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Thursday, 22 Apr 2021

Written Answers Nos. 20-38

Search and Rescue Service Provision

Questions (20)

Gerald Nash

Question:

20. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Transport his views on the comments made by the head of the Irish Coast Guard (details supplied) with regard to the awarding of the search and rescue contract; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20950/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

Transparency is a fundamental element of public procurement processes.  In the interests of ensuring transparency for all parties potentially interested in the Irish Coastguard Search and Rescue Aviation Project, my Department posts all relevant communications on the process on our dedicated webpage (Irish Coast Guard: Search and Rescue (SAR) Aviation Project) and on etenders.ie.  Full details regarding the procurement process can be found at those locations.  The project is an on-going confidential process which will ultimately lead to a Government decision on a successor contract award.  It would not be appropriate for me to comment on, or respond to, views of interested third parties, who have offered views in various media. 

I should highlight that Mr. Chris Reynolds is not currently serving as Director of the Irish Coast Guard and has not had any role in relation to this project.

Driver Licences

Questions (21)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

21. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport if he will extend expiry dates for initial basic training certificates of satisfactory completion for motorcyclists similar to the extensions previously provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20962/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

The validity period of Initial Basic Training (IBT) certificate is set out in legislation. Making a change to the validity of an existing certificate requires a change in law.   

I can confirm that the Road Safety Authority (RSA) has recently submitted a proposal to my Department for a further extension to IBT certificates.  This is currently being worked on within my Department. An update is expected shortly.

Transport Policy

Questions (22)

Holly Cairns

Question:

22. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Transport the way in which his Department and agencies under his remit encourage and facilitate employees to use active travel to commute to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21062/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Transport)

In addition to the significant increases in funding to our Active Travel infrastructure programme, my Department also supports a number of behavioural change programmes specifically aimed at encouraging employees and third level students to choose to commute via walking or cycling. The Smarter Travel Workplaces, Smarter Travel Campus Programme, which is overseen by the NTA, is a national, voluntary, behaviour change programme that works with large employers and third level institutions to implement workplace travel plans that facilitate sustainable travel on the commute and beyond.   

The Cycle to Work Scheme, which falls under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Finance, also assists employees with purchasing a bicycle to commute to work. Given its role in promoting Active Travel, I very much welcomed the announcement of increased thresholds under the Scheme as part of the July 2020 Stimulus package. The increases are in line with the commitment made in the Programme for Government.

The issue of facilitating Active Travel both for employees and across the general public will also be considered in the context of my Department’s review of Sustainable Mobility Policy which is currently ongoing.  I intend that the new policy framework will provide a strategic backdrop to the increased investment planned by this Government across the sustainable mobility programme, including Active Travel, and I look forward to the completion of this important work in 2021.

Help-To-Buy Scheme

Questions (23)

Brendan Smith

Question:

23. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance if the timeframe for applicants to meet the conditions for the help-to-buy scheme will be extended by the number of weeks that construction was closed down; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21071/21]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Help to Buy (HTB) incentive is a scheme to assist first-time purchasers with obtaining the deposit they need to buy or build a new house or apartment. The scheme gives a refund on Income Tax and Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) paid in the State over the previous four years, subject to limits outlined in the legislation. Section 477C of the Taxes Consolidation Act (TCA) 1997 outlines the definitions and conditions that apply to the scheme.

In summary, the process for a first-time buyer to claim HTB involves two stages, application stage and claim stage. At the application stage, the claimant notifies Revenue of his/her intention to make a HTB claim and checks are carried out to ensure the applicant satisfies certain conditions of the scheme. Once confirmed Revenue notifies the applicant with the potential HTB refund available.

 An application for HTB will remain valid until one or more of the following occurs:

(a) if it is discovered that the individual did not satisfy a condition of HTB,

(b)an individual’s tax clearance is rescinded, or

(c) 31 December (in the tax year in which the application is made).

In respect to point (c) above, for example where an application is made during the period 1 October to 31 December 2021, and a claim is made on foot of such an application in the period 1 January to 31 March 2022, the claim will be deemed to have been made in  2021.

