Human Rights

Questions (42)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

42. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to address concerns that China has developed a significant network of detention camps in its northern province of Xinjiang in which an estimated one million Uighurs, a Muslim minority, are being incarcerated; if he has raised this issue with the Chinese ambassador; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14565/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Irish Government has been closely following reports regarding the situation in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in particular, those relating to the detention of a significant number of Uighur Muslims in re-education camps in the region.

The protection and promotion of universal human rights is one of Ireland's core foreign policy issues. We take these reports very seriously and have raised our concerns with our Chinese counterparts, in bilateral and multilateral contexts, and as an EU Member State.

The subject of human rights were raised and discussed during political consultations held with China in November 2018, including our concerns regarding the situation in Xinjiang.

Ireland participated in China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), also held last November. The UPR is the mechanism through which the United Nations Human Rights Council examines and addresses the human rights performance of its member states. In our intervention, in addition to expressing concern at reports of the treatment of ethnic Uighurs, in particular their detention in political re-education camps, we urged China to respect freedom of religion and belief and recommended that China grant access to the OHCHR to all regions of the country including Xinjiang.

The EU also continues to raise concerns regarding freedom of religion and belief on several occasions at bilateral and multilateral levels. During the last EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, held in July 2018, the restrictions on the Uighur and other Muslim minority populations were discussed. The next Human Rights Dialogue is expected to take place in early April.

At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2019, the EU raised concerns about the existence of political re-education camps and widespread surveillance and restrictions particularly targeted at Uighurs in Xinjiang, and urged China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ireland fully supports the EU position, and actively contributes to its actions and statements.

Through our ongoing contacts with the Chinese Embassy in Dublin and through our Embassy in Beijing, Ireland will continue to raise our concerns regarding the situation in Xinjiang with the Chinese authorities, along with our EU partners and other like-minded Member States.

Child Abuse Reports

Questions (43)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

43. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will publish the United Nations special rapporteur report on the sale and sexual exploitation of children in Ireland. [14546/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My Department, in conjunction with a number of other Government Departments and agencies, facilitated a visit of the Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Ms Maud de Boer-Buquiccio, from 14th to 18th May 2018.

The Special Rapporteur's Country Report on Ireland was formally presented to the Human Rights Council (HRC) on the 5th of March 2019 and is publicly available on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Human Rights

Questions (44)

Pat Casey

Question:

44. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to support a UN binding treaty on business and human rights in 2019 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14568/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Inter-Governmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises was established on foot of a resolution to the Human Rights Council in 2014, led by a number of developing countries, including Ecuador and South Africa.

Four sessions of the Inter-Governmental Working Group have taken place to date. In advance of the fourth and most recent session in October 2018, Ecuador circulated the zero draft of a legally binding instrument. The next session of the Group will meet in October 2019 and Ireland will work with our EU partners to look at how we might actively and constructively engage in the negotiation process, notwithstanding our serious concerns about the way in which the work of the Group has been conducted to date. While we are open to looking at options for progress on a legally binding treaty, we believe that all economic operators should be treated in a non-discriminatory manner. The draft treaty that has currently been circulated focuses on transnational corporations and it is Ireland's view that any new treaty should cover both companies engaged in purely domestic operations as well as transnational corporations.

We would wish to see essential human rights principles reflected in any possible instrument, which should reaffirm the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights and stress the primary responsibility of States under existing human rights obligations to protect against human rights violations.

Ultimately, if it is to achieve its objectives, any legally binding instrument should enjoy broad support among UN Member States to ensure its effectiveness as well as international coherence in the framework of business and human rights. On this point, I would note that of the 21 countries which to date have adopted National Plans on Business and Human Rights, 16, including Ireland, are EU Member States. We would like to see any new initiative build on, rather than duplicate, existing measures such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. Above all we believe that it should be rooted in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In this regard, we are of the view that the UN Working Party on Business and Human Rights and the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights provide appropriate fora for consideration of any new initiatives.

