Brexit Preparations

Questions (1)

Michael McGrath


1. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the status of the preparations for a no-deal Brexit; the further steps he plans to take in the coming weeks to prepare for this scenario; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39206/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Finance)

The purpose of this question is to raise the issue of the preparations that are being made for all Brexit scenarios, in particular the possible scenario of a no-deal Brexit. Now that we are just five weeks away from the end of October, I seek more clarity on what work is ongoing with the European Commission on cross-Border trade and potential checks that may arise in that scenario, and if the Minister can advise the House and the public as to the overview and scope of what he is planning in the context of the budget in a no-deal scenario.

The Government has been actively preparing for Brexit since the referendum took place. While a no-deal Brexit will never be Ireland's or the European Union’s choice, the risk of no deal remains significant and, therefore, no-deal preparations have the highest priority across Government. The aim of the Government’s preparations is to make sure that Irish citizens and businesses are as ready as possible for a no-deal Brexit, as set out in the Government’s most recent contingency action plan. That plan set out in detail our analysis of the risks and impacts of a no-deal outcome across a range of key issues and sectors, and the extensive work ongoing across Government to mitigate these risks. The plan follows on the enactment of the Brexit omnibus Bill earlier this year and the roll-out of a comprehensive programme of stakeholder engagement. As Minister for Finance, my objective is to protect the economic and financial interests of the State and to support the work of the Revenue Commissioners so as to minimise Brexit disruption to trade to the greatest extent possible. My Department and its agencies are advancing preparations within the whole-of-government framework overseen by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Taoiseach. The Government has already taken important steps to prepare our economy in each of the last three budgets.

In response to the questions the Deputy put to me, on the overview of where we are from a budgetary point of view, that will be consistent with the budgetary framework I published as part of the summer economic statement, where I outlined the range of deficits that might be possible if we are in a no-deal scenario. There has been engagement with the European Commission, which has primarily centred on some sectors such as, for example, what could happen to agrifood in the future or the area of policy flexibility in respect of the deployment of our own resources.

I thank the Minister for his reply. While there may be a growing view in political circles that Brexit may not come to a head at the end of October and that it may not be the end of it, the reality is that we are now just five weeks away from a potential cliff-edge, no-deal Brexit. People who are engaged in cross-Border trade will want to know what stage these discussions with the European Commission are at. Then there is the "when" question. When does the Government expect to give people an indication, and subsequently the detail, of the measures that will be in place to protect Ireland's position within the Single Market, while also protecting the Good Friday Agreement and the all-Ireland economy? In the context of the budget, can the Minister confirm that in his no-deal Brexit package, he intends to set out an overall scenario that will go beyond the €2.8 billion package, perhaps well beyond it, but that the additional money will only be called upon in the event of no deal?

To work through each of the Deputy's questions, the answer to his final question is "Yes". My objective is to be outlining a set of supports that are available only in a no-deal setting. On the magnitude of the supports, while it would be up to each Minister to outline the detail of how funding would be made available in a no-deal setting, what I will be doing on budget day is announcing the overall framework and the figures that are against that. I refer to our engagement with the European Commission on how we will protect our place in the Single Market.

As we debated in the Committee on Budgetary Oversight recently, I have no doubt of the sensitivity and concerns the House and communities will have in regard to any measures we might have to contemplate in a no-deal setting, and I absolutely understand this. However, one of the issues we will need to consider, if we end up in a no-deal setting, is how we can continue to give assurances that Irish exports are consumed as Irish exports elsewhere in the Single Market. That is fundamental to our identity and our economic prospects as an exporting nation. That work is ongoing with the Commission but I want to re-emphasise to the Deputy that I am well aware of the many concerns colleagues have in regard to that matter.

To be fair, all parties in this House have adopted a very supportive position in regard to Brexit and we have afforded Government the time and space to work through these issues. However, we are coming to a point now, just five weeks out from a no-deal Brexit, where people deserve to know and will want to know because they want to make preparations and plans. Can the Minister tell the House and, more important, tell the people, when the details of the outcome of those discussions with the European Commission around what will happen in terms of cross-Border trade in a no-deal scenario will be made available and published?

In regard to the budget, he did not confirm the position I put to him, which is that the Brexit package that will only be deployed in a no-deal scenario will go beyond the €2.8 billion. Has he finalised at this stage the extent to which it will go beyond that €2.8 billion?

