Mortgage Schemes

Questions (31)

Seán Fleming

Question:

31. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the introduction of a State-backed insurance scheme for first-time buyers in the absence of a significant increase in supply in the short to medium term will lead to an unsustainable rise in property prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23036/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government recently launched 'Construction 2020: A strategy for a renewed construction sector'. The purpose of the strategy is to underpin the future competitiveness of the country, ensuring that we continue to be well-positioned to attract the inward investment that has been so important to our economic development. The strategy includes the Government's desire for a return to sustainable levels of mortgage lending, as part of a healthy market. This involves the consideration of measures to stimulate the development of housing. In order for developers to be supported, they need confidence that customers will be capable of accessing finance to purchase new builds. This means mortgage products being available to potential purchasers with an ability to support repayments.

In Ireland's recent abnormal housing market, we have seen lending volumes decline dramatically. The banks are highlighting the lack of supply of houses in particular urban areas as a contributing factor for the lack of drawdown of approved mortgage facilities.  I would look upon the development of this initiative as being an aid to encouraging and facilitating the supply of new homes, in the short and medium term, particularly for young families. In other jurisdictions, such as the UK and Canada, "mortgage insurance" markets have been developed to support bank mortgage lending, particularly to 'First Time Buyers'. Mortgage insurance allows banks to share the risk of mortgage lending, either with the public sector or with private sector insurance companies with the aim of increasing bank lending in general or to target groups.

My Department is committed, under this strategy, to examine the concept of a mortgage insurance scheme and how it might benefit new housing completions in the Irish market. The objective of any scheme would be to ensure adequate availability of mortgage finance on affordable terms for new completions, particularly for 'First Time Buyers', as the economy recovers. In doing so we would aim to provide the certainty needed to support greater levels of investment in new housing, with the associated benefits for the construction sector and ultimately for the consumer.

As the Construction Strategy mentions, my Department is undertaking an economic impact analysis which will assess the impact such a scheme would have on the Irish housing market, taking into consideration time limits, targeting first time buyers or owner occupiers and focussing on new housing. As the Deputy has raised the issue of house price increases, I would like to assure him that I will take this into consideration and it will form part of the analysis process. The analysis will draw lessons from mortgage insurance initiatives undertaken in other countries and will include questions as to the appropriateness of a price cap as well as regional or geographic restrictions.  Once this analysis has been completed and presented to me I will consider next steps.

Small and Medium Enterprises Supports

Questions (32)

Michael McGrath

Question:

32. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance when a State-backed enterprise bank will be established; the lending capacity of the bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23033/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government on Thursday 22 May 2014 announced that over €500million in additional credit will be made available to Irish SMEs through the establishment of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). The SBCI is a new company and it is intended that it will be initially financed by the German Promotional Bank KfW, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the directed portfolio of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF). The involvement of KfW follows directly from discussion between the Taoiseach and Chancellor Merkel following Ireland's successful exit from the EU/IMF Programme on finding ways to reinforce Ireland's economic recovery.

Credit is the lifeblood of all businesses and SMEs will now be able to access loans of greater duration, with enhanced terms and potentially at a lower cost facilitated by the SBCI and its on-lending partners. Augmenting the SME credit landscape in Ireland, the SBCI will encourage greater competition in the SME lending sector, promoting economic growth and job creation in this key sector of our economy. The Government will be prioritising the passage of the required legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas and I expect the SBCI to be facilitating lending before the end of this year.

Tax Reliefs Application

Questions (33)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

33. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Finance his plans to amend or review the cap he put on tax relief for private health insurance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22578/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy will be aware, it is not customary for the Minister of Finance to set out his or her plans in advance of the Budget. However, I can assure the Deputy that, in general, all tax reliefs and incentives are reviewed as part of the annual Budget and Finance Bill process.

Mortgage Interest Relief Eligibility

Questions (34)

Michael McGrath

Question:

34. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider easing the tax burden on families who are forced to move out of their principal private residence and rent another property due to changed family circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23032/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I assume the Deputy is referring to the loss of mortgage interest relief in this particular circumstance. That relief is available in respect of interest paid on qualifying loans taken out on or after 1 January 2004 and on or before 31 December 2012 and such relief applies up to and including the tax year 2017. As the Deputy will be aware, mortgage interest relief is available at varying rates and subject to certain ceilings, in respect of interest paid by an individual on a loan used by that individual for the purchase, repair, development or improvement of his/her sole or main residence.

