International Agreements

Questions (148)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

148. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the arrangements for submarines from other states entering Irish water; the notification and monitoring required; the way any potential safety threat to Irish fishing vessels is prevented; and if nuclear submarines are permitted to enter Irish waters. [4898/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, all vessels have a right of innocent passage through the territorial sea of another State. The Convention does not permit a State to seek prior notification of the passage of vessels through its territorial sea. However, in the case of submarines and other underwater vehicles, Article 20 of the Convention provides that while in the territorial sea they are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag. Beyond the limits of the territorial sea the vessels of all States enjoy freedom of navigation.

I wish to confirm that the concerns of the Irish Government more generally regarding nuclear safety and security issues are raised at international fora such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. Any specific concerns or incidents are raised with the authorities of the countries concerned as the need arises.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (149)

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

149. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the amount of money the State has contributed to the holding of Africa day in 2012 and 2013; the amount committed for 2014; the amount of money that went directly to consultants and the amount provided that went towards consultancy fees including plans for 2014; the reason this money was not given directly to the communities and groups participating in Africa day; if the spend of this money is audited; and if he will provide a breakdown of this spend. [4904/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Africa Day on 25 May is the official day of the African Union. Through Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has taken a leading role in encouraging and supporting initiatives to mark Africa Day in Ireland. The objectives are to increase awareness of the Government's aid programme, which is strongly focused on sub-Saharan Africa; to build greater public understanding of Africa and African issues, by highlighting the diversity and potential of the continent and its people; and to enhance awareness of the potential for bilateral trade and investment links between Ireland and African countries.

The Department encourages, and provides funding for, the organisation of community events throughout the country in cooperation with local authorities in Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Community and civil society groups also receive support to participate in the National Flagship Event. In 2013, this event was held in the Farmleigh Estate in Dublin. Some 46 community groups and NGOs took-part, and 34,000 people attended the event, making it the most successful Africa Day in Ireland to date.

While the Department, through Irish Aid, has always taken the lead on Africa Day, in cooperation with community groups, local authorities and African community and diplomatic representatives, it is clear that the coordination, promotion and implementation of a programme of events on this scale requires some professional expertise. To this end, a contractor with experience in large-scale event management and publicity has been engaged each year by the Department, on the basis of an open tendering process.

The table below provides a breakdown of the costs to the Department of Africa Day, in 2012 and 2013. This expenditure is subject to audit and review, both internally and externally.

-

2012

2013

Contractor’s Professional fees

€22,101

€27,060

Regional Events (including payments to community groups disbursed by local authorities)

€28,825

€46,450

National Flagship Event and third party costs (including grants to community groups)

€68,750

€91,583

TOTAL

€119,676

€165,093

For Africa Day events in 2014 some €180,000 has been allocated provisionally at this stage, with approximately half of the funding to be directed to regional community events organised in cooperation with local authorities. There has been no expenditure on the 2014 Africa Day programme so far.

Northern Ireland Issues

Questions (150)

Brendan Smith

Question:

150. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposals he has to discuss further with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive the need to establish a civic forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4953/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I have previously put on the record of the Dáil that I support the establishment of a Civic Forum which would provide for a broad range of voices on community relations and stimulate informed public debate in relation to key societal challenges. On my regular visits to Northern Ireland, I continue the practice of engaging with civil society representatives. In my ongoing contacts with the Secretary of State, I take the opportunity to discuss full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, including the establishment of a Civic Forum. With the Northern Ireland Executive, including in the context of the North South Ministerial Council, the Government has continued to support the re-establishment of the Civic Forum as a valuable and, as yet, unimplemented provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

I welcome the consultations which Richard Haass, Independent Chair of the Panel of Parties, and Meghan O’Sullivan, Independent Vice-Chair of the Panel of Parties, undertook with community groups and with representatives of wider civil society in order to ensure that their views and perspectives were considered in the context of the recent political talks. I believe that this consultation enriched their work, in particular in relation to the proposals on contending with the Past. The Government is of the view that a strong and resilient civic society can play an important role in providing positive and constructive challenge to the political process and in building a more reconciled and prosperous Northern Ireland.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (151, 152)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

151. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will itemise in tabular form the occasions on which his Department has engaged the services of external professional advice such as a company (details supplied) on the appointment of persons to State boards; if he will list the fees paid in respect of such services; the persons who were ultimately appointed on foot of advice received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4988/14]

View answer

Catherine Murphy

Question:

152. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will identify any instance where a person appointed to a State board after recruitment advice was received from professional external consultants was subsequently deemed to be unqualified for the duties and responsibilities attached to the role; the costs incurred in obtaining advice in respect of each such instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5004/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 151 and 152 together.