I acknowledge the supportive tone that all colleagues and parties have offered in dealing with the consequences of Brexit, in particular a no-deal Brexit. With regard to the Deputy's repeated question on whether the resources will go beyond €2.8 billion if we are in no-deal setting, the answer is "Yes". The consequences of dealing with more people becoming unemployed or of having to support parts of certain sectors will mean reducing a surplus we would otherwise have and moving into what I would aim to be a temporary deficit.

On the Deputy's second question regarding when the engagement with the European Commission will come to an end, much of that depends on the engagement that will happen between the EU and the UK in the run-up to the European Council. I take the Deputy's point. If we move into October, Irish businesses will need to know what the contingency plans are. To agree with a point he made earlier, if a no-deal Brexit is averted on 31 October by means of, for example, an extension, that means the risk then shifts fully into the year which this budget oversees. The risk, therefore, is still there and it is absolutely within the time period in which the House expects budgetary decisions to be made.

Insurance Costs

Questions (2, 3)

Pearse Doherty


2. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance his plans to implement further reforms in view of the increasing costs of insurance for many sectors and the escalating crisis in the market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39204/19]

View answer

Michael McGrath


3. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the steps being taken to protect businesses and voluntary organisations from increasing insurance costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39207/19]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Finance)

There is a full-blown insurance crisis in every part of the State. We see it in the experience of customers through escalating premiums, which is putting pressure and a squeeze on their incomes. We see it with companies closing throughout the State due to increasing premiums or, indeed, the fact that certain sectors will simply not be quoted for an insurance premium. This trend of businesses closing is happening on a weekly basis and, in some cases, on a daily basis. What is the Government going to do to address the fact we have a full-blown insurance crisis in the State that is hampering jobs, closing businesses and putting a squeeze on the pockets of consumers? Is it not time the Government stood up to this industry and ensured that workers and families were given a break?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 and 3 together.

Neither the Central Bank of Ireland nor I can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products as these matters are of a commercial nature and are determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept. This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance, which expressly prohibits rules that require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products. Consequently, I am not in a position to direct insurance companies as to the price or the level of cover to be provided either to consumers or businesses. A further constraint is the fact that, for constitutional reasons, Government cannot direct the courts as to the award levels that should be applied. In summary, therefore, there is unfortunately no quick-fix solution to this matter.

I wish to re-emphasise, however, that this issue remains a priority for the Government. The cost of insurance working group, established three years ago, is continuing to work to implement the recommendations of both of its reports. Its most recent progress update was published in July and shows that the vast majority of recommendations and actions due by quarter 2 of 2019 have been completed.

Looking to the future, some further measures will be carried out by Government over the next few months. These include the following the commencement of the remaining parts of the Judicial Council Act 2019, which provides for the establishment of a personal injuries guidelines committee. It is now a matter for the Judiciary to put in place the judicial council and to operationalise the personal injuries guidelines committee, which will introduce new guidelines to replace the book of quantum. This is an essential step if award levels are to be reduced. We will have the completion of the Central Bank’s feasibility study into adding employer and public liability insurance to the national claims information database, which is due by the end of the year. We will have the completion of the CSO's feasibility study into tracking the cost of business insurance, as it does with other forms of insurance, including motor. The CSO is due to report back to my Department by the end of the year. There is also the Law Reform Commission's work to undertake a detailed analysis of the possibility of developing constitutionally sound legislation to delimit or cap the amounts of damages a court may award in respect of some or all categories of personal injuries. It is expected that there will be a public consultation on this by the end of the year. We will also see the furtherance of measures necessary to implement pre-action protocols for personal injury cases, beginning with medical negligence cases.

I have been engaging with insurers to seek a commitment that they will reduce premiums and widen their risk appetite should there be a recalibration of award levels downwards once the new personal injury guidelines are introduced. In this regard, I am encouraged by the comments made by a number of insurers at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach in July that they would be prepared to pass on such savings in such circumstances. The Deputy should also note that a number of UK insurers that have recently exited the Irish market have also expressed a willingness to re-enter it in the event of a recalibration of awards downwards.

I hear what the Minister of State is saying on the issue of the Judicial Council Act and its execution. Implementation is crucial and we need to make sure that next step is taken. However, I fail to believe he fully grasps the magnitude of what is happening. Every week companies are closing. This summer, community festivals that had been running for decades did not run because of insurance premiums. Leisure centres, play centres and swimming pools have closed, and that is just over the summer months, and we only hear of the ones that make the headlines in the national media. A public participation network has conducted a survey showing 83% of its sector faced higher premiums over the past three years, a significant number had seen their premiums double, and more than 30% are paying on average €1,500 annually for insurance cover. This is damaging communities, jobs and the local economy. Worse than that, we have entire sectors, to which thousands of jobs are linked, including the inflatables, archery and paintballing sectors, in which companies simply cannot get a quote in Ireland or Britain. They are going to be out of business.