With regard to the claim stage, Section 477C(3) TCA provides that a first time purchaser may make a claim for a HTB refund following the signing of a contract to purchase a home or, in the case of a self-build, following the drawdown of the first tranche of the relevant mortgage.

Revenue Tax and Duty Manual Part 15-01-46 outlines further guidance on the conditions and operation of the HTB scheme.

More generally, the future of the HTB scheme, beyond its current sunset date of 31 December 2021, is a matter that will fall to be considered in the context of Budget 2022 and the subsequent Finance Bill.

Tax Data

Questions (24)

Gerald Nash

Question:

24. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who have availed of capital gains tax relief on properties acquired between 7 December 2011 and 31 December 2014; the average amount of relief per person; the county or country in which the relief was granted in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20889/21]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

At the outset, I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to Capital Gains Tax (CGT) relief under Section 604A of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997.  

I am advised by Revenue that the latest available data available is for the tax year 2018, which is published on the Revenue website. Information in respect of the number of claimants and the amount of relief claimed is replicated below. The location of disposed properties is not available from tax returns information.

 Range of Gain Relieved

No. of Claimants 

 Amount Claimed (€m)

Exchequer Cost (€m) 

 €1 - €20,000

 202

 1.0

 0.3

 €20,001 - €40,000

 76

 2.3

 0.8

 €40,001 - €60,000

 55

 2.7

 0.9

 €60,001 - €80,000

 45

 3.1

 1.0

 €80,001 - €100,000

 30

 2.7

 0.9

 €100,001 - €200,000

 77

 11

 3.6

 €200,001 - €500,000

 69

 20.8

 6.9

 €500,001 - €1,000,000

 28

 18.9

 6.2

 €1,000,000 +

 50

 279.1

 92.1

 Total

 632

 342

 113

An update of the published information will be available over the next few months, when the 2019 CGT returns are fully analysed. It should be noted that the cost shown is only in respect of claims on tax returns filed and does not include any cost associated with property not yet disposed of or included in CGT returns that may become available at a later date.

Help-To-Buy Scheme

Questions (25)

Duncan Smith

Question:

25. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Finance the number of applications granted for the help-to-buy scheme by county in each of the years 2018 to 2020; the number of applications by county in each of the years 2018 to 2020 by dwellings which were purchased and built, respectively; and the average amount granted per application in each of the years 2018 to 2020, in tabular form. [20905/21]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Help To Buy (HTB) scheme is designed to assist first-time buyers with the deposit required to purchase or self-build a new house or apartment to live in as their home.

HTB has a two main stages: the application stage and the claim stage. Compliant taxpayers who complete a HTB application are provided with an application number and a summary of the maximum relief available to them under the incentive. A mortgage provider, broker, qualifying contractor or solicitor can use this summary to verify the relief available to the applicant, for the purposes of mortgage approval or drawdown, or signing a house purchase contract.

An application will progress to the claim stage where the applicant decides to purchase a property that is eligible for the scheme. Many applications may never progress to the claim stage because the applicant does not purchase a property or purchases a property not eligible for the scheme.

Claims made cannot be approved and paid until the qualifying contractor, or the solicitor acting on behalf of self-builder, has verified the claim. Claims are approved by Revenue in the vast majority of cases but at any given time there will be a number of pending claims awaiting approval.

I am advised by Revenue that annual and monthly statistics on the Help to Buy (HTB) scheme are published on its website. Both reports provide a geographical breakdown of HTB claims by county.

The following HTB claims (cumulative) were made by county in the each half-year period 2017 to 2020:

Help to Buy Scheme

* Revenue advise me that In certain periods Leitrim, Longford and Sligo data are not included as the numbers are small.

The following table sets out the claims (cumulative) by property type (including retrospective claims). Revenue advises that a breakdown of this information by county is not readily available.

