Finance Bill 2019: Committee Stage (Resumed)

Section 28 agreed to.
NEW SECTION

Senator Higgins has left the Chamber. Recommendation No. 8 is in her name. Does Senator Gavan wish to speak on her behalf?

I move recommendation No. 8:

In page 50, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

“29. Within 7 months of the passing of this Act, the Minister shall produce a report on the potential introduction of a financial transactions tax to include a consideration of—

(a) the potential for Ireland to demonstrate European and global leadership on this issue,

(b) the potential revenue deriving from a financial transactions tax of 0.1 per cent on shares and securities and 0.01 per cent on derivatives.”.

I wish to withdraw the recommendation, with leave to resubmit on Report Stage.

I note that moving the recommendation is not sufficient to bring it back in on Report Stage if the substance has not been discussed. The Senator does not have to speak on it but not doing so may make it more difficult to bring it back on Report Stage.

That is fine. I think it is a very reasonable proposition on the part of Senator Higgins to produce a report on the potential introduction of a financial transactions tax. It is very relevant and timely. It is funny; a few years ago when I was a trade union official I had an informal conversation with the leader of Fianna Fáil, who told me he was quite open to the idea of a financial transactions tax and that it was something that should be studied. That was a good few years ago now. If one wing of conservative Ireland can see the merit in this, why not the other wing?

I am in the Chair but let us not be provocative.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Recommendation No. 9 not moved.
Section 29 agreed to.
Sections 30 to 34, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move recommendation No. 10:

In page 93, between lines 1 and 2, to insert the following:

“Report on restoring cap on intangible assets

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

The recommendation is self-explanatory. We are asking that within six months of the Act passing, the Minister will prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on restoring the 80% cap on intangible assets onshored between 2015 and 2017 that can be written off against profits at the rate of 100%. We are simply asking for a report. I do not see what is unreasonable or untenable about that. Let us see what is in the report. It is a moderate request.

Capital allowances for intangible assets were introduced in the Finance Act 2009 to support the development of the knowledge economy and the provision of high-quality employment. This recognises the fact that growth in OECD economies is increasingly driven by investment in intangible assets. When the capital allowances were introduced, a restriction was provided to cap the amount of income that the allowances could be used against in any year at 80%. The cap was removed for a period between 2015 and 2017, to bring the tax treatment of intangible assets into line with the tax treatment of similar assets in other jurisdictions and to enhance the competitiveness of Ireland as a location for companies to develop intellectual property. Following a significant increase in the use of the capital allowances in 2015, the 80% cap was restored in the Finance Act 2017.

For the purposes of certainty, changes to tax law are generally made on a prospective basis, such that they apply only from the date on which they have legal effect. Therefore, as the Senators are aware, this measure did not apply retrospectively. Senators will also be aware that the cap has no effect on the overall quantum of capital allowances available to use against the relevant trading income. Any amounts restricted in one accounting period as a result of a cap are available for carry forward and use against qualifying income in a subsequent accounting period, subject to the application of the cap in that period.

Revenue has advised that in the short term, there could be a large theoretical cashflow gain, tentatively estimated to be in the region of €720 million, from the introduction of an 80% cap on intangible assets onshored between 2015 and 11 October 2017. However it is important to be clear that such a change would not lead to more tax overall and this is simply a timing matter. To present this as additional tax for the Exchequer would not be correct. Senators may be aware that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, made a commitment during debate on this Bill on Dáil Committee Stage, that the terms of reference for a planned examination of the sustainability of corporation tax receipts will include examination of the contribution of intellectual property to tax receipts into the future. Having regard to this commitment, in addition to the volume of discussion on record with regard to this issue, I do not believe a report would add further value, therefore I cannot accept the Senators’ proposed amendment.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 35 to 38, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I draw to the attention of the House an error on the recommendation list. Recommendation No. 11 should be listed under section 39 rather than section 37.

I move recommendation No. 11:

In page 94, after line 34, to insert the following:

“Report on applying CGT to all sales of property by IREFs

39. The Minister shall, within 6 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on applying the full rate of Capital Gains Tax of 33 per cent to all sales of property by IREFs, as opposed to current rules whereby tax on capital profits is paid only through a Dividend Withholding Tax when the IREF makes a distribution.”.

