Departmental Expenditure

Questions (41)

John Deasy

Question:

41. Deputy John Deasy asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a breakdown of his Department's expenditure on translating and printing Irish language publications, documents, advertisements, notices, and bilingual signage, in each of the past three years. [11509/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

The following table gives a breakdown of the information requested by the Deputy:

Year

Amount

2011

Cost

Iris Oifigiúil - publication of notices

€6,303.00

Europus - Irish language translation

€13,245.61

Total

€19,548.61

2012

Iris Oifigiúil - publication of notices

€4,397.00

Europus - Irish language translation

€17,873.16

Total

€22,270.16

2013

Iris Oifigiúil - publication of notices

€3,470.00

Europus - Irish language translation

€20,888.71

Total

€24,358.71

Departmental Legal Costs

Questions (42)

Denis Naughten

Question:

42. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Taoiseach if he will set out in tabular form, by reference to each named firm, the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by his Department to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; if he will provide in a similar format the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by State bodies including commercial or non-commercial and regulatory bodies established by or under his Department, to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11878/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

No legal fees were paid in 2013 in respect of law firms by State bodies under the remit of my Department.

Construction Sector Strategy

Questions (43)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

43. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach when it is expected that the plan on the future of construction, particularly in the area of building new housing units, will be published. [12094/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I expect that the Government will publish a strategy for the construction sector in the near future.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (44)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

44. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Taoiseach the action he is taking to encourage more Irish executives to serve on State boards under the remit of his Department; his views on the recent Merc Partners survey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12465/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I make appointments to the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) and the National Statistics Board. In relation to the NESC, most of the appointments are on the basis of nominations from organisations or interests or are public servants. I also appoint a number of independent members, and at present most of these come from the academic sector.

Appointments to the National Statistics Board (NSB) are made in line with the Statistics Act 1993 under which the Taoiseach appoints seven people:

- five persons of proven ability and experience in relevant fields, two of whom shall be nominated by the Taoiseach and three of whom shall be nominated by such organisation or organisations as the Taoiseach considers to be representative of the users of official statistics and providers of information under this Act,

- an Assistant Secretary or equivalent or higher grade in the Department of the Taoiseach, and

- an Assistant Secretary or equivalent or higher grade in the Department of Finance.

The Director General of the CSO is also a member of the board, ex officio.

Expressions of interest were invited for positions on the National Statistics Board on the websites of the Department of the Taoiseach and the National Statistics Board late last year, on expiry of the term of office of the board. This provided an opportunity for persons from a wide variety of backgrounds to express an interest in contributing to the work of the board.

I am satisfied that an appropriate range of expert skills and abilities are available for appointment in both cases.

Good Friday Agreement

Questions (45)

Noel Grealish

Question:

45. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in view of the collapse of a case (details supplied) in the UK, if the Irish Government of the time issued letters of amnesty or guarantees of immunity from prosecution to any suspected terrorists or republicans who were on the run; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11510/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government has always taken very seriously the need to deal sensitively with the legacy of the past. This informs our support for the ongoing political talks among the Northern Ireland party leaders. The need to deal with prisoner issues was recognised in the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement which committed both governments to provide for the accelerated release of prisoners affiliated to organisations supportive of the peace process.

In the context of ongoing attempts to have the institutions provided for in the Agreement established fully, both governments sought to address the issue of those subject to outstanding prosecutions or extradition proceedings who would have been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement had they been convicted and imprisoned. While the Irish Government did not operate an equivalent scheme to that at issue in the case mentioned by the Deputy, we would see the administrative scheme for OTRs established by the British government as a natural progression from the agreement made at Weston Park. The Weston Park Agreement was reached in the conviction that all its constituent elements were in the wider interests of the peace process.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (46)

Joe McHugh

Question:

46. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the process and criteria required for the food and beverage industry regarding public procurement contracts to Irish embassies, including the length of contracts and timeline around the procurement process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11564/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My Department, including its diplomatic missions overseas, is subject to the same general rules on public procurement as other Irish central government bodies. In summary, these require contracts for supplies of goods (including food and beverage products) over €130,000 in value to be advertised in the Official Journal of the EU and to be awarded in accordance with legally binding rules on transparency, non-discrimination and other requirements. A minimum of six weeks must be allowed for tenderers to respond to such invitations, and the contracting authority must normally observe a further “standstill” period of 14 days to allow objections from disappointed tenderers before a contract can be formally entered into. On average, a procurement process subject to EU rules will take at least three months from the drafting of the tender documents to award of contract. Such contracts may normally be put in place for up to a maximum of four years, but three years tends to be the normal duration in practice.

