Finance Bill 2008 (Certified Money Bill): Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages.

SECTION 26.

I move recommendation No. 15:

In page 35, lines 30 and 31, to delete "of not less than 20 in-patient beds".

This recommendation relates to tax reliefs on inpatient palliative care beds. The Minister said yesterday that there is a great deal of support for this proposal within the sector. These things always need to be cleared up. There is some concern about the construction of co-located hospitals. In the past, tax relief has been given to people who already have significant assets. One had to have significant property and be earning significant rent before one could avail of tax relief on one's investments. Ordinary punters have been kept away from tax relief schemes which, in effect, are confined to those who are already significantly wealthy. Who is entitled to invest in palliative care units? Is the scheme open to everybody or is it confined to big developers who wish to offset the tax they should be paying against other rental income? Can doctors and nurses, for example, claim tax relief in this manner? As things stand, I suspect that many of these palliative care units will be built adjoining private nursing homes. Will the owners of such homes be able to claim tax relief? We need to ensure there is no diminution of standards of care. It is often difficult to define "long-term" and "palliative" care. We should clarify some of these issues. I assume the Health Information and Quality Authority will be responsible for standards in the palliative care centres. It is very much being left to the HSE. Is this another form of the tax reliefs which were given to nursing homes? Is there much difference between the two types of tax relief?

There is very little difference between them. The effect of this recommendation would be to remove the minimum bed capacity requirement of 20 beds provided for in the proposed legislation, which introduces a scheme of capital allowances for specialist palliative care units. The minimum bed number of 20 was decided on following discussions with the Department of Health and Children on the scheme. The limit was inserted in the legislation to ensure that developments seeking pre-approval, and the benefit of the capital allowances, will have sufficient capacity and critical mass to provide the necessary palliative care services in the areas where such services are needed. It is important that any palliative care unit developed in the context of this legislation is feasible and sustainable in terms of fitting into the existing plans and needs assessment for the overall development of palliative care facilities in the State.

Minimum capacity requirements are a common feature of other schemes of capital allowances. The scheme of allowances for qualifying mental health centres, for example, has a minimum bed capacity requirement of 20. The same figure applies to the scheme for qualifying sports injuries clinics, which is being phased out at present. The scheme of capital allowances for private hospitals has a 70-bed minimum requirement in respect of a private hospital providing outpatient services and accommodation on an overnight basis and a 40-bed minimum requirement if it provides day care outpatient medical and surgical services only. As the Tánaiste indicated during the Report Stage debate on this Bill in the Dáil, there may be room for some flexibility in this area. This will be examined if and when specific difficulties arise.

The first hurdle for any proposed development is to obtain pre-approval from the HSE, with the consent of the Minister for Health and Children. The HSE must find that it is in line with national plans and needs assessment for the development of palliative care facilities in the State. This requirement, which applies to developments which seek the benefit of capital allowances, has been included for a number of reasons, one of which is to ensure the facility fits in with the overall plan for the delivery of palliative care services in the State. We have discovered that there are gaps in such provision throughout the State. The requirement will also encourage private investors to create more palliative care places where they are badly needed. It has the full support of those involved in this sector. I understand it was put in place at the suggestion of the hospice movement.

Almost anybody can invest in palliative care units. However, EU regulations prohibit those who are running such centres from investing in this manner. I think that is the reason — I will check it for the Deputy. I can inform him that the tax relief system that will apply to palliative care units is almost exactly the same as the system used for nursing homes. I do not know if a minimum amount of beds is required to qualify for nursing home relief. I am informed by officials from the Department of Finance that such developments must involve a minimum of 20 beds. Therefore, the same conditions apply to private nursing homes.

It is interesting that these palliative care units, which can be quite similar to nursing homes, will be built specifically for such purposes.

The allowance scheme is the same. The requirements to qualify for tax relief are the same.

It has been suggested that all units which are developed should be big. It might not be a bad thing if they are attached to nursing homes. The palliative care report that was published in 2004 stated that there was a dearth of palliative care beds in all regions. I am worried that 20-bed stand-alone palliative care units might not be feasible outside large urban areas, where there are enough people to provide a critical mass. The theory that underpins palliative care throughout the country is that patients should receive such care as near as possible to their original homes, where their families and friends may still live. It has now been proposed that small palliative care units should be attached to nursing homes. To what extent will the tax relief that applies to small units — I do not necessarily refer to a 20-bed unit, as an eight-bed unit might be developed — be different from the relief that applies to larger units? We should be careful to bear in mind that there is no single best way of developing palliative care units. Large units could be confined to large urban areas. Small units are probably more appropriate to places like County Wexford, which has just six palliative care beds at present.