This is a reasonable request that the Minister shall, within six months of the passing this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on applying the full rate of capital gains tax of 33% to all sales of property by Irish real estate funds, IREFs, as opposed to current rules whereby tax on capital profits is paid only through a dividend withholding tax when the IREF makes a distribution. We think there could be potential here and are calling for a report.

The Finance Act 2016 introduced the IREF regime. The regime provides that profits arising to Irish funds from Irish property remain within the charge to Irish tax. An IREF is an investment undertaking where 25% or more of the value of the assets of the undertakings is derived from real estate assets in the State. As an investment undertaking, the profits or gains of the IREFs are generally not taxed within the fund but instead are subject to tax in the hands of the investors. Where an investor receives value from the IREF, an IREF withholding tax will apply.

Senators will be aware that anti-avoidance measures were introduced via financial resolution on budget night this year. Limitations have been introduced on interest expenses based debt to property costs and to profits-to-interest ratio. Tax is now payable at the fund level in circumstances where this ratio is breached. Another measure addresses the calculation of IREF tax bill amounts to ensure that claims are subject to IREF tax. Enhanced reporting requirements are also being introduced to ensure timely, comprehensive information is available on IREF activities. The amendments have been introduced to ensure that an appropriate yield of tax is being collected from the regime and the responsibility to pay the withholding tax is not being circumvented.

As part of the Finance Bill process last year, a commitment was made on Dáil Committee Stage to produce a report on REITs, IREFs and other section 110 companies as they invest in the property market. The report was presented to the tax strategy group in July and published. The information set out in the report has provided a basis for policy discussions and the amendments being introduced in this Finance Bill. In light of this, and the new measures that were introduced in the Bill, I do not consider it appropriate to undertake a further report of the nature proposed by the Senators and do not accept the recommendation.

Senators will be aware that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, stated in his budget speech that Department of Finance officials had been instructed to continue to scrutinise IREFs over the coming year with a view to taking further action, if necessary.

I will press this recommendation.

Recommendation put:
The Committee divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 13.

  • Black, Frances.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Hackett, Pippa.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.
  • Warfield, Fintan.

Níl

  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lombard, Tim.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Mahony, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Paul Gavan; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony..
Recommendation declared lost.
Sections 39 to 41, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 42
Question proposed: "That section 42 stand part of the Bill."

It seems as if this section is, essentially, a tax rebate scheme-----

Order for Senator Hackett, please.

Section 42 looks as if it is, essentially, a tax rebate scheme for road hauliers and one would have to question why this particular sector is being supported in this way. My colleague, Senator Higgins, wishes to submit amendments on Report Stage.

That is a matter for Senators when we get to Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 43 to 46, inclusive, agreed to.
Recommendation No. 12 not moved.
SECTION 47
Question proposed: "That section 47 stand part of the Bill."

Senator Higgins has serious concerns that the measures in this section will encourage high-stakes gambling and she intends to submit amendments on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 48 to 50, inclusive, agreed to.
SECTION 51
Question proposed: "That section 51 stand part of the Bill."

There is an anomaly that allows businesses to reclaim VAT on diesel but not on petrol. I do not propose a recommendation but I ask the Minister of State to examine how diesel and petrol are treated differently. There may be an issue on how hybrids are being treated and so on. This is separate from the Finance Act but there is a different tax treatment for businesses between diesel and petrol, which significantly disadvantages both plug-in and self-charging hybrids in the company car market. I ask the Minister of State to look into the removal of this anomaly, which allows a VAT reclaim on only diesel fuel and, thereby, excludes the drivers of hybrid company cars from this relief used for business mileage. I ask the Minister of State to examine this policy again. There does not appear to be a logical argument for allowing such relief on only one of the two current fuels that are widely used. It is clearly the case that earlier arguments that suggested that petrol cars are more likely to be abused for private use than diesel cars are now wide of the mark since there is no clear demographic divide between the purchase of vehicles that use these two fuels with the purchase decision, more often than not, being simply economically motivated.

Deputy Michael McGrath has tabled parliamentary questions on this matter. I ask the Minister of State to look at that issue in the long term because it is something I have been asked about by people involved in the motor industry generally. We have acknowledged at this stage that while the Government was incentivising people to move towards diesel years ago, it has been discovered that diesel is probably in many ways more damaging for our urban environments given the emissions it produces and so on. This anomaly should be examined.