I should point out that although I am sympathetic to those that move out of their principal private residence and rent another property due to changed family circumstances, given the current budgetary constraints I have no plans to widen the scope of the relief to cater for people who are renting out their property, as the measure would become less targeted and very costly. Nevertheless, an individual who rents out residential property may be allowed a deduction, subject to certain conditions, in computing the taxable rents from that letting of 75% of the interest on monies borrowed to purchase, improve or repair that property. 

This Government is very conscious of the significant concerns and difficulties faced by home owners, not least in relation to their mortgages.  In addition, the Government is committed to helping address the particular problems faced by those that bought homes at the height of the property boom between 2004 and 2008. In this regard, in Budget 2012, I announced my intention to fulfil the commitment in the Programme for Government to increase the rate of mortgage interest relief to 30 per cent for first time buyers who took out their first mortgage in that period. A mortgage holder will qualify for the increased rate if they made their first mortgage interest payment in the period 2004 to 2008 or if they drew down their mortgage in that period.

While it is accepted that the provisions do not serve to address the concerns or particular issues of all who may have bought then, it would be impossible to design a system that meets the needs of every individual. As you will appreciate, I receive numerous requests for the introduction of new tax reliefs and the extension of existing ones, but I must be mindful of the public finances and the many demands on the Exchequer. Tax reliefs, no matter how worthwhile in themselves, reduce the tax base and make general reform of the tax system that much more difficult.

IBRC Mortgage Loan Book

Questions (35)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

35. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if any assurances have been given by the funds buying the loan books at Irish Bank Resolution Corporation that they will respect the terms of the contracts in place, including the interest rates; and, if so, for what period. [23020/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I have been advised by the Special Liquidators that the sale of a residential mortgage does not change the terms and conditions of the loan agreement in any way. Irrespective of who acquires the loan(s) they will be required to honour the legal terms and conditions of the existing loan agreement(s), including previous restructuring arrangements put in place as well as offers made to customers prior to the sale. Whether interest rates vary or not will be determined by the terms of the loan agreement.

NAMA Loans Sale

Questions (36)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

36. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if he is concerned that the acceleration of National Asset Management Agency disposals to investors may contribute to increasing rents as purchasers seek to maximise their returns. [23022/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised that there is no evidence that NAMA is aware of to indicate that selling assets or loans to investors is a contributory factor to increased rents.  Market factors such as restricted supply, which NAMA is helping to address through a number of initiatives, and long-term average market rates weigh far more heavily on rents than the controller of the asset, who will generally seek what the open market is willing to pay.  In line with its statutory obligations to obtain the best achievable financial return for the State, NAMA has a general policy of maximising the return it seeks from assets securing its loans. Investors will generally seek to do the same, therefore the outcome should be no different regardless of whether those assets are held by NAMA or investors.

Banks Recapitalisation

Questions (37)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

37. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance when and the process by which he will apply for the retrospective recapitalisation through the ESM of Ireland's pillar banking debt; and the rules that will be applied to any such application. [23021/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Euro-area Heads of State or Government agreed in June 2012 that "it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns", and that when a Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), involving the ECB, is in place and operational, the European Stability Mechanism could recapitalise banks directly. The Eurogroup meeting on 20 June 2013 agreed on the main features of the European Stability Mechanism's Direct Recapitalisation Instrument (DRI). There is a specific provision included in those main features, which states that "The potential retroactive application of the instrument should be decided on a case-by-case basis and by mutual agreement." Therefore, the agreement, that we were active in negotiating, keeps open the possibility to apply to the European Stability Mechanism for a retrospective direct recapitalisation of the Irish banks, should we wish to avail of it.

The Eurogroup meeting on 5 May 2014 considered a proposed resolution to the outstanding issues on the operational framework of the ESM's DRI put forward by the Eurogroup President, Mr. Dijsselbloem. This proposal was broadly supported and is expected to be put to the Eurogroup on 19 June 2014 for a decision. After this national approval procedures must be completed. It will not be possible to apply for the DRI until it is in effect. The DRI will come into effect once the SSM is in place and operational. This is expected to be in the fourth quarter of this year.

Finally, both I and my Government colleagues will ensure that Ireland's case for retrospective direct recapitalisation is made at all levels as appropriate.  I remain confident that the commitment made by the Euro-area Heads of State or Government in June 2012 to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns will be respected.

