Insurance Industry Regulation

Questions (126)

Michael McGrath

Question:

126. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his plans to regulate claims harvesting websites; the estimated number of such sites active in the market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53538/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

At the outset, it is important to note that while as Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation, my Department does not have a role in the regulation of claims harvesting websites in Ireland nor in the collection of data on the number of these websites.  Allegations of companies engaging in such practices were brought up during the Cost of Insurance Working Group’s consultation process, as well as through representations and Parliamentary Questions submitted to my Department.

My Department has considered this issue and has consulted with relevant stakeholders such as the Department of Justice and Equality as well as the Law Society of Ireland.  From these consultations, I am informed that claims-harvesting websites can hold themselves out as solicitor firms and purport to provide legal services.  The websites frequently refer to claims for personal injury and, in doing so, attempt to solicit and encourage site visitors into making claims for compensation.  Information received from site visitors with an interest in making such claims is then offered for sale to solicitors on an anonymous panel who contact the claimants directly. 

My understanding is that solicitors are regulated as to how they can seek business, most notably under the following legislation:

- the current Solicitors Advertising Regulations which replaced earlier 2002 regulations and were introduced on 1 June 2019.  These new Regulations retain restrictions specific on the advertising of legal services in respect of personal injury claims.  The prohibitions on non-solicitors advertising services of a legal nature that may induce persons to make claims for damages for personal injuries, together with the prohibitions on unqualified persons from either acting as a solicitor or pretending to be a solicitor, remain unchanged and will continue to be enforced by the Law Society, and

- section 62 of the Solicitors Act 1954 prohibits solicitors from rewarding or agreeing to reward unqualified persons for the introduction of legal business, i.e., payment of a referral fee.

The Law Society has informed my Department that, within the terms of its functions under the Solicitors’ Acts, it actively pursues claims harvesting websites.  From its various consultations, the Department has been advised that the number of active ‘claims harvesting’ websites operating in Ireland has drastically reduced in recent years from approximately 60 in 2016 to around 11 more recently, although this figure can fluctuate.  The Law Society states that unfortunately, the process of identifying the owners of the websites is often frustrated by the sophisticated ways in which the website owners conceal their identity.  For example, it would appear that many of the websites, which are operating in Ireland, may not actually be located within the jurisdiction nor within other EU countries.  I understand that this factor increases the levels of complexity of investigations, as it can be particularly difficult to establish who the owners of the relevant websites are. 

Notwithstanding these challenges, my Department has been informed by the Law Society that 29 websites have been removed from the internet since 2014, with six of these websites removed since June 2019.  Another two websites have been identified as belonging to a company that has gone into liquidation.

With the application of section 218 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015, solicitor advertising will no longer be regulated by the legal professional bodies as happens at present.  Instead, the Legal Services Regulatory Authority will maintain the restrictions of any advertisement which, in the opinion of the Authority, “expressly or impliedly solicits, encourages or offers any inducement to any person or group or class of persons to make claims for personal injuries or seek legal services in connection with such claims.”  The Authority will be undertaking consultations for the making of regulations for the advertising of legal services by legal practitioners, whether solicitors or barristers, under section 218 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015.  It is my understanding that the new advertising regulations are planned to come into operation in Quarter 1 of 2020.

In light of the above, it is clear that the regulation of claims harvesting websites is a complex matter but that the existing solicitor regulations have helped prevent such websites to evolve to become a more prevalent feature of the Irish personal injuries environment, in the way that they are in the UK, for example.  I am satisfied that the relevant professional bodies are pursuing such websites to the extent that they can in light of the challenges that exist.  Notwithstanding this, my officials will continue to monitor the prevalence or otherwise of this issue.  In addition, I would suggest that if anyone is of the view that particular solicitor firms are using such claim harvesting websites, they should report the matter to the Law Society/Legal Services Regulatory Authority for investigation.