I acknowledge what the Senator said and I will look at it.

Question put and agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move recommendation No. 13:

In page 108, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"Anti-smuggling measures

52. The Minister shall, within 3 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the operation of section 136 of the Finance Act 2001 and the feasibility of including members of An Garda Síochána in the definition of "officer" in order to better enable them to tackle illegal smuggling of goods.".

This recommendation is concerned with smuggling and the ability of members of An Garda Síochána to obtain a search warrant specifically to search for excisable goods. In the context of Brexit, in particular, the situation is likely to get worse for retailers struggling to compete with illicit traders' smuggled products. Solid fuel, for example, can represent up to half of turnover for some retailers, particularly in the winter months. The illegal fuel trade is booming, at a cost to the Exchequer of more than €9.7 million in lost revenue, including carbon tax. This represents a loss of €36.5 million to retail merchants and is putting many local traders out of business and more than 1,200 jobs at risk. In 2018, an illegal cigarette production factory was discovered in County Louth, confirming fears that illegal tobacco is not only being smuggled into Ireland but is also being manufactured here. An illegal tobacco products research survey by Ipsos MRBI found that approximately €453 million worth of illegal cigarettes, or 23 million packs, were consumed in Ireland in 2018, representing 13% of the market and a loss to the Exchequer of some €211 million. In March of this year, Revenue uncovered an illegal alcohol bottling plant, also in Louth, which entails a potential substantial loss of revenue to the Exchequer and to alcohol retailers. It follows the discovery of a large-scale counterfeit vodka production plant in the same county in 2017. In the course of that year, Revenue seized 95,021 litres of illicit alcohol valued at almost €1 million.

Currently, gardaí are not in a position to do the job they would like to do because the powers of entry, search and seizure, as provided for in section 136 of the Finance Act 2001, may only be exercised by an officer of the Revenue Commissioners. This needlessly restricts the resources of the State in tackling the problem of illicit smuggling. My recommendation proposes that members of the Garda be given the same powers as customs inspectors to obtain a search warrant for the specific purpose of identifying excisable goods. This requires a small amendment to the 2001 Act to redefine the term "officer" for this purpose. It would support legitimate traders, shore up Exchequer revenues and increase enforcement authority against criminality. If the Minister of State is not in a position to accept my proposal today, I hope he will at least take it on board for the future. We have a confidence and supply agreement in operation and I do not intend to try to bring down the Government. My colleague, Deputy Breathnach, is keen to see this matter addressed. He represents Louth, which is one of the areas heavily affected by smuggling. There are Senators in the Chamber today from Border areas who may agree with what I am proposing. I look forward to the Minister of State's response to this sensible recommendation.

Revenue has indicated that it uses a range of measures to target those involved in the illegal smuggling of goods, which include sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, utilising analytics and technology, and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources. Revenue and An Garda Síochána work together on an ongoing basis in this area. Section 136 of the Finance Act 2001 provides for a range of Revenue powers of entry and search of premises, other than a dwelling, for the purposes of investigation of fraud in excisable goods. The section also allows Revenue to apply to the District Court for a search warrant to search any premises, including a dwelling, if it is satisfied that excise offences may be at issue. When applying for such a warrant, Revenue may seek permission to enter a premises with other persons, including a member or members of An Garda Síochána.

As the lead agency with regard to fiscal fraud issues, Revenue has advised that, in its view, section 136 is operating in a satisfactory manner. In any case where a Garda presence is needed, Revenue may apply to the District Court for a search warrant for that purpose. Therefore, I do not intend to accept the recommendation. However, I remain open to consideration of any proposals Revenue may wish to make in the area of excise compliance powers or tax compliance powers generally, based on its operational experience of the existing legislation.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. The recommendation does not seek to take powers from Revenue but, rather, to facilitate its officers in working with An Garda Síochána. Retailers have argued that gardaí are being hampered in their work in circumstances where a Revenue officer is not immediately available. The requirement that Revenue must lead a search may be hindering investigations in some cases. Specifically, retailers are concerned that gardaí could find themselves in a situation where they encounter something suspicious but their powers are not sufficient to act. By the time Revenue officers are engaged, it may be too late to apprehend a person potentially engaged in smuggling. I will withdraw the recommendation at this stage, but I hope the Minister of State will take it on board for the future.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.