 -

Total End 2020

Total End 2019

Total End 2018

Total End 2017

Type: Purchased (Retrospective   Claim)

1,068

1,062

1,042

1,001

Type: Purchased   (Non-Retrospective Claim)

16,486

11,994

7,223

3,387

Type: Self-Build   (Retrospective Claim)

399

375

343

292

Type: Self-Build (Non-Retrospective Claim)

5,196

3,516

1,682

621

Finally, Revenue advises that the average claims (rounded to the nearest €100) for each of the years from 2018 to 2020 are as follows:

2020: €20,000

2019: €15,200

2018: €14,800

Financial Services Regulation

Questions (26)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

26. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the legislation which governs financial and corporate behaviour is fit for purpose; if not, the changes he plans to make; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20927/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

Since 2011, the Government has enacted a broad range of primary and secondary legislation to address issues that arose prior to 2008, to provide more consumer protection and to ensure greater oversight, stability and sustainability of the Irish financial services sector.

The regulatory landscape has been utterly overhauled since the financial crisis, with:

- the Central Bank Reform Act 2010;

- the Central Bank Supervision and Enforcement Act 2013;

- the creation of the European Single Supervisory Mechanism in 2014

- the Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2018.

These, among other legal and regulatory changes have significantly changed the regulation and supervision of the financial sector. 

The Central Bank of Ireland is acknowledged now as being one of the most robust and challenging financial regulatory institutions in Europe.  

Additionally, like a number of other countries, we are advancing national legislative change to improve culture within the financial services sector. 

As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government includes a commitment to introduce a Senior Executive Accountability Regime (SEAR).  SEAR will drive positive changes in terms of culture, greater delegation of responsibilities, and enhanced accountability while simplifying the taking of sanctions against individuals who fail in their financial sector roles.

My officials are engaging with the Attorney General's Office in advance of submitting draft heads of Bill to Government so as to ensure that the correct balance is struck between appropriate additional powers for the Central Bank and the protection of individuals' constitutional rights.

It is my hope that the Heads of Bill can be published in July. This, however, will be subject to the Attorney General’s advice on the adequacy of the safeguards included to protect the constitutional rights at stake.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (27)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

27. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance if clarification will be provided on a matter regarding the Covid restrictions support scheme (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20929/21]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The objective of the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) is to support all employment and maintain the link between the employer and employee insofar as is possible. The EWSS “turnover test” has been specifically designed so as to target the subsidy at otherwise viable employers whose businesses continue to be adversely impacted by COVID-19 by requiring a comparison of the firm’s pre-pandemic operations with their current operations. The legislation provides that the employer must be able to demonstrate that they are operating at no more than 70% in either the turnover of the employer’s business or the customer orders received by the employer in Q1 and Q2 2021 compared with the same period in 2019. 

The EWSS has been a key component of the Government’s response to the continued Covid-19 crisis to support viable firms and encourage employment in the midst of these very challenging times. To date, payments of over €2.7 billion and PRSI credit of over €450 million have been granted to 48,500 employers in respect of almost 550,000 workers.

I have been clear that there will be no cliff-edge to the EWSS and, as the Deputies will be aware from announcements made on Tuesday 23 February, it has been decided that the scheme is now to be extended until the end of June 2021. 

Consideration is also being given to the fact that continued support could be necessary out to the end of 2021 to help maintain viable businesses and employment and to provide businesses with certainty to the maximum extent possible. Decisions on the form of such support will take account of emerging circumstances and economic conditions as they become clearer.

The Government will continue to assess the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy and I will continue to work with Ministerial colleagues to ensure that appropriate supports are in place to mitigate these effects.

The Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, the CRSS, is a targeted support for businesses significantly impacted by restrictions introduced by the Government under the public health regulations to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Small Business Assistance Scheme for Covid (SBASC) gives grants to businesses who are not eligible for the CRSS. This scheme is under the remit of An Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar. Specific queries in relation to that scheme should be direct to that Department.

For those businesses that may need additional support during this period, I would draw attention to the comprehensive package of other business and employer supports that have been made available since the July Stimulus Plan and Budget 2021 - the Credit Guarantee Scheme, the SBCI Working Capital Scheme, Sustaining Enterprise Fund, and the Covid-19 Business Loans Scheme. Comprehensive information on the supports available can be located at - https://enterprise.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/.

Defective Building Materials

Questions (28)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

28. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if the prices of properties that have undergone full remediation under the financial assistance scheme for the remediation of damaged dwellings due to defective concrete blocks have recovered to reflect remediation; and if his attention has been drawn to any policy retail banks have towards providing mortgages for properties that have undergone full remediation under the scheme. [21012/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

My colleague the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is responsible for the defective concrete blocks remediation financial assistance scheme and his Department will be best place to advise on the progress of the scheme including the number of properties which have undergone full remediation.