I take the Senator's point. When the Department of Finance was drafting this legislation, it had to have regard to the advice of the Department of Health and Children and the HSE, which was that palliative care units must be sustainable. The Department of Health and Children and the HSE examined the population figures and worked out how many beds should be in each unit if it is to qualify for a capital allowance. If I were advising somebody who is developing a small palliative care unit, for example attached to a nursing home in a specific part of County Wexford in which 20 beds are not warranted, I would suggest that he or she should link up with the management of a number of other such units if he or she wishes to bring capital allowances into play. The accountants of those who are developing palliative care units will advise them to work with other providers of such units. The provision introduced by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, whereby those who earn large incomes must pay a certain minimum level of tax, will apply in this instance. These allowances are being made available in that context. If somebody who is paying the minimum level of tax required under the Minister's restrictive provision wishes to invest in a palliative care unit, he or she will not get any extra tax relief. The limit that is in place will stay in place.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Recommendation No. 16 not moved.
Section 26 agreed to.
Sections 27 to 41, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 42.
Question proposed: "That section 42 stand part of the Bill."

Yesterday the Minister referred to figures of 10% and 20% in connection with capital gains but I cannot find the exact section dealing with it. It concerned someone writing to the Revenue Commissioners beforehand about a capital gains issue.

It was to do with the tax avoidance scheme.

Is it a scheme or is it tax avoidance?

It is a particular scheme that goes into operation.

Does it not apply to someone who inadvertently does not pay the right tax?

No. It is about specific tax avoidance schemes.

Is it purely for setting up schemes? Does it not apply to someone who, for whatever reason, does not pay the proper taxes?

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 43 to 56, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

I move recommendation No. 17:

In page 88, before section 57, but in Part 2, to insert the following new section:

"CHAPTER 1

Importation of vehicles — VRT

57.—A new vehicle registered in the State and subject to the emissions-based VRT regime shall not in that respect be treated less favourably than a second hand vehicle not already registered in the State which is brought into the State.".

I note that recommendation No. 18 has been ruled out of order as not relevant. There is a great deal of confusion about the changes in respect of vehicle registration tax, VRT, as all public representatives are aware. People are asking me to work out the table and whether they should buy before the changeover. I am about to change my car when I leave the House today and have had to work it out myself.

Information is needed because there is little information available on-line and one has to enter one's calculations on-line in order to figure out how it will work. That one cannot use a table on-line and has to use a calculator shows how complex it is.

We believe there is an anomaly in the Bill in respect of those bringing into the State cars which are not registered and those buying cars. If this recommendation is not accepted, we hope the matter will be addressed in some way forthwith.

I welcome the Minister to the House. He is famous for his ability to think on his feet. I am baffled by the procedure and do not know where what I want to say fits into the recommendations but I crave the Minister's indulgence to make a few points that are part of the wider hinterland of the Bill. These concern the simplification of information about the tax code. The Taoiseach's financial affairs compared with mine are pristine and were an accountant's dream. Like most members of the public I am as terrified of a tax audit as Americans famously are. It is said that Americans would rather be mugged than tax audited. Most PAYE workers find the tax code a nightmare and a morass. VRT is only symbolic of this. The result is that many PAYE workers are overtaxed because they do not understand what is going on. Time and again I meet fellow workers in my industry who are not being taxed correctly and are usually taxed at a loss to themselves because they do not understand the system. The Minister needs to take on the question of clarifying and simplifying information on all aspects of the tax system, not just VRT.

Many of my fellow workers feel it is too much hassle and too difficult to work their way through the system to bother lodging a claim to get the money back. Health expenses are a prime example of this. It should be possible for dentists, doctors and pharmacists to give relief at source.

We are dealing with recommendation No. 17.

I know that and I asked for some latitude.

I can let the Senator in at a different section if he so wishes.

The Minister indicated that he is willing to deal with this if the Leas-Chathaoirleach will give me a few minutes.

One law for one Senator and another for us.

I know the Minister takes this seriously. I am concerned that Revenue seems to press most strongly on those who are tax compliant because it is easier to deal with them. Those who are not tax compliant are more trouble than they are worth.