I move recommendation No. 14:

In page 108, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

"52. In line with the principal of economic externalities, all revenue generated through Solid Fuel Carbon Tax, Natural Gas Carbon Tax and the carbon component of Mineral Oil Tax shall form a ring-fenced climate action fund to be allocated by the Minister for

Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, having consulted with the relevant Oireachtas committees.".

This recommendation is self-explanatory. I propose to withdraw the recommendation.

The same health warning applies to this recommendation as applied to the previous one.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.
Sections 52 to 55, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move recommendation No. 15:

In page 109, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

"Report on VAT on food supplements

56. The Minister shall, within 3 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before the Oireachtas a report on the treatment of food supplements in terms of VAT and whether they can be zero rated.".

We are proposing that within three months of the passing of the Bill, the Minister will produce a report for the Oireachtas on the VAT treatment of food supplements and whether they might be eligible for a zero rate. There are two reasons for this recommendation. First, the imposition of VAT on supplements will have a significant impact on people who are most vulnerable to price increases. Second, in terms of value to the Exchequer, the new charge is likely to encourage people to try to purchase supplements online. The health food shops in my community, as in every community, employ people and offer a good service in terms of providing information and products. Many of them will be wiped out because of this new charge. That is why we are asking the Minister to review and report on the matter.

Senator Conway-Walsh and I are not always on the same page but we certainly are so on this issue. One of the changes provided for in the Finance Bill is the imposition of the 13.5% rate of VAT on food supplements. This provision was discussed at great length during the passage of the Bill through the Dáil. It was also discussed extensively at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, of which Senators Kieran O'Donnell, Conway-Walsh, Paddy Burke and I are members, as was the Minister of State before he was elevated to higher office. That committee heard in detail from representatives of the health food sector, at which time the Minister announced that a review would be undertaken. The Revenue Commissioners subsequently announced, on 1 March, that various food supplements would be charged at the 23% VAT rate. Thanks to political pressure from my party and others, that decision was postponed until 1 November 2019.

In the meantime, the Taoiseach referred to food supplements as snake oil, which was unhelpful and served to discredit the many positive health benefits of those supplements. Many people, including the elderly and pregnant women, have achieved healthy outcomes from using food supplements. I am not saying that every supplement or every product that purports to be a supplement is fantastic, but many of them are very helpful. This move will serve to increase the cost of living for people and runs counter to positive health policy.

We will continue to raise the matter with the Minister on the basis that we are all agreed that some of these products offer benefits. With so many people using food supplements, there is a possibility that some of them, if they can no longer afford the products, could end up ill in an emergency department. If those people end up in a hospital bed, even for one night, it will add up to a significant demand on resources.

There is a false economy in what we are trying to do here. I appreciate that the rate of VAT on food is 0% and food supplements are effectively a form of food. They supplement food. This is a relatively short-sighted measure, which is unhelpful for public policy, the improvement of health and keeping people in this State as healthy as they can be. People are going out and trying to be healthier. Some will probably still do so and suck up the price increase but others may decide they cannot afford the increased cost. On that basis they will get sick and end up in hospitals or accident and emergency departments with poor health outcomes that would be far more costly to the State than allowing a VAT rate of 0% on food supplements. This recommendation seeks for a new report to be laid before the Oireachtas on the treatment of food supplements and whether they can still be zero-rated, within three months of the passing of the Bill. I do not expect the Minister of State to accept the recommendation but it would be worthwhile if he did so.

I will not go over what Senator Horkan highlighted because much of it was cases presented. This is not a revenue-raising exercise. Changing the VAT rate on food supplements will result in a net neutral figure because while some supplements will go from 0% to 13.5%, others will go from 23% to 13.5%. That fact is often ignored. This must be clarified because people had differing views on which VAT rate applied and different companies were paying different VAT rates. This brings clarity to the entire sector and it is being concluded. It is not legally possible to apply the 0% rate to food supplements and the European Commission has confirmed its agreement with Revenue's understanding of the matter. Should the amendment not be accepted, the VAT rate of food supplements will be 23%. If this is passed, it will not be 13.5%, but 23%.

I do not think that is valid.

Sorry, that statement was meant for the Dáil.

The Minister of State should not use its answers for us.

