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Thursday, 4 Mar 2021

Written Answers Nos. 34-58

Mortgage Lending

Questions (34)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

34. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if there are regulations preventing lenders from refusing credit or mortgage applications on the grounds of geography such as refusing credit or a mortgage application on the grounds that the applicant was resident in County Donegal. [12191/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

While regulated lenders must comply with the various rules within the consumer protection framework, the extension of credit by lenders to potential customers is a commercial decision for the lender themselves and each lender will have its own individual credit lending policies and risk appetite. It is therefore a matter for the lender to determine its own lending policies and the factors it considers appropriate in the context of its credit assessment. There are no geographic restrictions in regulations as set out by the Deputy in his question.

With respect to mortgage credit, there are regulatory requirements in place to ensure that lenders lend prudently. Before providing credit or mortgage credit, lenders are required to undertake thorough creditworthiness assessments to ensure a borrower will be able to repay. This assessment must take into account the individual circumstances of the borrower, including personal circumstances and financial situation.

More generally there are certain consumer protection requirements which govern the provision of mortgage credit to consumers. For example, the European Union (Consumer Mortgage Credit Agreements) Regulations 2016 (CMCAR) provide that, before concluding a mortgage credit agreement, a lender must make a thorough assessment of the consumer’s creditworthiness with a view to verifying the prospect of the consumer being able to meet his or her obligations under the credit agreement. The CMCAR further provide that a lender should only make credit available to a consumer where the result of the creditworthiness assessment indicates that the consumer’s obligations resulting from the credit agreement are likely to be met in the manner required under that agreement. The assessment of creditworthiness must be carried out on the basis of information on the consumer’s income and expenses and other financial and economic circumstances which are necessary, sufficient and proportionate.

In addition, the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012 imposes ‘Knowing the Consumer and Suitability’ requirements on lenders. Under these requirements, lenders are required to assess affordability of credit and the suitability of a product or service based on the individual circumstances of each borrower. The Code specifies that the affordability assessment must include consideration of the information gathered on the borrower’s personal circumstances and financial situation. Furthermore, where a lender refuses a mortgage application, the CMCAR requires that the lender must inform the consumer without delay of the refusal. In addition, the Code requires that the lender must clearly outline to the consumer the reasons why the credit was not approved, and provide these reasons on paper if requested.

If a mortgage applicant is not satisfied with how a regulated entity is dealing with them, or they believe that the regulated entity is not following the requirements of the Central Bank’s codes and regulations or other financial services law, they should make a complaint directly to the regulated entity. If they are still not satisfied with the response from the regulated entity, the response to their complaint from the regulated entity is required to include details for the borrower on how to refer their complaint to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman.

Ireland Strategic Investment Fund

Questions (35)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

35. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Finance the investigation or analysis that has been carried out by his Department to ascertain whether any part of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund is being invested in companies linked to grave human rights abuses against the Uighur population of Xinjiang, China; his plans to ensure that in future no monies of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund will be invested in these companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12212/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The NTMA has informed me that, as part of its ongoing monitoring, ISIF uses the services of EOS at Federated Hermes who are a stewardship service provider to engage on its behalf directly with portfolio companies on a wide range of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) matters, including human rights issues. ISIF, through EOS, is also connected to the Investor Alliance on Human Rights (IAHR) which is a collective action platform for responsible investment. Both directly and through the IAHR, EOS is currently engaging with a range of companies which operate in or have commercial links to the Xingjiang province and requesting that they provide details on due diligence carried out by those companies. This will assist in determining whether there is an adverse impact related to forced labour in or from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in their value chains and any related actions.

ISIF have indicated to me that it will continue to monitor this matter closely.

Ireland Strategic Investment Fund

Questions (36, 37, 38)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

36. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Finance the details of the State’s investments under the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in the arms industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12213/21]

View answer

Catherine Connolly

Question:

37. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Finance the details of the State’s investments under the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in the tobacco industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12214/21]

View answer

Catherine Connolly

Question:

38. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Finance the number of companies that are excluded from the NTMA’s list of possible investments; the names of these firms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12215/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36, 37 and 38 together.

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), which is managed and controlled by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), has a statutory mandate to invest on a commercial basis and in a manner designed to support economic activity and employment in Ireland. To the extent it is not reasonably practicable to hold or invest assets on this basis, assets are to be held or invested on a commercial basis with a view to seeking appropriate rates of return having regard to the risk and duration.

In 2020, ISIF adopted a Sustainability & Responsible Investment Strategy (S&RIS) which reflects a commitment to be a responsible investor as steward of public assets by protecting and enhancing both the long-term value of the ISIF and the reputation of NTMA in how it delivers its mandate, as manager and controller of the ISIF. In this context ISIF operates an exclusion policy which is consistent with its statutory mandate. Exclusion is used on a limited basis, reflecting exclusions mandated by legislation (such as the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018 or the Cluster Munitions and Anti-Personnel Mines Act 2008) and, inter alia , on sustainable investment grounds.

The current total number of companies excluded from ISIF’s investment portfolio is 278, whose names are listed below. This list includes companies involved with cluster munitions and anti-personnel mines, tobacco or fossil fuel exploration, extraction and/or refinement, as explained on ISIF’s website. It has recently been decided that the ISIF’s exclusion policy be extended to include direct investment in companies that have been verified to be involved in the manufacture and testing of nuclear weapons or critical component parts. This divestment process is currently underway.