Insurance Industry

Questions (127)

Michael McGrath

Question:

127. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if the Central Bank is notified by life assurance companies of instances in which claims on policies are not paid out on the basis of non-disclosure; if so, the most up-to-date statistics in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53540/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

In response to a similar PQ Dail Question No. 150 (Ref. 25484/19) earlier this year, my officials contacted the Central Bank of Ireland on this non-disclosure issue.  The Central Bank advised that there is no requirement on life assurance companies to report data on claims refused due to issues of non-disclosure, and therefore it does not receive such notifications.  In that regard, no statistics are available.

The Deputy will be aware that the Central Bank of Ireland’s Consumer Protection Code was introduced in 2006 and revised in 2012.  It requires firms to act honestly fairly and professionally in the best interest of consumers, and to act with due care and diligence.  The Code contains specific requirements in respect of the handing of claims, such as requiring firms to have certain procedures in place as well as requirements around the provision of information to consumers on claims.  While the Central Bank of Ireland does not adjudicate on individual consumer complaints, the Code sets out how a regulated entity must engage with a consumer on complaints, which includes complaints around the handing of insurance claims.

In situations where a person is not satisfied with the actions of an insurance provider in terms of the settlement of a claim, it is advisable that this person make a complaint to the firm's internal complaint resolution process.  The Consumer Protection Code requires that if after 40 days the complaint has not been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, the regulated entity must inform the consumer that they may refer their complaint to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO).  Investigations by the FSPO are free of charge to the complainant.

Finally, I understand that the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman’s website, www.fspo.ie, has a searchable database and it may be helpful to look at previous decisions the Ombudsman has made in relation to this issue.

Motor Insurance Data

Questions (128)

Michael McGrath

Question:

128. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount collected to date as part of the motor insurers insolvency compensation fund; his plans for the fund; when collections are expected to cease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53543/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Motor Insurers Insolvency Compensation Fund (MIICF) is an ex-ante fund which has been set up to collect contributions from motor insurers in order to fund the increase in compensation for third party motor claims from 65% to 100% arising from a motor insurer insolvency. This change was introduced by the Insurance (Amendment) Act 2018 and became operational on 1 December 2018. What it means in practical terms is that compensation levels payable from the Insurance Compensation Fund (ICF) for third party motor insurance claims as a result of a motor insurer insolvency are aligned with the compensation levels paid out by the Motor Insurance Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) where a motorist is in a collision with an unidentified or uninsured driver.

The 2018 Act requires motor insurers to contribute an amount equivalent to 2% of gross motor insurance premiums annually to the MIICF until it reaches €150m, and thereafter a rate of 1% until it meets its target level of up to €200 million, when contributions cease. MIBI is required to invest these monies prudently to ensure that they are available to recoup the ICF for 35% of any future third party motor insurance claim which it is required to pay.

Department of Finance officials have been engaging closely with MIBI in relation to its new role. On the 30th July MIBI submitted to the Minister the ‘Motor Insurers Insolvency Compensation Fund Annual Report for the year ended 31st December 2018’. This has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. At end-December 2018, following one month of contributions made to it by motor insurers, the total contributions made by members equalled €2,498,972.

It is not possible to say exactly when contributions will cease as that will depend on amongst other things the volume of gross motor insurance premiums written in a year and whether there are any calls upon the fund. However, if we were to base our projections on the amount of just under €2.5 m collected for December 2018, this would result in an annual collection of €30m a year, which means after 5 years, the deduction rate would fall to 1%. Therefore another 3 to 4 years of collection at this lower level would be required before the €200m threshold was crossed. This would suggest a period of 8 to 9 years before contributions cease in a steady state scenario, and assuming no call upon the fund during this period.

NAMA Portfolio

Questions (129)

Noel Grealish

Question:

129. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance the number, extent and value of housing developments, commercial properties and land under the control of NAMA in Galway city and county; the equivalent figures for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53567/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Deputy will be aware that NAMA’s role is as secured lender and the property assets securing NAMA’s loan portfolio remain under the ownership and control of debtors and receivers.

Set out in the attached file is information, in the format held by NAMA, relating to property collateral in Co. Galway that secured NAMA’s loan portfolio for each of the years from 2015 to end-June 2019. Changes from year to year reflect the impact of asset disposals activity, changes in the value of retained assets and changes in asset classification e.g. from ‘Land’ to ‘Development’ for sites on which development was funded by NAMA.   