Contracts between €25,000 and €130,000 in value must normally be procured by advertised competitive process in accordance with guidelines issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and contracts under €25,000 may be procured by inviting competitive quotes from a number of suitably qualified suppliers. Contracts on this scale are not subject to the detailed timeline requirements of the EU Public Procurement Directive, but may nonetheless be subject to general provisions of the EU Treaties regarding non-discrimination and other matters. The Department’s headquarters in Ireland may occasionally have significant catering requirements that arise in the context of major international visits and events such as the EU Presidency in the period January-June 2013, when my Department arranged the procurement of catering services on behalf of all Departments.

The procurement of catering for the EU Presidency was subject to a competitive tender process for each of the six months in question. It was a specification of each tender that suppliers had to confirm that all beef, pigmeat, eggs, lamb, poultry and vegetable products were sourced from suppliers who were listed as Approved Members of An Bord Bia Quality Assurance Schemes. It would be truly exceptional for any of the embassies to have requirements for food and beverage products greater than the €25,000 threshold mentioned above in any one year, and most of their requirements are procured locally.

My Department and its missions work closely with the Irish promotional agencies including An Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Fáilte Ireland in relation to promoting Irish food and beverage products at appropriate events overseas, particularly during the St. Patrick’s Day period. If the Deputy has a particular producer or manufacturer in mind that he thinks has good quality products to offer in that context, he can provide me with further details and I will be happy to make enquiries to see what advice and support my Department can provide.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (47)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

47. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way his Department will approach the increasingly worrying situation facing the Rohingya community in Burma as Doctors Without Borders has been excluded from accessing Rakhine and therefore is unable to assist the Rohingya community and others suffering from the current humanitarian crisis being experienced in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11574/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government closely follows the situation of the Rohingya people in Myanmar/Burma. The decision taken by the Government of Myanmar/Burma ordering Médecins Sans Frontières to cease its activities is deeply worrying. I reiterate calls made by the international community that urge the Government of Myanmar/Burma to grant safe, timely, full and unhindered humanitarian access across Rakhine State to all persons in need. In view of the findings by the EU Delegation in Myanmar during their visit to Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) Camps in Rakhine, Ireland and our partners in the EU will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those in most need. Ireland together with EU partners calls on the Government of Myanmar/Burma to address the underlying causes of ethnic tensions in Rakhine and guarantee respect for human rights and the rule of law for all people in Myanmar/Burma.

Currently, the EU is providing around 70 million Euro to the people of Rakhine State, most of which is used to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of the region. Since 2007, over €7m has been provided by Irish Aid to NGOs and Irish missionaries for both long term development and emergency and recovery responses in Myanmar/Burma. In December 2013, the Tánaiste announced an additional programme of funding worth €500,000. Ireland has traditionally supported the efforts of the international community to address destabilising ethnic conflicts and the communities they displace. Ireland, as an elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, will continue to do so at the 25th Session of the Council currently underway in Geneva.

Working Holiday Programmes

Questions (48, 51)

Regina Doherty

Question:

48. Deputy Regina Doherty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position regarding the negotiations on working visas to Canada; when an announcement is to be expected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11654/14]

View answer

Michael McGrath

Question:

51. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised with the Canadian Ambassador here the position regarding the delay in the opening of the Canadian working holiday visa application process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11861/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 51 together.

The Working Holiday Programme with Canada gives young people from Ireland and Canada the opportunity to live and work in the other country. The agreement reflects the excellent relationship we enjoy with Canada and contributes further to that relationship by fostering increasing personal, cultural and professional ties between our people. The arrangements for the Programme were set out in a Memorandum of Understanding which was agreed between Ireland and Canada in 2003. This was amended and expanded in 2012 and again on 6 March 2014, at which point two new categories were brought into the scheme.

Last week I welcomed the signing of the latest amendment to this reciprocal agreement, which will allow more young Irish professionals and students to gain valuable work experience in Canada. I am advised that the Canadian authorities open applications today for 3,000 visas in the new categories, geared towards young Irish professionals and students. On 13 March, applications open for the working holiday visas which have been characteristic of the scheme since 2003, and open to applicants who do not have a job offer in Canada. The total number of visas available to young Irish citizens this year is 10,700, the largest ever quota for Irish applicants.