The Minister of State referred to the issue of awards. Awards have been reducing since 2004 and the number of claims that have been resolved through PIAB and the courts has come down since 2004. The only things going up are the premiums and the €227 million profit that these companies made on the back of Irish consumers.

The Deputy should please not question my grasp of the magnitude of this. I have put a significant shift into insurance to try to put us in a position where we recalibrate the awards. The biggest issue is the recalibration of the awards. I have acknowledged everybody's assistance on insurance issues in this House and the other House. Please do not question my grasp of the magnitude of this.

There is a really significant issue. Deputy Pearse Doherty said the awards are reducing. That is correct, but the problem we have is that the awards for minor injuries are increasing. These are the bangs, bumps and bruises that happen in everyday life. I have put on the record of the House that if these were to happen in people's brothers' or sisters' houses rather than a business premises that did not have insurance, they would not make claims. That is the single biggest issue we face and we must deal with it by reducing the awards.

Now it falls to the Judiciary. Deputy Pearse Doherty has heard my time schedule, which I have said I would like to see achieved by the Judiciary. It is to operate in parallel with the establishment of the personal injuries committee within the judicial council. It is a matter for the Chief Justice to select the seven judges he deems appropriate to review the guidelines. That can happen. I have requested that it happen for the five primary areas of personal injury insurance. This will set the barometer for the rest of the market and that can be done by the end of this calendar year if the willingness is there.

The fact that both Deputy Pearse Doherty and I have selected this issue for priority questions is a measure of how serious the situation is. The Minister of State has put great store on the judicial council legislation and the new award levels coming into effect, and he can say it is a matter for the Judiciary and so on, but that does not cut much mustard for those who are directly affected now. Will he restate the timeline he envisages as to when the new award levels will be confirmed and take effect? If he is saying, as the Minister of State in charge, that this is the single most important issue, when does he expect, and when does the Government believe, that we will see these new levels in place?

I must put the "what if" question. This does not affect only the leisure sector but, taking that as an example, as the renewals come on stream and people cannot get insurance, what if we see almost an entire sector not even unable to afford insurance but simply unable to access it? Those operating in the sector will have to shut their doors. This is spreading to other sectors as well, such as hospitality. This is a crisis. The Minister of State has put all his eggs in the basket of the Judicial Council Act, the Personal Injuries Commission and so on, but when will that have an effect?

I must reiterate that the schedule I have is the schedule I would like to see occur. I have the full support of Government on this, but we cannot direct the time schedule, unfortunately. The time schedule I have proposed is that the judicial council will be established by the end of this year. The personal injuries committee within the judicial council can be brought together by the Chief Justice, who has the authority to select the seven judges. He can do that by the end of this year. I have also requested that work be allowed to start on the five primary areas of personal injury. The main one is whiplash, followed closely by soft tissue injuries. I have asked that those five areas be recalibrated by the end of this year. I cannot say whether or not this will be delivered but everything I am doing is pushing for it to happen. This will send a very clear signal to the market that the awards will be reduced in line with the five primary areas. That covers about 75% of personal injury claims in the State. I went to London two weeks ago to meet the underwriters to highlight the work we are doing and the support I have, as I said, in both Houses, from my senior Minister, the Taoiseach and Government to implement this for the very reasons both Deputies have highlighted: the areas where people are not just priced out but getting no quote whatsoever, and-----

Go raibh maith agat. I will take both supplementary questions now.

I have made the point and I make it again: the Minister of State is not grasping or responding to the seriousness of this. We want the Judiciary to do what it wants, but my fear is that the Minister of State is swallowing the spin from the industry, just like he swallowed the spin about fraudulent claims. We know that the insurance industry has reported only 50 suspected fraudulent cases out of the tens of thousands it was suggesting are out there. The reality - facts speak loud - is that awards are dropping. In the High Court they went down from €85 million to €57 million last year; in the Circuit Court, where they went up slightly, by 2.3%, the total amount of awards was €23 million. The full quantum of awards paid out through the Courts Service dropped dramatically last year, yet the Minister of State tells us the solution to this is simply awards. It is not. A multi-agency approach and multiple solutions to this are needed and the Minister of State needs to stand up to the industry.