The Revenue Commissioners need powers and I would give the Criminal Assets Bureau all the powers it needs to track down criminals. I am fully in favour of giving the utmost Eliot Ness powers to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of criminals. In respect of the public, however, the Revenue Commissioners need to change their culture and take a more liberal and compassionate view of the genuine difficulties most people have in understanding the tax code. We should make the distinction between compliant business entities and the criminal classes. Our legislation and the information on legislation is not set in stone. It is a matter of interpretation——

Does the Senator have a specific recommendation to make?

I have a recommendation. Tax simplification is vital for small businesses and the current tax treatment for private individuals and for the small business sector places a significant burden on them in making their returns. I ask the Minister to consider extending tax relief at source and a systematic public information campaign in respect of tax. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and the Minister for their indulgence.

I know Senator Kelly lives near my constituency and is working very hard there.

I thank the Minister for the compliment.

As one who tries to do my own small bit in my constituency I share his view about the complexity of the information on this matter and intend to speak to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, about it.

In respect of recommendation No. 17, vehicle registration tax is charged at the time of registration in the State. Under the revised system, the VRT rate applicable to new cars and used imported cars registered on or after 1 July 2008 will be determined by the CO2 emission rating of the car and no longer will be related to engine size. In so far as used cars imported after 1 July are concerned the CO2 emissions of a car presented for registration in the State will have to be declared to the Revenue Commissioners on form VRT4 at the time of registration by the person registering the vehicle. The declaration will be required to be supported by documentary evidence of the CO2 emissions of the car. Acceptable documentary evidence of the CO2 emissions will include a certificate of conformity for the particular model.

Since 2001 EU law requires CO2 emissions levels to be cited in this document or a previous registration certificate, a certificate from the manufacturer or distributor or an organisation approved by the Revenue Commissioners to provide such certificates. Where a certificate of measurement concerning CO2 levels for a vehicle is not available and does not satisfy the Revenue Commissioners, VRT will be charged on registration at the maximum rate allowable, 36%. Such a VRT rating would be open to an appeal through the VRT appeal system. Second-hand imported vehicles therefore will be subject to a similarly rigorous evaluation of carbon dioxide emissions as subsequent classification for the purposes of VRT as a new vehicle presented for registration in the State and will not be treated more favourably than a new car. The Society of the Irish Motor Industry approached me in state of great concern when this scheme was first announced and this was their main bone of contention. However, it is now satisfied with the Minister's proposals on VRT that there will not be discrimination as between new and second-hand cars. The change in the motor taxation system will be a new day's work and we will need to look anew.

I take the point made by Senator Harris about information. Dealing with the Revenue or visiting a tax office is now a pleasure compared to when I started in the politics business more years ago than I care to recall or relate. The Revenue Commissioners are continuing to do everything to make the tax system more user-friendly. They have introduced information lines for the various tax headings such as CAT and PAYE. They have introduced a facility for completing tax returns on-line and tax information may be obtained through a mobile phone text service or from any one of the 600 friendly counter staff. Every effort is made to publicise tax reliefs.

I have fought various referenda campaigns on behalf of various Governments. It seems the more information made available to people the more confused they become. The one complaint on the doorsteps up to the date of the referendum will be, "Sure, I know nothing about this. Nobody is telling me anything about it".

The Revenue Commissioners enclose with the annual tax-free allowance certificate a user-friendly and easy to read document which highlights all the allowances to which a taxpayer is entitled. I take the Senator's point that it would be preferable if more allowances could be claimed at source so that people would be guaranteed to receive them. In so far as is possible, the Revenue Commissioners have systems in place to claim tax relief at source. For example, if a person can prove he or she is over 65 years of age with an income not exceeding the exemption limit, the bank or financial institution is permitted to exempt their account from DIRT. Mortgage interest can be claimed at source.

There are difficulties with claiming certain reliefs such as medical expenses because there are so many providers of medical services who cost and bill in different ways. The same applies to relief on refuse charges, a point which has been raised in the House. Banks and financial institutions are experienced in dealing with mortgages, tax and documents but waste companies are in the business of processing waste rather than dealing with financial transactions and documents.

The Revenue Commissioners can use information data on date of birth to apply age-related relief at source. They have an arrangement with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union to provide relief at source for drugs supplied. They are working on a system for introducing medical relief at source and also service charges. I can assure the House that efforts are ongoing in this regard. They are publicising their more user-friendly services. They are easier to communicate with and are providing as much tax relief at source as is possible and this will continue.

I wish to comment on Senator Harris's contribution. I have been the subject of a Revenue audit and have had extensive dealings with them. Whereas one is never happy with the outcome, they have always been very easy to deal with.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Recommendation No. 18 not moved.
Sections 57 to 81, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

Recommendations Nos. 19 and 21 are related and may be discussed together by agreement.