It is important to clarify that foods for specific groups, such as infant follow-on formula and infant foods, foods for special medical purposes and specially formulated foods will continue to be zero-rated. Foods that were correctly zero-rated in the early 1990s will remain at 0% VAT. Folic acid, vitamin and mineral products for human oral use, which are licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, will continue to be zero-rated under a different VAT provision for human oral medicines. The report the Senator is seeking will simply reiterate these points, about which we have spoken on a number of occasions. When Revenue made the decision to increase the VAT rate last March, many people told me that 23% was the wrong amount, but that 13% was an acceptable position. When the rate was subsequently changed to 13.5%, others said that was the wrong weight. However, I think it is the appropriate weight. This change brings clarity to VAT rates in the sector and brings the matter to a conclusion.

Either Senator Horkan or Senator Conway-Walsh may speak next.

While I am not delighted with the Minister of State's response, as my party is involved in the confidence and supply arrangement I will withdraw my support for the amendment, having had a decent and robust debate on it. The Minister of State may argue that this is not a revenue-raising measure but anyone who was previously paying a 0% rate of VAT on products and is now paying 13.5% will not see it that way. I accept the Minister of State's point but equally, some people who were paying 0% on products are now paying 13.5%, and if they stop paying, there may be a false economy. However, I accept the point the Minister of State is making.

Does Senator Conway-Walsh wish to press the recommendation?

Recommendation put and declared lost.
Sections 56 to 60, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move recommendation No. 16:

16. In page 111, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:

“Report on restricting banks from carrying forward losses

61. The Minister shall, within 6 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on restricting the banks from carrying forward losses against taxable profits in a manner which could result in many institutions paying no corporation tax for the foreseeable future by introducing a 25 per cent cap on profit that can be written off by carried forward losses in any given year and an absolute ten year limit on the use of loss for this purpose.”.

I do not think we can continue with a situation where many of our banks are not paying any corporation tax. Losses against their taxable profits have resulted in banks and financial institutions paying no corporation tax for the foreseeable future. This recommendation would introduce a 25% cap on profits written off and losses carried forward in any given year. This situation cannot continue.

During the Dáil Committee Stage of the Finance Bill 2017, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, committed to providing a report to the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach on the possible consequences of changes to the treatment of corporation tax loss relief in respect of banks. This report was sent on 31 August 2018 and was also published on the Department of Finance's website. This report discusses in some detail the potential implications of restricting the use of losses carried forward or the introduction of a specific time limit or sunset clause on loss relief for Irish banks, for the wider banking sector or for the corporate sector as a whole. The report examines the possible effect of such a restriction on consumers, with the probability that an increased cost base for the banks would be passed on in the form of higher fees and higher interest rates on mortgages and business and personal loans or lower deposit interest rates, or both. It also noted potential negative effects on the valuation of the State’s bank shareholdings, on capital levels in the banks and the possible resulting regulatory impacts, the potential state aid implications and effects on competition within the banking sector in Ireland. The report further noted that loss relief is a standard feature of corporate tax regimes worldwide. Loss relief recognises the fact that business cycles run over a longer period than just a single year and that it would be inequitable to tax profits in one year and not allow relief for losses incurred in another.

In relation to the detail of the Senators’ proposed amendment, the report estimated that a 50% restriction on the offset of losses against the three Irish pillar banks in 2017 would have yielded €117 million. However, these three banks contributed €101 million in 2017 through the bank levy. Furthermore, Irish banks currently pay Irish corporation tax, as the tax losses do not shelter all sources of income. According to the most up-to-date figures available, Bank of Ireland paid corporation tax of €21 million in 2018 in addition to a bank levy of €29 million, while AIB paid €25 million in corporation tax and a bank levy of €49 million. In total in 2018, Bank of Ireland, AIB and Permanent TSB combined paid approximately €147 million to the Exchequer, of which €101 million was from the bank levy and €46 million was in corporation tax. I also note that the Minister committed to provide the finance committee with updates on the figures in the published report, to reflect the additional year of data now available. I commit to also provide Senators with a copy of that updated report for their information.

Given the level of analysis that has been so recently completed and the commitment made to provide an update on the figures in the report, I do not accept the Senators’ recommendation.

