Housing Adaptation Grants Expenditure

Questions (71)

Micheál Martin

Question:

71. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a breakdown by county of the 5,700 housing adaptation grants as announced in budget 2014 to assist older persons and persons with disabilities. [44854/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Abridged Estimate for my Department, published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Expenditure Report 2014, includes some €28.6 million in respect of the suite of Grants for Older People and People with a Disability. It is estimated that this will provide grant assistance to some 5,700 households in 2014. The Estimates provision will be supplemented by the recently announced €10 million in additional funding for this measure, giving an overall provision in 2014 of €38.6 million, some €4.3 million more than the initial Exchequer allocation in 2013. The increased allocation will facilitate the payment of more than 7,800 grants to assist older people and people with disabilities to remain at home for longer.

I intend to announce details of the capital allocations to local authorities early in 2014. Allocations will be based on the level of activity within local authorities, the level of contractual commitments in respect of approved grants where work is on-going at present or about to commence and the level of applications on hand and anticipated in the course of 2014.

Middle East Issues

Questions (72)

Brendan Smith

Question:

72. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the recent World Bank report in relation to the costs to the Palestinian economy of €3.4 billion a year due to Israeli restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45005/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I am aware of the recent report issued by the World Bank which found that Israel's continued control of Area C deprives the Palestinian economy of an estimated $3.4 billion a year. The report was also raised in recent discussions which my colleague, the Minister of State for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, had with Palestinian representatives, including Foreign Minister Malki, during his recent visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The World Bank estimate that if Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to, and activity and production in, Area C were lifted, the total potential value could amount to some $3.4 billion or some 35% of Palestinian GDP, at 2011 levels. The resulting increase in revenues for the Palestinian Authority could amount to $800 million which would notionally cut its fiscal deficit by half, thereby significantly reducing the need for recurrent donor support.

At a time when the Palestinian economy is facing significant pressures, with declining aid levels and GDP growth having fallen to 1.9 per cent in the first half of 2013, compared to an average 9% over the period 2008-2011, the economic benefits of greater Palestinian control of Area C and its resources are obvious. Ireland has for decades been clear on the need for an urgent end to Israel's occupation. This report merely underlines the unacceptable costs to Palestinians of continuing failure to end the occupation and realise the undoubted economic dividend and benefits which will flow from a negotiated peace deal and realisation of the two State solution.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (73)

Brendan Smith

Question:

73. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update in relation to the Immigration Reform Bill in the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45006/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

This is an issue to which I accord very high priority. During my visit to the US last month, I spoke with several key contacts in the US Congress including leading members of the House Judiciary Committee, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, Pete King. I also met with representatives of Irish community groups as well as some community members who are undocumented. I am acutely aware of the difficulties they face as a result of their undocumented status.

I am more determined than ever to continue to work to find a solution to their plight. A resolution of the situation facing the undocumented Irish in the United States remains a priority for the Government. The Government also attaches great importance to seeking provision for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the United States through the extension of the "E-3" visa scheme to include Irish citizens. In this context, we very much welcomed the US Senate's approval of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill by a 68-32 margin on 27 June last.

The comprehensive draft legislation, which was drafted over several months by a bipartisan group of eight US Senators, provides for extensive reform of the US immigration system. It includes provisions that would legalise the status of undocumented Irish people and provide a path to permanent residency. It also provides for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US via the proposed E-3 visa.

The Bill is a very positive development. Its provisions, if adopted, would help to end the great hardship and uncertainty faced by undocumented Irish in the US and their families here in Ireland. The inclusion of a new provision to allow several thousand Irish citizens to legally avail of employment opportunities in the US every year is also particularly welcome. The focus has now shifted to the House of Representatives for its consideration of the issues. It remains to be seen whether a consolidated Bill can be agreed between the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is generally accepted that securing overall agreement will remain a complex and challenging process, particularly at a time when Congress has been preoccupied by budgetary and debt issues. This was clear from my discussions last month and I believe the challenge to secure agreement has become even greater in recent times. I am determined to continue to deploy all necessary resources at political, diplomatic and Irish community level to make progress on this vital issue. In support of this ongoing effort, a delegation of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade is in Washington DC this week for a programme arranged by our Embassy during which they will meet with key members of Congress and with Irish-American community representatives.