There are no State boards under the aegis of my Department.

Election Monitoring Missions

Questions (153)

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

153. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 35 of 14 November and 51 of 12 November 2013, how it came to be, that using the system of scoring adopted by the Department, persons who had previously been selected to serve on the Department’s election monitoring roster when they had no prior experience in election monitoring abroad, were subsequently not selected for the new roster, even though they had by that time gained significant experience in election monitoring. [5266/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

International election monitoring missions play an important role in the promotion of democracy and human rights. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade maintains and administers a roster of observers for such missions. The aim is to ensure that, when requested, Ireland is represented at an appropriate level in international observation missions for both elections and constitutional referendums. The Department carried out a comprehensive review of the election observation roster in 2013. Following a call for applications which was issued by the Department in January 2013, a new roster comprising 200 individuals with a strong mix of skills and experience came into effect on 15 May 2013, for a five year period.

Applications to join the new election observation roster were invited from members of the existing roster and members of the public not on the roster. All applicants were requested to submit an application form setting out their relevant qualifications, knowledge and experience. 263 eligible applications were received and included a combination of existing roster members and new applicants.

In the interests or fairness and transparency, all 263 applications were scored independently by two assessors external to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade against four criteria. These criteria were clearly set out in the Information Note for applicants. They were: Language Skills; Experience of election observation; Knowledge of human rights and/or governance issues; and experience of living in challenging environments. Applicants were asked to demonstrate their proficiency or experience as appropriate and to provide concrete written examples under each of the four criteria to support their application.

In order to ensure fairness and consistency in the scoring of applications, the external assessors were provided with a scoring guideline, which set out how marks were to be awarded under each criterion. All four criteria carried equal weighting. This methodology applied equally to all applicants. Given the high quality of applications received, successful candidates had to score highly against more than one of the criteria in order to ensure selection for the new roster.

I am satisfied that all applicants were treated fairly and impartially. I would note that unsuccessful applicants were invited to request feedback on their applications. In addition, in my reply to a previous Question, I outlined the offer of a review process. On foot of feedback received, two unsuccessful applicants requested a final review of their applications. In both cases, the reviewer was of the view that the scoring of the applications was fair and impartial across all four published criteria. As indicated previously, it was recommended in one case that the applicant’s score be adjusted marginally upwards. This adjustment did not affect the final outcome in relation to placement on the roster, however.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (154)

John Deasy

Question:

154. Deputy John Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the apps his Department or attached agencies have been involved in developing for smartphones and other multimedia devices in the past three years; the cost and the software developer employed in each case. [5460/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I can confirm that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has not been involved in developing Apps for smart phones and other multi-media devices in the past three years. There are no agencies under the aegis of the Department.

Fuel Laundering

Questions (155)

Niall Collins

Question:

155. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide in tabular form a county breakdown of green diesel operations stopped by the Garda in 2010 to 2013, inclusive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5136/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the number of oil laundries detected and closed down in the period from 2010 to 2013 was 33. Details of those detections, by year and the counties in which they occurred, are given in the following table.

Year

Cavan

Donegal

Dublin

Laois

Louth

Meath

Monaghan

Offaly

Waterford

Totals

2010

0

0

0

1

0

0

2

1

0

4

2011

0

1

0

0

1

1

6

0

0

9

2012

1

0

0

0

7

0

3

0

0

11

2013

0

0

1

0

2

1

4

0

1

9

Totals

1

1

1

1

10

2

15

1

1

33

The Revenue Commissioners are aware of the risk that the laundering of markers from diesel poses to legitimate businesses, tax revenues and the environment. Action against fuel laundering is a priority for them and they are implementing a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem through enhanced supply chain controls, the acquisition of a more effective fuel marker and continued robust enforcement action.

Money Laundering

Questions (156)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

156. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance if he will outline the anti-money laundering obligations of banks; if this includes the declaration by a bank to the Revenue Commissioners in the case that a customer wishes to deposit over €10,000 at one time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5225/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010 as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2013, transposes the Third Anti-Money Laundering Directive (2005/60/EC) into national law. Designated persons under the Act, including banks and all credit and financial institutions (as defined in the Act) are required to comply with their obligations under the Act.