Bank Stress Tests

Questions (38)

Micheál Martin

Question:

38. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Finance if he has seen the letter sent from Mr. Mario Draghi in relation to EU-wide stress tests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15987/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I can confirm that I have seen the letter of 20 March 2014 from Mr Draghi to the Deputy and have noted the contents therein which are not at variance with views shared by the ECB as part of the Troika programme. In particular I note that Mr Draghi has highlighted that the Balance Sheet Assessment completed in 2013 by the Central Bank of Ireland is different to the SSM comprehensive assessment as it was not forward looking and did not include a stress test. The Deputy will be aware that the SSM comprehensive assessment comprises three components:

- A supervisory risk assessment;

- An asset quality review (AQR); and,

- A stress test.

Notwithstanding Mr Draghi's comments in relation to the difference between the two exercises, the AQR component of the SSM comprehensive assessment is similar to the Balance Sheet Assessment completed by our own Central Bank and is the starting point for the stress test. At the conclusion of the Balance Sheet Assessment it was confirmed that, having recognised additional provisions, each of the banks' capital ratios were above the minimum regulatory requirement. This, together with the large amount of new capital that has gone into the banks in recent years, leaves our banks well positioned going into the SSM comprehensive assessment and stress tests.

I also note that Mr Draghi makes reference to the "still very large stock of non-performing loans" which is a matter we have clearly been focused on for several years.  I take comfort in this regard in the progress of each of the banks in achieving the resolution targets set by the Central Bank for both residential mortgage and SME exposures. 

Finally, Mr Draghi refers to "the completion of the banks' restructuring and reforms". The EU Commission had approved the Restructuring Plan of Bank of Ireland back in 2011 and, since Mr Draghi's letter, the EU Commission has approved the Restructuring Plan of Allied Irish Banks.  Work on the Restructuring Plan of permanent tsb is ongoing. Restructuring and reform is not limited to Restructuring Plans and there are many areas where we continue to challenge the banks operating in Ireland - not just Bank of Ireland, Allied Banks and permanent tsb - to ensure they appropriately support the needs of the economy.

Financial Transactions Tax

Questions (39)

Clare Daly

Question:

39. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Finance if he will justify his decision not to bring in a financial transactions tax, which would have yielded an amount similar to that raised from hard-pressed home owners in property tax. [22224/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government's position is that a financial transaction tax would be best applied on a wide international basis to include the major financial centres to prevent the danger of activities gravitating to jurisdictions where taxes are not levied on financial transactions.  Notwithstanding this, the Government is not prepared to stand in the way of EU Member States that wish to work together to implement a Financial Transactions Tax and in this regard adoption of a decision formally authorising enhanced cooperation took place during the Irish Presidency of the EU in January 2013.

The proposal for a Directive from the European Commission in the area of financial transaction tax was published in February 2013. Ireland had many concerns about the proposal as drafted, not least of which were the potential impacts on, and the trading of, Irish Sovereign debt in the secondary market and in total, the potential negative impact on the liquidity of the financial sector as a whole. Members of the Economic and Financial Sub-Committee on EU Sovereign Debt Markets have stated that the introduction of the FTT would have a significantly negative effect on Sovereign Debt Markets and may impair the good-functioning of secondary markets for sovereign debt resulting in reduced liquidity, reduced investor demand and therefore higher financing costs for States.

Our concerns are widely shared amongst the Member States, including some of the participating countries.  These concerns have led to the recent issuing of a communique by the participating Member States, announcing that they have agreed to implement a financial transaction tax in a progressive manner, with the first step being a charge on shares and some derivatives. However, significant technical and legal discussions will continue to be required at the Council Working Party before the text of the proposed Directive can be finalised. With this in mind, the targeted implementation date for the FTT has been rescheduled to 1 January 2016.

As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland already has a tax on certain financial transactions, a Stamp Duty on transfers of shares in Irish incorporated companies, which currently stands at 1%.  The yield from this charge in 2013 is estimated to be just above €250 million. It now appears that this will be the form of the initial financial transaction tax measure that is being considered by the participating countries. This means that in effect these countries, some of which do not apply any financial transactions tax currently, are now considering a tax along the lines of that which already applies in Ireland, the UK and certain other countries. The rate at which such transactions would be charged remains to be finalised but it was proposed in the draft Directive that transactions in shares would be subject to a charge of 0.1%, which is much lower than that which currently applies in Ireland.

Economic Data

Question No. 41 answered with Question No. 10.