Passport Applications Data

Questions (45)

Seán Fleming

Question:

45. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of passport applications for each of the past 20 years from persons resident in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14572/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The number of passport applications received from applicants who were resident in Northern Ireland at the time of application during the period 2006 to 2018 is detailed in the table below.

The Passport Service has provided the below figures from readily available data sets. Identifying the figures for the period prior to 2006 would require an extensive research process which was not possible to complete accurately during the time provided.

Passport applications received from Northern Ireland

Year

Applications

2018

84,855

2017

83,363

2016

68,270

2015

54,026

2014

48,475

2013

44,122

2012

41,124

2011

35,483

2010

39,047

2009

39,500

2008

40,150

2007

37,284

2006

31,998

Visa Applications

Questions (46)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

46. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the process for two Cambodian citizens to apply for a holiday visa to visit their daughter and grandchildren, who are Irish citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14667/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

A visa application from a Cambodian national who is currently resident in Cambodia should be made online and supporting documentation forwarded to the Embassy of Ireland in Hanoi, Vietnam for consideration. In circumstances where the applicant is visiting a family member in Ireland, the person concerned should apply for a "Visit family/friend" visa. Prospective applicants for these types of visas are advised to make their application no less than eight weeks before their intended travel to Ireland.

The INIS website (www.inis.gov.ie) contains comprehensive guidelines to assist the applicant with the application process. It should, however, be noted that the information contained on the website is intended to provide guidance only and does not limit the discretion of the Visa Officer in dealing with individual applications. The onus rests at all times with the applicant to satisfy the Visa Officer that any visa sought should be granted.

Departmental Meetings

Questions (47)

Niall Collins

Question:

47. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has been contacted by representatives of the Chinese Administration with regard to the use of technology by a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14678/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I have not been contacted by representatives of the Chinese Government with regard to the use of technology by the company referenced by the Deputy.

I and officials in my Department frequently hold meetings, as well as other contacts, with representatives of the Chinese Government, where we engage in discussions on a broad spectrum of bilateral issues. These include our political engagement, our trade and investment relationship, cultural and educational exchanges and other matters of shared concern, including issues of regional and international interest. The issue has been raised briefly with officials in my Department in the course of such discussions.

Departmental Meetings

Questions (48)

Niall Collins

Question:

48. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has been contacted by representatives of the Administration of the United States of America with regard to the use of technology by a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14679/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My Department has regular, constructive contacts with the US Administration both through our Embassy and Mission network in the US and through the US Embassy here in Dublin.

As part of regular Government engagement in the US, I also travelled to New York and Washington DC last month for meetings with the US Administration and other political leaders. Those meetings, and all contacts at Ministerial and official level, cover the range of issues of on-going mutual interest, as well as foreign policy issues.

With regard to the use of technology by the company in question, this issue has been raised with me at meetings with Congressional leaders and at senior official level, and it has also been raised by the US Administration with officials in my Department.

Trade Strategy

Questions (49)

Niall Collins

Question:

49. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has been contacted by representatives of the Chinese Administration with regard to the belt and road initiative; if he has discussed the matter with members of the Italian Administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14681/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Belt and Road Initiative has been raised with me by representatives of the Chinese Government on a number of occasions during the course of wide-ranging discussions on a range of bilateral and foreign policy issues, notably during my visit to China in March 2018, and during high level visits from China to Ireland. During these discussions, I welcomed the Belt and Road Initiative as an effort to expand connectivity between Asia and Europe, and indicated that Ireland would explore appropriate ways to cooperate.

In 2018, the EU published its own Joint Communication on “Connecting Europe and Asia – Building Blocks for an EU Strategy”, which sets out the key elements of the EU’s approach towards connectivity with Asia. It places an emphasis on the need for connectivity projects to align with existing international standards and practices, and to be carried out on the basis of openness, transparency, and a level playing field for companies. It also stresses the importance of economic, social, fiscal, financial and environmental sustainability. We fully support efforts to foster synergies between the EU's and China's connectivity initiatives, and this approach will form the form the basis for Ireland's engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative.

I have not been contacted by my Italian counterparts on this issue, but the broader issues of connectivity and broader EU-China bilateral relations were discussed by EU Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council on 18 March.

