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Tuesday, 28 Feb 2017

Written Answers Nos. 202 - 213

Tax Code

Questions (202)

Joan Burton

Question:

202. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance when a new tax on sugar drinks will be introduced; the estimated annual yield from such a tax; the rate at which he considers the new tax should be set and the types of drinks included within its scope; the preparation that is currently being undertaken by his Department in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9942/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

As outlined as part of Budget 2017, I intend to introduce a tax on sugar sweetened drink in April 2018 to coincide with the introduction of a similar tax in the UK.  

An examination of the proposed tax, including estimates of projected yields, are contained in the excise Tax Strategy Group paper (TSG 16/02) which is available on my Department's website.

A public consultation process opened on Budget night seeking the views of interested parties on the make up of the tax which ran until 3rd January 2017.  Some 30 submissions were received, all of which are also available to view on my Departments website together with the public consultation document.  

Final decisions have yet to be made on the rate and scope of the tax.  The public consultation document sets out the type of drinks which are expected to be included in the scope of the proposed tax.  Consultation with stakeholders is ongoing and I expect further details around the tax to be announced as part of Budget 2018.

Central Bank of Ireland Supervision

Questions (203)

Joan Burton

Question:

203. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance his views on the recent comments by the Governor of the Central Bank (details supplied) that technological innovation may alter the role of central banks in managing the money supply and acting as a lender of last resort in the context of widespread adoption of private sector digital currencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9943/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

As I stated in response to the Deputy's question on 17 January last, the Governor of the Central Bank made remarks in June of last year on the topic of technological innovation and financial services. I think it is important to be clear on what the Governor said. He said that in addition to the four primary challenges he identified in the regulatory treatment of financial innovations, technological innovation may also alter the role of central banks in managing the money supply and acting as a lender of last resort.

He instanced the growth in electronic forms of payment and said that at one level this growth looks set to reduce the traditional role of notes and coins in the monetary system. He noted that this may have implications for the role of central banks generally in managing the money supply. He also said that, at another level, there is much discussion on the relative merits of more widespread adoption of private-sector digital currencies versus a new role for central banks in the direct issuance and management of publicly-backed digital currencies.

If, in time, there is to be a new role of this kind for central banks in the Euro area, it would have to be agreed at a European level. The Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs of the European Parliament published a report on virtual currencies in May 2016 which called for the creation of a horizontal taskforce on distributed ledger technology to be set up under the leadership of the European Commission. The Deputy is likely to be aware that the European Commission has published proposals to amend the fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive including provisions on virtual currencies and negotiations on these proposals are ongoing.

Credit Availability

Questions (204)

Joan Burton

Question:

204. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance if he has reviewed the most recent quarterly bank watch study from ISME on the ability of small and medium firms to get loan approval and access to credit; his views on the refusal rate of 35% for requests for credit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9944/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

As I have previously answered, the most recent ISME Bank Watch Survey for Quarter 4 2016 noted that 30% of companies who applied for funding in the three months covering September to November 2016 were refused credit by their banks.  The figure the Deputy is referring to was reported in the survey results for Quarter 2 2016.

As the Deputy may be aware, my Department conducts a biannual SME Credit Demand Survey. This survey series, currently being conducted by Behaviour & Attitudes, is the most comprehensive survey of SME credit demand in Ireland, covering over 1,500 respondents and involving over 6,000 direct telephone calls to SMEs. SMEs of all sizes trading in all sectors, excluding property development and speculative activities, and in all regions are included. 

I would draw the Deputy's attention to the most recently published Department of Finance SME Credit Demand Survey covering the period April to September 2016 which can be found at www.finance.gov.ie/what-we-do/banking-financial-services/sme-credit-lending.  This latest survey indicates that the majority of credit requests continue to be approved fully with 84% of credit applications (excluding 'still pending') approved or partially approved.  The current rate of decline stands at 15% of all applications (including 'still pending'). 

The Central Bank of Ireland's most recent SME Market Report for the second half of 2016 also shows that rejection rates, for credit applications by SMEs, loan/overdraft rejection rates are in line with euro area averages.  This report can be found here: www.centralbank.ie/publications/Documents/SME%20Market%20Report%202016H2.pdf.

The Government remains committed to the SME sector.  I can assure the Deputy that my Department, working with other relevant Departments and Agencies such as the Credit Review Office, will continue to advance policies to support and monitor the availability of both bank and non-bank credit so as to ensure that viable Irish SMEs have sufficient access to finance.

EU Investigations

Questions (205)

Joan Burton

Question:

205. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance when he expects the European Commission to make a final report on the tax affairs of a company (details supplied) here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9945/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The European Commission published the Final Decision in the Apple State aid case in December 2016.  This was sent to Ireland at the end of August 2016.  Ireland does not accept the Commission's analysis, which is why we have lodged an application with the General Court of the European Union to annul the whole Decision.  It will likely be several years before the matter is ultimately settled by the European Courts.