Part 4 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2013, sets out a number of obligations on designated persons to prevent their businesses from being used for money laundering or terrorist financing purposes.  The obligations include identification and verification of customer identities, the reporting of suspicious transactions to An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners and having specific procedures in place to provide to the fullest extent possible for the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing. These procedures relate to record keeping, staff training and the maintenance of appropriate procedures and controls pertaining to the obligations imposed by the Directive.

Section 42 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2013 provides that "a designated person who knows, suspects or has reasonable grounds to suspect, on the basis of information obtained in the course of carrying on business as a designated person, that another person has been or is engaged in an offence of money laundering or terrorist financing shall report to the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners that knowledge or suspicion or those reasonable grounds". Furthermore, Section 42(7) of the CJA 2010 specifically provides that a Payment Institution may not execute a suspicious transaction prior to sending a report to the Garda unless it is not  practicable to delay or stop the transaction or the Payment Institution is of the reasonable opinion that failure to proceed with the transaction may result in the other person suspecting that a report will or has been made or that an investigation may be commenced or that it is in the course of being conducted.

While Section 25 of the Act provides that any person or business trading that accepts cash payments for goods in the normal course of business of at least €15,000 (whether in one transaction or in a series of transactions that are or appear to be linked to each other) may be considered to be a "designated person"  and subject to the requirements of the Act, there are no specific provisions in relation to the value of banking transactions.

My Department has published Guidelines on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purpose of money laundering and terrorist financing on the application of the 2010 Act.  The guidelines are designed to guide designated persons on the application of the relevant provisions of the Act.  The Guidelines are available on my Department's website at http://www.finance.gov.ie/sites/default/files/Criminaljustice2012%20as%20per%20Finance%20Website.pdf.

Property Tax Exemptions

Questions (157)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

157. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether there would be merit in the possibility of an exemption from the local property tax for houses that were deemed to be of heritage value as a means of ensuring that the upkeep of these buildings can remain affordable by the easing of this tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5317/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government decided that a liability to the Local Property Tax (LPT) should apply to all owners of residential property with a limited number of exemptions.  Limiting the exemptions available allows the rate to be kept low for those liable persons who do not qualify for an exemption. While I am conscious that the upkeep of heritage properties is performed at significant effort and expense to the residents and owners of these properties, and that a very valuable contribution to our heritage is made by these persons, I do not intend to allow exemptions from LPT for listed properties.  Tax relief in respect of expenditure incurred on the repair, maintenance or restoration of approved buildings or gardens is currently available from income tax or corporation tax to the owner/occupier of such properties, along with certain limited grant aid.  I am satisfied that these are more appropriately targeted as a support in this instance.

Mortgage Arrears Proposals

Questions (158, 184, 185, 186)

Ann Phelan

Question:

158. Deputy Ann Phelan asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding mortgage arrears and the process of repossession being pursued by the banks here if those deemed unsustainable for the mortgage arrears resolution process can requalify for the process if their circumstances change. [5523/14]

View answer

Ann Phelan

Question:

184. Deputy Ann Phelan asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding mortgage arrears and house repossessions in view of the banks here taking a harder line toward mortgage arrears; the reason his Department's monthly figures on arrears are unaudited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5516/14]

View answer

Ann Phelan

Question:

185. Deputy Ann Phelan asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding repossessions of homes by Irish banks in view of the fact there are discrepancies and doubt over what are the correct figures for repossessions carried out by the banks here; the audits the Central Bank of Ireland conduct of bank repossession figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5517/14]

View answer

Ann Phelan

Question:

186. Deputy Ann Phelan asked the Minister for Finance in view of his recent comments regarding repossessions, if he will ensure that the issue is addressed by way of regulation or by including it in a code of conduct; and if so, in what code of conduct will he include same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5518/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 158 and 184 to 186, inclusive, together.

The strong view of the Government is that, in respect of co-operating borrowers under the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP), repossession of a person's primary home should only be considered as a last resort and that every effort should be made to agree a sustainable arrangement as an alternative to repossession. I can assure the Deputy that both my Department and I have expressed this view to the lenders and are keeping in regular contact with them on this important issue.

The Central Bank's Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) places an onus on the banks, in respect of a co-operating borrower, to explore all the options for an alternative repayment arrangement offered by the lender to address a mortgage difficulty before any legal action is considered. Furthermore, under the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Targets (MART) process, the Central Bank is requiring the main lenders to work through their mortgages in arrears of more than 90 days and, where possible, to propose and conclude sustainable restructures with their borrowers in arrears.

