Foreign Conflicts

Questions (60, 61)

Brendan Smith

Question:

60. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the Irish position regarding the independence campaign of the Lunda Tchokwe nation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15468/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

61. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is concerned by the human rights abuses taking place in Lunda Tchokwe; if he has raised these concerns at an EU level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15469/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 60 and 61 together.

I am aware of the situation of the Lunda-Tchokwe people in Angola and that Amnesty International have been following the cases of a number of political activists who have been detained by the Angolan authorities. While my Department has had no specific discussions on the issue raised by the Deputy with the relevant authorities in Angola, our discussions with Governments and civil society partners in Africa more generally include significant dialogue on human rights and good governance. At EU level also, funding to programmes of support are based on political dialogue and human rights progress in all areas.

Ireland, along with our EU Partners, pursues a strategic and comprehensive approach to countries in Africa which continue to suffer the legacy of conflict, including Angola. Through the Irish Embassy in Mozambique which covers Angola, my Department will continue to monitor the situation, including any developments which may emerge in relation to the issues highlighted by the Deputy.

EU Issues

Questions (62)

Brendan Smith

Question:

62. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised at the Foreign Affairs Council of Ministers the need for the European Union to give maximum support to the settlement negotiations that are under way with the aim of the reunification of Cyprus following the 11 February joint declaration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15605/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I would like to welcome the re-launch of talks aimed at resolving the long-standing Cyprus question. I welcome in particular the Joint Declaration of 11 February 2014 by the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders which lays a solid foundation for the negotiations. I would urge those involved in the talks to engage fully in the process and to work in a spirit of good faith, under the auspices of the United Nations. Ireland would support a solution that provides for a comprehensive settlement based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as set out in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

As the two leaders themselves acknowledged in their Joint Declaration, a settlement would have a positive impact on the entire region, while first and foremost benefiting Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.

While the issue has not arisen at the EU Foreign Affairs Council, it has arisen at the level of EU Heads of State or Government.

The Taoiseach joined EU leaders in a strong statement of support for the talks at the European Council on 21st to 22nd March.

EU leaders welcomed the resumption of fully-fledged settlement negotiations based on the 11 February Joint Declaration. They expressed their support for a comprehensive and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem within the UN framework, in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions and in line with the principles on which the European Union is founded.

The European Council underlined that the division of Cyprus has endured for too long and emphasised the importance of maintaining momentum.

The European Council made clear that it stands ready to play its part in supporting the negotiations.

Ireland will continue to join with our EU colleagues in offering our assistance in support of the negotiations and in support of a comprehensive settlement, in line with UN Security Council Resolutions and with EU principles.

Emigrant Support Services

Questions (63)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

63. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his efforts to engage with and assist Irish emigrants in the UK who have fallen on hard times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15655/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is committed to providing support for Irish emigrants around the world. The emphasis of the Emigrant Support Programme (ESP) is on supporting culturally sensitive, frontline welfare services, targeted at the most vulnerable members of our overseas communities, with Britain being the focus of the greatest part of this support. These services have made a concrete difference to the lives of Irish communities overseas, reducing homelessness, tackling social isolation, and enabling Irish emigrants to access their statutory entitlements locally. Since 2003, the Emigrant Support Programme has provided more than €114 million in grants to Irish community and voluntary organisations, of which €86 million has been provided to more than 200 organisations in Britain. This funding has been directed primarily at frontline welfare services, working to support those made vulnerable by health, age or dislocation. In 2013 approximately 80% of the grants paid in Britain were made to organisations providing welfare and information services to the Irish community. The organisations funded provide a range of services from informal community networking groups for seniors, to outreach services and advice in accessing entitlements.

A substantial portion of ESP funding in Britain is provided to a number of organisations primarily focussed on helping those who have fallen on hard times by tackling the problems of homelessness and addiction. These include Ashford Place (formerly Cricklewood Homeless Concern), the Safe Start Foundation in Middlesex, the London Irish Centre, the Luton Irish Forum and the NOAH Enterprise (Luton) in the London area and Monica's Place in Birmingham amongst others.

Our support continues to evolve. For example, in 2013, a grant was made to Console, the suicide prevention and bereavement service, to assist with the start-up costs of their new operation in Britain. e introduction of services by Console around suicide prevention and suicide will complement services provided by other Irish organisations.