ISIF's fossil fuel exclusion list is detailed below:

No.

Fossil Fuel Exclusion List

1

Aboitiz Power Corp

2

Adaro Energy Tbk PT

3

AES Corp/VA

4

AGL Energy Limited

5

Aker BP ASA

6

ALBERTA ENERGY CO LTD

7

Alliant Energy Corp

8

Ameren Corp

9

American Electric Power Co. Inc.

10

Anadarko Petroleum Corp

11

Andeavor

12

Anglo American PLC

13

Antero Resources Corp

14

Antero Resources Finance Corp.

15

Apache Corp

16

ARC Resources Ltd

17

Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

18

Ascent Resources Utica Holdings LLC

19

Banpu PCL

20

Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co.

21

Berry Petroleum Co. LLC

22

BG ENERGY CAPITAL PLC MTN RegS

23

Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd

24

BHP Actiton Ltd

25

BHP Actiton PLC

26

BP Capital Markets America, Inc.

27

BP Capital Markets Plc

28

BP PLC

29

BPRL INTERNATIONAL SINGAPORE PTE L MTN RegS

30

BURLINGTON RESOURCES FINANCE COMPA

31

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp

32

California Resources Corp.

33

Callon Petroleum Company

34

Caltex Australia Ltd

35

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd

36

Capital Power Corp

37

Cenovus Energy Inc

38

Centennial Resource Development, Inc.

39

Chaparral Energy, Inc.

40

CHESAPEAKE ENERGY CORP

41

Chevron Corp

42

China Coal Energy Co Ltd

43

China Petroleum & Chemical Corp

44

China Resources Power Holdings Co Ltd

45

China Shenhua Energy Co Ltd

46

Chugoku Electric Power Co Inc/The

47

Cimarex Energy Co

48

CLP Holdings Ltd

49

CNAC (HK) Finbridge Co. Ltd.

50

CNAC (HK) Synbridge Co., Ltd.

51

CNOOC Ltd

52

CNRC Capital Ltd.

53

CNX RESOURCES CORP

54

Coal India Ltd

55

Concho Resources Inc

56

ConocoPhillips

57

CONSOL ENERGY INC

58

Continental Resources Inc/OK

59

Corral Petroleum Holdings AB

60

Crescent Point Energy Corp

61

CrownRock LP

62

CVR Refining LLc

63

Delek & Avner-Yam Thetis Ltd.

64

Delek US Holdings, Inc.

65

Denbury Resources Inc.

66

Devon Energy Corp

67

Diamondback Energy Inc

68

DMCI Holdings Inc

69

DNO ASA

70

Duke Energy Carolinas LLC

71

Ecopetrol SA

72

Electric Power Development Co Ltd

73

Electricity Generating PCL

74

Encana Corp

75

Eni SpA

76

EnLink Midstream LLC

77

EnLink Midstream Partners LP

78

Ensign Drilling, Inc.

79

EOG Resources Inc

80

EP Energy Corp.

81

EP Petroecuador

82

EQT Corp

83

Equinor ASA

84

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd.

85

Eterna Capital Pte Ltd.

86

Evergy Inc

87

EVN AG

88

EVRAZ Plc

89

Exxaro Resources Ltd

90

Exxon Mobil Corp

91

FirstEnergy Corp.

92

Formosa Petrochemical Corp

93

Galp Energia SGPS SA

94

Gaz Capital SA

95

Gazprom PJSC

96

GeoPark Ltd.

97

Glow Energy PCL

98

Grupa Lotos SA

99

GS Holdings Corp

100

Gulfport Energy Corporation

101

Hess Corp

102

Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd

103

HKELECTRIC-SS

104

Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Inc.

105

Hokuriku Electric Power Co.

106

HollyFrontier Corp

107

Huaneng Power International Inc

108

Husky Energy Inc

109

Hyundai Heavy Industries Co Ltd

110

Hyundai Heavy Industries Holdings Co Ltd

111

Icahn Enterprises Finance Corp.

112

Icahn Enterprises LP

113

Idemitsu Kosan Co Ltd

114

Imperial Oil Ltd

115

Indian Oil Corp Ltd

116

Inner Mongolia Yitai Coal

117

Innogy Finance BV

118

Inpex Corp

119

Inter Pipeline Ltd.

120

IRPC PCL

121

Jastrzebska Spolka Weglowa SA

122

JXTG Holdings Inc

123

KazMunayGas NC JSC

124

Koc Holding

125

Korea Electric Power Corp

126

Kosmos Energy Ltd.

127

Laredo Petroleum, Inc.

128

LUKOIL International Finance BV

129

LUKOIL PJSC

130

Lundin Petroleum AB

131

LyondellBasell Industries NV

132

Marathon Oil Corp

133

Marathon Petroleum Corp

134

Matador Resources Company

135

MEG Energy Corp.

136

MOL Group Finance SA

137

MOL Hungarian Oil & Gas PLC

138

Motor Oil Hellas Corinth Refineries SA

139

MPLX LP

140

Murphy Oil Corp

141

NATIONAL FUEL GAS CO

142

Neste Oyj

143

Newfield Exploration Co

144

Noble Energy Inc

145

Noble Sovereign Funding I Ltd.