I am advised that the NAMA website, www.nama.ie, includes a listing of all properties under the control of NAMA receivers, including properties in Co. Galway. 

NAMA secured assets in Galway

Departmental Staff Recruitment

Questions (130)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

130. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of new staff recruited to his Department from January 2019 to date; the title of each employment position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53643/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

 I wish to inform the Deputy that the number of new staff recruited to the Department of Finance from 1 January 2019 to 31 December 2019 and the title of each employment position is shown in the table below:

New entrants Jan 2019 - Dec 2019

Grade

Numbers

AP

2

AO

26

HEO

1

EO

4

CO

8

TCO

1

Intern

2

Special Advisor

1

SVO

1

Total

46

The total number of paid staff in the Department of Finance at the beginning of 2019 was 321. 

During the year there were 18 external promotions, i.e., people leaving on promotion, 18 staff retired/resigned or were dismissed and 17 staff members transferred out. Therefore a total of 53 staff left the Department during 2019.  There were also 18 internal promotions.

The number of paid staff at the end of 2019 will be 314, in addition to 9 vacancies which are in process to be filled.

Tax Compliance

Questions (131)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

131. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Finance if voluntary groups not legally recognised as charities but registered with the Revenue Commissioners as voluntary non-profit groups are automatically obliged to file annual income tax returns to the Revenue Commissioners; if not, if a voluntary non-profit group can apply to its regional tax office for written certification of an exemption to file for income tax by the Revenue Commissioners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53654/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that a “chargeable person” – that is, an individual or other body who is chargeable to tax for a chargeable period (for example, a tax year) – is required to file a tax return.  This could include a voluntary non-profit making organisation in receipt of taxable income.  Voluntary non-profit making organisations can register for tax using this form: https://www.revenue.ie/en/starting-a-business/documents/reg-form-voluntary-non-profit-org.pdf.

It is open to a voluntary non-profit making organisation to ask Revenue, under section 959N Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, to exclude it from the obligation to deliver a return of income.  This might apply if, for example, the organisation was no longer in receipt of taxable income.  The request for an exclusion should be sent to the Revenue branch or division dealing with the organisation’s affairs.  The exclusion takes effect when a Revenue officer delivers a notice in writing to a person stating that it is excluded from the obligation to deliver a return. 

The exclusion applies for the period specified in the notice or until the occurrence of an event specified in the notice.  If the organisation received taxable income in the future and thereby became a “chargeable person” again, it would be required to deliver a return.  Any exclusion under section 959N does not remove that person’s obligation to make a capital gains tax return, if applicable.

Cycle to Work Scheme

Questions (132)

Catherine Martin

Question:

132. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Finance his plans to extend the terms of the cycle to work scheme to cover pedal-assisted e-bikes and increase the eligibility financial limits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53710/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Cycle To Work scheme provides an exemption from tax on the first €1,000 of expenditure incurred by an employer in connection with the provision of a bicycle or safety equipment to an employee or director. The bicycle must be for the employee/director’s personal use in undertaking the whole or part of the journey to or from work.  Safety equipment includes helmets, lights, bells, mirrors and locks but does not include child seats or trailers.

The scheme applies to a pedal cycle, tricycle and a pedelec. A pedelec means a bicycle or tricycle which is equipped with an electric motor (with a maximum continuous rated power of 0.25 kilowatts) which cuts out when a speed of 25 kilometres per hour is reached, or sooner if the cyclist stops pedalling the bicycle or tricycle.  

It should be noted that the cost of a bicycle purchased under the scheme may be more than €1,000, however the exemption from tax does not apply above this limit.

I have no plans at present for any increase in the financial limit.

Departmental Advertising Data

Questions (133)

Robert Troy

Question:

133. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance the amount spent on advertising in 2018 and to date in 2019 on Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53744/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

My Department has worked closely with the  Departments of An Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs & Trade to provide relevant input to the extensive and wide-ranging Government Brexit communications campaigns of 2018 and 2019.  These campaigns have been focussed on providing information to citizens and business on the potential impact of Brexit, the Government supports available and the need to take mitigating action. No additional advertising expenditure has been incurred by the Department of  Finance.