Film Industry Tax Reliefs

Questions (64, 72, 73, 74)

Sandra McLellan

Question:

64. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons employed by film companies who receive section 481 tax breaks. [15557/14]

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Sandra McLellan

Question:

72. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Finance the criteria that exist for a film company to receive a section 481 tax break. [15558/14]

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Sandra McLellan

Question:

73. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Finance the verification and auditing procedures in place to hold film companies to account after they have received a section 481 tax break. [15559/14]

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Sandra McLellan

Question:

74. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons employed by film companies who receive section 481 tax breaks; and the way these numbers are verified. [15560/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64 and 72 to 74, inclusive, together as they all concern the operation of the film tax relief scheme.

In this regard, I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the details of the film tax relief scheme are contained in Section 481 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. This is supplemented by the Film Regulations 2008 (S.I. No. 357 of 2008) which govern the administration of the scheme.

Criteria to be fulfilled by a qualifying film company

Under the provisions of section 481, an individual or company investing in a qualifying film, to be produced by a qualifying company, is entitled to claim tax relief in respect of that investment. For this purpose, a qualifying company is an Irish incorporated and resident company, or a company which is carrying on a trade in the State through a branch or agency. The company must exist solely for the production and distribution of one, and only one, qualifying film. A film company seeking Section 481 finance cannot have in its name the words "Ireland", "Irish", "Éireann", "Éire", or "National".

 In order to be regarded as a qualifying film, a film must meet the requirements of section 481 including criteria set out by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in relation to the contribution which the production of the film is expected to make to, either or both of, the development of the film industry in the State and the promotion and expression of Irish culture. On receipt of confirmation from the Minister that the film meets these criteria, the Revenue Commissioners then undertake a detailed examination of the application to ensure that the project complies with the other statutory requirements. Where they are so satisfied, the Commissioners then issue a certificate in respect of the investments authorising tax relief in an amount not exceeding the lowest of:

- eligible expenditure, which is generally the amount spent on the employment of eligible individuals and goods, services and facilities in the State,

- 80% of the total cost of production of the film, or

- €50million.

Verification and Auditing Procedures

Prior to certification of a film, Revenue examine the application to ensure that:

- the requirements of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 have been complied with;

- contractual arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the production company has the rights to make the film;

- the project appears to be commercially viable;

- full budget details have been provided; and

- declarations are received from the company directors that there are no issues that might impact upon the conditions for relief under S481.

 Within 4 months of the completion of a film, a qualifying company is required to notify Revenue of the date of completion of the film and to provide 2 copies of the film to both Revenue and the Minister for Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht. At the same time, the company is also required to provide a compliance report to Revenue in relation to the film. This compliance report contains, inter alia, a declaration from the directors of the production company confirming compliance with the conditions of the relief as well as a detailed line-by-line analysis of the budget for the film, identifying and giving reasons for any variations from the budget initially submitted. These declarations must be accompanied by a declaration from an independent auditor who is also required to verify the amount spent on the film.

 All of the information submitted is examined by Revenue to ensure compliance with the section 481 requirements. Where the certification of the film was made subject to specific conditions, Revenue will also examine the information to ensure that the company complied with the conditions. In addition to the examination of compliance submissions, Revenue may also audit the returns of film producer and production companies as part of their normal audit activities.

Number of persons employed in the production of qualifying films

Files maintained by the Revenue Commissioners provide data on the number of individuals who are scheduled to work on productions in a given year. These show that in 2013, just over 27,000 individual employments were generated on film productions supported by Section 481 relief. This includes approximately 20,000 employments as extras on these productions. However, this data does not show whether an individual spent a full year, a week or a day working on the production of a qualifying film. Similarly, an individual may have worked on a number of productions and would be counted in respect of each production. For this reason, it is not possible to estimate the number of full-time equivalent employees from the Revenue information.

New Film Scheme

The Deputy should also note that the Finance Act 2013 introduced changes to give Film Relief a new focus. These changes are subject to a commencement order and, in the last Budget, I signalled my intention to bring the new arrangements into operation on 1 January 2015.

Under the existing film relief scheme, an investor may claim tax relief in respect of an investment in a qualifying company. The tax relief is granted at the investor's marginal rate of tax on the full amount of their investment. Under the new provisions, the delivery mechanism of the incentive will change. Relief will not, in the future, be available to investors in qualifying films. Instead a payable Corporation Tax credit of 32% will be paid directly by the Revenue Commissioners to a Producer Company, who produces a qualifying film.

The amount of the credit will be 32% of the lowest of:

- eligible expenditure, which is generally the amount spent on the employment of eligible individuals and goods, services and facilities in the State,

- 80% of the total cost of production of the film, or

- €50million.

 The legislation provides for measures to ensure that, in the event that the qualifying company does not satisfy the statutory conditions or the conditions imposed by a film certificate issued by the Revenue Commissioners, any amount paid by the Commissioners can be recouped.

