Question No. 60 answered with Question No. 11.

Gender Equality

Questions (61)

Nicky McFadden

Question:

61. Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way in which we can ensure that the Commission on the Status of Women taking place in March affirms Ireland's and the EU's commitment to gender equality and women's empowerment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12129/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal UN global policy-making body on gender equality and the advancement of women. Ireland attaches great importance to the 57th session of the CSW, which is taking place from Monday 4 to Friday 15 March, as a centrepiece of our activities at the United Nations during our Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Ireland is being represented at the CSW by Ms Kathleen Lynch T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and the Department of Justice, Equality and Defence with responsibility for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People. Extensive preparatory and outreach work has been undertaken by Ireland’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York. This focuses both on ensuring coherence in EU positions and on the building of cross-regional coalitions so as to maximise the possibility of a strong outcome to this year’s session.

The 57th session has as its priority theme the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. The outcome being aimed for in this regard is a set of agreed conclusions, which are negotiated by all States and which must be adopted by consensus. The review theme of this session is the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including caregiving in the context of HIV and AIDS, based on the agreed conclusions of the 53rd session in 2009. The emerging issue of this session is an exploration of how key gender equality issues can be reflected in the UN post-2015 development framework.

An EU strategy paper to which Ireland has contributed sets out the objective of achieving strong agreed conclusions which preserve and strengthen the international agreements and commitments on gender equality and the empowerment of women, pursuing a rights-based approach to gender equality and the empowerment of women and countering attempts to undermine international human rights obligations.

Ireland’s focus is firmly on practical measures and we hope to see a number of concrete actions and best practices reflected in the agreed conclusions. The EU is represented in the negotiations on these conclusions by the EU Delegation, supported by the Irish Presidency. Ireland is also co-sponsoring a number of side events. We are closely involved in the organization of an event entitled “Mobilising communities to prevent and respond to violence against women – lessons learnt from Uganda”. The Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence is the main organiser of an event entitled “Addressing Gender Based Violence in fragile states in post conflict and fragile states – a case study of Sierra Leone”. Ireland will also support Amnesty International’s side event entitled “Women Human Rights Defenders” and a “Raising Voices” side event entitled “Exploring the evidence in preventing violence against women”. We hope that these side events will contribute to raising awareness around these issues among officials and civil society actors attending the CSW.

Emigrant Support Services

Questions (62)

Brendan Smith

Question:

62. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline the proposed disbursement of funding under the emigrants support programme for 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12264/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The 2013 grant round closed on 20 February with applications for 358 projects received from 17 countries. The assessment process, which is carried out in conjunction with our missions abroad, is now underway. The focus of the 2013 grants will be on supporting key frontline welfare and advisory services and on projects aimed at supporting new arrivals.

Northern Ireland Issues

Questions (63)

Brendan Smith

Question:

63. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposals, if any, he has to advance the proposed bill of rights for Northern Ireland as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12265/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government remains firmly committed to ensuring the full and effective implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including the provision relating to a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. We will continue to urge all the parties in the Assembly to engage in constructive discussion with a view to reaching agreement on the substance of a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland would include rights reflecting the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, alongside the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. A Bill of Rights drawn up by agreement between the main parties of the Assembly could set out precisely and formally the rights upon which a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland can be based. In contact with the British government we continue to stress the importance of implementation of the Agreement, including of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland which takes account of the separate and specific context of Northern Ireland.

Conflict Resolution in Syria

Questions (64)

Brendan Smith

Question:

64. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of discussions at the most recent EU Foreign Affairs Council in relation to Syria; if additional humanitarian assistance was agreed for that region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12277/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Syria was the major issue discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on 18 February, which I attended. The focus was very much on the most appropriate steps for the EU to take in support of ongoing efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Against the background of escalating fighting between the Syrian army and opposition groups, and with no military resolution in sight, it is increasingly evident that a negotiated solution is the only realistic option to bring about an end to the appalling violence (which has so far cost close to 70,000 lives) and to start a genuine process of political transition. The Council made clear, in its Conclusions, that the EU welcomes and supports all efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the violence in Syria.

These objectives are central to the mission of the UN/Arab League Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi. The Council reiterated its full support for Mr. Brahimi’s efforts. We also welcomed the offer made to the Syrian authorities by the President of the National Syrian Coalition, Dr Al Khatib, to start a political dialogue leading to a peaceful transition. The sanctions which the EU is applying at present are an essential means of maintaining strong pressure on the Syrian authorities so as to persuade them to stop their campaign of repression and brutality against the Syrian people. I welcome the fact that the Council was able to agree on renewing the full range of existing sanctions for a further period of three months.

Accountability is very important in the context of the many war crimes and human rights violations that have been committed by all sides during the conflict. Ireland has lent active support within the EU to calls for the situation in Syria to be referred by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court. The Council has called on the Security Council to urgently address the situation in Syria in all its aspects, including the question of a possible referral to the ICC.