I therefore question him on this, as I have questioned the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Taoiseach. Have they sat down with Insurance Ireland? Have they told it we have a complete market failure here? We have thousands of jobs and an entire sector which cannot get insurance in Ireland or in Britain. Have they had that conversation? When the underwriter that used to underwrite these businesses moved its headquarters from London to Dublin, two Ministers issued press releases welcoming AXA XL. Have they lifted the phone to AXA XL and said, "Thank you for coming to Dublin as a result of Brexit, but why are you screwing over our indigenous business and withdrawing from the market?" They cannot have it both ways. The Minister of State needs to stand up to these companies.

Lastly, does the Minister of State have anything to say about the fact that the State pockets €230 million in taxes and levies as a result of the premiums that are skyrocketing and putting businesses out of business and workers out of jobs?

I ask the Minister of State to bring this down to brass tacks. Will he tell us where we are with the leisure industry? It is currently the most acutely affected sector, in which people are finding they cannot get quotes as their policies come up for renewal, and those businesses are closing every day. This is not a big bang because the policies are coming up for renewal at different times but it is happening across the country and we are seeing events being cancelled because these providers are simply not in a position to offer services because they cannot get insurance. Will the Minister of State tell us in practical terms what is being done to engage with the insurance industry to ensure that cover is available at affordable rates? I do not have any faith that we will see these new personal injury guidelines any time this year and I am not sure we will see them even next year, so I do not see where the hope is for people whose policies are up for renewal.

Finally, has the Minister of State any further information on the insurance fraud co-ordination unit within An Garda Síochána that has been announced? Can he give a reassurance that the necessary funding and resources will be made available in order that it can become operational and effective?

Regarding the Circuit Court figures Deputy Pearse Doherty has, the issue is that two thirds of the cases are for under €20,000. These are the ones doing the damage. They are doing appalling damage to the businesses and festivals he talks about and which everyone here is trying to protect. It is the small damages, the small claims, that are doing the catastrophic damage to businesses and companies.

I have met representatives of all the insurance companies and of Insurance Ireland and, as I said, two weeks ago I went to London to meet the underwriters as well. The message from the underwriters is very clear: reduce the awards and improve the methodology by which claims are presented to the system in Ireland. The best example was one case they presented to me - I did not see any names - in which an award of €8,000 was made with calculated fees of €40,000 clocked up over four years. That era must end. They are very clear that if that system continues in our jurisdiction, they are out and they are not participating.

Perhaps I have all my eggs in one basket, but it is the correct basket and the correct pathway with the Judiciary, the third leg of government in this State. We can get into a row and rock on down the road of perhaps having a referendum. I do not believe that is the way to go. The Judiciary has the opportunity to conclude in this calendar year work on the five main areas of reform for the guidelines. The hundreds more that will follow can happen subsequently, in 2020. Let us deal with the bigger areas that are doing damage and in respect of which the insurance companies are saying if this does not change, they will be out and will not come back.

Deputy Pearse Doherty should make no mistake: I am not pretending I am comfortable with insurance companies taking money from businesses and from people and entering into contracts with them for years and then just exiting and leaving their clients high and dry when it gets tough.

What about the leisure sector? That was the primary question asked by Deputy Michael McGrath and me. The Minister of State seems to have ignored that fact.

Regarding the leisure sector, the reason the schedule I have in place is to the end of this year is that I want the industry to be able to get insurance in the early part of next year for next year. I realise it will not be in time for everybody, which I am deeply saddened by. However, if we can get the Judiciary to reduce the guidelines - I have met all of the insurance companies here, Insurance Ireland and all of the underwriters in London - in order that in 2020 the directional flow of awards will be downwards, the insurance companies will then participate. The era of somebody who gets a bang or has a bruise getting €8,000 or €10,000 and €40,000 in fees is ending.

Brexit Preparations

Questions (4)

Michael Collins


4. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Minister for Finance if budget 2020 will be based on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit; his plans to make provision for timely and targeted measures for the sectors most exposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39218/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Finance)

Will budget 2020 be based on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit? If so, does the Minister intend to make provision for timely, targeted measures for the most exposed sectors such as fishing and farming? Will he make a statement on how, if there is a no-deal Brexit, the Government will ensure adequate support for both vital sectors, given that they will be hit severely by a no-deal Brexit?