I was just reflecting when the Minister of State was talking that a significant amount of taxpayers' money went into the banks and is still in them. I would like to see that coming back for the taxpayer. As to what I believe would be the best way for it to come back, we must ensure that the valuations of the banks are held up. The recommendation could provide for a situation where there would be a major drag on the possibility of getting the maximum value back for the taxpayer. It is a view I share. I am not glad that taxpayers' money ever went into the banks. There was reckless trading. At the same time, I would adopt a pragmatic view that we need to ensure that we get maximum value for the taxpayer in repayment of the investment in the banks and we need to have a normal banking sector. There is need for the credit unions and public banking. I do not believe it should come through the pillar banks into which we have put significant taxpayers' money. Taking everything in the round, there are great dangers in tinkering with the system in terms of the hard-pressed money that was paid by taxpayers regardless of whether it came in the form of income tax, VAT or whatever. There may be unintended consequences to the recommendation.

There were certainly intended consequences when the banks were up to their necks in reckless trading. I think it is obscene that we are rewarding these banks now. We have had one debacle after the other. We have had the tracker mortgages and everything else. It is obscene that they can avail of tax write-offs and we will not even agree to an absolute ten-year limit on the use of losses. It is absolutely morally wrong, with people who have suffered at the hands of the banks and continue to suffer, and with all the money we are continuing to pay back just to service the loans, to reward them with a tax write-off.

Recommendation put and declared lost.
Sections 61 to 73, inclusive, agreed to.
NEW SECTION

I move recommendation No. 17:

In page 130, between lines 32 and 33, to insert the following:

“Report on introduction of measures to combat hoarding of land

74. The Minister shall, within 6 months of the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the introduction of measures to combat the hoarding of land needed for development, examining the options for and efficacy of a vacant property tax and land value tax.”.

The recommendation is intended to combat the hoarding of land needed for development and to examine the options for efficacy of vacant property tax and land value tax. In the current climate of the housing crisis, we see again today that the homeless figures have increased and it is really important to do this.

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 introduced the vacant site levy, which is aimed at incentivising the development of vacant or under-utilised sites in urban areas. When this matter arose in the Dáil, on foot of an identical amendment proposed by Deputy Pearse Doherty, the Minister for Finance gave a commitment to provide information to the finance committee regarding the number of properties being levied at the higher vacant site levy rate before next year's budget together with any further information available from local authorities regarding what effect that rate is having on the use of sites. In light of this commitment, the Deputy withdrew his amendment. The higher rate of 7% applies from 1 January 2020 and the Minister would hope to have six months’ worth of information regarding the application of the higher rate that can be shared before next year’s budget.

I can see that the Minister of State and I are not going to agree on this occasion. I will press the recommendation.

Recommendation put and declared lost.
Sections 74 and 75 agreed to.
NEW SECTIONS

I move recommendation No. 18:

In page 131, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“Report on Equality Budgeting Statement

76. Within 6 months of the enactment of this Act, the Minister shall lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report in relation to Gender and Equality Budgeting; to include a review of the implementation of the steps identified in the 2017 Staff Paper Equality Budgeting: Proposed Next Steps in Ireland and proposals in relation to an Equality Statement to accompany Budget 2021.”.

On behalf of Senator Higgins, I wish to move this recommendation and withdraw it with the right to resubmit on Report Stage.

The same health warning applies. If the recommendation is moved and withdrawn and Senators do not speak on it, it can be challenged on Report Stage.

This recommendation of Senator Higgins-----

Senator Conway-Walsh might wish to stand while she is addressing us.

I will stand. The recommendation is in respect of gender and equality budgeting. It is really important to examine the impact the budget has on this.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.

Recommendations Nos. 19 and 20 have been ruled out of order as they are not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Recommendations Nos. 19 and 20 not moved.

I move recommendation No. 21:

In page 131, between lines 3 and 4, to insert the following:

“Report on Re-Allocation of “No-Deal Brexit” fund

76. Within 3 months of the enactment of this Act, the Minister shall lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report examining options for the re-allocation of funds reserved for the case of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union without a Withdrawal Agreement towards climate action measures.”.

I am moving this on behalf of Senator Higgins. She is asking that within three months of the enactment of this Act, the Minister shall lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas a report examining the options for the reallocation of funds reserved for the case of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union without a withdrawal agreement towards climate action measures.

Recommendation, by leave, withdrawn.

Recommendation No. 22 has been ruled out of order as it is not relevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Recommendation No. 22 not moved.
Section 76 agreed to.
Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without recommendation.