Banking Sector

Questions (206)

Joan Burton

Question:

206. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the discussions his Department has had with the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs regarding the investigation of the establishment of a local public bank network here as committed to in the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9946/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DAHRRGA) has primary responsibility for the investigation of the German Sparkassen model of local public banks that operate within well-defined regions, as provided for in the Programme for Government.

The investigation of the potential of local public banking by DHRRGA is ongoing. Officials from my Department met with officials from DAHRRGA in late 2016 and again this month and following these meetings, DAHRRGA has developed a programme of work to examine the feasibility of the Sparkassen model, as well as other models of local public banking.

At present, DAHRGGA is engaging in a consultation with stakeholders and interested parties to obtain their views on this issue.  The Department of Finance is continuing to provide input, assistance and support to DAHRRGA, as requested.

European Investment Bank Loans

Questions (207)

Joan Burton

Question:

207. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the discussions his Department has had with the European Investment Bank, EIB, and other Government Departments to establish an off balance sheet special purpose vehicle to draw down funding from the EIB to facilitate large scale mixed social and private residential development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9947/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

ISIF and the wider NTMA is examining the feasibility of establishing, in conjunction with the private sector, a Housing Investment Fund, in a way that is both off-balance sheet and is commercially viable. This vehicle should be capable of funding the delivery of substantial new mixed-tenure residential developments, comprising social and private housing.

Whilst a major objective of any such funding vehicle is to leverage additionality in terms of social housing supply, it is envisaged that a substantial portion of the overall supply of new units may need to be for private housing to meet the commerciality test and to satisfy the requirements of an off-balance sheet investment model.   

Although there have been a number of recent proposals in this space from private sector residential investors and developers, none have proven to be either commercial or likely to pass the requirements for an off-balance sheet model. 

Engagement with a wide array of key stakeholders in both the public and private sector is ongoing and involves the input of relevant Government departments, the CSO and others. There is ongoing engagement, also, with the European authorities, including Eurostat, and the European Commission.

Initial discussions with the EIB have taken place, and these have explored possible EIB participation in funding the housing model. These discussions follow recent interaction between this Department and ISIF with the EIB regarding EIB support for housing projects in other Member States. Initial discussions and soundings indicate that the EIB is interested in supporting a housing model. Attention is now focused on developing a model which meets the off-balance sheet requirements, and one in which the EIB might participate.

On the occasion of the formal launch of the EIB Group office in Ireland on 9 December 2016, I chaired the first meeting of the EIB-Ireland Financing Group, comprising relevant Government Ministers, heads of agencies and EIB senior management. One of the purposes of the Group is to examine opportunities for using EIB financing and technical assistance to address housing, transport and other infrastructure investment requirements. The Group is supported by three sub-groups of officials and agency representatives, one of which is tasked with addressing issues in the area of Social Infrastructure, including housing.

Credit Union Lending

Questions (208)

Joan Burton

Question:

208. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the progress his Department has made in respect of the EUROSTAT investigation into the establishment by the Government of a bond to finance social housing investment suitable for credit unions to invest their surplus funds in; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9948/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government has been exploring potential mechanisms that would facilitate investment in social housing, including the off-balance sheet potential of private institutional investment. ISIF led engagement on the Housing Fund mentioned in Rebuilding Ireland with a number of actors including both the CSO and Eurostat is currently ongoing.  The agreed Programme for a Partnership Government recognises the potential role that credit unions can play in housing finance.  Officials from both my Department and the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government have met with the representative bodies on a number of occasions to examine how credit unions can assist in the area of social housing.  Officials from both Departments have also met with the Central Bank.  The Central Bank is currently engaging with the sector on proposals for credit unions to provide funding for social housing and has stated that while it does not comment on specific proposals, such investments could be facilitated by future regulations made by the Central Bank, where appropriate. The Central Bank also stated that it is willing to consider the type of regulations that would be required to facilitate such proposals. Ultimately, any funding mechanisms will have to be put in place in the first instance by the credit unions themselves, with the support of their members, and with the agreement of the Central Bank.

Help-To-Buy Scheme Data

Questions (209, 219)

Joan Burton

Question:

209. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of applications for the help-to-buy scheme that have been deemed valid to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9949/17]

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Joan Burton

Question:

219. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of applications for the help-to-buy scheme that have been deemed valid to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9980/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 209 and 219 together.

Individuals wishing to make a claim under the Help to Buy incentive are required to complete a two-stage online process; an application and then a claim. The application stage of the process allows would-be first-time buyers determine whether, and to what extent, they qualify for the incentive. The claim stage allows for the refund to be made.