Emigrant Support Services

Questions (49)

Seán Kenny

Question:

49. Deputy Seán Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when applications will be accepted under the emigrant support programme 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11686/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) provides funding to non-profit organisations and projects to support Irish communities overseas and to facilitate the development of more strategic links between Ireland and the global Irish. Since the inception of the ESP in 2004, some €104 million has been distributed to Irish community organizations in Britain, the US, Australia, Canada and further afield. The 2014 funding round for the Emigrant Support Programme opened on 15 January 2014 and the closing date for receipt of applications was 19 February 2014. The funding round was publicised through the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and official social media accounts. It was also publicised by the network of Irish Embassies and Consulates, through their own communication channels, and through local newspapers and radio programmes, particularly in centres with significant high Irish populations such as Britain, Canada and Australia.

This year, 390 applications for funding have been received from organisations in 18 countries. These applications are currently being processed. The funding requested totals some €15.456m. The allocation for the Emigrant Support Programme for 2014 is €11,595,000. This matches the allocations for 2012 and 2013.

Overseas Development Aid

Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 48.

Questions (50, 53)

Billy Timmins

Question:

50. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position regarding the millennium development goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11747/14]

View answer

Terence Flanagan

Question:

53. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps being taken to ensure that Ireland achieves the 0.7% ODA/GNI target for overseas aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11989/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions 50 and 53 together.

The Government is very strongly committed to Ireland’s overseas aid programme and to its place at the heart of Irish foreign policy. The aid programme has the reputation of being one of the best in the world. Our commitment to development cooperation is clear in the Programme for Government and has been further enhanced by the launch of our new policy for international development - One World One Future. The policy sets out our vision for a sustainable and just world in which people are empowered to overcome poverty and hunger and to fully realise their rights and potential.

One World One Future has a clear focus on the poorest countries and communities in sub-Saharan Africa and sets out three goals: reduced hunger and stronger resilience; sustainable development and inclusive economic growth; and better governance, human rights and accountability. It provides a clear framework for the prioritisation of activities and for the allocation of resources across six priority areas for action deriving from those goals. These areas are closely aligned with the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals.

Despite the very severe economic and budgetary situation we have faced, the Government has clearly demonstrated its determination since coming into office to maintain and stabilise the budget for Official Development Assistance (ODA) to the maximum possible extent. In the three years 2011 through 2013 we provided a total of over €1.9bn in ODA. This is an enormous achievement in the circumstances. For 2014, the Government has again managed to allocate almost €600 million to ODA, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to helping the poor of the world.

As with all major Exchequer spending programmes, the annual budget for ODA is ultimately a matter for the Government and is announced by the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform on budget day. Our new policy clearly states that the Government remains committed to moving towards the UN target for ODA of 0.7% of GNP as soon as economic circumstances permit.

Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 48.

Departmental Legal Costs

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 50.

Questions (52)

Denis Naughten

Question:

52. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will set out in tabular form, by reference to each named firm, the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by his Department to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; if he will provide in a similar format the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by State bodies including commercial or non-commercial and regulatory bodies established by or under his Department, to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11872/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Department is responsible for two Votes, Vote 28 (Foreign Affairs and Trade) and Vote 27 (International Cooperation). There are no state or regulatory bodies under the aegis of my Department. With regard to legal services, my Department generally seeks advice on domestic legal matters from the Office of the Attorney General and/or the Chief State Solicitor’s Office. Depending on the subject-matter, domestic litigation is dealt with on my Department’s behalf by the Attorney General’s Office, the Chief State Solicitor’s Office or the State Claims Agency which engage lawyers to act for the Department where necessary and pays their fees. The Department has a Legal Division, which deals with matters of public international law, human rights law, and European Union law and other relevant legal issues. The Division also acts as agent for the Government before certain international courts and tribunals, such as the European Court of Human Rights. In this regard, it works closely with the Office of the Attorney General, which pays the fees of external lawyers.

The Department’s Missions abroad engage local legal advisers from time to time to deal with a range of miscellaneous matters including property, leases and employment law. The amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by my Department to law firms outside the State for legal services rendered is set out in the table. The legal services provided to our Embassy in The Hague by Russell Advocaten relate to a local employment matter.