Of course, the CCMA and MART can only work in circumstances where the borrower cooperates with the lender and engages with the process. Where this does not happen, the lender may have no other option but to go down the legal route to deal with an arrears case. However, if that course of action leads the borrower to commence a constructive engagement, this can lead to a more favourable outcome for the respective parties.

The Central Bank has advised that under the MARP, if a lender does not offer a borrower an alternative repayment arrangement, for example, where it is concluded that the mortgage is not sustainable and an alternative repayment arrangement is unlikely to be appropriate, the lender must provide reasons on paper or in another durable medium, to the borrower. In these circumstances, the lender must inform the borrower that s/he is now outside the MARP and that the specific protections and provisions of the MARP no longer apply.

The lender must also inform the borrower of the following:

a) other options available to the borrower, such as voluntary surrender, trading down, mortgage to rent or voluntary sale and the implications of each option for the borrower and his/her mortgage loan account including:

(i) an estimate of associated costs or charges where known and, where not known, a list of the associated costs or charges;

(ii) the requirement to repay outstanding arrears, if that is the case,

(iii) the anticipated impact on the borrower's credit rating, and

(iv) the importance of seeking independent advice in relation to these options;

b) the borrower's right to appeal the decision of the lender not to offer an alternative repayment arrangement to the lender's Appeals Board;

c) that legal proceedings may commence three months from the date the letter is issued or eight months from the date the arrears arose, whichever date is later, and that, irrespective of how the property is repossessed and disposed of, the borrower will remain liable for the outstanding debt, including any accrued interest, charges, legal, selling and other related costs, if this is the case;

d) that the borrower should notify the lender if his/her circumstances improve;

e) the importance of seeking independent legal and/or financial advice;

f) the borrower's right to consult with a Personal Insolvency Practitioner;

g) the address of any website operated by the Insolvency Service of Ireland which provides information to borrowers on the processes under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012; and

h) that a copy of the most recent standard financial statement completed by the borrower is available on request.

However, it should be noted that even if the MARP process has concluded and a repossession case has commenced in the legal system, the recent Land and Conveyancing (Law Reform) Act 2013 now provides a power to the Court to adjourn a repossession proceeding in relation to a principal private residence to enable the borrower to consult a personal insolvency practitioner (PIP) and, where appropriate, to instruct the PIP to make a Personal Insolvency Arrangement (PIA) proposal. In formulating a proposal for a PIA, the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 places an onus on a PIP to do so on terms that, shall not insofar as reasonably practicable, require the borrower to dispose of an interest or cease to occupy a principal private residence.

The latest available Central Bank mortgage arrears and repossession data shows that during the third quarter of 2013, legal proceedings were issued to enforce the debt/security on a principal dwelling house mortgage in 1,830 cases. However it is accepted that the legal repossession route is not the preferred option and that engagement by the borrower, even at a late stage, can indeed provide a better alternative. However, if there is no engagement about a mortgage problem, there may be no alternative available option. Overall therefore early and effective engagement between borrowers and lenders is key to resolving cases of mortgage difficulty. Where there is effective and meaningful engagement regarding a mortgage difficulty, the data shows that an increasing number of durable long term mortgage restructures is being put in place.

As the Deputy is aware, my Department has requested the six main banks operating in Ireland, and who fall within the Central Bank Mortgage Arrears Resolution Targets (MART) process, to provide data on the restructuring situation in relation to all primary dwelling mortgages, both in arrears and not in arrears, on a monthly basis. This process is separate from the Central Bank quarterly data collection and publication process and is intended to provide certain data on the level of mortgage restructures on a more timely basis. It should be noted that these are voluntary and unaudited returns by the relevant banks, and given the short timeframe in which the lenders provide this information to my Department and more frequent reporting requirements, they have not gone through the lenders quality control process for regulatory return purposes. However, it is considered to be a desirable development to place more timely and frequent mortgage restructuring data into the public domain.

It is accepted that the issue of mortgage arrears is a major problem that needs to be resolved, not only for an individual borrower and lender, but also for the long term economic and social health of the country and the Government will ensure that the comprehensive strategy is has put in place to tackle the problem is now fully implemented by all the parties involved in the process.