The role of the UN is also key in coordinating international relief efforts to address the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation. Ireland was represented at the high-level pledging conference on Syria which UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon chaired in Kuwait on 30 January and at which in excess of US$1.5 billion was raised to support ongoing international relief efforts. My colleague, the Minister of State for Trade and Development, Mr Joe Costello T.D., announced additional emergency assistance of €4.7 million at the conference, bringing total Irish aid to Syria in the past year to €7.1 million. Total EU assistance to date, both from the Commission and Member States, amounts to some €580 million.

The Council, at its meeting on 18 February, explicitly reaffirmed the leading role of the UN in providing assistance to Syria as well as to those neighbouring countries who are so generously hosting the estimated 900,000 refugees from this conflict. The Council Conclusions also committed the EU to take steps towards providing humanitarian assistance to all areas in the country, including those currently not reached by humanitarian aid. The conflict in Syria will remain a major priority for Ireland at all levels of our international engagement. We will use the influence available to us in our current EU Presidency role to support European and UN efforts and initiatives towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Property Taxation Exemptions

Questions (65)

Brendan Smith

Question:

65. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance if a waiver or reduction in the amount of household tax will be made available to senior citizens, particularly those with a disability in view of the fact that many senior citizens in this category do not have the resources to meet additional household payments; if he has any plans to introduce or consider introducing a waiver or reduction for senior citizens and or senior citizens with a disability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12186/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

While there is no specific exemption from or reduction in the charge to Local Property Tax (LPT) for senior citizens or senior citizens with a disability, the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 and the recently published Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013 contain certain provisions that may be relevant, depending on the particular circumstances involved. For individuals on low incomes or those whose only income source is from the Department of Social Protection, the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 provides for the possibility of deferring the charge to LPT in certain cases. Under the 2012 Act, a system of deferral arrangements for owner-occupiers is available where there is an inability to pay the tax and certain specified conditions are met. A person who qualifies for full deferral can opt to defer 100% of the LPT liability. A person who qualifies for partial deferral can opt to defer 50% of the liability and must pay the balance of LPT.

The deferral arrangements available under the 2012 Act are as follows:

-

Condition Number

Condition

Full Deferral

1

Gross income for the year is unlikely to exceed €15,000 (single or widow/er) and €25,000 (couple)

Full Deferral

2

Gross income for the year is unlikely to exceed the adjusted income limit. This adjusted income limit is calculated by increasing the thresholds of €15,000 (single or widow/er) and €25,000 (couple) by 80% of the expected mortgage interest payments for the year 2013. This applies until 31 December 2017.

Partial Deferral

3

Gross income for the year is unlikely to exceed €25,000 (single or widow/er) and €35,000 (couple).

Partial Deferral

4

Gross income for the year is unlikely to exceed the adjusted income limit. This adjusted income limit is calculated by increasing the thresholds of €25,000 (single or widow/er) and €35,000 (couple) by 80% of the expected mortgage interest payments for the year 2013. This applies until 31 December 2017.

The 2013 Amendment Bill also provides for a full or partial deferral of the charge where there is an inability to pay the tax in certain other specific situations. In all cases, interest will be charged on LPT amounts deferred at a rate of 4% per annum. The deferred amount, including interest, will attach to the property and will have to be paid before the property is sold or transferred.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that, for those who do not qualify for deferral of the tax, there is a wide range of payment options available to liable persons, which will allow them to pay their LPT liability in full or to pay the tax for 2013 in equal instalments over the period 1 July 2013 to end December 2013.

In accordance with section 2 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013, an exemption from the charge to LPT will apply to a residential property purchased, built or adapted to make it suitable for occupation by a permanently and totally incapacitated individual as their sole or main residence, where an award has been made by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or a court, or where a trust has been established, specifically for the benefit of such individuals. In the case of adaptations to a property, the exemption will only apply where the cost of the adaptations exceeds 25% of the chargeable value of the property before it is adapted. The exemption ends if the property is sold and the incapacitated individual no longer occupies it as his or her sole or main residence.

Section 6 of the 2013 Amendment Bill provides for a reduction in the market value of a residential property that has been adapted for occupation by a disabled person where the adaptation has been grant-aided by a local authority. The reduction is limited to the lesser of the market value attributable to the adaptation work carried out on the property and the maximum grant payable under the relevant local authority scheme. The relief ends on the sale or transfer of a property that has been adapted, unless the person with the disability continues to reside in the property.

Furthermore, the impact of specific adaptations on a property can be to decrease the value which may in turn impact on the LPT liability. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that details of the existing exemptions are available on Revenue’s website www.revenue.ie , where the Commissioners have recently published a useful Guide to Local Property Tax. This will be revised shortly to take account of the provisions of the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013. It should be noted, however, that the provisions contained in the 2013 Bill are subject to its enactment.