146

Novatek PJSC

147

NRG ENERGY INC

148

NTPC Ltd

149

Oasis Petroleum, Inc.

150

Occidental Petroleum Corp

151

OGE Energy Corp

152

Oil & Gas Development Co Ltd

153

Oil & Natural Gas Corp Ltd

154

Oil Refineries Ltd.

155

Oil Search Ltd

156

OMV AG

157

ONEOK, Inc.

158

Origin Energy Finance Ltd.

159

Otter Tail Corp.

160

Ovintiv, Inc.

161

Parsley Energy Inc

162

Parsley Energy LLC

163

PBF Energy, Inc.

164

Petroamazonas EP

165

Petrobras Global Finance BV

166

PETRO-CANADA

167

PetroChina Co Ltd

168

Petroleo Brasileiro SA

169

Petroleos de Venezuela SA

170

PETROLEOS MEXICANOS REGS

171

Petronas Capital Ltd.

172

PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna SA

173

Phillips 66

174

Pioneer Natural Resources Co

175

Polski Koncern Naftowy ORLEN SA

176

Power Assets Holdings Ltd.

177

PPL Corp.

178

PT Indonesia Asahan Aluminium

179

PT Pertamina (Persero)

180

PTT Exploration & Production PCL

181

PTT Global Chemical PCL

182

PTTEP Treasury Center Co. Ltd.

183

QEP Resources, Inc.

184

RANGE RESOURCES CORP

185

Reliance Industries Ltd

186

Repsol International Finance BV

187

Repsol SA

188

Rosneft Oil Co PJSC

189

Royal Dutch Shell PLC

190

RWE AG

191

Santos Ltd

192

Sasol Financing International Plc

193

Sasol Financing USA LLC

194

Sasol Ltd

195

Saudi Arabian Oil Co.

196

Seven Generations Energy Ltd

197

Shaanxi Coal Industry Co Ltd

198

Shanxi Lu'an Environmental Energy Development Co Ltd

199

Shell International Finance BV

200

Shenergy Co. Ltd.

201

Shikoku Electric Power Co Inc

202

Showa Shell Sekiyu KK

203

Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical Co Ltd

204

SK Holdings Co Ltd

205

SK Innovation Co Ltd

206

SM Energy Co.

207

SMC Global Power Holdings Corp.

208

S-Oil Corp

209

South32 Ltd

210

SOUTHWESTERN ENERGY CO

211

State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic

212

Suncor Energy Inc

213

Surgutneftegas PJSC

214

Targa Resources Partners LP

215

Tata Power Co Ltd/The

216

Tatneft PJSC

217

TC Energy Corporation

218

Teck Resources Ltd

219

TESORO CORP

220

Thai Oil PCL

221

The Chugoku Electric Power Co., Inc.

222

The New Zealand Refining Co. Ltd.

223

The Okinawa Electric Power Co., Inc.

224

TOSCO CORPORATION

225

Total Capital International SA

226

TOTAL SA

227

Tourmaline Oil Corp

228

TransAlta Corporation

229

Tullow Oil plc

230

Tupras Turkiye Petrol Rafinerileri AS

231

Valero Energy Corp

232

Vermilion Energy Inc

233

Vistra Energy Corp.

234

Vistra Operations Co. LLC

235

Washington H. Soul Pattinson and Company Limited

236

WESTAR ENERGY INC

237

WESTERN GAS PARTNERS LP

238

Whiting Petroleum Corp.

239

Wintershall Dea GmbH

240

Woodside Petroleum Ltd

241

WPX Energy, Inc.

242

Yanzhou Coal Mining Co Ltd

This list includes companies excluded in line with the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, 2018 and also ISIF’s High Carbon exclusion decision as part of its Sustainability and Responsible Investment Strategy (Dec 2017).

Below is ISIF's prohibited security exclusion list:

No.

Prohibited Security List

1

Aryt Industries Ltd

2

Bharat Dynamics Ltd

3

China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)

4

China North Industries Corporation (Norinco)

5

Elbit Systems

6

Hanwha Corporation

7

IMI Systems Ltd

8

L3 Harris Technologies (previously L3 Technologies)

9

LIG Nex1 Co Ltd

10

Lockheed Martin

11

Motovilikha Plants JSC

12

Northrop Grumman

13

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems Inc (previously known as Orbital ATK Inc)

14

Poongsan Corporation

15

Poongsan Holdings Corporation

16

Raytheon Technologies Corp.

17

S&T Dynamics Co. Ltd

18

S&T Holdings Co., Ltd.

19

Textron

The following list details ISIF's exclusion list for tobacco manufacturers:

No.

Tobacco Manufacturers

1

Altria Group Inc

2

British American Tobacco Malaysia Bhd

3

British American Tobacco PLC

4

Godfrey Phillips India Ltd

5

Gudang Garam Tbk PT

6

Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk PT

7

Imperial Brands PLC

8

ITC Ltd

9

Japan Tobacco Inc

10

KT&G Corp

11

Philip Morris CR AS

12

Philip Morris International Inc

13

Reynolds American Inc

14

Scandinavian Tobacco Group A/S

15

Swedish Match AB

16

Universal Corp VA

17

Vector Group Ltd

EU Issues

Questions (39, 40)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

39. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance his views on the introduction of a digital euro; the assessment of its likely impact on Ireland that has been carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12224/21]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

40. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the representations that have been made to him on the issue of a digital euro to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12225/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 40 together.