Disabled Drivers and Passengers Scheme

Questions (65)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

65. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update on plans to introduce a grant towards the fuel costs of disabled drivers and disabled passengers including the likely start date; the value of the grant that will be paid to eligible persons; the rules and criteria that it is envisioned will govern eligibility and the administration of the scheme; and the anticipated total annual cost of the scheme. [15629/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, following a ruling by the European Court of Justice in April 2013 and subsequent negotiations with the European Commission, the excise relief on fuel element of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers scheme will be discontinued from the 31st December 2014. Arrangements will be made during the year to provide for a new fuel grant scheme for disabled drivers which will have the same levels of support as the current excise relief scheme and there will be a seamless transition between the two schemes. The new fuel grant scheme will begin on 1 January 2015, following the discontinuation of the current scheme.

As I have previously said, I intend that the new fuel grant scheme will have the same levels of support as the current excise relief scheme.  The current scheme provides a relief from excise duty for fuel used in a qualifying vehicle for the transport of a person with a disability up to a maximum of 2,728 litres in a 12 month period. 

 The eligibility and qualification criteria will remain as those provided for by the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 (S.I. No. 353 of 1994). The cost of the excise relief scheme in 2013 was €7.7m. As I intend the levels of support of the new fuel grant scheme to be same as the excise relief scheme, I do not anticipate any change to the cost.

Property Tax Data

Questions (66, 67, 68, 69)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

66. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the revenue raised by the additional element of the local property tax on houses valued at above €1 million in 2013 and to date in 2014. [15462/14]

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Pearse Doherty

Question:

67. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the percentage of claims for deferral of the local property tax accepted by the Revenue Commissioners in 2013 and to date in 2014. [15463/14]

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Pearse Doherty

Question:

68. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the percentage of claims for exemption from the local property tax accepted by the Revenue Commissioners in 2013 and to date in 2014. [15464/14]

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Pearse Doherty

Question:

69. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the way the 3% rate for deferrals and exemptions under the local property tax compares with earlier forecasts from his Department and the Revenue Commissioners; and if he will explain any discrepancies. [15465/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 66 to 69, inclusive, together.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent Local Property Tax (LPT) data published by them is available on the Commissioners' website at: http://www.revenue.ie/en/tax/lpt/lpt-stats-0214.pdf. This covers statistics for both 2013 and 2014 (to February 2014).

 In relation to Question No. 66, I assume that the Deputy is referring to the provision whereby liability for LPT in respect of residential properties valued at over €1m is established by applying a rate of 0.18% to the first €1m in value and 0.25% to the portion of the value above €1m. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent data published by them shows that about 0.2% of properties have been valued for LPT purposes in excess of €1m on a self assessment basis.  On that basis, it is estimated that some €2.5m additional tax was collected for 2013 that is attributable to the 0.25% rate on that part of the property valuations in excess of €1m.  It is reasonable to conclude that the final figure for 2014 is likely to be double the 2013 amount, however it is not possible to be definitive at this stage about amounts collected to date for 2014 at the 0.25% rate.

 Regarding Questions Nos. 67,68 and 69, as indicated in the Revenue Commissioner's statistics, there are about 18,700 properties where deferrals have been claimed and around 28,300 claims for exemptions among the returns processed to date. These equate to about 1.2% and 1.8% of properties returned respectively.  These figures are primarily based on claims submitted by property owners in their LPT returns. As the Deputy notes, earlier forecasts predicted that the level of deferrals and exemptions could be substantially higher. These figures were estimated prior to the implementation of LPT. While considerable effort may have been put into initial estimates of possible levels of exemption and deferral, the impact of the actual exemption and deferral provisions could not be accurately determined until the returns process has been completed.

 It should be noted that deferral is a personal choice issue for property owners and some, although they meet the conditions of deferral, may opt to pay the tax if their means allow it.  Consequently, even if the number of potential eligible cases were known in advance with accuracy, it would not have been possible to estimate the number that would actually apply for a deferral.

Revenue estimates that the compliance rate for 2013 is currently at 93%. It may be the case that some property owners have not claimed an exemption or a deferral on the misapprehension that they are automatically entitled to one. It is important for property owners to be aware that they must apply for exemption from LPT or deferral as it will not generally be granted automatically and the Revenue Commissioners advise that this has been a key part of their communications message since the introduction of the tax.

 The Deputy will be aware that the deadline for property owners to bring their LPT affairs (including the Household Charge) up to date and avoid interest and penalties was 31 March 2014 and has now been extended to today.  I am advised by the Commissioners that their current priority is processing the large volume of Returns and payments received and they expect to publish more detailed data and analysis in due course.