Company

Location

Bamidele Ayura & Company

Abuja

1,156

Campbell Fitzpatrick Solicitors

Armagh

662

Simont Braun

Brussels

4,840

Dra. Estela Rpaula Rotman

Buenos Aires

138

Dra. Sylvia Beatriz Paurici

Buenos Aires

527

Estudio J P O’Farrell Abagados

Buenos Aires

1,509

Dra. Norma B Arguindegui de Segura, Abogada

Buenos Aires

2,804

Tetlow Tigwell Watch

Canberra

338

Sneddon Hall and Gallop

Canberra

1,304

Freeborn & Peters

Chicago

3,069

Nexlaw Advocates

Dar es Salaam

436

Sebalu & Lule Advocates and Legal Consultants

Kampala

4,356

Lenia Lopes

Lisbon

369

Rosling King

London

12,752

Shamwana & Company

Lusaka

481

Couto, Graca & Associados

Maputo

700

Sal & Caldeira

Maputo

1,887

N&A Law Chambers

New Delhi

1,292

Gibbons P.C.

New York

10,919

Pelekanos & Co.

Nicoisa

450

Bird Richard

Ottawa

3,621

Alma & Peak

Paris

7,631

Weinhold Legal

Prague

5,437

Varul

Riga

2,118

Dalla Vedova Studio Legale

Rome

150

Consilium Law Coportaion

Singapore

1,033

Sorainen AS

Talinn

689

Wintertaling Advocaten

The Hague

5,083

Russell Advocaten

The Hague

87,708

Total

163,459

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 50.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (54)

Eric J. Byrne

Question:

54. Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in view of the rapidly moving developments in the Ukraine and the commitment of the OSCE to engage in both an observatory capacity and an election monitoring capacity and in view of the fact that the Tánaiste as a former chairman-in-office of the OSCE, the reason his Department is sending one long-term observer to Ukraine for the forthcoming presidential elections; if he will reconsider this position as the monitoring of these elections will probably constitute the most important and difficult election monitored by the OSCE to date and in view of the tremendous historical importance of the outcome to that election, proper oversight of this election will be vitally important; if he will confirm his intention to send a substantial delegation of short-term observers to monitor this election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12090/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government has condemned the unprovoked violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Russian Federation. We have participated actively in the development of a strong EU response to Russia’s military mobilisation while commending the measured response shown so far by the new Ukrainian government. In relation to the Presidential election scheduled for May, the OSCE on 3 March issued a call to participating states for the nomination of Long Term Observers for the planned observation mission. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade maintains a roster of individuals who are available to participate at short notice in election observation missions organised in the main by the OSCE and the EU. Notification was issued to all roster members last week inviting applications for the observer position. We aim to respond each year to as many of the requests as possible by the OSCE and the EU for election observers. To date in 2014, we have put forward nominations to serve in six missions advertised by the EU and OSCE, and we expect requests for participation in at least 11 further missions during the year.

In recognising the vital importance of the Ukrainian election observation mission, we have decided to put forward a Long Term Observer nomination. Long Term Observers will be required for up to 90 days, which is longer than for most missions of this type. All of the costs associated with OSCE missions are borne by individual member states. While no formal call has yet issued from the OSCE for Short Term Observers, I can confirm that we would hope to be in a position to nominate a substantial number of members of the roster, if requested.

In addition, an Irish officer is also participating in the OSCE observer mission to Ukraine which arrived in Odessa on 5 March. This is a short term mission of one week’s duration during which observers intend to visit Crimea and form an impression of the military situation on the ground. The mission consists of some 47 military officers drawn from 25 OSCE Participating States. The basis for the mission is an invitation from the Ukrainian Government under OSCE procedures.

Discussions have also been taking place in Vienna at the OSCE Permanent Council on the possibility of establishing a long term presence in Ukraine. This would be a classic OSCE field presence, similar to those in Moldova or Albania. This mission would have at least 100 personnel and would be in place for a minimum of six months. If consensus is reached on the establishment of this presence, Ireland will endeavour to contribute personnel to the mission.

Mortgage Arrears Proposals

Questions (55, 75)

John Browne

Question:

55. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether both sides in a mortgage arrears situation should share the pain of a poor investment decision by both parties in a principal dwelling house or buy-to-let; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11644/14]

View answer

Noel Grealish

Question:

75. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance if a small-time investor, with one or two buy-to-let properties, who pays the lender the full rent received is effectively acting as a no-cost agent for the lender, opening up the possibility of an improvement in market value which would allow the discharge of a greater portion, or all, of the outstanding mortgage; if that scenario would be of greater benefit to the borrower and the lender, in addition to the common good; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11637/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 75 together.