The European Central Bank published a report in October 2020, which examines the issuance of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) – the digital euro – from the perspective of the Eurosystem.

A digital euro would potentially be an electronic form of central bank money accessible to all citizens and firms. It would complement cash, not replace it.

The report raised a number of questions concerning how and when a digital euro could be introduced. The Eurosystem is conducting further analysis to fully understand the challenges and benefits that could emerge from the introduction of a digital euro. The technical implementation of a digital euro needs to be thoroughly tested and legal considerations carefully examined before any decision on issuance is taken. This item was discussed at Eurogroup in November 2020.

Towards mid-2021, having considered the responses received to its public consultation, the ECB will decide whether to launch a digital euro project. If a project is launched, policy decisions around the design and technical options will be reached by the Eurosystem, in consultation with European stakeholders including the European Commission. The Central Bank of Ireland, as a member of the Eurosystem, will fully participate in this important strategic initiative and engage with national stakeholders, including the Department of Finance, at appropriate points as this work progresses.

In my role as Minister for Finance I have not received any representations on the issue of a digital euro to date. To be of assistance, in my role as President of the Eurogroup I have received correspondence which referenced this issue:

- In October 2020 the ECB wrote in regard to the Digital Euro’s inclusion on the subsequently published Eurogroup work programme.

- In November 2020 an organisation called ‘Blockchain for Europe’ sent me the findings of research they had undertaken on digital payments.

- In January 2021 the ECB wrote noting that their public consultation on a digital euro had closed.

I welcome more detailed analysis, more information and more discussion on the potential development of a digital euro. My Department supports the examination of this issue and officials will work with colleagues in EU institutions to ensure that this concept is examined at an appropriate pace and all aspects are considered carefully and thoroughly.

Fiscal Data

Questions (41)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

41. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the assessment his Department has carried out on the possibility of financial instability or reduction in the tax base due to the use of cryptocurrencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12226/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The assessment of financial stability risks are discussed regularly at meetings of the Financial Stability Group (FSG), which comprises senior management of the Department of Finance, the Central Bank of Ireland and the National Treasury Management Agency. The FSG discussed global stablecoins at its meeting in September 2019. The FSG maintains a watching brief on any potential financial stability issues arising from cryptocurrencies.

The issue of the potential financial stability impact of cryptocurrencies is also under active consideration by European supervisory agencies and regulators. The European supervisory agencies have carried out much work on this issue over the last few years and on 24 September 2020 the European Commission released its Digital Finance Package. This contains a proposal for a new EU legislative framework for the Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA), which aims to enable markets in crypto-assets, including asset-referenced tokens (also known as stablecoins) and utility tokens as well as the tokenisation of traditional financial assets and wider use of Distributed Ledger Technology (e.g. blockchain) in financial services. This harmonised approach towards developing an appropriate regulatory framework for the markets in crypto-assets is welcome.

In April 2020 the Central Bank issued its response to the European Commission public consultation on the Markets in Crypto-Assets, highlighting the views of the Central Bank on crypto-assets. Its analysis highlights that the risks associated with certain cryptocurrencies such as so called global stablecoins include risks to financial stability, monetary policy, consumer and investor protection, legal certainty and compliance with anti money laundering/countering-financing terrorism requirements and these are a key concern. Among the key concerns is that the issuing of currency should firmly remain under the remit of the relevant public authorities (i.e. central bank). Where the reach or other features of cryptocurrencies or so called stablecoin risk it being perceived as a currency, or operating as a quasi-currency, then it should be prohibited.

At an EU level while the development of an appropriate regulatory framework continues, it is important to highlight that there is a consensus to adopt a conservative prudential approach towards crypto assets which is line with that set out in the European Banking Authority’s January 2019 report.

While the Department of Finance and the Central Bank support innovations that increase the efficiency of financial services to consumers, innovations are not supported that fail to reach the high standards and controls that protect consumers and underpin the integrity of the financial system or those which put financial stability at risk.

The potential impact of cryptocurrencies also continue to be the subject of analysis by the Financial Stability Board, and they have produced high level recommendations on the regulation, supervision and oversight of global stablecoins. The FSB intend to take stock of progress in implementing these recommendations later this year and report to the G20.

In relation the impact of cryptocurrencies on the tax base, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that it does not differentiate income derived from, or transactions involving, cryptocurrencies as separate from other income types or financial transactions when taxpayers are making declarations in relation to their income or profits. In this regard, the normal self-assessment taxation rules applies to taxpayers in relation to income derived from cryptocurrencies. The Revenue Commissioner operates a risk-based compliance framework that uses advanced analytics in a Risk Evaluation Analysis and Profiling (REAP) system to detect non-compliant behaviour. Risks in relation to cryptocurrencies are included in the Revenue Commissioner’s compliance framework.

Value Added Tax

Questions (42)

Matt Shanahan

Question:

42. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Finance if he will direct the extension of VAT rates at 21% beyond 1 March 2021 in view of the exceptional impact of Covid-19 restrictions and the continuing lockdown of business activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12262/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I do not plan on extending the temporary reduction from 23% to 21% in the standard rate of VAT beyond the 28th of February.