Tax Code

Questions (50)

Noel Rock

Question:

50. Deputy Noel Rock asked the Minister for Finance his plans to update the tax status of unmarried couples that are together for long periods of time and are taxed as single persons and not entitled to benefits such as tax breaks on inheriting assets, the widow's or widower's pension and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14533/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Where a couple is cohabiting, rather than married or in a civil partnership, each partner is treated for the purposes of income tax as a separate and unconnected individual. Because they are treated separately for tax purposes, credits, tax bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other. Cohabitants do not have the same legal rights and obligations as a married couple or couple in a civil partnership which is why they are not accorded similar tax treatment to couples who have a civil status that is recognised in law.

The basis for the current tax treatment of married couples derives from the Supreme Court decision in Murphy vs. Attorney General (1980). This decision was based on Article 41.3.1 of the Constitution where the State pledges to protect the institution of marriage. The decision held that it was contrary to the Constitution for a married couple, both of whom are working, to pay more tax than two single people living together and having the same income.

To the extent that there are differences in the tax treatment of the different categories of couples, such differences arise from the objective of dealing with different types of circumstances while at the same time respecting the constitutional requirements to protect the institution of marriage. Any change in the tax treatment of cohabiting couples can only be addressed in the broader context of future social and legal policy development in relation to such couples.

I have been advised by Revenue that from a practical perspective, it would be very difficult to administer a regime for cohabitants which would be the same as that for married couples or civil partners. Married couples and civil partners have a verifiable official confirmation of their status. It would be difficult, intrusive and time-consuming to confirm declarations by individuals that they were actually cohabiting. It would also be difficult to establish when cohabitation started or ceased. There would also be legal issues with regard to ‘connected persons’. To counter tax avoidance, ‘connected persons’ are frequently defined throughout the various Tax Acts. The definitions extend to relatives and children of spouses and civil partners. This would be very difficult to prove and enforce in respect of persons connected with a cohabiting couple where the couple has no legal recognition. There may be an advantage in tax legislation for a married couple or civil partners as regards the extended rate band and the ability to transfer credits. However, their legal status has wider consequences from a tax perspective both for themselves and persons connected with them.

Tax Rebates

Questions (51)

Marc MacSharry

Question:

51. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Finance if the Revenue Commissioners will consider a refund of VRT in which the value of the vehicle in real terms is lower than the rate applied by them; the situations in which the Revenue Commissioners will consider a refund of VRT; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14547/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that any person who pays Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT) but considers the amount charged to be excessive has two appeal options. The first option consists of a re-examination of the original valuation by a Revenue official who had no previous involvement with the case. If the person is still unhappy after the re-examination has been completed, there is the option to submit a further appeal to the independent Tax Appeals Commission. Where either appeal option finds that the original valuation was excessive, Revenue will refund the overpaid amount to the taxpayer.

Further information on the VRT appeals process is available on the Revenue website at link, www.revenue.ie/en/importing-vehicles-duty-free-allowances/guide-to-vrt/appeals/index.aspx which may be of assistance to the Deputy.

Disabled Drivers and Passengers Scheme

Questions (52)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

52. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Finance the reason persons appealing a decision made on their primary medical certificates for tax relief for drivers with disabilities have to travel to Dún Laoghaire in County Dublin for an appointment in view of the fact that to be eligible for the scheme a person has to be significantly disabled; the reason appeal appointments are not held in various locations nationally as is done with other appeals; the actions he will take to make these appointments more accessible for persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14554/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Hearings of the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal are held on average twice a month at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, which has the appropriate facilities to cater for people with mobility impairing disabilities of the kind provided for under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme.

The Medical Board of Appeal holds regional clinics as demand arises. I'm informed that a clinic will be held in Cork City on the 4th April in St. Finbarr's Hospital. It is important that the Medical Board of Appeal conducts appeals in the appropriate clinical environment.

I would point out that Regulation 6(1)(e) of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations, 1994 (S.I. 353 of 1994) provides that the Medical Board of Appeal is independent in the exercise of its functions.

