Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Questions (178, 179)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

178. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the number of times the Hidden Economy Monitoring Group meets on an annual basis. [24498/14]

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Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

179. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance if the Hidden Economy Monitoring Group has considered any information on shadow economic activity in the construction industry, particularly potential cases of persons working in the Republic of Ireland who are also illegally claiming social protection entitlements in Northern Ireland. [24499/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 178 and 179 together.

I wish to inform the Deputy that the Hidden Economy Monitoring Group (HEMG) is a non-statutory multi-agency group (currently chaired by the Revenue Commissioners) comprising of business representative bodies (including the Construction Industry Federation), the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the State agencies such as the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection and the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA).   The primary focus of the Hidden Economy Monitoring Group is to provide a forum for all parties to exchange views on combatting shadow economy activity. 

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that, in general, a plenary meeting of the HEMG takes place twice a year (or more frequently if required).  For 2014, the HEMG is conducting its detailed work through three sub-groups.  One sub-group is concentrating on the construction sector, another sub-group is examining the merits of consumer protection awareness of the downsides of engaging with, or purchasing goods from, shadow economy operators and the final sub-group is exploring the merits of having in place 'plain English guides' that may make it easier for businesses to comply with their tax and duty obligations.  The HEMG has also previously conducted its discussions through four Regional sub-groups where local State agency officials met, and exchanged views, with their local counterparts from business representative bodies and trade unions.  During 2013, the Regional sub-groups met on nine occasions.

Apart from their involvement in the HEMG, I am further informed by the Revenue Commissioners that, as part of their normal compliance operations in the construction sector, Revenue staff carry out routine visits to building sites including visits to building sites wherein the capital expenditure is State funded (such as the Department of Education & Skills capital expenditure sites).  In some instances, such site visits are undertaken jointly with relevant officers from the Department of Social Protection and from the National Employment Rights Authority.

I am further informed by the Revenue Commissioners that their officers have a very good working relationship with the Department of Social Protection. Joint Investigation Units are in place and comprehensive exchange of information takes place, including in relation to suspected 'working and signing'. 

As to individuals making false claims for social protection payments in another jurisdiction, that is primarily a matter for that jurisdiction.  However, I am aware that Department of Social Protection officials works closely with their counterparts in Northern Ireland and I'm sure that if the Deputy will pass to DSP any evidence he has of individuals making false claims for social protection payments in Northern Ireland, they will have the matter examined.