great jewels in the crown of European cities, attracts 15 million tourists a year and justifies that kind of attraction, and the population of the Czech Republic is 10 million. One can justify enhancing Dublin, for example, or, indeed, Cork or the Crescent in Limerick in a manner which reinforces the fabric of the town or city, its culture and its attraction to tourist because it generates so much business. North Great George's Street generates a fair bit of business — not the one to which the Senator referred — but the cost-benefit analysis would have to take all those factors into account. There are historical shifts in terms of usage, urban settlement patterns and other matters which are changing the usage of Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Square. Then, of course, we must make sure we are not throwing apples into an orchard, that we are not giving money to people who have plenty of it anyway and are getting a windfall gain.
Does the Senator accept there are offsetting considerations and that local authorities per se should categorise list one and two buildings? There are 88 local authorities around the country and the criteria for listing buildings varies from one local authority to another, as, it should. To use the European term, “subsidiarity”, what constitutes a list one building in County Donegal is not necessarily the same as what constitutes a list one building in County Meath or County Limerick, for example. I would not for one moment wish to impose a nation planning standard in that regard, but for taxation purposes, one would need a national standard because the tax code will apply from County Donegal to Dublin. Therefore, the use of an objective system of listing, and I know Senator Norris was using such a system, is, in itself flawed for that very reason. The Senator would probably accept that.
Representations have been made. There are considerable dramatic patterns of use and reuse, not in streets such as Henrietta Street and North Great George's Street in Dublin. I recall from another time and another life that Georgian Dublin accounts for in the order of 1 per cent of this city. If one takes account of the suburbs, it accounts for probably less of the city. Therefore, we are talking about a very small component of the history and culture of the city. The commercially viable part of it, which tended to be south of the river, is, in many respects, no longer commercially viable because the offices which were capable of sustaining this economic vitality and refurbishment are being moved out. Look at the uses in many of the squares south of the river; they have changed dramatically. There is an emerging problem and I intend to deal with it before it becomes a crisis. I hope I have dealt with the concerns to which Senator Norris referred. For various reasons I am not prepared to accept the recommendation as proposed. I intend to address this matter in a comprehensive way in next year's budget.
I know what Senator Burke is trying to say. That matter is fraught with difficulty. The first-time house buyers' who get the grant think the grant is intended for them; it is not. It is intended for the building industry. It was introduced to give a boost to the building industry. To extend it to second-hand markets would be costly and would not have any employment effect.
Some people would argue that the first-time buyers' grant is questionable from an economic point of view, but I do not propose to change it. It exists because it is employment related. A new house, by definition, must be built and entails recent employment whereas a second-hand house, by definition, has long since ceased to be an employment vehicle, and that is why there is the difference. Mortgage interest relief, etc., are obviously available anyway, but that is the situation with regard to the new house grant.
I thank the Minister. I am very encouraged by what he has said and, for that reason, I have changed my mind. I had intended calling a vote on this but I will not do so now because it would be fractious and silly. However, I would like to comment on one or two things the Minister said.
It struck me when reading the Bill that there was no provision to encourage people in this area while there was considerable encouragement for people developing the islands, for example. I am therefore very encouraged by the Minister's words. If one is in a situation where one can give this kind of encouragement to people to develop, restore and build on the western seaboard, particularly the islands, parity would require that something should be done in the north inner city, which is an area of considerable deprivation.
The influx of people restoring houses is good for the social texture. People like myself tend to complain if there is loud noise, drunkenness, drug addiction or bad behaviour. As professional people, we also have access to influence and that operates on behalf of all the residents in the area who may not have had access to such influence. There is a positive social good. I agree with the Minister that there must be some benefit to the State, but I urge him away from the traditional thinking in the Department of Finance which is that one must open the houses for 30 days of the year.
This is completely impractical. It may very well work for a stately home but if one is living in a terraced townhouse in which one is renting apartments and so on, it is quite impractical. It is also rather expensive and, in addition, one cannot get insurance to cover the tours. I have put on the record that I had a pair of valuable cufflinks pinched by a group of university graduates who were doing an architectural tour of my house. When I talked to the insurance company they told me I had invited them in so it was my own problem and I was not covered by insurance. It is not fair to expect people in terraced 18th century townhouses to invite troops of people in who require supervision, which is expensive, and causing wear and tear. It is simply not practical.