Banking Sector

Questions (159)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

159. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Finance if he will implement a new banking service that will be available throughout the post office network and operated by An Post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5701/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Deputy s question may arise from the recent publication of the Report on the Standard Bank Account pilot project. That Report noted that the view of the stakeholders was that one of the key elements that will have to be part of the preparations for a successful national roll-out of a Standard Bank Account is greater involvement by An Post and the credit unions to have the best possible channel for reaching the target cohorts. The Report also noted that barriers of existing infrastructure had prohibited this to date.

The Financial Inclusion Working Group, chaired by my Department includes An Post together with stakeholders from other Government Departments, the Central Bank of Ireland, retail banks, the National Consumer Agency and voluntary sector organisations. The role of An Post is one of the issues which will be dealt with in the preparations for any rollout of the Standard Bank Account. The Deputy will be aware that, while An Post is not part of the clearing system operated by the retail banks, it does provide a range of banking services to those who do not have a bank account including facilities for paying bills and operating savings accounts. An Post is of course the main outlet for the State s various savings schemes, such as Post Office bonds and Savings Certificates and the National Solidarity Bond. The Deputy will also be aware that Postbank, a joint venture between An Post and BNP Paribas, offering banking services through the post office network closed in 2010.

Departmental Strategies

Questions (160)

John Lyons

Question:

160. Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Finance if a new communications strategy to increase awareness of State supports for small and medium enterprises has been completed; the costs to the Exchequer of implementing a communications strategy; and if funding has been increased to promote Microfinance Ireland in particular. [4852/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, I announced in Budget 2014 that the Government is developing a comprehensive communication strategy to increase awareness of the full suite of developmental business supports, totalling approximately €2bn, which is available from State bodies and agencies. To date, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to make information available to SMEs on the part of Government Departments and State agencies, including

- Engagement with industry and representative bodies through the SME Funding Consultation Committee;

- The Department of Finance's quarterly SME newsletter;

- Publication on my Department's website of a 'SME funding matrix';

- Targeted communication strategies by individual agencies directly to their clients;

- Various guidance documents and support material.

In spite of the work done by relevant Government Departments and agencies, all parties accept that a challenge remains around SMEs' awareness and understanding of Government supports. The most recent SME credit demand survey found that there was a low level of awareness of certain initiatives. It was against this background that the SME State Bodies Group was tasked with drafting a communication strategy. The strategy was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Mortgage Arrears & Credit Availability and will be fully implemented as part of the Action Plan for Jobs 2014.

There has been no cost to the Exchequer to date.

Since the launch of the Microfinance Loan Fund Scheme, by my colleague Mr Richard Bruton T.D., the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in October 2012, Microfinance Ireland (MFI) has been actively promoting the Loan Fund across a wide variety of communication, promotional and advertising channels both at local and national level. As MFI is a private company with a Board of Directors, the budget for promotional activity is a matter for the Board of MFI to approve and is reviewed on a continuous basis in terms of value for money, appropriateness of audiences and allocated on a seasonal basis in line with business cyclical trends. MFI has been operational for just over a year and like any new business with a national reach, advertising and promotional spends are necessary in terms of creating public awareness of the service. Ongoing review and assessment of communication spend across various media and promotional channels, together with resultant application activity, will assist in determining the future and ongoing level of spend and optimal communication strategy to relevant audiences.

As the Deputy will be aware the network of new Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) will be formally established in 2014, thereby providing a first-stop shop service to micro and small businesses across the country. One of the key roles of these new bodies is to facilitate micro and small businesses access to finance, through the LEO s package of financial and other supports (such as those that improve the financial capabilities and awareness of micro and small businesses). The LEOs will continue the work of the City and County Enterprise Boards as the primary source of access to the Microenterprise Loan Fund. The LEOs will provide both links to other finance providers and also advice on a range of Government services such as Revenue, the Credit Review Office and the Companies Registration Office.

Credit Review Office Applications

Questions (161)

John Lyons

Question:

161. Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Finance if there has been an increase in applications to the Credit Review Office since the decision to increase the upper limit of the decline loan amount to €3 million; and the number of applications received overall in 2013 by that office. [4855/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, in Budget 2014 I announced an increase in the limit for loan applications that can be reviewed by the Credit Review Office (CRO) from €500,000 to €3m. This increase will facilitate requests from a broader range of SMEs, as well as assisting those borrowers currently banked with non-trading banks and banks which are strategically exiting the Irish SME lending market, whose refinancing requests are larger than €500,000.