Tax Code

Questions (43)

Cathal Crowe

Question:

43. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Finance if an exemption can be made in the case of a family (details supplied) being billed for import tax in view of the extenuating circumstances. [12265/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that a person transferring their normal place of residence from outside of the EU may import their personal property free of import charges subject to the ‘Transfer of Residence’ conditions being met. One condition is that the importation of the goods must take place in the period six months before or twelve months after the transfer of residence occurs.

In the case raised by the Deputy, the goods were not imported within twelve months of the date of the transfer of residence in September 2019. I am advised, however, that Article 7 of the Council Regulation [(EC) No 1186/2009] governing reliefs from customs duty allows for an extension to the 12 months’ time limit in special cases. Revenue is satisfied in the case raised by the Deputy and based on the information as outlined, that Covid-19 impacted on ability to move the goods in a timely manner and can allow an extension to the time-limit subject to all other ‘Transfer of Residence’ conditions being met.

An application for relief from import duties is made on the form C&E 1076 - Transfer of Residence. This paper form is the declaration and the application for relief from import duties. The form should be submitted to the customs office at the point of importation.

The Transfer of Residence conditions are available on the Revenue website www.revenue.ie. Contact can be made with Revenue’s Transfer of Residence Unit at customsreliefs@revenue.ie for any additional information.

Banking Sector

Questions (44)

Steven Matthews

Question:

44. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to a number of banks issuing notices to customers regarding the introduction of negative interest rates including solicitor client accounts which will have knock-on charges for mortgage applicants who will see charges for transferring their deposit through this transactional account; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12302/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, as Minister for Finance I have no role in the day to day operations of any bank operating within the State including banks in which the State has a shareholding. I'm precluded from intervening on behalf of any individual customer in any particular bank. Decisions in relation to commercial matters are the sole responsibility of the board and management of the banks, which must be run on an independent and commercial basis. The independence of banks in which the state has a shareholding is protected by Relationship Frameworks which are legally binding documents that cannot be changed unilaterally. These frameworks, which are publicly available, were insisted upon by the European Commission to protect competition in the Irish market.

The application of interest rate charges is solely a commercial matter for the board and management of each bank.

Deposit balances and liquidity in general has risen significantly across the banking system in Europe in recent years as the ECB has continued to provide additional funds through their asset purchase schemes and long term refinancing operations. This has been further exacerbated by the Covid19 pandemic as households continue to stay at home and save and businesses defer investment decisions. This excess liquidity which has grown significantly in the European system has to go somewhere and in large part it gets placed back on deposit with the ECB who charge the banks -0.50%. The application of negative deposit rates by the ECB has resulted in European banks incurring a consequent cost on deposit accounts. The Irish banks are impacted in a similar way to their European counterparts. The banks across Europe have looked to pass some of the costs associated with negative rates to deposit holders with larger balances. The Irish banks are no different in this regard.

In passing on some of these costs it is important to note that banks cannot differentiate between customers in different sectors and for that reason the approach taken is to apply charges based on the size of the deposit balance.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (45, 46)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

45. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the number of appeals made to the Revenue Commissioners by businesses and persons against determinations made that the businesses and persons in question do not qualify for the for the Covid restrictions support schemes since the beginning of the scheme disaggregated by appeals made per week and the county of residence of the business or person making the appeal. [12303/21]

View answer

Pearse Doherty

Question:

46. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the number of successful appeals made to the Revenue Commissioners by businesses and persons against determinations made that the businesses and persons in question do not qualify for the Covid restrictions support schemes since the beginning of the scheme disaggregated by appeals made per week and the county of residence of the business or person making the appeal. [12304/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 46 together.

I am advised by Revenue that at end February 2021, 24,174 applications to register for the Covid Restriction Support Scheme (CRSS) had been received. Of those, 20,689 (86%) have been registered and payments of €333m have issued to those qualifying businesses. Of the remainder, 2,925 (12%) were not eligible for the scheme and 560 (2%) are still under consideration with further information requested from the applicants in support of their eligibility.

Revenue has also confirmed that where applicants do not appear to be eligible for the CRSS following the initial application review, notifications issue to the businesses outlining the eligibility concerns and requesting clarification within 10 days. To date, Revenue has received 676 responses to these letters of which 100 (15%) were found to be eligible and registered for the scheme, 531 (79%) were confirmed as ineligible, while 45 (6%) remain under review.

The legislation underpinning the CRSS provides for an appeal to the independent Tax Appeals Commission (TAC) where a business disagrees with Revenue’s determination that it does not qualify for the scheme. The appeal must be lodged with the TAC within 30 days of Revenue’s determination. To date, Revenue has been notified of ten appeals to the TAC.

The following tables set out this data by county and by month (it is not possible for Revenue to provide a breakdown of these figures by week due to taxpayer confidentiality concerns).

Table 1: Total number of initial appeals made to Revenue

Applications registered for the CRSS following initial appeal

100

15%

Applications refused access to the CRSS following initial appeal

531

79%

Applications under review

45

6%

Total

676

Table 2: Cases Refused CRSS Registration after initial appeal (by county)

County

Refused CRSS Registration

Dublin

149

Cork

63

Galway

39

Kerry

26

Kildare

27

Wicklow

18

Louth

19

Tipperary

17

Meath

18

Limerick

18

Kilkenny

17

Waterford

14

Donegal

16

Clare

13

Wexford

10

Other*

67

Grand Total

531

* Other includes all counties with less than 10 cases each.