In addition to my contacts last month in New York, I visited Washington DC on 11-12 July and held a series of meetings on Capitol Hill, including with key members of the House of Representatives and Senate, with the US Administration and with Irish-American community representatives. I reiterated throughout all these contacts the Government's interest in all aspects of immigration reform and in particular our interest in seeing an overall agreement reached which provides relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and a facility for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US.

I wish to acknowledge the critically important role being played by a number of Irish community organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

Overseas Trade Promotion

Questions (74)

John Lyons

Question:

74. Deputy John Lyons asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the plans that exist for trade growth with China, including any initiatives to support Irish businesses considering expanding into the Chinese market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45172/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Developing Ireland's trade and investment relationship with China is a key priority for the Government. This is reflected in the large number of high level visits that have taken place between Ireland and China in recent years, and the strong growth seen in many sectors. The implementation of Ireland's Trade, Tourism and Investment Strategy is overseen by the Export Trade Council, which I chair, and which includes relevant Ministers, heads of State Agencies involved in the promotion of Trade, Tourism and Investment and representatives of the private sector.

The Strategy includes numerical targets and associated action points for implementation and outlines 27 priority markets, of which China is one. Each market has a Local Market Team, which comprises the Embassy/Consulate and the relevant state agencies, under the direction of our Ambassador. China is a priority growth market for Irish companies. Export growth of 19% was recorded in 2012 to bring the total value of goods and services exported by Irish owned companies to China to €346m. Enterprise Ireland, in their recently revised strategy for China, have outlined a path to achieving total exports of €600m by 2016 – an ambitious 73% growth rate over the next 4 year period.

During my visit to China in July/August, I visited Beijing and Shanghai and met with many companies across practically all sectors of the economy – from tourism and food to education – and SMEs active in sectors as diverse as telecommunications and agricultural machinery. While the scale of opportunity in the Chinese market is enormous, it is nevertheless a market that takes somewhat longer to generate returns, compared to our more established export markets in Europe and the US. I am conscious of the need to provide the necessary support to Irish businesses seeking to exploit those opportunities.

The priority target sectors for export development over the next 3 year period are: Financial Services; Clean Technologies (including Energy Efficiency and Green Buildings); Pharmaceuticals; Information Technologies; Medical Devices; Education Services; Agri-Technologies; Equine Products and Services. In addition, and with the support of Bord Bia, Irish food & drink exports to China have more than doubled over the last three years, reaching €262m in 2012. The market is on track for a further increase in the region of 30% during 2013. The main focus of our food exports at present is on dairy, pork, and seafood. In line with the Government's plans for growth in the industry, China is expected to play an important role in the uptake of increased dairy production post CAP reform 2015. Securing access to mainland China for Irish beef will also play an important role in increasing our exports. Bord Bia has established a "Food Hub" in its office in Shanghai which provides a cost-effective way for Irish companies to achieve a presence within the market. At present nine companies are represented in the Bord Bia Food Hub.

My Department, in conjunction with all State Agencies present in China, will continue to work to maximise the benefits from the substantial goodwill and positive relations that exist between Ireland and China.

Alternative Energy Projects

Questions (75)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

75. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason there was a change in commitment regarding a bio-fuels cap as given in a previous parliamentary question, where he committed to supporting a 5% cap but is now supporting a 7% cap; when and how did he change his commitment to this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45302/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, has the lead on Government policy in relation to bio-fuels and the negotiation of EU policy on bio-fuels. This includes the ongoing consideration of the European Commission's proposal to limit the use of foodcrop-based bio-fuels in transport to 5% by 2020. Ireland, during our EU Presidency, worked hard to facilitate consensus on this complex issue. The Council has yet to arrive at an agreed position. A significant number of Member States have argued for either no cap or a cap in excess of 5% on these first generation bio-fuels. My officials have been advised by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that in the interests of facilitating negotiations with the European Parliament, with a view to reaching an agreement as quickly as possible on the proposal from the Commission, Ireland has given its support to a compromise proposal from the Lithuanian EU Presidency for a 7% cap. The European Parliament voted last month for a cap on first generation bio-fuels of 6%.