Insurance Costs

Questions (53)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

53. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance if a matter relating to insurance cover (details supplied) can be investigated and addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14561/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Both I and the Minister of State for Financial Services and Insurance, Mr. Michael D’Arcy T.D., are very conscious of the difficulties that the cost and availability of insurance are having on many small businesses in this country, including those in the hospitality sector.

As Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation. I am not in a position to comment on individual cases, and neither I nor the Central Bank of Ireland can interfere in the pricing or provision of insurance products, as these are matters of a commercial nature, and determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept. These are considered by insurance companies on a case-by-case basis. This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance which expressly prohibits Member States from adopting rules which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products.

Notwithstanding the above, it was recognised with the establishment of the Cost of Insurance Working Group in July 2016 that the environment within which insurers conduct their business can be better shaped, in order to make the Irish insurance market a more competitive one and also make it more attractive for new entrants. This Working Group, now chaired by the Minister of State for Financial Services and Insurance, Mr. Michael D’Arcy T.D., has undertaken an examination of the factors contributing to the increasing cost of insurance in order to identify what short, medium and long-term measures could be introduced to help reduce the cost of insurance for consumers and businesses.

Following the publication of its Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance in 2017, the Working Group undertook an examination of the employer liability and public liability insurance sectors. This second phase culminated in the publication in January 2018 of the Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance. The Report makes 15 recommendations with 29 associated actions, detailed in an Action Plan with agreed timelines for implementation.

The most recent Progress Update was published last week and shows that 24 out of the total of 26 action points which were due for completion during 2018 overall have been accomplished. Minister of State D’Arcy is confident that the two outstanding actions will be completed in the coming months, along with the three remaining action points with deadlines set for various quarters throughout 2019.

The actions implemented to date cut across a number of different areas and include:

- The publication of by An Garda Síochána of the Guidelines for the Reporting of Suspected Fraudulent Insurance Claims by Insurance Entities to An Garda Síochána

- The Law Reform Commission confirming that the subject of caps on damages for personal injuries litigation is included in its Fifth Programme of Law Reform and is being given immediate attention=

- Sections 8 & 14 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 have been amended to ensure defendants are appropriately notified of a claim having been submitted against their policy and to make it easier for businesses and insurers to challenge cases where fraud or exaggeration is suspected, respectively

- An Garda Síochána commencing the collection of statistics under the new “insurance fraud” category which has been added to the PULSE system

- The Courts Service confirming that it will publish a more detailed breakdown of awards in personal injury cases in its Annual Reports

Finally, I would like to assure the Deputy that the Cost of Insurance Working Group will continue to focus on implementing the recommendations of the Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance in parallel with implementing those from the Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance. I am hopeful that the cumulative effects of the completion of the two Reports’ recommendations will include increased stability in the pricing of insurance for businesses, such as those in the hospitality sector, and a more competitive insurance market.

Fiscal Policy

Questions (54)

Seán Fleming

Question:

54. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Finance the position relating to EU fiscal rules when approval is provided regarding its multi-annual expenditure ceilings and amendments are regularly made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14570/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Commission assesses Member States' compliance with the fiscal rules on an ex-post basis in Spring using the outturn data for the previous year.

My officials prepare updates to the macroeconomic and fiscal forecast in Spring - Stability Programme Update (SPU) - and Autumn - Draft Budgetary Plan. These take into account the most up-to-date information available, including the expenditure ceilings.

The 2019 SPU will be published in April.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (55)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

55. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance if the possible introduction of a tax on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions as recommended by the Citizens' Assembly is being examined; the stages at which such examinations are at; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14601/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Decisions on tax policy take place every year as part of the annual budgetary process. The Environmental Taxes paper prepared annually for the Tax Strategy Group contains analysis on the tax policy options and this helps inform subsequent budget decisions.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action was established in 2018 to consider the third report and recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly regarding measures to tackle climate change. The Committee is due to report soon and their recommendations will be considered as part of the budgetary process.