I am informed by the CRO that there has not yet been a significant increase in applications since the upper limit increased to €3m in October 2013. However, this may be due to seasonality - the level of applications in November and December tends to be lower than the rest of the year. The total number of eligible applications received by the CRO for formal review in 2013 was 107. The CRO is currently overturning 55% of the refusal decisions referred to them and I would encourage SMEs that have been refused credit by the banks to avail of the services of the Office.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (162, 163)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

162. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if he will itemise in tabular form the occasions on which his Department has engaged the services of external professional advice such as a company (details supplied) on the appointment of persons to State boards; if he will list the fees paid in respect of such services; the persons who were ultimately appointed on foot of advice received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4987/14]

View answer

Catherine Murphy

Question:

163. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if he will identify any instances where a person appointed to a State board after recruitment advice was received from professional external consultants was subsequently deemed to be unqualified for the duties and responsibilities attached to the role; the costs incurred in obtaining advice in respect of each such instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5003/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 162 and 163 together.

In response to the Deputy's questions my Department has not engaged the services of external professional advice on the appointment of persons to State Boards under the aegis of my Department.

Banking Sector

Questions (164)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

164. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Finance about the levy on the banks which he announced during the recent budget; it has now been reported that what he proposes could actually be deemed to be illegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5085/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The levy on financial institutions was introduced in the Finance (No. 2) Act 2013 which was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and signed into law by the President. I am not aware of, nor have I received any notice of, legal proceedings in relation to the levy.

Tax Reliefs Availability

Questions (165)

Nicky McFadden

Question:

165. Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Finance his views on permitting PAYE workers to claim back tax on charitable donations, particularly with respect to encouraging persons to donate to community initiatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5091/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, changes were made to the scheme of tax relief for donations to approved bodies in Finance Act 2013 as follows:

1. Donations from all individual donors under the scheme are treated in the same manner, with the tax relief in all cases being repaid to the charity.

2. A blended rate of relief of 31% applies to all taxpayers regardless of their marginal tax rate. All donations are grossed up as was previously done for donations from individuals within the PAYE collection system.

3. The charitable donations scheme has been removed from the scope of the high earners' restriction in recognition of the fact that donors will no longer benefit from the tax relief associated with their donations.

4. An annual donation limit of €1 million per individual, for which a refund of income tax can be claimed by approved bodies, has been applied.

These changes were made following a process of engagement between officials at the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners with representatives of the charities sector from the Irish Charities Tax Reform Group (ICTR).

The objectives of that process were threefold: (i) to simplify the operation of the regime, (ii) to reduce the administrative overheads on charities and on the Revenue Commissioners incurred in the operation of the scheme, and (iii) to ensure that any change would be Revenue neutral from the Exchequer perspective. The proposals for the changes were also recommended in the Report of the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising. It is worth noting that PAYE-only taxpayers were never able to claim tax relief for donations made. I have no plans to reverse any of the changes made in the recent Finance Act in relation to the donations scheme.

Property Tax Application

Questions (166)

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

166. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if he will ask the Revenue Commissioners if it is the case that there will be a loss to the Exchequer as a result of a reinterpretation of the local property tax legislation that will now see all buyers in 2013 receive an exemption from paying LPT; if so, what the anticipated loss will be; and the way this breaks down over each consecutive year. [5092/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The legislation governing the administration of Local Property Tax (LPT) provides for a number of exemptions from LPT, two of which are particularly relevant to those who purchased a residential property during 2013. Firstly, under section 9 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended) any new and previously unused residential property that was purchased from a builder or property developer between 1 January 2013 and 31 October 2016 will be exempt from LPT up to the end of 2016. The second relates to the exemption under section 8 of the 2012 Act (as amended), which is the exemption to which the deputy refers. It was originally intended that this exemption would only apply to first-time buyers, which is clear from the heading to the section: "Exemption for first-time buyers". The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill (prior to enactment) also states that the exemption applies to first-time buyers. The Deputy may recall that mortgage interest relief was phased out on mortgages taken out after 31 December 2012 and this measure was a transitional provision to help first-time buyers in the first year after the abolition of mortgage interest relief.

However, as written, the exemption benefits any buyer, not just a first-time buyer. The result is that a person who purchased a second hand house in 2013 and occupies it as a sole or main residence is entitled to the exemption under section 8 regardless of whether she or he is a first-time buyer. The exemption will apply up to the end of 2016, provided the purchaser does not sell or otherwise transfer ownership of the property and continues to live in it as his or her sole or main residence. Accordingly, there will be some occasions where a purchaser of a second hand property in 2013 will not qualify for the exemption, for example, where the property is being let by the purchaser. The Deputy's assertion that all buyers of residential properties in 2013 will now receive an exemption from LPT is therefore not correct.