As I have stated in response to previous Questions on this subject, I share concerns that bio-fuel production, unless properly regulated, can have a negative impact on food production and food prices, especially in developing countries. I will continue to follow this matter closely.

IBRC Staff

Questions (76)

Finian McGrath

Question:

76. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will support the staff of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, particularly by supporting the Labour Relations Commission resolutions proposals. [44905/13]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am not aware of any specific proposals put forward by the Labour Relations Commission in relation to IBRC. I have been advised by the Special Liquidators that there is on-going communication between them and the staff of IBRC and their representative bodies to discuss their issues in relation to the liquidation. I acknowledge the significant efforts and commitment made by the staff in IBRC over the past few difficult years whilst the bank was in wind down and the difficulties that arise for staff as a result of the liquidation but it was necessary to take the decision to liquidate IBRC in the larger public interest.

I have been advised by the Special Liquidators that significant steps have already been taken to address staff concerns including the announcement the Special Liquidators that the majority of staff would be retained until March 2014 in order to provide for an orderly wind-down of the business. This should provide some reassurance to IBRC staff relative to the common position in liquidations where staff contracts are terminated on liquidation. Furthermore, it is likely that some staff will, in time, gain employment by NAMA or other purchasers or servicers of the assets of IBRC.

Tax Collection

Questions (77)

Finian McGrath

Question:

77. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if jobs will be destroyed and businesses placed under massive pressure when they are forced to file early tax returns under the new EU rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44906/13]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Under the regulations known as the "Two-Pack" which were formally adopted on 30 May 2013, a common budgetary timeline is being introduced for all Euro Area member states. Specifically, the draft budget for central government and the main parameters of the draft budgets for all the other sub-sectors of the general government must be published by the 15 of October each year; draft budgetary plans in a common format must be submitted by all Euro area Member States not in a programme of assistance; and the budget for the central government must be adopted or fixed upon and published by the 31 of December each year.

In light of these requirements, the Government decided to bring Budget Day forward from the first week in December to on or before the 15 of October from now on. Accordingly, I presented Budget 2014 on Tuesday last, 15 October. The Government also decided that the Finance Bill should complete its passage through the Oireachtas by the 31 of December each year.

The Deputy will be aware that one of the most critical elements of the Budget process is the accuracy of systems for forecasting potential revenue yield in the year in question prior to the Budget actually taking place. In the context of a December Budget Day, the availability prior to the Budget of information on cumulative tax yields to the end of November gave a high degree of certainty to the estimation of potential outturn for the year. For example, cumulative tax yield to the end of November 2012 was €33.8bn, which represented 92% of the full year outturn of €36.6bn. On the other hand, cumulative yield to end September, at €26.1bn, represented only 71.3% of the eventual outturn.

The scope for unanticipated events which would lead to either a higher or lower than projected outturn is considerably increased in the context of an October Budget. In addition the ability to project future yield is compromised. Consequently, measures which would result in improvements in the availability of information or increases in the proportion of total yield already available prior to the Budget have to be considered. The main areas where scope exists to introduce such improvements relate to the income tax Pay & File arrangements and on 11 October I initiated a consultation process on a revision of the existing arrangements. I will consider the results of this consultation process when drafting, as a Committee Stage amendment to the forthcoming Finance Bill, the necessary measures.

I would reiterate to the Deputy that these changes are required as a result of the move to an earlier Budget Day, necessitated by the adoption of the Two-Pack and will provide increased certainty around the annual tax take. I would not accept the suggestion that such changes are a threat to jobs or businesses. On the contrary, the more information available at Budget time, the more accurate forecasting can be, thereby increasing levels of certainty for business and employment.