I move recommendation No. 19:

In page 108, before section 82, to insert the following new section:

"PART 3

VAT ON DEFIBRILLATORS

82.—Any defibrillator sold or supplied after the passing of this Act shall be exempt from VAT.".

I regard this recommendation as very important but it also bothers me the most. It relates to the exemption of VAT on defibrillators. I acknowledge the cross-party agreement with the spirit of this recommendation. There should be no VAT charged on defibrillators or at least a reduction in the rate of VAT charged. In my view VAT should not be charged on defibrillators. The charge is a disgrace and is ridiculous in this day and age, especially with the publicity afforded to sudden death syndrome. Everybody must know somebody who could have benefited from the use of a defibrillator but who is no longer with us.

Sports organisations and voluntary groups are increasingly attempting to purchase defibrillators in order to help those who suffer from cardiac arrest. Sporting organisations correctly believe they are particularly in need of these devices in light of the publicity regarding the prevalence of sudden death syndrome. It is a great concern that many of these young people must fund-raise to buy these defibrillators with the additional burden of this VAT rate of 21%. A defibrillator is hardly a luxury item.

More than 5,000 people die each year in Ireland from sudden cardiac death. Communities and groups all over Ireland are fund-raising to provide equipment and training on defibrillators. Removal of the VAT burden will greatly encourage these people in their self-help campaigns. Research has shown that the provision of this equipment can greatly reduce deaths across all age groups. Defibrillators allow early intervention which is vital to survival. The faster basic defibrillation can be provided to a patient who has suffered cardiac arrest, the better their chances of survival.

I am not the first person to raise this issue and I probably will not be the last. At a recent meeting in Roscrea in my constituency I listened with incredulity to a local activist describing the amount of VAT payable in order to provide these devices to a number of sporting and community organisations across the town.

The Minister will say this issue cannot be addressed because of EU rules. I have heard this excuse before on a number of occasions. I ask the Minister to convey my concerns to the Minister for Finance who has been innovative in using mechanisms in the past in order to facilitate certain tax schemes and grants. It is a big "if" but if this regulation cannot be changed because of EU law, I ask him to consider some form of mechanism to allow some grant or tax rebate to organisations in order to counteract this VAT rate of 21% being charged on these devices. This would be a welcome move and a practical solution. We are talking about saving lives and especially the lives of young people. I hope for the Minister's support.

Again, this is a VAT related issue. All charges between VAT-registered entities should be free of VAT on the production of the requisite certificate. This is not dissimilar to what happens in many other European countries. Utility charges is a good example. This would do much to help prime the pump that is so badly needed at this time of economic correction. I ask the Minister to consider the wider implications. I realise he does not have to answer in terms of this particular recommendation, but I should be obliged to hear his views on the general operation of VAT between VAT-registered entities.

There is a defibrillator in the boot of every Garda vehicle, in every fire brigade and in most doctors' surgeries, including my own — and this is tax deductible as a practice expense. That basically leaves community and sporting organisations who are seeking this VAT exemption. It is well within the financial parameters of Government for the HSE to give a grant to the value of the VAT, which is the quickest way around this, for the issue to be dealt with.

While I appreciate the health concerns that form the basis of this recommendation, it should be understood that in matters relating to the VAT rating of goods and services, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance and the Government are constrained by the requirements of EU VAT law — with which Irish VAT law must comply. In this regard, the rate of VAT that applies to a particular good or service depends on its nature, and not on the status of the consumer. Accordingly, there is no provision in EU VAT law that permits the removal or reduction of VAT based on the social or economic status of the consumer.

As regards the VAT rate that applies to defibrillators, under the VAT directive, member states must maintain the zero rates on goods and services which were in place on 1 January 1991, but cannot extend the zero rate to new goods or services. The zero rate cannot, therefore, be applied to defibrillators, which are subject to the standard rate. In addition, member states may only apply the reduced VAT rate to those goods and services which are listed under annex 3 of the VAT directive. While annex 3 includes the supply of medical equipment for the exclusive personal use of a disabled person, it does not include defibrillators for general use. The reduced rate therefore cannot be applied to the supply of defibrillators. Exemptions from VAT are also governed by EU law and under the VAT directive we are not permitted to exempt the supply of defibrillators.