The mortgage lending policies of retail banks is a business and commercial and operation matter for each individual lender and I am not aware of, nor have I any role in, any policy retail banks may have towards providing mortgages for properties that have undergone full remediation under the defective concrete block financial assistance scheme.

Tax Reliefs

Questions (29)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

29. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance the reason the stay and spend relief is only applicable from October 2020 to April 2021 and not from July 2020 as was previously indicated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21042/21]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I refer the Deputy to the statement I made during the Dáil second stage debate of the Financial Provisions (Covid-19) (No. 2) Bill 2020 on 29 July 2020, and in particular the following extract:

"It [the Stay and Spend scheme] will run from 1 October 2020 to 30 April 2021"

 In relation to the rationale for the 1 October start date, I advised the House that:

"This will incentivise taxpayers to support registered or accredited providers of accommodation, food or both during the off-season, thus providing support to a particularly vulnerable sector that continues to be constrained by public health limitations." 

The purpose of the scheme was to support demand in the hospitality sector at a time when, notwithstanding the public health situation, demand might be normally be expected to be lower than throughout the summer months.

The scheme was legislated for at a time when there appeared to be a steady downward trend in infection rates and there was an expectation that the re-opening of the economy could be sustained uninterrupted. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and, with the exception of some short periods, public health restrictions have had the effect of impeding the operation of the incentive as originally envisaged.    

I am conscious of the exceptional difficulties that remain to be faced by the hospitality sector and in this regard I would note that besides the Stay and Spend scheme, other measures which are of significance are in place to support businesses generally, including the hospitality sector. These include the temporary reduction in the VAT rate from 13.5% to 9% with effect from 1 November 2020, the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme and the Debt Warehousing Scheme.

Transport Policy

Questions (30)

Holly Cairns

Question:

30. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Finance the way in which his Department and agencies under his remit encourage and facilitate employees to use active travel to commute to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21051/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Cycle to Work scheme is an action of my Department and Revenue that encourages people to cycle to and from work. Section 118(5G) of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (TCA 1997) provides for this scheme. This scheme provides an exemption from benefit-in-kind where an employer purchases a bicycle and associated safety equipment for an employee. Under section 118B TCA 1997, an employer and employee may also enter into a salary sacrifice arrangement under which the employee agrees to sacrifice part of his or her salary, in exchange for a bicycle and related safety equipment. Where a bicycle or safety equipment is purchased under the Cycle to Work scheme or through a salary sacrifice arrangement, certain conditions must be met. Further guidance regarding the Cycle to Work scheme and salary sacrifice arrangements can be found on Revenue’s website. The Cycle to Work scheme is available to all staff in my Department and is centrally administered for my Department by HR Shared Services.

My Department has a number of facilities to aid staff who actively travel to work. There are dedicated secure bicycle parking facilities across a number of locations and the installation of a dedicated bicycle repair station is currently in progress. My Department also has a dedicated drying room, where staff can dry wet gear. There are a number of shower cubicles in all buildings occupied by my Department, which staff can utilise as required and an increase in the capacity of shower cubicles is currently in progress.

Active travel is not an issue for a number of the 17 bodies under the aegis of my Department, namely the Credit Union Advisory Committee, the Credit Union Restructuring Board, the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and the Irish Financial Services Appeals Tribunal.

The Credit Union Advisory Committee is not a State agency, rather it is a committee set up to advise the Minister for Finance on credit union issues. The Credit Union Restructuring Board was operationally wound down in 2017, having concluded its restructuring work and is awaiting formal dissolution. The Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation and the Irish Financial Services Appeals Tribunal do not have employees.