In any mortgage or other contract situation, there is an obligation on the parties to meet and fulfil their obligations as provided for in the contract.  However, it is recognised that there are a number of primary home and buy to let mortgage borrowers who are experiencing genuine difficulty in meeting their mortgage repayment obligations and who may have an unsustainable mortgage situation.  In such circumstances, I would encourage the respective parties to constructively engage on the matter and to be as open and flexible as possible on the available options to conclude a suitable and sustainable solution to a genuine mortgage difficulty in a way, having regard to the circumstances involved, that is as fair as possible to all the parties.

  From a general policy perspective, the Government has put in place a comprehensive framework and strategy to appropriately address such situations including the code of conduct on mortgage arrears (primary home mortgages), the mortgage arrears resolution targets process (both primary home and buy to let mortgages) and personal insolvency reform.  However, the most appropriate solution to a mortgage difficulty in any particular case is likely to be best found by the respective parties involved having regard to the particular circumstances of the case.  It would not be appropriate for me as Minister to comment on what would be the best or appropriate solution in any individual case.  However, if a voluntary or bilateral agreement cannot be reached by the parties to address a particular mortgage difficulty, the reformed statutory insolvency process, in particular the Personal Insolvency Arrangement framework or the revised bankruptcy system, will be available, to the parties as the ultimate resolution mechanism to any situation of mortgage difficulty.

Pensions Levy

Questions (56)

Billy Timmins

Question:

56. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the ESB Retired Staff Association (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11660/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The pension fund levy is a matter under my responsibility. I announced in my Budget 2014 speech that the 0.6% Pension Fund Levy introduced to fund the Jobs Initiative in 2011 will be abolished from the 31st of December 2014. I have, however, introduced an additional levy on pension funds at 0.15% for 2014 and 2015. I am doing this to, among other things, continue to help fund the Jobs Initiative.  

The reduced VAT rate of 9% on tourism and certain other services was one of the very significant and successful measures introduced by the Jobs Initiative. It was due to end in 2013. In my Budget 2014 speech I announced the continuation of the reduced 9% VAT rate. I also announced that the Air Travel Tax is being reduced to zero with effect from 1 April 2014. The 9% VAT rate has helped to create 15,000 new jobs as well as protecting existing jobs. Since the Budget announcement about the reduction in the Air Travel Tax, airlines have announced the opening up of new routes resulting in significant increases in passenger numbers with the associated increase in tourism activity and employment.

 The additional 0.15% levy for 2014 and 2015 will also be used to help make provision for potential State liabilities which may emerge from pre-existing or future pension fund difficulties although funds from the levy will not be hypothecated or specifically set aside for this purpose. The Government has decided that such liabilities will be met by the Exchequer as they arise.

 The chargeable persons for the pension fund levy are the trustees or other persons (including insurance companies) with responsibility for the management of the assets of the pension schemes or plans. The payment of the levy is treated as a necessary expense of a pension scheme and the trustees or insurer, as appropriate, are entitled, where they decide to do so, to adjust current or prospective benefits payable under a scheme to take account of the levy. It is up to the trustees to decide whether and how the levy should be passed on and who should be impacted and to what extent, given the particular circumstances of the pension schemes for which they are responsible. However, should the option of reducing scheme benefits be taken, in no case may the reduction in an individual member's or class of member's benefits exceed the member's or class of member's share of the levy.

I am advised by the Minister for Social Protection that in developing the measures contained in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act (No.2) 2013, consideration was given to imposing an obligation on employers to secure a minimum level of funding before a scheme could be wound up and to the provision of a pension protection scheme.

Defined benefit pension schemes in Ireland are set up and maintained by employers on a voluntary basis. There has never been a statutory obligation on employers under Irish law to contribute to their pension scheme (although schemes rules can place some level of obligation). Most defined benefit pension schemes in Ireland were established under a trust deed. As part of the process of establishing each occupational pension scheme, an employer undertakes to be bound by the rules of the scheme and to undertake certain liabilities and duties defined therein. The position around the employers and employees contribution obligation in a trust deed varies from deed to deed.