Insurance Industry Regulation

Questions (134)

Robert Troy

Question:

134. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance when the national claims information database will be established. [53777/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, the National Claims Information Database (NCID) is intended to facilitate a more in-depth analysis of annual trends in motor insurance claims.  This is seen as key to developing an understanding of how claims costs are impacting premiums, in particular understanding the relationship between the price paid by a customer for motor insurance and the cost to insurance undertakings.  Following the enactment and commencement of the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Act 2018, and the subsequent making of the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Regulations 2019 (S.I. No. 174 of 2019), earlier this year, the NCID has been established in the Central Bank of Ireland. 

The Deputy will be aware that on Monday, 16 December 2019, the Central Bank of Ireland published the first National Claims Information Database Report on Private Motor Insurance, which includes aggregate data from the insurance industry.  The aggregate nature of the data collected has meant that there are fewer legal and technical complexities involved, and that is why it has been possible to have the NCID established and reporting so quickly. 

Both Minister of State D’Arcy and I commend the work of the Central Bank in bringing this Report to fruition.  We believe it is an excellent report, which provides an objective overview of private motor claims costs including legal costs over the last number of years.

I would hope that going forward the increased transparency brought about by the NCID, along with other legislative changes, can help to provide more stability in the market, thus avoiding the peaks and troughs for consumers in terms of premium pricing.  This should ultimately make the Irish market more attractive to new entrants and I would hope that this might be one of the outcomes of this exercise in time.

I believe that the Report shows that the insurance and legal sectors have both serious questions to answer regarding the difficulties we have faced over the last number of years with the price of motor insurance.

It appears that insurers under-priced in the early part of this decade and then increased premiums beyond levels that were needed to cover losses incurred and consequently are now making significant profits.  At the same time, the legal costs associated with the litigation settlement channel seem disproportionate when one considers that the report indicates that the award levels for those settlements under €100,000 are not much higher than equivalent settlements in PIAB.  In addition, the length of time to settle these claims is nearly two years longer than in PIAB, which in itself drives up the cost of insurance. 

While it is true to say that the nature or severity of the injury claims settled in the different channels can vary significantly and there may be good reasons for pursuing litigation, I believe that this report makes it clear that in overall terms, PIAB offers the most cost effective settlement channel and I would hope that its settlement rates increase going forward.  This is a key aim of the work of the Cost of Insurance Working Group. 

The NCID Report also demonstrates why we must address award levels in this country if we want to see cheaper insurance premiums and an increased risk appetite from insurers.  In this regard, the NCID Report shows that personal injury claims have been driving the cost of claims in recent years – representing 75% of the ultimate claims costs over the period.  This is not sustainable in my view.  This is all the more concerning as the Report shows that these increased costs are not being driven by a higher frequency of claims.  I believe that our focus therefore must continue to be on the Judicial Council and its publication of the new Personal Injuries Guidelines.

Personal Injury Claims

Questions (135)

Robert Troy

Question:

135. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance if the personal injuries pay outs will be published for properties under the ownership of his Department in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019, in tabular form. [53792/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

In response to the Deputy’s question, my Department owns no properties.  The State’s property portfolio is under the ownership and management of the Office of Public Works.

The State Claims Agency (SCA) manages third party claims for costs arising from all categories of claims taken against the State so that such claims for costs are contained at the lowest achievable level. Information on the SCA’s activities and its financial statements are included in the NTMA Annual Report and Accounts.

Notwithstanding the above, no personal injury awards arose in respect of the years 2016-2018 relating to properties managed and controlled by the Department of Finance.   Figures for 2019 are not available as yet.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (136)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

136. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Finance the capital expenditure by his Department in County Louth and east County Meath by location and facility provided or commenced in each of the past four years; the location and purpose of each such expenditure; the new and improved services provided as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53844/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I can advise the Deputy that my Department has no capital expenditure other than the routine acquisition of IT equipment and systems and certain premises expenses relating to the buildings it occupies.