Credit Availability

Questions (56, 57, 58)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

56. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to promotional practices of car dealers that have radio adverts for car finance available to persons with poor and bad credit history; and his views on whether this is predatory promotion for sub-prime credit. [14619/19]

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Pearse Doherty

Question:

57. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the status of progress regarding the assertion of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission that car dealers could have to check the financial situation of prospective car buyers and proposed greater regulatory oversight of the sector. [14620/19]

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Pearse Doherty

Question:

58. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance his views on the fact that some members of the public are signing up to complex PCP finance deals without understanding the details of the finance and the negative implications of prospective first-time buyers of having PCP being detrimental to them accessing a mortgage. [14621/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 56 to 58, inclusive, together.

The majority of hire purchase agreements, such as PCPs, are provided to consumers through credit intermediaries. Under the Consumer Credit Act 1995, credit intermediaries are authorised by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) and when performing intermediary functions credit intermediaries are required to disclose certain information in writing to the consumer including the nature of the financial accommodation and details on the amount, number and frequency of payments, the total amount the consumer would have to pay under the agreement and, where applicable, the APR.

While intermediaries are frequently involved in the process, hire purchase agreements are ultimately provided by hire purchase providers and these providers are the entity which is the “owner” of the good let to the consumer under the hire purchase agreement. While hire-purchase providers themselves are not required to obtain a specific authorisation from the Central Bank (or the CCPC) for the provision of hire-purchase agreements, nevertheless this is an activity which is subject to statutory control and which contains important consumer protections. For example, Parts II and VI of the Consumer Credit Act provide that important information be disclosed in advertisements for hire purchase agreements and also in such agreements as entered into by consumers. This includes information on the cash price of the good, as well as the APR and hire purchase price.

Nevertheless, it is important to ensure that the regulatory framework governing the provision of PCP and hire purchase agreements is kept under review to ensure that the level of consumer protection continues to be robust. Following reports on the PCP market by the CCPC and the Central Bank, last summer I asked Mr. Michael Tutty to conduct a review of the PCP market and regulatory structure and his report was subsequently published by my Department last November. That report found that there was currently no evidence of consumer detriment arising from PCPs but nevertheless it set out a number of recommendations to help avoid possible problems arising in the future. The CCPC and Tutty Reports suggested that it would be desirable to ensure that certain provisions of the Consumer Protection Code (CPC) , in particular the relevant provisions on “knowing the consumer and suitability” should be applicable to PCP and hire purchase agreements and that the appropriate legal means of doing so should be investigated further. I have previously indicated that I broadly accept the recommendations and conclusions of the Tutty report and my Department is currently consulting the Office of the Attorney General on some specific issues raised in the report (including those in relation to the CPC). When a response is to hand, my Department will further engage with the Central Bank, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the CCPC on this matter. Also, in relation to the requirement to check the financial position of the consumer before he/she may enter into a PCP or hire purchase agreement, as the Deputy will be aware the Markets in Financial Instruments Act 2018 now provides that hire purchase and similar type agreements now fall within the scope of the Central Credit Register.

It is also important to enhance the level of public awareness of PCP products and to provide information in relation to financial services more generally, including information in relation to the costs to consumers and the risks and benefits associated with the provision of those services. In this context the CCPC has conducted several awareness campaigns in relation to PCP car finance in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and I am advised that it is developing a further campaign for 2019. I am informed that part of the CCPC’s information campaigns relates to the implications of a poor credit rating on future financial requirements.

Legal Costs

Questions (59)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

59. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Finance the body that will be liable for the losses in a case (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14624/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Notwithstanding that the Government profoundly disagrees with the Commission's analysis in the Apple State aid case, the full recovery of the alleged State aid from Apple has been completed with approximately €14.3 billion deposited into the Escrow Fund. The funds will remain in the Escrow Fund pending a final determination in the European Courts over the validity of the Commission's Decision. The ultimate owner of the Escrow Fund will be determined at that point.

In general terms, all income/expenses, including any gains or losses will accrue to the Escrow Fund. The arrangements in the Escrow Framework Deed include the agreement that all claims of ownership and access to these vast sums of money is suspended until the European Courts have concluded proceedings that the Government and Apple have brought.