As I indicated earlier, the Government has agreed that, purely for budgetary purposes, the forthcoming budget will be based on the assumption of a disorderly exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. It will, therefore, involve a twin-track approach. We will fund and seek to improve services that we make available to the public and, second, we will support sectors and regions that are most exposed to Brexit related disruption. As a no-deal Brexit would represent a permanent change in the trading environment between Ireland and the United Kingdom, support must be timely, targeted and temporary and, in the case of SMEs, geared towards firms that are viable. I am working with my colleagues in the Government on what the detail and funding for the plans will be. I aim to bring that work to a conclusion in advance of budget 2020.

I have been talking to many fishermen and people involved in the farming sector recently. European and UK fishermen have shared fish stocks and fishing grounds for centuries. They have harvested limited resources, some 100 shared stocks that know no borders. The Irish relationship with our UK colleagues has always been grounded on understanding and reasoned discussion. A no-deal Brexit would destroy the agreement that was in place. Others will be like wolves at the door, ready to devour Irish fishermen and our seas, if there is a no-deal Brexit or no agreement. Where is the fund that was promised to fishermen, not just to Irish fishermen but to all who share this resource? Does the Government realise we will have only our own waters in which to fish after Brexit and that we have no rights to fish in French, Dutch, Spanish, Belgian, Swedish, Polish or German fishing waters? On the other hand, our coastline is freely available to the fishermen of these countries. Has the Minister been in discussions with Ministers from other European fishing countries that will be affected by a crash-out by the United Kingdom and, if so, will he explain the type of compensation package that is being discussed for the fishing industry?

I am well aware of the effect a no-deal Brexit would have on the fishing industry and the displacement effect that would be caused by fishing moving off our shores as a result. On the question about the engagement I have had with other Ministers for fisheries, that engagement is being undertaken by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and I am working with him on it. As part of our no-deal planning, he and I will ensure issues relevant to the fisheries sector will be considered as we conclude our work on budget 2020. I fully understand that if a no-deal Brexit takes place, the parts of the country and economy that may experience the most immediate consequences are the fishing industry and the fishing community. I take the Deputy's point in that regard.

It is vital that the Minister have discussions with the European countries, the fisheries of which would be affected by a UK crash-out. Perhaps he might elaborate on the type of compensation package that is being envisaged for fishermen who may well lose 50% of their income and whose boats could be tied up at piers. The same applies to the farming sector. It is going through a very difficult time, as we have seen with the beef crisis and the protests. A no-deal Brexit could destroy the livelihoods of many farmers. At a meeting yesterday the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, estimated that a €1 billion Brexit fund for market support measures was needed. Again, what type of compensation package does the Minister have in mind for Irish agriculture, given that it is going through a serious crisis, especially in the beef sector? It is volatile and fishermen and farmers must have a very strong voice as we proceed. Fishermen need to know what the position is. Fishermen from Castletownbere and along the coastline, fishermen on the bigger trawlers and even inshore fishermen are asking me about it. There is a serious worry that there is no package in place and that no proper discussions are taking place, but I hope that is not the case.

We are facing potentially volatile circumstances. As I said, I understand the risk of vessels being confined to shore as a result of what could happen in a no-deal Brexit setting and what the immediate effects would be on income and the industry. The Deputy will appreciate that the figures behind the funds which will be much needed by those who find themselves under great pressure owing to a no-deal Brexit ultimately must also be affordable to the State and the taxpayer in the short to medium term. I would love to get the balance right. As I have said throughout my answers to this question, I am well aware of the pressure fishermen could face in that scenario and the Minister, Deputy Creed, has raised it with me on a number of occasions.

Tax Code

Questions (5)

Róisín Shortall


5. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance when the review of the special assignee relief programme will be completed; and his views on the fairness of operating such a scheme. [39219/19]

View answer

Oral answers (17 contributions) (Question to Finance)

I refer to the special assignee relief programme which many consider to be deeply unfair. The Minister promised a review of it. When will it be completed and published? What is the Minister's view on the fairness or otherwise of the scheme?

The special assignee relief programme, SARP, is an income tax incentive aimed at reducing the cost to employers of assigning key individuals in their companies from abroad to take up temporary, short-term positions in the Irish-based operations of the employer, with a view to transferring essential skills to Irish-based companies. For example, such individuals may be transferred to head up new divisions of the company or take charge of new product development.