Questions (40)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

40. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which the various economic indicators are positively positioned in the run-up to budget 2015; the extent to which he expects to be in a position to continue to meet the conditions laid down by the troika and at the same time address the specific issues likely to have a socio-economic impact; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23024/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department published updated macro-economic and fiscal forecasts as part of the 2014 Stability Programme Update last month. As detailed in these forecasts, my Department expects real GDP growth of 2.1 per cent for this year, with a continuation of the positive labour market developments we have seen recently. The data flow in the opening months of this year have been encouraging.  Sales in the retail sector were up by around 8 per cent in the first quarter when compared with the same period last year, with core sales (which excludes motor trades) up by around 2 per cent in the quarter.  This has been supported by a strenthening in consumer confidence.  The ESRI/KBC consumer sentiment indicator was at its highest level in over seven years in April, while the unemployment rate, having peaked at over 15 per cent in early 2012, remains on a downward trajectory, falling to 11.7 per cent in April. 

Having decided to maintain the tourism VAT rate at 9 per cent as part of Budget 2014, I am particularly encouraged to see that positive momentum in the sector in 2013 appears to have carried into this year, with trips to Ireland up by 7.3 per cent in the first quarter when compared with the same period  last year.

Developments in the construction sector have been equally encouraging in the year to date, with PMI data suggesting that activity in the sector expanded at is fastest pace since January 2006 in March, marking a seventh successive month of expansion for the sector. No sector was harder hit by the economic downturn than the construction sector and the Government remains committed to supporting a continued recovery in construction in the years ahead. The recently published Construction 2020 strategy will play an essential part in achieving this goal.

Economic activity in our key export markets is expected to strengthen this year, which will support Irish exports.  

Looking to the public finances, an underlying general government deficit of 4.8 per cent is forecast for 2014, well within the deficit ceiling of 5.1 per cent set by the ECOFIN Council in late 2010. Developments in the year-to-date are supportive of these projections, with cumulative tax revenues 2 per cent ahead of target at end April. Current projections suggest we remain firmly on track to bring our deficit below 3 per cent by 2015. However, we are not complacent. We left the EU-IMF programme at the end of last year having put in place the structural reforms required to ensure the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. While there is undoubtedly more to be done, we now face these challenges from a position of strength.

Question No. 41 answered with Question No. 10.

Credit Availability

Questions (42)

Seán Kyne

Question:

42. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Finance in the context of ensuring credit availability for small to medium-sized enterprises, his views on facilitating credit unions in lending amounts under a certain value to businesses at a local level to encourage expansion and job creation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17478/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The credit union sector nationally plays an important role in providing financial services, but in doing so retains responsibility to ensure  members' funds are not put at undue risk. I have been informed by the Registrar of Credit Unions at the Central Bank that in relation to lending generally, arising from their findings from on-site engagements with credit unions, the recently published Credit Union PRISM Risk Assessment Report shows many credit unions have been required to implement a range of actions to substantially improve their lending and credit risk management standards and practices.

Lending to small and medium enterprises - SMEs - is a specialist form of lending that clearly requires specific skills and expertise. In general  this type of lending is viewed as high risk by the Registrar of Credit Unions and would not be appropriate for the majority of credit unions, particularly in light of the issues identified in relation to lending standards and practices.

The Commission on Credit Unions in its final Report recommended a tiered regulatory approach for credit unions. The tiered regulatory approach will see some credit unions taking on a more sophisticated business model, subject to increased regulatory requirements, which could include lending to SMEs as referred to in the Deputy's question. The Central Bank issued a consultation paper on the proposed tiered regulatory approach in order to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to set out their views across a range of issue and they are currently considering over 160 submissions received and following analysis of these submissions, will communicate with credit unions and other stakeholders in relation to the proposed next steps.

Economic Management Council Meetings

Questions (43)

Pat Deering

Question:

43. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings that have taken place of the Economic Management Council since the troika left in December 2013. [22182/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

The Economic Management Council (EMC) has met ten times since the Troika left in December, most recently on 7 May.

Grant Aid

Questions (44)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

44. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will itemise in tabular form all grants and grants-in-aid paid by his Department each year for the previous five years and to date in 2014, including the amounts, recipients and purpose in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22183/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

The following tables provide details of grants and grants-in-aid payments made by this Department from 2009 to 23rd May 2014.