Therefore, there was no capital expenditure by my Department during the period in question in counties Louth and Meath.

Electric Vehicles

Questions (137)

Martin Heydon

Question:

137. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Finance the status of the financial incentives for the provision of electric vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53874/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

From a taxation perspective, Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are eligible for relief from Vehicle Registration Rate (VRT) up to a maximum amount of €5,000. This relief is scheduled to end on 31 December 2021. In addition, electric cars pay a low €120 motor tax rate.

The rate of VRT applied to hybrid electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles is dependant on their CO2 emissions and the Open Market Selling Price of the vehicle. However, these vehicles are eligible for relief from VRT up to a maximum amount of €1,500 for hybrid electric vehicles and €2,500 for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. These reliefs are scheduled to end on 31 December 2020. 

From 1 January 2020, CO2 emissions thresholds of 80 g/km will apply to the hybrid electric vehicle VRT relief and 65 g/km to the plug-in hybrid VRT relief. Vehicles above these thresholds will not be eligible for these VRT reliefs. 

EU Funding

Questions (138)

Brendan Smith

Question:

138. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if European region development funding will be available to the northern and western region post-2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53699/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The post 2020 Cohesion Policy Legislative package, which includes the combined European Regional Development and Cohesion Fund Regulation, and the Multi-annual Financial Framework, which sets the overall EU Budget for the next programming period, are still under negotiation and remain to be finalised. However, I can confirm that European Regional Development Funding will continue to be delivered in all of the regions post 2020, including the Northern and Western Region.

National Lottery Ticket Sales

Questions (139)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

139. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the practice of issuing receipts for national lottery tickets checked in retail outlets has commenced; when this practice commenced or will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53471/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

I am informed by the Office of the National Lottery Regulator (ONRL) that the practice of issuing receipts for winning tickets checked by a retail agent has been in place since Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI) took over as operator of the National Lottery in November 2014.

All National Lottery terminals automatically print two prize payment receipts when winning tickets are validated for payment; one for the retail agent to retain for reconciliation purposes and one that must be presented to the player along with their winnings. This applies to both Draw Based Game tickets and Scratch Cards.  I am advised that the operator regularly reminds retail agents of the requirement to issue prize payment receipts to players.

When a ticket that is not a winner is presented to a retail agent for checking, the National Lottery terminal will display a ‘Not a Winner’ message on the terminal screen. While retailers always had the option to print a corresponding receipt for the player, since 23 September 2019 the ‘Not a Winner’ receipt prints automatically and should be given to the player along with the return of the original non-winning ticket.

Government Expenditure

Questions (140)

Michael McGrath

Question:

140. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the percentage growth in current spending, capital spending and total spending in each of the years since 2000; the percentage movement in GDP and GNP; the general Government balance in percentage terms for each year, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53545/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The expenditure growth rates for each year in the period 2000 to 2018 are set out in Table 1 of the attached spreadsheet. In order to provide a like-for-like comparison, a number of adjustments have been made to reflect technical changes to expenditure over the period.  

An adjustment to the year-on-year change has been made to reflect that, at the start of 2015, the HSE Vote was disestablished and merged with the Department of Health Vote. As a consequence, approximately €1bn of HSE income was not reflected in the Health Vote figure as it is collected by the HSE directly. This reduced the gross expenditure amount. 

A significant technical adjustment was also made and set out in REV 2018, relating to the funding of domestic water services. Following the enactment of the Water Services Act 2017, all Motor Tax receipts are to be paid into the Exchequer, rather than the Local Government Fund, and all State funding for domestic water services will be provided through the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Also set out in the attached spreadsheet, in Table 2, is the percentage annual change in GDP and GNP for the period 2000 to 2018 and Table 3 sets out the General Government Balance (GGB) as a percentage of GDP up to 2018. These figures are sourced from the CSO.

Projections for 2019 and 2020 for expenditure, GDP, GNP and GGB were set out in the Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which was published on Budget day. The end-year Exchequer Returns, published in early January, will provide an indication of the expenditure outturn for this year, with the final amount being determined in the Appropriation Accounts. 