Senator Twomey makes the point that if somebody, such as a doctor, pays VAT on a defibrillator for use in his or her business, he or she can claim that as an input against the VAT bill. On the other hand, charities, community organisations etc. are exempt from VAT and therefore have no way of claiming back the VAT they pay on a defibrillator. It is open to any member state to provide a grant equivalent to the amount of VAT paid — and for repayment to made in that way. That is an option. Other countries are not doing it, however. It has been done once here as regards the Band Aid concert, when CDs were sold. As VAT on those CDs was 21%, the State agreed, as a once-off initiative, to repay a grant roughly equivalent to the amount of VAT paid. I believe the British Government did something similar. It is an option. Having said that, the Government is already investing a great deal of money, both directly and indirectly, in charitable organisations — as regards allowing the offset of tax for donations to charities. Charities are well looked after, too, under the stamp duty regime, as are community associations. I could go through all the various outlays, but I know Senators are aware, generally, what is being done for charities and community organisations.

With regard to the specific suggestion of providing a grant for people who cannot claim relief against their VAT, I certainly bring to the notice of the Minister for Finance what has been said by Senators Harris, Kelly and Twomey.

I thank the Minister. This is something simple for which the Government will get quite an amount of support, and kudos, if it can introduce a practical step in this regard. Communities know their requirements. In many cases they seek to get defibrillators on the basis of something that has happened or been narrowly avoided, perhaps, which spurs them on, etc. People know their communities and their own requirements. I do not believe people will overstretch themselves in the sense that they will look for too many. There is no issue as regards the Exchequer.

The suggestion by Senator Twomey and the Minister that some form of grant mechanism — as instanced in the precedent outlined — might be put in place is welcome. I believe there would be unanimity on that and if it were to be put forward everybody would support it. I suggest the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, emphasises this when speaking to his colleague, the Minister for Finance.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 82 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.

Recommendation No. 20 relates to a new section and is in the names of Senators Alan Kelly, Alex White, Michael McCarthy, Brendan Ryan, Phil Prendergast and Dominic Hannigan.

I move recommendation No. 20:

In page 108, before section 83, to insert the following new section:

83.—The Minister may make regulations providing relief in respect of VAT for registered charities provided that such charities comply with such requirements including requirements as to accountability and financial transparency as may be prescribed.".

This proposes the Minister makes regulations providing for relief in respect of VAT for registered charities, provided they comply with such regulations including requirements as to accountability and financial transparency, as may be prescribed. The Minister has hit on this earlier today. I am looking at how charities may be exempted from VAT. A number of specific reliefs relate to charitable activities. I have seen them outlined in leaflets that are available from the Revenue Commissioners.

Would it not be a good recommendation, that once such organisations had satisfied the requirements as regards accountability and financial transparency, they be exempt from VAT? From a practicable viewpoint, the Minister will probably say "No", but what is the Government's current thinking in this regard, so that charities, in most cases, may avoid VAT on the work they do?

This recommendation has been proposed on many occasions over the past number of years. There are a number of reasons why the proposal could not be resolved through the Finance Bill process, the primary one being that such VAT refund schemes are no longer possible under EU VAT law. Further to this, the real question is whether VAT refunds are the most appropriate intervention in the first place, when more targeted grants, based on public policy priorities, would be a more effective use of Exchequer funds.

In terms of legislation, the position is that the VAT regime and rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law — with which Irish VAT law must comply. Under EU law it is not possible to remove or reduce the VAT rate for a particular customer — in this case charities, or indeed, educational institutions — as the rate of VAT that applies to a particular good or service is determined by its nature and not by the category of customer. It would therefore not be possible to remove or reduce VAT paid by charities. Furthermore, under Council Directive 2006/112/EC — charities — bodies supplying educational services and non-profit groups engaged in non-commercial activity are exempt. This means they do not charge VAT on the services they provide and cannot, therefore, recover VAT incurred on goods and services they might purchase. Essentially only VAT-registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT.

With regard to the question whether charities could be refunded by the introduction of a ministerial order, the position is that these have been used in a limited way in the past to provide refunds of VAT on certain aids and appliances for the disabled, and on medical equipment donated voluntarily to hospitals, equipment and buildings used by water rescue organisations and humanitarian goods for export. These orders are focused and designed to target specific circumstances. However, under EU law, it is no longer possible to introduce new schemes within the VAT Act 1972, to relieve charities or other exempt bodies from the obligation to pay VAT on goods and services which they provide.