However, I welcome the Minister's encouraging comments and I look forward to taking him up on his suggestion that a representative group should have the opportunity to have discussions with him. I hope this matter will be resolved in next year's budget and I am happy to withdraw the recommendation for the time being.
I move recommendation No. 20:
In page 121, before section 120, but in Part IV, to insert the following new section:
"Part VI of the Finance Act, 1983, is hereby repealed with effect from the 6th day of April, 1996.".
As I understand it, this is a proposal to effectively abolish the RPT. The Government is not accepting this proposal. When the present Administration was formed, it was agreed in the Programme for a Government of Renewal, which forms the policy basis for this Government, that a study would be undertaken under the aegis of the Department of the Environment to look at ways of financing local government and that until such time as that study had been completed we would not make any dramatic or fundamental changes to the current system other than those introduced last year.
Those changes restored the original position with regard to property tax which prevailed prior to the changes made in 1993 by the then Minister, Deputy Ahern. Pending the outcome of that study, the recommendations and the decision of the Government I am not in a position to accept the recommendation.
Recommendations Nos. 21, 22 and 23 form a composite proposal and may be discussed together.
I move recommendation No. 21:
In page 121, before section 120, but in Part IV, to insert the following new section:
TAX RELIEFS FOR THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED
In this part `long-term unemployment' means an unbroken period of unemployment in excess of 12 months and cognate words shall be construed accordingly.".
These are comprehensive proposals in respect of long-term unemployment. Without being discourteous to the House, I believe I dealt with these fairly extensively earlier. The arguments I offered then would be the same as those I offer now. For that reason I am not in a position to accept the recommendations.
I move recommendation No. 24:
In page 121, subsection (1), lines 42 to 45, and in page 122, lines 1 to 15, to delete paragraph (c).
We have already extended the relief in respect of capital acquisitions tax. This proposal would confine additional relief to agricultural relief and I am not prepared to do that. I want to treat acquisitions between family and agricultural businesses on an equal basis. It would create great internal tensions, some of which might be actionable, if we were to make that differentiation.
I move recommendation No. 25:
In page 122, subsection (1), line 38, to delete "75 per cent." and substitute "100 per cent.".
In both this year's and last year's budgets I have made dramatic moves in relation to capital acquisitions tax relief. I was not present when Senator Daly made his contribution yesterday, although I did catch some of it on the monitor. Nor was he present when I replied. The distinction I made, and the philosophical underpinning for the relaxation of CAT for family businesses including farms, is the weakness of the indigenous industrial sector in this country and the high failure rate of family businesses which move from one generation to another.
By extending the concession to 75 per cent and simultaneously extending the period from six years to ten years we have addressed the issue of ensuring that businesses which require working capital on the point of transfer from one generation to another, and who could not fund the cost of pay out associated with CAT, would not be penalised to the point of being endangered. On the other hand if a member of the family or a beneficiary by way of inheritance wishes or insists upon cashing their chips on point of inheritance they should pay the full amount rather than get the deferral. That is the reason for the ten years. I think it is reasonably balanced and I would not propose to go any further.
I move recommendation No. 26:
In page 125, before section 130, but in Chapter I of Part VI, to insert the following new section:
"130.—(1) In this section—
‘assets' includes any cash, stocks, bonds, securities or any type of property whatsoever;
`the court' means the district court.
(2) The Revenue Commissioners shall be obliged to release any information in their possession concerning any assets or formally in the possession or under the control of any individual or a company if ordered by the Court to do so.
(3) An application for an order under this section shall be made by a Garda Officer not below the rank of Inspector. Before making such an order the court must be satisfied that the information requested is necessary to assist the Gardai in an investigation into the commission of an indictable offence.".
This relates to the question of drugs and the conveyance of information. I am informed that this is not necessary because the information and the requirement is already there in the criminal legislation which was enacted in 1994. Acceptance of the text of this amendment would put us in conflict with the existing text in the 1994 legislation and it would be open to mischievous interpretation or conflict. While I understand the explicit belt and braces approach which the party opposite and the Senator in question is proposing, in view of the fact that it is not the same as the 1994 legislation, it would be unhelpful and counter-productive.