National Economic and Social Development Office (NESDO)

Year

Details

Amount

2009

Grant in Aid

€3,401,066

2010

Grant in Aid

€2,534,750

2011

Grant in Aid

€2,280,216

2012

Grant in Aid

€2,027,000

2013

Grant in Aid

€1,950,000

2014 (Jan - May)

Grant in Aid

€729,000

Commemoration Initiative Fund 2009 to 2011

Year

Recipient of Grant

Amount

2009

Institute for British-Irish Studies, UCD

€50,000

-

Mayo Peace Park

€10,000

-

Kickham Country Weekend

€6,000

-

UCD and St Deniol's Library, UK

€5,896

-

Royal Irish Academy (RIA)

€40,000

-

SIPTU

€19,000

Year

Recipient of Grant

Amount

2010

Suffolk Historical Society

€980

-

University College Cork

€1,500

-

Northern Ireland Building Communities Trust Ltd

€2,004

-

John Moyney VC Project

€1,135

-

The O'Brien Press Ltd

€2,000

-

University College Dublin – National Folklore Collection

€5,000

-

The Somme Association

€23,327

-

Institute for British-Irish Studies, UCD

€35,000

-

Thomas Davis Project

(Mallow Development Partnership)

€10,000

-

University College Dublin

€3,000

-

Marino College VEC – Memorial Garden and Information Wall – North Strand Bombings 31 May 1941

€2,000

-

Ireland Newfoundland Connections Ltd.

€900

Year

Recipient of Grant

Amount

2011

London South Bank University

€910

-

Campile Memorial Society

€3,000

-

SIPTU – James Connolly Writings

€16,000

-

Kennedy Memorial Lecture Series

€1,550

-

Institute for British-Irish Studies, UCD

€35,000

-

Ulster Newfoundland Initiative (Don McNeill, Chairperson)

€700

-

Royal Irish Academy

€19,000

Communicating Europe Initiative

Year

Recipient of Grant

Amount

2012

IIEA Pre Presidency Conference

€25,000

-

Temple Bar Trust - Europe Week Events

€15,000

-

EMI - My Vision for Europe

€9,000

-

European Movement Ireland

€5,000

-

West Dublin Access Radio

€2,000

-

Institute of Technology Tralee

€4,000

-

Understanding Europe

€2,000

-

Tina Leonard

€2,000

-

Women for Election

€4,000

-

European Youth Parliament

€8,000

-

Conradh na Gaeilge

€3,000

-

Near Media Coop

€2,000

-

Cloyne Diocesan Youth

€1,000

-

University College Cork

€1,000

2013

Age Action Ireland

€ 7,500

-

An Puball

€ 3,500

-

Galvin, Audrey

€ 3,000

-

Ballinderreen Community Centre

€ 750

-

Ballyhoura Regional Services

€ 2,000

-

Bratacha Steering Committee

€ 9,000

-

Children's Rights Alliance

€ 7,500

-

Dublin Centre for Independent Living

€ 2,000

-

Dublin City Public Libraries

€ 3,800

-

East Cork Music Project CDYS

€ 1,000

-

Eco-UNESCO

€ 500

-

Environmental Pillar

€ 7,000

-

European Youth Parliament EYP

€ 13,500

-

European Consumer Centre (Ecc Ireland)

€ 500

-

Green Foundation Ireland

€ 1,000

-

Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT)

€ 5,000

-

IRD Duhallow

€ 2,000

-

Irish Centre for European Law (TCD)

€ 1,000

-

Irish Deaf Society

€ 1,000

-

Irish Exporters Association

€ 3,000

-

Michael Sweetman Education Trust

€ 2,000

-

Naoise Nunn: Leviathan

€ 29,250

-

National Women's Council of Ireland

€ 7,000

-

National Youth Council of Ireland

€ 8,000

-

Near Media Coop

€ 3,000

-

Sligo Family Community Forum

€ 1,300

-

Sligo Family Resource Centre

€ 1,000

-

South West Mayo Dev Co

€ 2,000

-

St Laurence's NS

€ 750

-

Wheel, The Rotha Teoranta

€ 5,000

-

Tig Filí / Eurochild

€ 3,000

-

Tramore Community Radio

€ 500

-

UCC: reflections on 40 years

€ 2,500

-

UCC, Faculty of Law

€ 2,000

-

UCC, Europa Society

€ 1,000

-

UCD Constitutional Studies Group

€ 2,000

-

UCD Dublin European Institute

€ 3,000

-

UL: Dept of Politics and Public Admin

€ 2,000

-

Understanding Europe

€ 500

-

WALK (Walkinstown)