 Employers have, by and large, made great efforts to support and deliver on the promise made to scheme members. This process is generally managed through dialogue between trustees, employers and members, where efforts are made to reach agreement regarding the steps that must be taken to secure scheme viability which may include a mix of measures such as increased employer/member contributions, longer working and amended benefits. Given the uncertainties as to the overall impact and potential for unintended consequences of applying an obligation on an employer to secure a minimum level of scheme funding in the event of the wind up of a scheme, it was not considered appropriate to make provision for such a legislative obligation.

 I am further advised by the Minister for Social Protection that while some countries with very large defined benefit markets provide pension protection schemes it was considered that such an approach was not appropriate for the Irish pensions market. The Social Welfare and Pensions (No.2) Act 2013, provides that, in the event of the wind up of an underfunded pension scheme where the employer is insolvent, the State  guarantees that existing pension benefits will be protected to a level of 50%, with pensions of €12,000 or less being 100% protected.   The Pension Board is actively engaged with the schemes which do not meet the scheme funding requirement in order to assist these schemes, particularly schemes in a weak funding position achieve a more sustainable funding position.  

The overriding priority in this area is to ensure that pensioners and members of pension schemes are protected and the future viability and sustainability of their schemes is ensured and made safer.  The Minister for Social Protection informs me that it is normal practice for her officials to engage with representatives of stakeholders in relation to any substantial change to the Pensions Act. The consultation process which preceded the publication of the Social Welfare and Pensions (No. 2) Bill, 2013 included engagement with representatives of pensioners, the pensions industry, employers and trade unions. Written submissions were also sought from these stakeholder groups.

 The Minister for Social Protection also advises that any consideration of a restructure of pension scheme benefits under section 50 of the Pensions Act must comply with the provisions in the Pensions Act and with guidance issued by the Pensions Board. This guidance makes provision for the notification of all pensioners in advance of any application to the Pensions Board to restructure scheme benefits. In such circumstances a pensioner will have at least one month to make a submission to the trustees of the scheme in relation to such a proposal. The Pensions Board must be satisfied that all the provisions in the guidance are complied with before the Board will consider issuing a notice to restructure scheme benefits.

The matter of representation by pensioner groups in consideration of a change to scheme benefits might also be considered in a broader industrial relations context. The Minister for Social Protection has written to our colleague the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in this regard.

Construction Sector Strategy

Questions (57, 58)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

57. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance in view of the fact that only approximately 8,000 housing units were built here in 2012 and only a further 8,000 housing units were built in 2013 and that he has cited that an estimated minimum of 25,000 housing units per annum are required this year and in the coming years, the target for housing construction in 2014, 2015 and 2016. [12095/14]

View answer

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

58. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the estimated number of homes in the private sector which are required over the next three years to address the ongoing housing crisis. [12096/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 57 and 58 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, the level of housing output in the economy for any given year is the consequence of the interaction of supply and demand factors.  While the demand  for housing is a function of a number of economic and demographic factors, it is clear that current levels of housing output are running below estimates of medium to long-run requirements (as, for example, projected by the ESRI and others) based on underlying demographics and other factors. However, the Government does not produce annual targets for the number of houses to be built.

That said, my Department does monitor developments in the housing market. As set out in the Medium-Term Economic Strategy, the Government will continue to work on addressing remaining challenges in the property and construction sectors. This will include developing an overall strategic approach to housing supply, identifying and implementing further improvements in the planning process to facilitate appropriate development, and seeking to improve financing options for development and mortgage provision.

Mortgage Arrears Proposals

Questions (59, 60, 96)

Ann Phelan

Question:

59. Deputy Ann Phelan asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to a number of customers being refused engagement by MARP when their circumstances improved because the bank claims that once a customer has been deemed unsustainable or similar, they cannot be considered even if their circumstances improve; if he approves of this approach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12126/14]

View answer

Ann Phelan

Question:

60. Deputy Ann Phelan asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether many customers who engage tirelessly with the banks and are compliant are not being offered resolutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12127/14]

View answer

Michael McGrath

Question:

96. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of residential mortgage holders in the Irish market classified as non-co-operating under the code of conduct on mortgage arrears; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11941/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 59, 60 and 96 together.

The Central Bank's Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) provides that each bank must put in place a formal Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) to deal with its mortgage customers who are in arrears or pre-arrears and for the establishment of dedicated arrears support units and appeals processes to handle such cases.  The CCMA places an onus on the lenders, in respect of a co-operating borrower, to explore all the options for an alternative repayment arrangement offered by the lender to address a private dwelling mortgage difficulty. 