Revenue has advised me that the section 8 exemption applies to a clearly defined group of property owners, who are being identified using Stamp Duty records. These fall into three broad groups:

- those who purchased a residential property between 1 January 2013 and 1 May 2013 and paid the 2013 LPT liability. These purchasers may be entitled to a refund of the 2013 payment and, subject to certain conditions, may be exempt for 2014 to 2016 LPT,

- those who purchased a residential property between 2 May 2013 and 1 November where the purchaser paid the 2014 LPT liability. These purchasers may be entitled to a refund of the LPT for 2014 and, subject to certain conditions, may be entitled to an exemption for 2015 and 2016 LPT, and

- those who purchased a residential property between 2 November 2013 and 31 December 2013. These purchasers, subject to certain conditions, may be entitled to an exemption for 2015 and 2016 LPT.

There is a significant amount of work involved in identifying individuals who bought in 2013 and who may be entitled to claim the exemption. When this work is completed Revenue will write to these individuals and will provide advice on what action should be taken where the individual confirms that she or he qualifies for the exemption and wishes to claim it. Good progress is being made on identifying those who may be eligible and the letter from Revenue will clearly indicate what the purchaser will need to do to claim the exemption.

Regarding the potential impact on the Exchequer, as a result of the increased number of purchasers who will qualify for the section 8 exemption, the potential loss is not likely to be significant as part of the overall LPT yield. Revenue has advised that an accurate figure will only be available when those who receive the letter from Revenue respond by claiming the section 8 exemption for 2013 and/or 2014, as appropriate. Revenue expects to be in a position to provide indicative figures during April 2014.

In relation to the potential impact on the LPT yield for 2015 and 2016, Revenue advises that reliable figures for these years will only become available after 2014 as qualification for the exemption will be conditional on the individual continuing to satisfy the exemption conditions. In this respect, Revenue has advised that where an owner lets or sells his or her property the exemption will cease to apply from the next liability date.

Mortgage Data

Questions (167)

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

167. Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding banks making agreements with mortgagees; if he will provide figures in tabular form for the number of split mortgages that have been put in place to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5102/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Deputy will be aware of the Central Bank's Mortgage Arrears Resolution Targets (MART) announced last March which sets time bound and measurable targets for the main banks requiring them to systematically address their arrears book. Under this rolling process, quarterly performance targets have now been set to the end of June 2014 to require the banks to propose and put in place durable long term solutions to address individual cases of mortgage accounts in arrears of more than 90 days.

The Central Bank has indicated that all six mortgage lenders covered by the MART process have reported that they met the 20% proposed sustainable solutions target for the second quarter of 2013 and also the 30% target for the third quarter in 2013.  In particular, with respect to the third quarter 2013 target, which is the latest available data, the lenders have reported to the Central Bank they had issued proposals to 43% of mortgage accounts in arrears against the 30% target.

The new monthly mortgage restructures and arrears data published by my Department shows that some progress has been made in putting permanent mortgage restructures in place.  For example, the number of permanent restructures of primary dwelling houses (PDH) more than 90 days in arrears has risen from around 41,200 in August to around 49,300 in November 2013, an increase of almost 20%.  The data also indicates that, in respect of the MART institutions, at end November 2013, 5,814 split mortgages were put in place in respect of primary home mortgages and a further 276 in respect of buy to let mortgages (this data includes those split mortgages which are initially proposed for a short-term trial period).  Mortgage restructures data in respect of the end of December 2013 will be published on 13 February next.

Early and effective engagement between borrowers and lenders is key to resolving cases of mortgage difficulty.  Where there is effective and meaningful engagement regarding a mortgage difficulty, the data shows that an increasing number of durable long term mortgage restructures is being put in place.

Tax Code

Questions (168)

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

168. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Finance if persons that are working in the public service and Health Service Executive who will receive a lump sum retirement payment will be taxed; if so, the bands the tax will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5103/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I assume the Deputy is referring to the tax treatment of retirement lump sums paid from public service occupational pension schemes. The following arrangements currently apply to retirement lump sums paid under pension arrangements approved by the Revenue Commissioners, and also to retirement lump sums paid from public service occupational pension schemes.

- Lump sum amounts up to €200,000 are paid free of tax. They are also paid free of USC.