€ 1,000

-

West Dublin Access Radio

€ 1,000

-

Women for Election

€ 2,000

-

Young Social Innovators

€ 5,000

-

National University of Ireland Maynooth

€ 2,000

-

National University of Irealnd Maynooth

€ 1,139

-

Irish Centre for European Law (TCD)

€ 1,000

-

NUI Maynooth / Foras Feasa Horizon 2020 Workshop

€10,000

-

St Laurence's NS

€ 1,000

2014

West Dublin Access Radio

€1,500

-

Michael Sweetman Educational

€4,000

-

Institute of Technology Tralee

€4,500

-

Near Media Co-Op

€3,000

-

Young Social Innovators

€4,000

-

National Youth Council of Ireland

€6,000

European Movement

Year

Recipient

Amount

2012

European Movement Ireland

€100,000

2013

European Movement Ireland

€150,000

2014 (Jan - May)

European Movement Ireland

€62,500

Medical Aids and Appliances Provision

Questions (45)

Seán Fleming

Question:

45. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Taoiseach the number of defibrillators that are located in Government offices and buildings under the remit of his Department throughout the country; if these are available in emergency cases outside of office hours to the community in the locations where they are based; the number and cost of same; if he will consider putting some arrangement in place whereby these defibrillators can be located where the public can access them out of office hours, in the interest of health and safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22392/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

There are currently 2 defibrillators in my Department, located on separate floors in Government Buildings. They were purchased in January 2011 at a total cost of €3,025.

The National Economic and Social Development Office (NESDO), which is under the remit of my Department, shares accommodation with a number of other government bodies, including the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE). NESDO have 2 defibrillators which were purchased at a cost of €3,488, plus installation costs.

For health and safety reasons these defibrillators can only be used by trained staff in the Department.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (46)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

46. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Taoiseach if his Department received correspondence from the European Commission public procurement unit last November, or at any point in the past year, following an investigation undertaken into complaints regarding the awarding of the postal code contract by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; and if his Department forwarded this correspondence on to that Department. [22404/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

The European Commission submitted an enquiry on this matter via the EU Pilot system in August 2012. EU Pilot is a web-based enquiry system which operates on an informal basis between the European Commission and Member States. The system aims to ensure quick responses to enquiries and complaints from citizens and businesses, as well as own-initiative cases from the Commission, concerning questions on the correct interpretation, implementation and application of European Union law for which Member States have primary responsibility.

The EU Affairs and Coordination Division of my Department acts as Central Contact Point for the EU Pilot system. The main role of the Central Contact Point is to assign enquiries to the appropriate Government Department. Once assigned, the relevant Department is responsible for the substance of the response to the enquiry.

In the case referred to by the Deputy, the Commission Directorate General for Internal Market and Services submitted an enquiry on the EU Pilot system on 23 August 2012 which was forwarded by my Department to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The Deputy may wish to be aware that the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources responded to the Commission on 25 October 2012. The Commission notified its acceptance of the response and closure of the case on 20 November 2013.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Questions (47)

Micheál Martin

Question:

47. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of Cabinet sub-committee meetings he has attended in the month of April. [22601/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

In April I chaired four Cabinet Committee meetings. The Committees on Justice Reform, Economic Recovery & Jobs, Economic Infrastructure and Social Policy met. I also chaired a meeting of the sub-committee, on Pathways to Work, of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery & Jobs, and two meetings of the Economic Management Council.

Dáil Reform

Questions (48)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

48. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Taoiseach the Government's achievements to date in the area of Dáil reform and its future plans for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22803/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

The Programme for Government outlined an ambitious agenda for Oireachtas Reform to be introduced in a phased process over the lifetime of this Government. While the Government's main focus since coming to office has been on job creation and economic recovery, we have also used our time in office to set about making some long overdue reforms to our parliament. The extensive packages of Oireachtas reforms introduced since this Government took office in March 2011 are designed to improve the working of the Irish parliament.

The number of Dáil sitting days has been significantly increased by reducing the length of the Dáil recesses and introducing additional sitting days. A comparison of sitting days between this Government's first three years in office, when the Dáil sat 372 days, and the first three years in office of the previous FF, Green & PD coalition, when the Dáil sat 286 days, shows an increase of 86 sitting days.