Property Taxation Exemptions

Questions (66)

Robert Troy

Question:

66. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance if houses which have been modified to cater for a resident with a disability are exempt from the property tax. [12065/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that it is not possible to give a definitive reply based on the information provided by the Deputy. While there is no specific exemption from the Local Property Tax (LPT) for houses which have been modified to cater for a resident with a disability, the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013 that I recently introduced contains certain provisions that, when enacted, may be relevant, depending on the particular circumstances involved. Section 2 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013 provides an exemption from LPT for a residential property purchased, built or adapted to make it suitable for occupation by a permanently and totally incapacitated individual as their sole or main residence, where an award has been made by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or a court, or where a trust has been established, specifically for the benefit of such individuals. In the case of adaptations to a property, the exemption will only apply where the cost of the adaptations exceeds 25% of the market value of the property before it is adapted. The exemption ends if the property is sold and the incapacitated individual no longer occupies it as his or her sole or main residence.

Alternatively, section 6 of the Bill provides for a reduction in the market value of a residential property that has been adapted for occupation by a disabled person where the adaptation has been grant-aided by a local authority. The reduction is limited to the lesser of the market value attributable to the adaptation work carried out on the property and the maximum grant payable under the relevant local authority scheme. The relief ends on the sale or transfer of a property that has been adapted, unless the person with the disability continues to reside in the property.

Furthermore, the impact of specific adaptations on a property can be to decrease the value which may in turn impact on the LPT liability. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that details of the existing exemptions are available on Revenue’s website www.revenue.ie , where the Commissioners have recently published a useful Guide to Local Property Tax. This will be revised shortly to take account of the provisions of the Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Bill 2013.

Property Taxation Application

Questions (67)

Robert Troy

Question:

67. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance in view of the uncertainty in the property market, the way a person will value their home in confidence that it is the correct valuation and that they will not incur any charges at a later date. [12066/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 sets out how the tax is to be administered and how a residential property is to be valued for Local Property Tax (LPT) purposes. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that LPT is a self-assessed tax so in the first instance it is a matter for the property owner to calculate the tax due based on his or her assessment of the market value of the property. As property values are organised into valuation bands for the purposes of LPT, property owners will not be required to provide a precise value for their property. The Revenue Commissioners have prepared valuation guidance which, taken together with the owner’s own knowledge of the property, will assist him or her in assessing its value. The guidance includes an on-line guide that provides indicative property valuation bands depending on the property type, age and location. I am advised by the Commissioners that this on-line guidance will shortly be available on the Revenue website.

The guidance also draws property owners’ attention to the publicly available property price register produced by the Property Services Regulatory Authority which provides an actual sales price for all properties sold since January 2010. Owners are also encouraged to refer to other sources of information relating to local properties such as the property section of local newspapers, information from local estate agents and property websites. Alternatively, owners may choose to obtain a valuation from a competent professional valuer. If property owners have purchased their property or obtained a professional valuation in recent years, they may use this valuation and adjust for any change in property values in their area since the date of this valuation.

When using Revenue’s valuation guidance, the property owner should consider the specifics of his or her own property – for example, if the property has certain unique features, is smaller or larger than the average property in the area, or is in a significantly poor state of repair – and these factors should be taken into account in the owner’s assessment of the valuation of the property. If the property owner feels that the guidance is not indicating a reasonable valuation, they should make their own assessment. As I have previously advised the House, where the Revenue guidance is used in an honest manner, the property valuation made by a property owner will not be challenged by Revenue in accordance with its normal Customer Service Charter and, consequently, additional charges will not be applied.

Finally, I am advised by the Commissioners that the initial valuation of a property on 1 May 2013 will be valid up to and including 2016 and will not be affected by any improvements made to the property, or any increase in property prices, during this period.

Local Government Funding

Questions (68)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

68. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance the percentage of the proposed property tax that will revert to the local authority; the criteria that will be used in assessing same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12089/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

Section 157 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act, as amended, provides that, in each financial year commencing in 2014, the Minister for Finance shall pay into the Local Government Fund an amount equivalent to the local property tax, including any interest paid thereon, paid into the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof during that year. The allocation of funding to local authorities, as well as criteria in assessing such allocation, is properly a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Tax Code

Questions (69)

Nicky McFadden

Question:

69. Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Finance if he has considered the Certified Public Accounts Ireland Entrepreneurship Report for 2012; his views on the recommendations to provide a more equitable treatment of entrepreneurs under the tax system to award tax credits to investors in business which can only be claimed against dividends realised from that business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12140/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I would like to thank the Deputy for drawing this report to my attention. I will have my officials examine the report and will revert to the Deputy in writing in due course.