The remaining bodies under my Department’s remit have provided the following on how they encourage and facilitate their employees to use active travel to commute to work:

Before moving to its headquarters in North Wall Quay (NWQ), the Central Bank of Ireland published a Smarter Travel Action Plan on its intranet site, aimed at helping staff with the move to the NWQ campus and encouraging a shift to sustainable travel modes such as walking, cycling and public transport. The welcome pack to the new building, shared in advance of the move, highlighted all public transport options in the near vicinity and estimated times to walk from public transport stations and stops. The Bank is also considering a post-pandemic travel survey for all staff. The Central Bank provides secure bicycle spaces, showers, changing rooms and drying rooms across its city centre campus to support/encourage staff to walk, run and cycle to work. These end of journey facilities, which include a bike maintenance station provide staff with the means to commute to work in a comfortable manner. Similar facilities are provided at the Bank’s premises in Sandyford. In addition to the Bank’s dedicated bicycle parking facilities, a Dublin Bike park is located close to the NWQ premises. The Bank’s Facilities Management team meets regularly with a staff cycling liaison group to discuss any issues, and ensure provision of safe, secure and efficient facilities. The Bank also advertises the Cycle to Work scheme for staff twice per year. In conjunction with other organisations in the area and independently, the Bank has been in regular communication with the National Transport Authority to review transport options in the NWQ district.

The Investor Compensation Company shares a premises with the Central Bank and all staff are seconded from the Bank. As such, any facilities provided by the Bank or measures taken by the Bank to encourage active travel, as set out above, also apply to the Investor Compensation Company.

Staff in the Credit Review Office are seconded from Enterprise Ireland. Enterprise Ireland (EI) is a body under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and as such EI is responsible for any measures taken to encourage and facilitate staff in the Credit Review Office to use active travel to commute to work.

The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General has a large number of bicycle parking facilities and can easily facilitate those who bike to work. The Office also has changing rooms and showers at its premises, to facilitate those who use active travel to commute to work.

The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council includes information on the Cycle to Work scheme in its employee handbook/HR manual. A large number of employees have availed of this scheme since beginning their employment with the Council.

The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman encourages employees to commute to work using active travel by promoting the Cycle to Work scheme and making facilities available for staff who cycle to work. On the implementation of its Return to Work plan, it will encourage active travel, both in the context of overall employee wellbeing and the potential impact on passenger numbers on public transport.

The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), Home Building Finance Ireland (HBFI) and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) are State Boards under my Department’s remit. The NTMA provides business, facilities and support services to NAMA, HBFI and the SBCI, and operates the Cycle to Work Scheme to encourage employees to use active travel to commute to work. The NTMA’s Treasury Dock building has various facilities to encourage walkers, runners and cyclists such as bicycle parking spaces, changing rooms and drying rooms for wet gear.  

The Office of the Revenue Commissioners has in place an active employee wellbeing framework that includes encouragement to employees to remain active to support their wellbeing. Revenue supports cycling to work via the government Cycle to Work scheme. Having regard to the current Covid-19 health restrictions, some 80% of Revenue staff are working from home. Those staff who are attending the workplace are advised to avoid the use of public transport and to walk or cycle to work where possible.

The Tax Appeals Commission has been actively promoting the Cycle to Work scheme for its staff and secure bicycle racks are available to meet the needs of staff.

State Pensions

Questions (31)

Gerald Nash

Question:

31. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance if there is specific evidence or analysis conducted by his Department that confirms that an increase in the State pension age would lead to significant long-term cost savings for the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21075/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

In March 2021, the Department of Finance made a submission to the Commission on Pensions, which is available on the Department’s website.[1] The analysis set out in the document attempts inter alia to quantify the likely budgetary costs of population ageing in order to inform the appropriate policy response. It builds on work undertaken by the Department of Finance in conjunction with other Finance Ministries in the European Union, together with the European Commission, through the EU Ageing Working Group.

While Ireland’s demographic structure is relatively favourable at present, shifting demographics in the coming decades will result in a slower pace of economic expansion and increased expenditure pressures putting significant pressure on the public finances. Recent projections from Eurostat point to Ireland having one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the EU over the coming decades.  Revenue increases will not be sufficient to fund all of these additional costs. This is because growth in the productive capacity of the Irish economy is set to slow significantly, as demographic trends weigh on additional labour supply. As public revenue evolves in line with economic growth, slower revenue growth will make it more difficult for the public finances to absorb the increase in age-related spending.