The first phase of the Dáil Reform Programme was introduced in the summer of 2011 and included:

- An additional Leaders' Questions session on Thursdays, taken by the Tánaiste

- Topical Issue Debates to replace the outmoded Adjournment Debates to give TDs an opportunity to raise issues directly with Ministers from the relevant Department.

- Friday sittings to allow TDs to play a fuller role in the legislative process by introducing their own Bills and having those Bills debated on the floor of the Dáil

- An appeal to the Ceann Comhairle if a TD is unhappy with the reply received to a Parliamentary Question

- A Pre-Legislative review system where Ministers could give the Heads of a Bill to the Oireachtas Committee to review the issue before the legislation was published.

- Restructuring of the Oireachtas Committee system by reducing the number of Oireachtas Committees from 25 to 16 and providing a system of pre-legislative review.

In the summer of 2012 further reforms to the Oireachtas Committee system were introduced which streamlined the structure and allowed additional focus on areas of priority such as Jobs and Agriculture.

In September 2013 the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Government Chief Whip announced the second phase of Dáil Reforms proposed by the Government and the Dáil debated and approved changes to Standing Orders in October 2013. These reforms are being phased in over a period of time, with the first reforms being introduced in November 2013 and other reforms being phased in since then.

The changes will allow more public involvement in the law making process:

- A Pre-Legislative Stage before an Oireachtas Committee is now a requirement for all non-emergency legislation.

- A Minister who does not bring a Bill to Committee for Pre-Legislative Stage will be required to explain that decision to the Dáil.

- This allows for an unprecedented and extensive engagement by the public in law making. The Committee can consult with experts and civic society groups and crucially, this will take place before the legislation is drafted.

- Where there has been a Pre-Legislative Stage the Chair or Vice Chair of the Committee has an opportunity to outline the Committee's work to the members of the Dáil during the Second Stage debate after the Minister and main opposition spokespeople have spoken on the Bill.

A new system which requires the Government to outline its priorities to the Dáil on an annual basis has now been introduced. The first such debate was held earlier this year. It includes:

- The Taoiseach and Tánaiste addressing the Dáil setting out the Government's annual priorities.

- Each Minister also addressing the Dáil setting out their Department's plans for the future.

- The Government will publish a number of supporting documents for the Dáil.

The role of Oireachtas Committees in the Budget process has been expanded:

- In April the Stability Programme Update is presented to the EU and Committees can review this and report before the Budget in October.

- The Budget and Spending Estimates will be published in October and Committees will scrutinise the Budget and the Estimates earlier.

The use of the guillotine has now been reduced by introducing a new system of drafting and enactment of legislation, including a reduction in the number of Legislative Programmes to two per year, and increasing the time available for legislative debate in the Dáil by extending the sitting day and starting at 9.30 am on Wednesday and Thursday. To date in 2014 the guillotine has not been used in the Dáil.

The way legislation in the Chamber is debated has been improved:

- At First Stage the proposer of a Private Member's Bill now has 5 minutes to outline the purpose of the Bill to the Dáil and explain their reasons for drafting the legislation.

- At Second Stage the Chair or Vice Chair of the Committee which considered the Bill at Pre-Legislative Stage shall have a speaking slot, of the same length as the Minister or Opposition Spokespeople, to report to the Dáil on its findings.

- At the end of the second stage debate, 45 minutes may be allowed for concluding remarks by Deputies chosen by the Ceann Comhairle who had previously spoken.

The Friday sittings have been expanded:

- The Dáil now sits every second Friday to debate Private Members' Bill and Committee Reports selected using a lottery system. This expansion of the Friday sittings has been introduced as a result of the growth, from 16 in 2011 to 58 in 2013, in the number of Private Member's Bills being published by TDs since the introduction of Friday sittings from 16 in 2011 to 58 in 2013. The Dáil will now debate three or perhaps four Private Members' Bills each month.

- The new Friday sittings also allow Committees to seek directly to have their own reports debated in the Dáil for the first time.

- A Minister or Minister of State will speak during the debate to outline the Government's response.

The system of Topical Issues now requires the Minister or a Minister of State from the relevant Department to reply and if this is not the case the TD who raised the issue can have it deferred until a Minister from that Department is available, when it will be given priority.

The time allocated to Oral Parliamentary Questions to Ministers has been standardised to 75 minutes. An ordinary oral question will be answered only if the Deputy tabling the Question is in the Chamber when it is reached and the Deputy will be given a brief period, of 30 seconds, to outline the question.