EU law precludes removing or refunding the VAT which charities and exempt bodies are required to pay under the taxation system. This view is also held by the European Commission, which has stated that while charities cannot be refunded through the VAT system, there is nothing to prevent national Governments paying charities a subsidy to compensate them for the irrecoverable VAT which they have incurred, provided that State aid rules are observed.

It is interesting to note that the Irish Charities Tax Reform Group, ICTRG, understands that charities cannot be granted VAT refunds through the tax system. However, it is seeking the introduction of a grant or subsidy in lieu of VAT charities must pay on business inputs. Given that Exchequer funding is made available to very many charitable organisations, this is in effect already happening. The 140 bodies represented by the ICTRG already acknowledge that they receive €8.6 million in funding either directly or indirectly from the Exchequer. However, there are more than 7,000 charities registered with the Revenue Commissioners. A recent report carried out by Trinity College on behalf of charities estimates that their annual spend is approximately €2.5 billion per annum. If even a small part of this sum were subject to a VAT refund, the cost would be astronomical.

The ICTRG will argue that it represents the largest charities but that is not the case as many health, educational and sports organisations are also registered with the Revenue Commissioners as charitable or not-for-profit organisations. Therefore, the introduction of a grant in lieu of VAT paid by registered charities would undoubtedly lead to other exempt bodies, such as schools, hospitals and sports organisations, many of which are already registered as charities, seeking to benefit from such a refund scheme. These exempt bodies are already receiving considerable Exchequer funding.

While I appreciate the arguments that have been made on the refund scheme in Denmark, the only EU member state to operate such a scheme, it should be understood that Denmark only operates a single VAT rate for all goods and services of 25%. This is the highest in Europe. Ireland operates a far broader regime and has three VAT rates — 0%, 13.5% and 21%. The grant scheme in Denmark is limited to a number of charities that benefit from the tax relief on donation scheme. However, the Danish donation scheme is far more limited than ours, with almost half the number of charities able to avail of it. In Denmark, educational institutions do not qualify for charitable status, which would preclude them from receiving any tax relief.

While just one country might be offering a VAT refund scheme, this must be considered in the context of the overall environment in which such schemes operate. In this regard, it should be noted that our tax code currently provides exemptions for charities from income tax, DIRT, corporation tax, capital gains tax, capital acquisitions tax, stamp duty and dividend withholding tax. Moreover, charities also benefit significantly from the uniform scheme of tax relief for donations, which was introduced in the Finance Act 2001 and which, for the first time, allowed tax relief generally without any upper limit on personal donations to domestic charities and other approved bodies. The relief is based on the marginal rate which, for an individual donor, could be as high as 41%. In the case of donations in the PAYE sector, the relief is given directly to the charities.

Even if funds were available for grant-aiding charities and other voluntary groups, I am not sure the most appropriate use of the funds would involve relieving charities of the VAT paid on inputs as opposed to grant-aiding their activities using other criteria, as has already been done. It is the role of the Government and the Oireachtas to decide on the distribution of tax revenue for the public good and we should not lightly give up our role in this case. Since the mechanism that would have to be used is a grant scheme, we would be agreeing in advance to give grant aid to a set of bodies based not an understanding of public policy priorities or the efficiency of the bodies concerned but on their spending profiles. The proposed recommendation does not conform with this principle and therefore the grant scheme in question would be most unusual.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 83 to 106, inclusive, agreed to.
Recommendation No. 21 not moved.
Sections 107 to 121, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 122.
Question proposed: "That section 122 stand part of the Bill."

On the section on stamp duty, were concerns raised with the Minister for Finance regarding abuses of the first-time buyer's grant?

Yes. As I indicated yesterday, I will obtain the details for the Senator.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 123 to 144, inclusive, agreed to.
Schedules 1 to 8, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without recommendation and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be returned to the Dáil."

I thank Senators on both sides of the House for their very thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions, both today and yesterday. I will convey the arguments, some of which were very well made, to my colleague the Minister for Finance.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for giving of his time. I thank all his officials for all the work they do in preparing this Bill every year. I also thank all Members of the House and the Seanad staff for bearing with us.

I thank the Minister for his time and his officials for all the work they have put in. I also thank the Minister for his compliments. If there is one thing the Minister can bring back to the Minister for Finance it is the proposal concerning defibrillators and I would very much appreciate it if he did so.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance on the Bill. I especially congratulate his officials who, as Senator Twomey said, put in a great deal of work each year in the preparation of the Bill.

I congratulate the Minister on the mastery of his colleague's brief and on his latitude in answering questions with his usual liberal effectiveness.

Question put and agreed to.