Expenditure growth rates

Office of Public Works

Questions (141)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

141. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if an offer will be accepted to remove an OPW burden on lands (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53579/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

I understand from my officials that the Office of Public Works has sought further detail in relation to this matter.

In October 2019, a letter was issued to the solicitors representing the person referenced in the question from the Deputy.  A response has not been received to-date.  Once a response has been received, the offer made in relation to the burden will be considered by the Office of Public Works.

National Lottery Licence

Questions (142)

Michael McGrath

Question:

142. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he is satisfied with the level of oversight relating to the operation of the national lottery licence here; if issues such as breaches of the operating licence or regulatory breaches have been brought to his attention since coming into office; if so, if the full details of same will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53624/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

I have noted with concern the issues reported by the National Lottery Operator in respect of the operation of 3 games, where some of the prizes on offer could not be won by players of the Lottery. As the Deputy will be aware, the Office of the National Lottery Regulator was established under legislation, with a range of functions, including to monitor and enforce compliance by the Operator with the Act and terms and conditions of the Licence. The Regulator has been carrying out these functions, and reporting to me and to the Oireachtas, through an Annual Report, on a regular basis since the Office was established. The Regulator has already identified and acted on breaches of the licence, and details are set out below. In relation to this most recent issue,  I understand the Regulator is conducting further inquiries into this matter and I look forward to the report on the issues. 

As the Deputy will be aware, the National Lottery is an important State asset which has raised over €5.5 billion in funding for use by Good Causes, and which supports thousands of jobs across the Irish economy, since it was established in 1987. The National Lottery Act 2013 ("the Act") created the Office of the National Lottery Regulator to regulate the operation of the National Lottery through the following functions:

1. To procure the holding of the National Lottery.

2. To monitor and enforce compliance by the Operator with the act and terms and conditions of the Licence.

3. To consider for approval certain matters relating to the National Lottery (including schemes for National Lottery games.)

4. To exercise the enforcement rights of any trademark of the National Lottery

5. To manage and control the National Lottery Fund. 

The Operator of the National Lottery, Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI) is responsible for ensuring that it operates the National Lottery in compliance with the Act and the terms of the Licence. The Regulator must exercise these functions with the objectives of ensuring the probity and long-term sustainability of the National Lottery, that the interests of participants are protected, and, subject to those objectives being met, maximise returns for good causes. 

The 118 page Licence to operate the National Lottery covers a very wide range of aspects which relate to the operation and regulation of the National Lottery including: payments to the National Lottery Fund, testing of draw equipment, use of trademarks, and the Operator's obligations at the end of the Licence period. There are also four Codes of Practice in place, including a Sales Code of Practice, a Participants' Code of Practice, an Advertising and Promotion Code of Practice and a Vetting Procedures Code of Practice.

The Regulator is empowered under the Act to obtain any information she requires from the Operator, and to appoint investigators where appropriate. The Licence provides that the Regulator may withhold an amount from the payments due to the Operator if the Operator has failed, or fails, to comply with any provision of the Licence.

With regard to the operation of games, section 45 of the Act requires that, prior to its launch, the Operator must submit a scheme setting out the rules of the game to the Regulator for consideration and approval. The Regulator determines whether the scheme for a new game is compliant with the Act and the Licence. Where a game is approved, the Operator is responsible for ensuring that it operates the game in compliance with the approved scheme. If the Operator wishes to amend the scheme of an approved game, it must submit such amendments to the Regulator for approval prior to implementing any changes.

The Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery monitors compliance by reviewing and querying various reports and activities, spot checks of compliance, and proactive themed reviews. Full details of these activities are available in the Regulator’s annual reports on the Regulator’s website. Breaches may be detected through one of these activities or through disclosure by the operator.

Any breaches of the Licence or the Act are reported to the Minister, and subsequently the Oireachtas, in the Regulator’s Annual Report to the Minister in relation to the performance of his or her functions in the previous financial year pursuant to Section 22(3) of the Act.