In accordance with the Department of Finance tax expenditure guidelines, the SARP is the subject of an independent review which is being carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants. The review exercise affords an opportunity to look at all elements of the relief and also includes consultation with stakeholders. The terms of reference of the review include the continuing relevance of the programme; the performance of the programme in meeting its objectives; its particular features; the annual cost and the overall impact. The appropriateness of the current upper and lower limits on the quantum of income that should benefit from the tax relief is also to be examined, having regard to the objectives of the scheme and the principles of tax equity. The report is being finalised and I expect that it will be submitted to my Department in the next few days. It is my intention to publish the report in the context of the forthcoming budget and Finance Bill.

Our enterprise policy is based on export-led growth, of which foreign direct investment is an important part. Programmes such as the SARP have a role to play in allowing industries to develop in the economy that, in turn, generate the export performance on which we are dependent. However, I am conscious of the broader principle of tax equity. That is one of the reasons I made a change last year in respect of the maximum amount of income that could be claimed under the programme.

There are very serious principles underlying this scheme and it indicates a view within the Department of Finance and the IDA which is fundamentally wrong. There are skills shortages right across the economy but we do not offer sweetheart deals to other categories of staff. I have a real concern about this and cannot see any justification for it. I also have a concern about the complete lack of proper oversight of this scheme. I asked about it recently but the most up to date figures that the Department could produce were for 2016. This reminds me of the lack of data on the big pension funds that are getting huge tax reliefs and which are costing the State millions of euro every year. Why does the Minister not have information on how much this scheme is currently costing us? What is the projected cost of the scheme for 2019? This seems to be a secret kind of arrangement organised through the IDA on which we do not get any data. The Minister must come clean on this. We cannot have a situation where we have one law for the rich and another for the poor.

As recently as last year I published a report, which I shared with the Oireachtas, on the operation of this scheme and on the back of sharing that report, I made changes to it. For each of the years for which information is available, I have published the full cost of the scheme, including up to where we were at the end of 2016 and I will share with the Deputy and the House any information that is available to me in respect of the costs of it.

On the Deputy's allegation that this is a sweetheart deal in some way, the principles and the cost of the scheme are clear. A report is due to be submitted to me that I will publish and if that report makes recommendations to address potential issues in relation to equity, I will act upon them. In her own question to me, the Deputy acknowledged that skills shortages are an issue. If she acknowledges the existence of skills shortages and accepts the importance of exports to our economy, as well as the fact that every other country with which we are competing has schemes like this, then I hope she understands that it can play a role in our economy. I made a change to the scheme last year precisely because I wanted to address issues related to equity and fairness.

The Minister introduced a change last year, which brought the limit up to €1 million. Why on earth should we have a scheme where there is a minimum threshold required in order to get a tax advantage? It is only those earning in excess of €75,000 and up to €1 million who can avail of this scheme. This is an affront to ordinary workers, that is, people who are struggling to survive because of the policies of the Government as the cost of living here is going through the roof. Why should there be a special arrangement for people who are better off? Why does the Minister not concentrate on reducing the cost of living instead, which will benefit people right across the economy? There can be no justification for this scheme. While we do have a problem with attracting people with essential skills in different categories, the Department does not do sweetheart deals for all of the other categories of workers in areas where there are shortages. It is deeply unfair and the Minister must end this scheme. It must be scrapped and the IDA must stop entering into these kinds of private arrangements. It must stop depending on these kinds of unfair arrangements in order to do its work.

Comparable schemes operate in France, Holland-----

They do not operate in every country.

-----Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Finland. The Deputy has acknowledged the difficulties and pressure faced by many citizens at the moment, which I always acknowledge.

The Minister needs to do something about it, not just acknowledge it.

In addition, I had hoped the Deputy might make reference to the fact that we also have 2.3 million people working in our country and that incomes have grown in the first part of this year in a way that will make a real difference to the lives of people.

The Minister needs to get real.

The modus operandi of Deputy Shortall is to put questions to me and when I answer them, to interrupt me as opposed to considering the argument I am seeking to make. The argument I am seeking to make is that many of the countries with which we compete for certain kinds of work have schemes like this one. I will be fully publishing a report on the operation of the scheme. If that report makes recommendations on issues like equity and fairness, I will address them. I represent the ordinary worker and taxpayer too. The ordinary worker and taxpayer needs different forms of employment to be created and different forms of work to come into our country and there are some people who allow that to happen. This is not about sweetheart deals-----

This is about allowing Ireland to be competitive and ensuring that we can continue to create jobs-----

There are no figures-----

-----and investment in our economy.

We do not know how much it is costing.