Up until the passing of the Social Welfare Act 2020, the State Pension Age (SPA) was legislated to increase to 67 in 2021 and 68 in 2028. The analysis undertaken by the Department includes analysis on the projected long-term cost of this change in legislation, based on the SPA remaining at 66 years of age for the projection period. While the analysis does not refer specifically to the impact solely on the Exchequer, the analysis suggests keeping the SPA unchanged at 66 years of age will result in significant additional annual expenditure on pensions. The increasing SPA scenario estimates that annual pension expenditure would be 0.9 percentage points of GNI* lower in 2070 than the baseline with an unchanged SPA. The estimated cumulative cost of this policy decision is projected to amount to approximately €50 billion by 2070.[2]

In addition, the Department’s analysis also foresees a significant impact on the general government balance and debt-to-income ratio as a result of population ageing. In a no-policy change scenario, age-related increases in public expenditure and a slower pace of revenue growth are predicted to lead to the emergence of a significant deficit by the end of the next decade, reaching around 3 per cent of GDP (4.7 per cent of GNI*). The deficit is projected to continue to increase sharply thereafter, reaching just below 6 per cent of GDP (9.4 per cent of GNI*) by 2070, without policy intervention. As a result of these developments, the debt-to-income ratio is projected to increase by 54 percentage points of GDP, (or 86 percentage points of GNI*) to reach 112 per cent of GDP, (182 per cent of GNI*), by 2070. The Department’s analysis estimates that maintaining the SPA at 66 accounts for nearly 20 percentage points of the increase in the debt-to-GNI* ratio of 86 percentage points to 182 per cent of GNI*.

[1] https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c199e-department-of-finance-submission-to-the-commission-on-pensions/.

[2] Assuming discount rate of 4 per cent per annum.

Banking Sector

Questions (32)

Gerald Nash

Question:

32. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the policy on the State’s shareholding in the banks (details supplied) should be reviewed given the recent developments and the consolidation within the banking and financial sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21076/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government does not see the State as a long-term investor in the banking sector and its policy of selling down its investments in the Irish banks remains unchanged. However, given the extent of these investments, this was never going to be achieved in the short term and was always going to require a series of sell down transactions possibly spread over more than one market cycle.

In relation to the Deputy's question on whether recent events should influence our thinking here, what the country needs is more private sector investment in its banking sector. Government can play an important role in many ways but it should not be a major owner of banks, which is about taking risk and deciding who should get credit and who should not. It is by definition a volatile business where one's investment can be severely impacted or even lost in extremis.

Significant progress has been made in monetising the €29.4bn originally invested in AIB, BOI and PTSB. To date, €19.2bn has been received in the form of sale proceeds, investment income and liability guarantee fees. The Department of Finance reviews opportunities on a continuous basis, to sell its remaining investments in these banks which are currently valued at approximately €5.5bn. Any such sales will be subject to market conditions and will be transacted in a manner which generates the best value for the taxpayer.

Central Bank of Ireland

Questions (33)

Gerald Nash

Question:

33. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance if he has met with the Central Bank to ascertain its views on announcements (details supplied). [21077/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, my Department and I engage with the Central Bank and the Governor of the Central Bank on a regular basis. Throughout these engagements my Department and the Bank discuss a wide variety of issues.   

This effective engagement with the Central Bank is accomplished through a mutual understanding and respect of the roles carried out by the Department and the Bank.

The Central Bank is entirely independent in the performance of its functions. The independence of the Central Bank is enshrined in the Treaties of the European Union and in the Statute of the European System of Central Banks.

Banking Sector

Questions (34)

Gerald Nash

Question:

34. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance if he sought the views of the Central Bank on a statement (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21078/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Deputy will be aware that it is the responsibility of the Regulator to set the level of capital which each bank is required to hold. These capital levels are determined within the context of a robust EU regulatory framework which is designed to ensure a safe banking system that can support the economic needs of each member state.

One of the key inputs in this regard is historical loss experience and, as is well understood, Ireland’s experience during the Global Financial Crisis was amongst the worst in Europe. Accordingly, Irish banks are required to hold more capital than in other jurisdictions for the same asset classes.