Table 3: Cases Refused CRSS Registration after initial appeal (by month)

Month Ending

Appeals Received

30-Nov-2020

60

31-Dec-2020

180

31-Jan-2021

185

28-Feb-2021

106

Grand Total

531

Table 4: Cases Approved CRSS Registration after initial appeal (by county)

County

Approved CRSS Registration

Dublin

35

Cork

14

Other*

51

Grand Total

100

* Other includes all counties with less than 10 cases each.

Table 5: Cases Approved CRSS Registration after initial appeal (by month)

Month Ending

Appeals Received

31-Dec-2021

34

31-Jan-2021

31

28-Feb-2021

35

Grand Total

100

Banking Sector

Questions (47)

Brendan Smith

Question:

47. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance if he had discussions with a bank (details supplied) in view of its recent announcement in relation to branch closures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12374/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy may be aware, as Minister for Finance, I have no role in the commercial decisions made by any bank in the State. This includes banks in which the State has a shareholding.

Decisions in this regard, including the management of branch networks, are the sole responsibility of the board and management of the banks, which must be run on an independent and commercial basis. The independence of banks in which the State has a shareholding is protected by Relationship Frameworks which are legally binding documents that cannot be changed unilaterally. These frameworks, which are publicly available, were insisted upon by the European Commission to protect competition in the Irish market. The Bank of Ireland Relationship Framework can be found at the following link:

BOI: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/fc36e6-bank-of-ireland-relationship-framework-march-2012/

Notwithstanding this, Bank of Ireland provided me with a briefing in advance which was consistent with its announcement on the matter on 1st March.

Some of the key points contained in the announcement are:

The decision to close these branches is in response to changing customer behaviour with a significant acceleration in digital banking.

- The branches closing are predominately self-service locations which do not offer a counter service.

- To preserve local access to physical banking for those who want it, the bank has agreed a new partnership with An Post which will allow personal and business customers use their local post office for a range of banking services – including to withdraw cash and make cash and cheque lodgements – at no additional cost. The closing Bank of Ireland branches all have a post office within, on average, less than 500 meters.

- The bank confirmed that the new partnership with An Post will be available to all Bank of Ireland customers before any branch closes.

- Furthermore, the bank stated that there will be no closures for six months.

On staff, the bank commented that it will be working closely with all colleagues at these branches and will be setting out a range of options which include relocating to a different branch, moving to a new role in the bank, or voluntary redundancy for those who choose it.

The full Bank of Ireland announcement on the matter can be found at the following link:

https://www.bankofireland.com/about-bank-of-ireland/press-releases/2021/bank-of-ireland-announces-significant-changes-to-branch-network-and-local-banking-services/

Help-To-Buy Scheme

Questions (48)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

48. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if a help-to-buy scheme application will be concluded in the case of a person (details supplied); if all outstanding matters will be brought to a successful conclusion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12470/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the persons in question made an application for the Help to Buy (HTB) scheme on 29 October 2020. This application was approved by Revenue at that time but as no formal HTB claim was made by the persons, the application expired on 31 December 2020.

The persons subsequently made a new application, which has been approved by Revenue. Revenue has also contacted the persons to confirm the approval and to advise them as necessary on how to proceed to the Claim Stage of the process.

Freedom of Information

Questions (49)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

49. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the review of the freedom of information dispute resolution process; and the status of cases (details supplied) currently in the dispute resolution process. [12210/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The 2014 Freedom Of Information Act made significant changes to the process by which it is determined whether FOI applies to an entity. Rather than setting out a definitive list of the bodies to which the legislation applies, the Act instead listed the criteria by which it may be determined which bodies are subject to the Act.

In instances where a body has formed the view that FOI does not apply to it, but the Office of the Information Commissioner disagrees, then the matter may be referred to my Department in order to resolve the dispute.

A policy was subsequently put in place in order to give effect to this dispute resolution role but has proven challenging to implement.

My officials have now begun reviewing the Dispute Resolution Policy in order to ensure more timely and effective handling of dispute resolution processes in a manner that enables my Department undertake a thorough examination of all of the relevant issues before arriving at a decision. It is my intention that this review should be concluded in the coming weeks and a revised policy will be prepared as appropriate. The cases referenced will be addressed when a revised policy is put in place.

Office of Public Works

Questions (50)

Robert Troy

Question:

50. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if childcare allowances are made for OPW employees who cannot avail of external childcare facilities at present; and if OPW employees who have to care for their children on a number of days per week due to the pandemic have been instructed that they must use holidays for such days. [12321/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

Allowances are made for OPW employees who cannot avail of external childcare facilities at present. OPW employees who have to care for their children on a number of days per week due to the pandemic have not been instructed that they must use their holidays for such days. Flexible working hours have been made available to staff who have childcare responsibilities during the pandemic.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (51)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

51. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if State bodies can now make greater use of commercial cloud computing in delivering public services including in cases involving the processing, hosting or storing of personal information in view of his comments welcoming the publication of the Office of Government Procurement guidance note on cloud services and in order to support the public sector being at the forefront of digital transformation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12339/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

As the deputy is probably aware, in October 2019 the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform issued a Cloud Computing advice note. The aim of this note is to provide high-level guidance to assist organisations in making decisions in relation to the adoption of cloud services. Organisations should no longer decide whether to move to cloud for new or existing systems. The decision to be made now is what, how and when to move to cloud, which can offer a step change in carbon efficiency, security and value for money.