I am advised by Revenue that the number of Help to Buy applications received up to Friday 24 February 2017 was:

No. of Applications

Successful applications

 Pending

3,320

1,105

2,215

This data shows that around one-third of applications are approved automatically and two-thirds have a status of pending. Pending means that the applicants have to file an outstanding return or address a compliance issue; their application must be reviewed by a Revenue caseworker; or the applicant needs to finalise his or her application.

The processing time for pending applications depends on the time it takes an applicant to resolve any outstanding matters and Revenue is encouraging prospective applicants to file any necessary tax returns and address any outstanding issues before making the HTB application. The bulk of applicants to date are PAYE taxpayers and if a Form 12 tax return is outstanding it can be filed online very quickly by using 'PAYE Services' in my Account. If there is a tax liability outstanding it can be paid using the 'Payments' facility in my Account. A HTB application can be approved automatically on the online system where there are no outstanding issues.

Once an application is successful, the time taken for the claim to be submitted depends on the claimant. If he or she has the necessary evidence regarding the purchase of a property then their claim can be submitted without any delay. More detailed information and guidance regarding these requirements is available on the Revenue website.

Of the 1,105 successful applications there have been 407 claims, with 129 verified and paid, and 278 pending verification. Claims are verified by the qualifying contractor for first-time home purchases, or by the solicitor for first-time self-built homes. The processing time for claims to be paid depends on the time taken by the qualifying contractor or solicitor to verify the claim.

Brexit Issues

Question No. 211 answered with Question No. 44.

Questions (210)

Joan Burton

Question:

210. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the steps the Revenue Commissioners have taken to identify possible customs posts on the Border; the locations that have been examined for these posts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9950/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government's position in relation to the border with Northern Ireland in the context of BREXIT is very clear and has been articulated by the Taoiseach on several occasions.  Continued freedom of movement, absence of a hard border, and minimal impact on business and trade are key objectives.  The Government is clear that any manifestation of a hard border would have very negative consequences.  A key priority is to ensure the continued free flow of trade on the island and the need to avoid a hard border.

Question No. 211 answered with Question No. 44.

Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base Negotiations

Questions (212)

Joan Burton

Question:

212. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the discussions he has had with his ECOFIN colleagues in view of the recent developments in respect of the common consolidated tax base; the steps he has taken in the interests of protecting Ireland's tax sovereignty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9952/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The European Commission's proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base was published in October 2016 and an initial discussion on the proposal took place at the November 2016 ECOFIN meeting.  During the discussion, which was held in public session, a number of my fellow Ministers gave some initial impressions of the proposal. 

At December ECOFIN, Council Conclusions were approved in respect of the Commission's wider package which includes the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base proposal but there was no discussion of the proposals at that meeting. The proposal has not been discussed at ECOFIN so far in 2017.

Technical discussions between Member States on the proposal are at a very early stage.  All countries, including Ireland are examining the proposal to assess the potential impact it would have if it was to be agreed.  The proposal is also likely to be subject to significant changes during these technical discussions between Member States. 

As always, tax remains a matter of Member State competence and unanimity is required before any tax proposals can be agreed.

Credit Union Restructuring

Questions (213)

Joan Burton

Question:

213. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the progress his Department has made in the establishment of the credit union advisory committee; when the first meeting of the implementation group will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9953/17]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

One recommendation of the Credit Union Advisory Committee (CUAC) in the Review of Implementation of the Recommendations in the Commission on Credit Unions Report (the Report) was that an Implementation Group be established for a specified period of time to oversee and monitor implementation of those recommendations in a methodical manner and to advise the Minister for Finance on progress. 

Publication of the Report in July 2016 was just the beginning of the process. From September 2016 onwards CUAC continued working to enable a coherent implementation plan be devised.  The Department has been working closely with CUAC.

In line with CUAC's recommendations, the Department invited one nominee from each of the stakeholder groups. The Implementation Group consists of a representative from each of the following: Irish League of Credit Unions; Credit Union Development Association; Credit Union Managers' Association; National Supervisors Forum; and the Central Bank. The Implementation Group also has a CUAC representative and is chaired by the Department. This broad membership will ensure participation and contribution from all credit union perspectives.

The Implementation Group held its inaugural meeting on Monday 20 February 2017 and was also attended by all CUAC members.  It is intended that each CUAC recommendation will addressed separately with a view to implementation at the appropriate time.  Meetings will continue on a monthly basis with the next meeting scheduled for late March 2017. The term of the Implementation Group is for one year which may be extended at the discretion of the Minister. I look forward to receiving regular progress reports on the implementation of these important recommendations.

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