Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Tax Collection.

Ceist:

12 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance the progress made to date by the Revenue Commissioners with regard to the recovery of outstanding DIRT liabilities identified in the report of the DIRT sub-committee of the Public Account Committee, from individual account holders; the amount of money recovered so far from individual account holders; the average payment made in each case; the amount of outstanding tax written off; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28000/00]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that until recently their priority has been to complete the work arising from the look-back audits of the DIRT liabilities of the financial institutions. The Deputy will be aware that the Commissioners have recently made a report to the Committee of Public Accounts giving details of the total amount of £173 million in DIRT liabilities, including interest and penalties, determined as a result of these audits.

The Deputy has asked about the recovery of tax from the individual account holders. Revenue has informed me that the question of underlying tax on concealed income in bogus accounts will now be investigated by them. Given the potentially large numbers of accounts involved, the nature of the investigation requires careful consideration to ensure that the process of pursuing the liabilities is effective in recovering amounts due. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they hope to issue guidelines in the matter early in the new year after their analysis of the issues, including legal aspects, has been completed.

The Deputy will appreciate that in the circumstances the figures requested by her are not available at this stage. I understand a small number of individuals have made payments on account to Revenue in advance of the main investigation.

Can I take it from the Minister's response that the Revenue Commissioners are working from the information they acquired during the look-back audit on the financial institutions on individual taxpayers and deposits and that this is primarily behind the move they have announced in recent weeks?

The DIRT sub-committee of the Committee of Public Accounts is meeting at present. I understand the Revenue Commissioners will be before the sub-committee today or tomorrow when I am sure these questions will be put to them. Until now the Revenue Commissioners have concentrated exclusively in collecting outstanding DIRT arrears from the 37 financial institutions. The amounts paid have been published. A total of £173 million has been collected in the form of tax, penalties and interest.

The Revenue Commissioners have signalled their next business will be to consider how to deal with the underlying accounts. I am not in a position to inform the Deputy on what information they have acquired during the look-back audit. The purpose of the audit on the financial institutions was to collect outstanding DIRT from them. I am sure these questions will be put to the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners when he goes before the sub-committee.

Will the Minister indicate if the Revenue Commissioners have issued a statement of practice on this matter? Will their approach be to reach settlements with taxpayers who are in default, or will the emphasis be on the imposition of penalties?

The Deputy has touched upon a wide number of issues. The Revenue Commissioners hope to issue guidelines early in the new year, after an analysis of the issues, including legal aspects, have been completed. From my pre vious experience in another profession, if this was to be done in depth I do not know how many thousand man years would be involved. To undertake a proper look-back investigation takes an enormous amount of time.

The Revenue Commissioners will draw up guidelines to address this problem. I am sure they will be asked these questions at the Public Accounts Committee sub-committee. A wide number of issues are involved and when the Commissioners have completed their work with the financial institutions they will address them. It is a very complex area. We do not want to arrive at a situation, as the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts said recently, where all the resources are spent dealing with this over the next five or six years and a scandal emerges. All these matters must be considered.