The document does not go into the technical and functional features of the infrastructure to supply a cloud computing environment and it does not recommend particular providers, products or solutions, either public or private. The advice is clear that while organisations may outsource their responsibility for the delivery of a service to a cloud service provider, they cannot outsource their accountability for that service.

It is the Government's belief that that now is an opportune time for a more proactive and progressive approach to embracing cloud computing and that all new government systems should be developed to exploit the opportunities presented by cloud deployment, where possible, and all existing systems will be reviewed for cloud capability for any category of public service information or system, except where such data would be classified as ‘top secret’ as per Circular 39/07.

The Office of Government Procurement guidance note on cloud services provides complementary help in the form of guidance on the mechanisms for procuring cloud solutions.

More information on the Departments Cloud Computing Advice Note can be found on www.gov.ie.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Questions (52)

Gerald Nash

Question:

52. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if correspondence has taken place between his Department and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces regarding the desire of an organisation (details supplied) for trade union status; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12345/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

In accordance with the provisions of the Defence Act 1954 as amended, the Defence Forces Representative Associations are currently prohibited from being associated with or affiliated with any trade unions or any other body without the consent of the Minister for Defence.

I am also aware that legal proceedings were initiated last year in relation to this issue. Accordingly, as this is a matter for the Minister of Defence in the first instance and it is now subject to litigation, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Questions (53)

Gerald Nash

Question:

53. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the European Committee on Social Rights report 2018 regarding the European Organisation of Military Associations v. Ireland Complaint No. 112/2014 (details supplied) that found Ireland had violated various articles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12347/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

In accordance with the provisions of the Defence Act 1954 as amended, the Defence Forces Representative Associations are currently prohibited from being associated with or affiliated with any trade unions or any other body without the consent of the Minister for Defence. Accordingly, this is a matter for the Minister of Defence.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Questions (54)

Gerald Nash

Question:

54. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on whether organisations (details supplied) were meaningfully consulted by his Departmental officials during the recent national pay negotiation talks; if the current structure for engagement with these organisations is necessary and sufficient for future national pay talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12350/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

My Department is committed to ensuring that the process of engagement between the parties to pay negotiations including the recent negotiations which were facilitated by the Workplace Relations Commission is based on fairness in the treatment of all concerned.

While the LEVEL 5 restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic presented very real challenges to the conduct of negotiations on a new public service agreement all parties were facilitated to the greatest extent possible. This included comprehensive engagement with all parties.

All organisations were involved in those discussions and were provided with drafts of key documents which formed elements of the eventual agreement reached.

A process of engagement with the parties began in 2019 and continued into 2020. In that regard all organisations attended multiple briefings prior to negotiations in November and December 2020.

The process of engagement continues and officials from my Department have met with all organisations in recent weeks to address queries on aspects of Building Momentum. The Government remains committed to according equitable treatment to all those in negotiations on public service collective agreements.

Unions / representative associations who decide to accept the agreement must notify the Workplace Relations Commission of their acceptance in order to be encompassed by the benefits of the agreement including Sectoral Bargaining the timelines for which are set out in the Agreement.

EU Directives

Questions (55)

Gerald Nash

Question:

55. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if all bodies under his aegis are in compliance with the Web Accessibility Directive EU 2016/2102 with regard to websites from 23 September 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12351/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

I wish to advise the Deputy that the websites of the National Shared Services Office and the Office of the Ombudsman are fully compliant with the Web Accessibility Directive EU 2016/2102. The table below lists the bodies under the aegis of my Department that are currently not yet fully compliant in this regard and the plans for full compliance during 2021.

Body / Agency

Current Position

Office of Public Works

The OPW operates in the region of 50 websites. Many relate to its heritage properties, flood relief schemes and information on flood plans. Compliance with current WCAG standards has been a standard contractual requirement for OPW websites for several years and tender documentation for all new websites requires conformance with EU Directive 2016/2102. An internal review to include an accessibility audit of all OPW websites is underway for the purpose of establishing compliance with current regulations and directives.

Public Appointments Service

The Public Appointment Service undertook a web accessibility audit in 2020, working with an expert in this field to identify areas for potential improvement in accessibility across its website platforms. The remediation of all identified issues began immediately, with a significant improvements in terms of compliance with the web accessibility directive implemented throughout the year. Some issues are still in the process of being addressed, namely branding and legacy systems. These are scheduled to be addressed in 2021, through the wider organisational digital transformation goals.

Regulator of the National Lottery

The website of the Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery is partially compliant in that it allows for increasing text for persons with visual impairment. The website was created in 2016 in a basic format. The upgrade of the website is planned for 2021, including bringing it up to the standard of the Directive.

State Laboratory

Work is underway to review website accessibility and address any non-compliance.

Public Procurement Contracts

Questions (56)

Gerald Nash

Question:

56. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the bodies under his aegis which procure their legal services through the Office of Government Procurement framework; the bodies which do not procure their legal services through the framework; the last time agencies that were not part of the framework tendered for legal services; if such procurement was carried out in accordance with circular 05/13; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12352/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Public)

The information requested by the Deputy regarding the procurement of legal services by the bodies under the aegis of my Department is set out in the table below.