This significant level of oversight reflects the importance of the National Lottery to the State. Since the establishment of the Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery, four breaches of the Licence have been reported to the Minister and no breaches of the Act have been found. Three breaches were detected by the Office of the Regulator and one was disclosed by the Operator.

In 2016, an analysis by the Regulator of online play data led to a formal investigation. Following this investigation, in 2017 the Operator was found to have breached the terms of the Licence regarding players who have elected to self-exclude themselves from online play.

Separately, regular monitoring of the Operator’s marketing communications in 2017 also led to a finding of a breach regarding the Advertising and Promotion Code of Practice. On foot of these findings, the Regulator issued directions to the Operator, and the Operator improved its controls on self-excluded accounts and withdrew the non-compliant advertisement.

During 2018, the Regulator determined that there were two instances where the Operator breached the Advertising and Promotion Code of Practice. One was a marketing email issued in error to non-subscribers; the other was a media release that breached the standards. The Operator improved its controls on issuing marketing emails and, in response to an instruction from the Regulator, withdrew the non-compliant media release.

Full details of these breaches are available in the Regulator’s annual reports for 2017 and 2018 on the Regulator’s website and these are outlined in a document attached to this response for ease of reference.

Additional Information

Departmental Staff Recruitment

Questions (143)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

143. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of new staff recruited to his Department from January 2019 to date; the title of each employment position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53648/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The information sought by the Deputy regarding new staff recruited to my Department during 2019 is set out in the table below:

Department of Public Expenditure and Reform 

 

Temporary Civilian Driver

1

Temporary Clerical Officer

6

Clerical Officer

14

Executive Officer

18

Higher Executive Officer

8

Administrative Officer

25

Assistant Principal

4

 

 

Office of Government Procurement *

 

Clerical Officer

13

Executive Officer

2

Administrative Officer

2

Assistant Principal

1

Principal Officer

1

Category Specialist ( Executive Officer equivalent)

4

Category Specialist Higher ( Higher Executive Officer equivalent)

1

* The Office of Government Procurement is a Division of the Department and has a separate Vote. 

Garda Station Refurbishment

Questions (144)

Robert Troy

Question:

144. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason the site preparations for renovation works at the Garda station, Athlone did not foresee the ESB requirements; if the new requirements will delay the project; if so, the expected timeframe; the new scheduled completion date; and if additional costs will be associated with the new works. [53666/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is managing the delivery of the new redevelopment of Athlone Garda Station.  

The Deputy should be aware that Athlone Garda Station had to remain operational during the construction period. To facilitate this, the construction project was spilt into three phases with an anticipated total construction period of 24 months which began in June 2018.  

The discovery and diversion of this high voltage ESB cable has caused a significant delay but the exact duration will not be known until the cable diversion works are completed.  

The OPW took all adequate steps to assess the site prior to construction stage. Prior to starting works on site, surveys of the site were carried out which did not reveal any significant risk with ESB cabling. The OPW also met with the ESB in 2010 and 2015 prior to the commencement of any construction works and this cable was not identified by the ESB as a concern.  

Based on the information to date and the assumption that the diversion works will be completed in January 2020 ,the revised contractor’s programme estimates substantial completion in Q4 2020/Q1 2021.  

The programme will continue to be closely reviewed and monitored by OPW so that delays are mitigated as much as possible. The OPW is working with the contractor to ensure delivery of a fully refurbished and extended Garda station, which will give Athlone and the Midlands fit-for purpose policing infrastructure to meet present and future demands.

Flood Prevention Measures

Questions (145)

Robert Troy

Question:

145. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason the flood defence works on the quays, Athlone have stalled; when works will recommence; and the date for completion of same. [53680/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

Westmeath County Council (WCC)is is advancing works to deal with the flooding issues in Athlone with WCC as the Contracting Authority and OPW funding the costs of flood relief works for the town in addition to undertaking the construction works.

The flood defence works on the Quay are ongoing and excellent progress is being made.  This week 15 meters of flood defence walls were poured and four masonry planter boxes were also constructed.  The completion of the works at the Quay is scheduled for the second half of 2020.