- The portion of a lump sum between €200,001 and 25% of the Standard Fund Threshold (currently €500,000) is taxed on a ring-fenced basis at the standard rate (currently 20%). This means that no tax credits or other tax reliefs can be set against this portion of the lump sum. No USC is chargeable.

- Any amount of a lump sum in excess of €500,000 is taxed at the individual's marginal rate of tax (credits and other tax reliefs are available). In this instance, USC is chargeable on the excess.

I would also point out that the €200,000 tax-free amount is a lifetime limit and applies to a single lump sum or, where an individual is in receipt of lump sums from more than one pension product, to the aggregate of those lump sums. In addition, retirement lump sums taken on or after 7 December 2005 and before 1 January 2011 (the date the current regime was introduced) must be taken into account in determining the tax-free amount (if any) appropriate to a retirement lump sum paid on or after 1 January 2011.

Tax Code

Questions (169)

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

169. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if he is considering an amendment to the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 in relation to the reimbursement of physiotherapy expenses (details supplied). [5104/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Deputy may be aware that this issue was discussed at length during the passage of the recently enacted Finance (No. 2) Act 2013, during which I indicated that I was not prepared to provide for the change at the current time on the grounds of additional cost to the Exchequer. Therefore, the amendment was considered already and I do not propose to revisit the matter in the short term.

Revenue Commissioners Investigations

Questions (170)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

170. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the number of instances where a complaint against the Revenue sheriff was lodged in the past ten years; of those, the number which were subsequently referred to the Revenue Commissioners; the number which were referred to the Joint Standing Committee of the Revenue Commissioners and the Sheriffs Association; the resolution achieved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5174/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Revenue Commissioners are charged with responsibility for collection and recovery of a wide range of taxes and duties. I know that Revenue has a strong focus on making sure that everyone complies with their tax and duty responsibilities by paying the right amount and on time. Revenue expects businesses to continue, notwithstanding the difficult economic circumstances in which they are now operating, to maintain a clear focus and organise their financial affairs to ensure that tax debts are paid as they fall due. I know that Revenue is conscious of the difficult economic and financial climate and how it impacts on business in being timely compliant. For example, Revenue has actively encouraged businesses experiencing particular payment difficulties to work proactively with them when such difficulties start to arise to find an agreed way through the difficulties and quickly restore voluntary timely compliance.

As I have advised the Deputy in reply to previous questions on this issue, I am informed by Revenue that Sheriffs are officers of the Court, holding office under Section 12 of the Court Officers Act, 1945. Their debt collection activities are generally covered by the Enforcement of Court Orders Act, 1926, as amended and the execution of Revenue certificates is specifically provided for in Section 960L of the Taxes Consolidated Act 1997, as amended. When acting in execution of tax certificates, sheriffs are governed by the general law, which applies to the collection of civil debts of all kinds, and not by the provisions of the Tax Acts. They are not accountable to Revenue as regards the methods and techniques of enforcement but are answerable before the courts for any breach of the civil debt collection law. I am further advised that the Sheriffs have in place a Code of Practice, available from any sheriff or on Revenue's website, which sets out how Sheriffs will engage with taxpayers.  The Code also sets out the process whereby a taxpayer may make a complaint and how it will be handled. Therefore, data is not available to Revenue to respond to the Deputy s query in relation to the number of queries that were made against the Sheriffs in the last ten years.

I am advised that the Sheriffs Code of Practice was introduced on 1 November 2005. Data is not maintained by Revenue in a manner that would enable the provision of a response to the Deputy's query in relation to the number of complaints that were referred to Revenue over that entire period, however over the last three years eight such complaints were received and responded to by Revenue. Following receipt of the responses from Revenue to their complaints, none of the eight taxpayer requested that his/her complaint be referred for review by the Joint Standing Committee of the Revenue Commissioners and the Sheriffs Association (JSC).

It is important to note that the JSC is not, and does not purport to be, a judicial body. The Sheriffs Code of Practice is designed to provide an opportunity to taxpayers to resolve disputes without the necessity for the complainant to initiate Court proceedings. However, referral of any matter to the JSC should not in any way be taken as a diminution or a substitution for a taxpayer's common law rights, which are not impacted upon by availing of the process. The JSC undertakes a review of a complaint by means of an examination of all relevant documentation and correspondence relating to the taxpayer's complaint and the sheriff's response. A total of four complaints have been reviewed by the JSC since the introduction of the Sheriffs Code of Practice in 2005. There were a range of issues involved in these four complaints and the each taxpayer was notified of the findings of the JSC.