Body

Legal Services procured through OGP Framework?

Rationale

Office of the Ombudsman

Yes

N/A

Office of Regulator of the National Lottery

Yes

N/A

Office of Public Works (OPW)

No

The Chief State Solicitors Office and the Attorney General’s Office are used by the OPW for legal services. Where these offices cannot provide the relevant services, the OPW manage their procurement in accordance with circular 05/13.

Public Appointment Service (PAS)

No

PAS does not procure legal services. In the vast majority of cases, PAS uses the services of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor for legal services. On a small number of occasions, PAS has availed of the contract that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have in place for specific legal advice on employment law matters.

National Shared Services Office (NSSO)

No

The NSSO last procured legal services in 2019. The OGP Framework was not utilised as the cost did not exceed the €25,000 threshold. In this case, an RFQ process was carried out, which is in line with Circular 05/13.

State Laboratory

No

Last tendered prior to Circular 05/13.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (57)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

57. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she met with representatives of the wedding industry to discuss the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on weddings and to ensure that these needs of businesses involved are taken into account by Fáilte Ireland when developing guidance on weddings; and if not, when she plans to do so. [12251/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Tourism)

Weddings are an important source of income for some businesses in the tourism sector such as hotels, and I meet with them on a regular basis, but many enterprises involved in weddings such as florists, bakers, hairdressers etc. would not fall under my remit.

In this regard to supports, hotels are eligible for a range of supports most particularly the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Covid Restrictions Support Schemes. In regard to other businesses, the Tánaiste recently announced that the COVID-19 Business Aid Scheme (CBAS) is being developed to provide grants to businesses ineligible for the Government’s other existing schemes designed to help with fixed costs. As part of this scheme, businesses such as wholesalers, suppliers, caterers and events companies among others down 75% or more in turnover will benefit from the scheme.

Officials in my Department have recently met with the Wedding Bands Association, as part of the ongoing engagement with the live performance sector. It is hoped that further details and decisions in relation to supports for the live performance sector will be announced shortly.

I understand the difficulties that restrictions pose for couples on their special day and the impact on businesses in the weddings sector. In regard to future restrictions, the Government has this week published the COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery Plan 2021 – The Path Ahead and agreed that the public health restrictions will be subject to ongoing review taking account of the evolving epidemiological situation and available evidence in relation to vaccine deployment, uptake and effectiveness. The focus of the assessment, based on the public health advice, will be on achieving the following before any significant easing of measures is contemplated:

1. Disease prevalence (case numbers/incidence) is brought to much lower levels that can be managed and controlled by public health and that the reproduction number (“R” number) is such that we can be confident that we can continue to suppress the disease e.g. at or below 1.

2. Hospital and critical care occupancy are reduced to low levels to protect the health service and allow for the safe resumption of non-COVID-19 care.

3. Ongoing and steady progress on the vaccination programme such that the most vulnerable are protected through vaccination.

4. Emerging information on variants of concern.

Any easing of measures should be slow and gradual with sufficient time between phases to assess impact and to respond if the epidemiological situation was to deteriorate. It will take account of emerging international and national evidence and experience and with a specific focus on supporting mental health and wellbeing.

Tourism Industry

Questions (58)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

58. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if her attention has been drawn to the importance of weddings to the domestic tourism industry; and the role of Fáilte Ireland in outlining guidelines for weddings. [12252/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Tourism)

I am aware that weddings are an important source of income for some businesses in the tourism sector, such as hotels. In that regard, Fáilte Ireland assists with the communication of the Government’s requirements and restrictions by including related guidance in the relevant tourism sectoral guidelines. With specific regard to weddings, relevant guidance is set out in particular in the guidelines for hotels and guesthouses. However many businesses involved in weddings, such as florists, bakers, hairdressers, etc., do not fall under my remit.

Last week, the Government published the COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery Plan 2021 – The Path Ahead and agreed that the public health restrictions will be subject to ongoing review taking account of the evolving epidemiological situation and available evidence in relation to vaccine deployment, uptake and effectiveness. The public health advice is that it is too early to say how and when restrictions should be eased given current uncertainties. Government will meet in advance of the 5th of April to review the level of restrictions. The focus of the assessment, based on the public health advice, will be on achieving the following before any significant easing of measures is contemplated:

1. Disease prevalence (case numbers/incidence) is brought to much lower levels that can be managed and controlled by public health and that the reproduction number (“R” number) is such that we can be confident that we can continue to suppress the disease e.g. at or below 1.

2. Hospital and critical care occupancy are reduced to low levels to protect the health service and allow for the safe resumption of non-COVID-19 care.

3. Ongoing and steady progress on the vaccination programme such that the most vulnerable are protected through vaccination.

4. Emerging information on variants of concern.

Any easing of measures should be slow and gradual with sufficient time between phases to assess impact and to respond if the epidemiological situation was to deteriorate. It will take account of emerging international and national evidence and experience and with a specific focus on supporting mental health and wellbeing. Public Health advice is that the Framework for Restrictive Measures continues to provide an appropriate mechanism to guide decision-making. As set out in The Path Ahead, this will continue to be applied in a flexible manner, adapting measures to address the public health risk at a given time in addition to any specific contextual considerations.

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