Two recent research papers by the Department of Finance and the BPFI analysed this matter specifically in relation to the level of capital required to be held by Irish banks for residential mortgages relative to other European jurisdictions. Both of these papers were consistent in their summary of the relative position and the underlying reasons for this. These papers are publicly available on the Department of Finance and BPFI webites.

Banking Sector

Questions (35)

Gerald Nash

Question:

35. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether a public review on the strategy for the banking sector should be undertaken to set out a vision for the future particularly at present when he is in a position of significant influence (details supplied).; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21079/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

The announcement by KBC Bank Ireland last week that it is leaving is a very significant development for the retail financial sector in Ireland, particularly as it comes so soon after NatWest’s decision to withdraw Ulster Bank from the Irish market. Firstly, I am concerned about the impact of this decision for KBC’s staff and customers.  It also raises concerns regarding wider issues in the retail financial sector, in particular for competition and for the sustainability of the sector. Sustainable and responsible competition in the retail financial sector is vital to ensuring that businesses and consumers have a range of banking options available when using financial services and accessing credit. 

My Department and I keep the policy framework for the banking sector under regular review and, in light of the events of the past few months, will further examine the policy framework to ensure that it supports a sustainable and competitive dynamic within the retail financial sector. 

I presume when the Deputy is referring to me, as Minister, being in a position of significant influence, he is referring to the shareholding held by me on behalf of the State in AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB. However, as the Deputy will be aware, 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.  Accordingly, I cannot interfere in the operations or strategy decisions taken by the banks on a commercial basis.

Banking Sector

Questions (36)

Gerald Nash

Question:

36. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether local control of at least one Irish bank is very important to the development of the small Irish economy in a globalised world and to assist the operation of businesses by SMEs and taxpayers in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21080/21]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The Government does not see the State as a long-term investor in the banking sector and its policy of selling down its investments in the Irish banks remains unchanged. However, given the extent of these investments, this was never going to be achieved in the short term and was always going to require a series of sell down transactions possibly spread over more than one market cycle.

In relation to the Deputy's question on my views on retaining control of at least one bank, what the country needs is more private sector investment in its banking sector. Government can and does play an important role in many ways, providing various support schemes for instance, but it should not be a major owner of banks, which is about taking risk and deciding who should get credit and who should not. It is by definition a volatile business where one's investment can be severely impacted or even lost in extremis.

Significant progress has been made in monetising the €29.4bn originally invested in AIB, BOI and PTSB. To date, €19.2bn has been received in the form of sale proceeds, investment income and liability guarantee fees. The Department of Finance reviews opportunities on a continuous basis, to sell its remaining investments in these banks which are currently valued at approximately €5.5bn. Any such sales will be subject to market conditions and will be transacted in a manner which generates the best value for the taxpayer.

National Children's Science Centre

Questions (37)

Gerald Nash

Question:

37. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of the planned national children’s science centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20888/21]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Children’s Science Centre project is currently the subject of Arbitration proceedings with its promoters, the Irish Children’s Museum Ltd (ICML).  As the matter is subject to an Arbitration process,  it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this stage.

Coastal Protection

Questions (38)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

38. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the status of an application (details supplied); if the project is to be funded by the Office of Public Works; if so, the cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20958/21]

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Written answers (Question to Public)

It is a matter for Local Authorities, in the first instance, to assess and address problems of coastal erosion in their areas.  Where necessary, Local Authorities may put forward proposals to relevant central Government Departments, including the OPW, for funding of appropriate measures depending on the infrastructure or assets under threat.

In this regard, the OPW Minor Flood Mitigation Works & Coastal Protection Scheme provides funding to Local Authorities to undertake minor flood mitigation or coastal protection works or studies, costing less than €0.75 million each, to address localised flooding and coastal protection problems within their administrative areas. Funding for coastal erosion risk management studies may also be applied for under this scheme. Funding of up to 90% of the cost is available for projects which meet the eligibility criteria including a requirement that the proposed measures are cost beneficial. The OPW has published guidelines for coastal erosion risk management measures and funding applications under the Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme, available on the OPW website – www.gov.ie/opw.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that Wexford County Council has been notified that funding of €36,000 has been approved for an application submitted under the OPW Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection scheme for the Detailed Design Study for the Seaview, Kilmore Coastal Protection Scheme. 

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