I welcome this section which will mean that land will pass earlier to young farmers. The Minister's initiative in providing 100 per cent stock relief will be greatly welcomed by the farming community.
Could we have some indication of the amount of donations received under this provision?
It is interesting that this proposal was suggested by somebody outside the system. A particular legacy — I think I am in order in saying this — is the personal papers of the Yeats family which were donated. Their value was well in excess of anything we had anticipated. We had set a figure somewhat arbitrarily at £500,000 last year. There may be other such donations of which I am not aware. However, as a result of the scale of that donation, it was felt prudent to increase it to £750,000.
Will each local authority deduct the same amount of money or will the larger ones get more money because they have bigger offices and more registrations to deal with? I welcome the initiative, however, which is a positive step and devolves authority to the local authorities.
There is no change in the basic relationship. The old practice was that the total tax revenue from vehicle licensing was remitted in full to the Department of the Environment and transferred to the Revenue Commissioners. Each local authority would then bill the Department of the Environment for its administrative costs. It was not so much a circular transfer as an unnecessary two way process. With the local auditors' position fairly well established, it is now possible for us to ensure the local authority will deduct at source its associated administrative costs and remit the net amount which is then sent on to the Revenue Commissioners in the normal way. It is a simplification rather than a devolution.
I also welcome this section. I know the bona fides of certain casual traders. Casual trading was primarily set up by farmers who brought their produce to the local market. However, that time has long passed, with the exception of some places in Dublin. This practice has long ceased in many rural towns and there is now a new type of casual trader selling clothes and so on. The section does not refer to the amount of the licence fee. Will there be different charges for different casual trading licences?
I am familiar with this issue because in my previous responsibility as Minister for Enterprise and Employment I introduced the Casual Trading Bill, although I did not see it through its final stages. We had a debate at that time with the Department of Finance and it was interesting to move from one side of the debate to the other.
We have a minimalist requirement to ensure that anybody who gets a casual trading licence from a local authority puts themselves into the system by giving this basic information. The original position was they would be required to provide a tax clearance certificate which was manifestly not practical or feasible for some people. This provision is in the Bill because, when the casual trading licence regulations were drawn up, it was brought to our attention by the Attorney General's Office that the requirement of a social welfare insurance number on the form was in some legal doubt, and unless it was underpinned by statutory legislation it could be contested by somebody refusing to give the information. This provision is merely to underpin the licensing arrangements of the Casual Trading Act. The question of fees and all other related issues are a matter for the local authorities under that Act. I am not in a position to answer that.
I thank the Minister for Finance for coming into the House. He spends a great deal of time here. He has a marvellous knowledge of finance and has brought initiatives and new thinking to the Department. I have no doubt we will see more initiatives from him over the next 12 months. I congratulate the Minister.
I join my colleague in expressing our appreciation to the Minister for the very constructive and forthright way in which he dealt with various matters. I also wish to express our gratitude to all the staff he put at our disposal. We greatly appreciate the huge volume of work which went into the detailed preparation of the Bill. I hope it will have a beneficial effect on the economy.
I wish to respond to those very generous tributes and comments which I do not believe I have earned. In so far as I have earned them it is because I had the back-up of a wonderful staff, as Senator Daly said. The number of officials can be intimidating but they are here as much to police me as to inform the Senators and to make sure I do not go AWOL on occasions.
This is a sad occasion as a Revenue Commissioner, Mr. Frank Cassells, to whom I referred yesterday, is being buried today. Prior to his job of integrating the Customs and Excise staff with the Revenue Commissioners, he was responsible on the revenue side for drafting legislation and steering through a very complex exercise, from the day the budget is signed off to today. There is a fixed statutory period in our Constitution in which these matters have to take place. It is quite an onerous task which is done with consummate skill by dedicated people within the system to whom I pay unqualified tribute. Mr. Cassells, now sadly deceased, was uniquely responsible for the introduction of the self-assessment system which has transformed taxation in this country. Like others, he made a contribution which we in this House seldom get the chance to pay tribute to. I accept the tributes generously offered to me on the understanding that they are being offered to the system and the officials who work with me.