The Central Bank has advised that in order to determine which options for alternative repayment arrangements are viable for each particular case, a lender must explore all of the options for alternative repayment arrangements offered by that lender having assessed the borrower's financial circumstances using the borrower's Standard Financial Statement (SFS). Such alternative repayment arrangements may include:

- an interest-only arrangement for a period of time;

- extending the term of the mortgage;

- adding the arrears and interest to the mortgage, so that they are collected over the remaining term;

- warehousing part of the mortgage, as well as other options outlined in the CCMA.

 While lenders must consider such arrangements, they are not obliged to offer a borrower in arrears any arrangement or any particular arrangement.

If a borrower is offered an alternative repayment arrangement, the lender must give the borrower a clear explanation of the proposed arrangement and how it works, including the reason why the lender considers it to be appropriate for the borrower. The lender must also provide the borrower with the advantages of the offer and explain any disadvantages.

If the lender is not offering the borrower any alternative repayment arrangement, the lender must set out the reasons in writing. The lender must also inform the borrower that a copy of the most recent SFS is available on request, and provide the borrower with details, in writing of:

- other options available;

- the borrowers right to make an appeal to the lenders internal Appeals Board;

- the website of the Insolvency Service of Ireland.

 The same information must be given to the borrower if he/she does not accept the alternative repayment arrangement offered to by the lender.

Section 55 of the CCMA provides that complaints relating to the lender's treatment of the borrower's case under the MARP process and the lender's compliance with the requirements of the CCMA must be dealt with in accordance with the complaints provisions set out in the Consumer Protection Code 2012.   This provides a detailed complaints resolution framework which seeks, in the first instance, to resolve matters directly between the consumer and financial institution but, failing that, the matter can be referred to the independent Financial Services Ombudsman. 

 The Central Bank has informed me that it does not publish the number of non-co-operating borrowers.  However paragraph 29 of the Central Bank's CCMA does provide the following:

 "where a lender has classified a borrower as not co-operating, following a period whereby the borrower has been given the opportunity to co-operate (in line with provision 28), the lender must notify the borrower on paper or another durable medium that he/she has been classified as not co-operating and inform the borrower of the following:

a) that legal proceedings can commence immediately;

b) that the borrower is now outside of the MARP and the protections of the MARP will no longer apply;

c) other options that may be 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 the associated costs or charges, where known, and where it is not known, a list of the associated costs or charges;

(ii) the requirement to repay outstanding arrears, if this 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;

 d) the borrower's right to appeal the lender's decision, including that the borrower must make the appeal in writing and set out the grounds for the appeal; and

e) the borrower's right to consult a Personal Insolvency Practitioner, notwithstanding the fact that the classification as not co-operating may impact on the borrower's eligibility for a Personal Insolvency Arrangement. "

 It should also be noted that even if the MARP process has concluded and where legal proceedings have commenced, the CCMA requires that a lender must continue to maintain contact with the borrower (and/or his nominated representative) periodically to see if an alternative repayment arrangement can be agreed even at that late stage.

 The Central Bank has also informed me that it does not track the number of borrowers covered under the MARP but does track the number of mortgage accounts in arrears and the number of alternative arrangements put in place across the regulated industry and which are published quarterly by the Central Bank. The latest data published by the Central Bank for end December 2013 can be accessed on the Central Bank's website, http://www.centralbank.ie/press-area/press-releases/Pages/ResidentialMortgageArrearsandRepossessionsStatisticsQ42013.aspx.

 Furthermore, the Deputies may also wish to note, that according to information collected by my Department for the 6 main lenders, in the case of private dwelling homes some 51,000 mortgage accounts in difficulty have been the subject of permanent restructuring following engagement between borrower and lender.  A further 21,000 mortgage accounts in difficulty have been the subject of temporary restructures.  The data published by my Department and the Central Bank would appear to demonstrate some success by the lenders in addressing the accounts in early arrears and putting in place appropriate measures to prevent borrowers from going into arrears.

 Taken together, the necessary framework is in place to enable banks to work with distressed homeowners to reach sustainable solutions for dealing with their personal indebted situations.  However, early and effective engagement between borrowers and lenders is key to resolving the cases of mortgage difficulty.  Where there is effective and meaningful engagement by all parties regarding a mortgage difficulty, the data shows that an increasing number of durable long term mortgage restructures is being put in place.  However, it is accepted that it will be necessary for lenders and borrowers to continue to build on this.