A new system of Post Legislative Review will be introduced requiring a Minister to report to the relevant Oireachtas Committee within 12 months of enactment to review the functioning of the Act.

The Houses of the Oireachtas (Inquiries, Privileges & Procedures) Act 2013 has been passed and the Standing Orders necessary to establish Oireachtas Inquiries put in place by the Dáil and the Seanad. Both Houses have now passed motions to establish a Joint Committee to set up a Banking inquiry, which will be the first Oireachtas Inquiry under the new legislation.

No parliament is perfect and the process of parliamentary reform is always an ongoing one. The Oireachtas Reforms announced last autumn are currently being implemented but work is already under way on the next phase of Dáil Reform. The next phase will build on the changes introduced since the Government took office in 2011 and focus on the outstanding commitments in this area in the Programme for Government.

Any Member of the House who has Dáil reform proposals can contact the Government Chief Whip to discuss those proposals in detail and they will be considered as part of the ongoing process of Dáil reform.

Boston College Archives

Questions (49, 59)

Micheál Martin

Question:

49. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the release of the Boston College papers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22178/14]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

59. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views regarding threats and use of provocative labels such as touts being made against persons who co-operated with the Boston College tapes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22705/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 59 together.

In March 2011 the British Government, acting on behalf of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, initiated proceedings with the US Department of Justice under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries for the release of selected archived interviews held in Boston College. The archives are part of the Belfast Project, an oral history of Republican and Loyalist former paramilitaries compiled by Mr Anthony McIntyre and Mr Ed Moloney and deposited in the College. Legal challenges were launched by Boston College, and separately by Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney, to prevent the release of the material. In December 2011, these challenges were dismissed by US District Court Judge William Young. A further legal challenge was made by Mr McIntyre and Mr Moloney. On 6 July 2013, the US Federal Court of Appeal turned down their appeal.

In accordance with the court ruling, archived material was handed over by Boston College to the US authorities for onward transmission to their British counterparts. Issues arising from this matter are currently the subject of legal proceedings and in these circumstances I do not wish to comment any further. I call on all to respect due process and to refrain from further comment or speculation. I strongly condemn threats and provocative labelling arising from this or any other case.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (50)

Finian McGrath

Question:

50. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update regarding the kidnapping of 260 teenage girls in Nigeria; if he will clarify the action that the United Nation is taking regarding this serious violation of human rights and abuse of children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22214/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I have strongly condemned the abduction by the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram, of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok on 14 April. I am also appalled by the reported abduction of a further 11 girls on 4 May. Through our development policies and programmes, Ireland is a strong supporter of the rights of women and girls, and in particular the right of girls to education. I have given my full support to the demands of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the High Representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, that the girls be released and that those responsible be brought to justice. I welcome the support now being provided to the Nigerian authorities from a number of our EU partners and from the US, to help find the missing schoolgirls. I also welcome the decision on 22 May by the UN Security Council Al Qaida Sanctions Committee to impose financial sanctions and an arms embargo on Boko Haram. The primary responsibility to secure the safe release of the school girls rests with the Nigerian authorities. I urge the Government of Nigeria to take all appropriate steps to protect their citizens and to ensure that the girls can return safely to their families, and to education.

At its meeting in Brussels on 12 May, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted Conclusions expressing the EU's concern at the recent terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria and the suffering caused to the population. The Council strongly condemned the abduction of the schoolgirls and called for their immediate and unconditional release. It underlined the EU's readiness to support the Nigerian authorities in the resolution of this despicable crime and their ongoing efforts to defeat terrorism in all its forms, in full respect of human rights. The EU is already supporting the Nigerian authorities to strengthen their capacity to provide security and combat terrorism. An EU support programme to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of terrorist suspects will begin later this month. It will include EU technical assistance to counter violent extremism and radicalisation.

Our Embassy in Abuja is working closely with our EU partners and others on the ground and maintaining contact with the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to locate and free the missing schoolgirls. Officials from my Department have also been in contact with the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin to express concern at the ongoing situation and to request regular updates on the actions by the Nigerian authorities to recover the abducted schoolgirls.

At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2014, Ireland highlighted attacks by Boko Haram during discussions with the UN Special Representatives for Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict. Our objective was to draw attention to the ongoing trend of attacks on education around the world and to highlight the importance of ensuring that the right of children to education is upheld during and after conflict.