Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Corporation Tax

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

6. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if consideration will be given to establishing another review on the sustainability of corporation tax receipts along the lines of the Coffey review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7370/19]

This question is very similar to a previous priority question so I do not intend to press the issue. However, I would like to take the opportunity to raise a related point. The Minister, in his earlier answer, said that there were evolving issues that could result in downward pressure on corporation tax receipts and other issues that could result in receipts getting even stronger. What does the Minister make of Deputy Commissioner Moscovici's remarks during the week to the effect that Ireland and "other headstrong states", as he said, prevented the digital tax proposals from coming into effect? Can he confirm that it remains the Government's position that taxation decisions should require unanimity and that we do not support a move to qualified majority voting in respect of corporation tax, which might have an impact on receipts?

Before I refer back to the comment the Deputy made, it is the case that my position is unchanged in terms of how taxation decisions are made within the European Union. I have been at the forefront of making this case over the last 18 months. The difference now is the growing number of countries which feel the same way about how taxation decisions are made: they are now aware of the need for that case to be made. Ireland has been involved in making that case for quite a while.

On Deputy Commissioner Moscovici's description of Ireland, I may have been headstrong but I have been defending our national interest on this issue over the last year and a half. I believe that the way in which the digital economy is taxed will change. Ireland has to be a part of that journey and we have to be constructive in that regard. The safest way that can happen is on a global basis, through the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation and Development, OECD. I repeat to the Deputy what I have said on previous occasions here and in other fora; if Europe takes it own path on this issue there will be consequences and I am concerned that Ireland will be at the fore of experiencing those consequences. We should approach this in the same way we approached the BEPS process and be willing to make changes that at times can have consequences for us, but make sure that it is done in a co-ordinated way with global partners, ensuring that it tries to minimise a trade risk. That is the safest journey for Ireland to take.

Can the Minister provide a comment on recent reports that the OECD is moving ahead, perhaps faster than expected, with its own proposals around taxing the digital economy? I am aware that Pascal Saint-Amans has made some remarks, and it has certainly been reported that OECD plans are more advanced than we had understood them to be. Can the Minister confirm whether his Department and officials have been working in an intensive way in recent weeks and months at OECD level? Can he provide an update on that matter? Is the Minister expecting the OECD to bring forward fleshed-out proposals in this space sooner rather than later?

The timeline the OECD is now meeting is a revised timeline that was put in place last year. The Deputy may recall last summer, in the aftermath of an informal meeting of European finance ministers, when the OECD committed to revised timelines and said that it would seek to pursue this work in what they said was an inclusive format and seek to publish a roadmap to cover this year. I believe those revised timelines will be met. My officials have been participating in these discussions over the last number of weeks. It is likely that the OECD will begin to publish different options regarding how it believes this issue can be progressed. There are many, many differing views within the OECD on how this issue can be dealt with.

Credit Union Lending

John Curran

Ceist:

7. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Finance the steps he is taking and the progress made in establishing a mechanism that would allow and facilitate funds from an organisation (details supplied) be invested in social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7150/19]

Question No. 7 is in the name of Deputy John Curran, and Deputy Michael McGrath has been nominated.

This question concerns the Irish League of Credit Unions, ILCU, which has put in place a mechanism which would enable funds held by the ILCU to be put to good use for social housing through approved housing bodies. Can the Minister provide an update on that to the House?

This is a question that has been asked, and answered, many times. I last answered it in the Dáil last October and my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, also answered it during oral parliamentary questions a few weeks ago. Each time, it has clearly been stated that the Government is not and has never committed to establishing a special purpose vehicle, SPV, on behalf of the organisation mentioned by the Deputy. There has been extensive engagement from my Department and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government with this organisation since 2015. Following analysis of its two proposals and meetings with the organisation in question, both Departments stated in writing that the second of the proposed models, the establishment of an SPV by credit unions, was the most suitable. In July 2016, Rebuilding Ireland separately committed to establishing an innovation fund to support the development of innovative financial models. It has been repeatedly clarified both in writing and indeed in answers to parliamentary questions that this commitment was not to establish a State-owned SPV, but rather to provide funding to help develop a sector-led approved housing body SPV.

In respect of supporting credit unions in the provision of funding for social housing, the role of the Government and the Central Bank is to ensure there are is an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework. In this regard, the Central Bank has now revised the credit union investment regulations to enable credit unions to invest in social housing via an SPV.

In summary, the Minister is saying this is not an issue for his Department or the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. There is no ongoing body of work being undertaken in this space. My understanding of what the Minister of State, Deputy English, said was that by the end of the first quarter of this year, work would be completed to facilitate the SPV that we have spoken about. The SPV would be developed, as I understand it, by the Irish Council for Social Housing and the objective was to facilitate the use of funding for the development of social housing by approved housing bodies. The Departments have a role in facilitating that. The Minister of State was certainly giving a commitment that work will be done in the first quarter of 2019. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that matter. Will the SPV, if and when it is established, meet the regulatory requirement of the Central Bank in respect of credit unions?

In response to the Deputy's second question, it will have to meet the regulatory requirements of the Central Bank in respect of the operation of credit unions. It will have to do that. In respect of the work of the Minister of State, Deputy English, which the Deputy touched on, maybe it is the case that the Minister of State was referring to specific areas of housing policy but I would have to check that. Certainly from our point of view, we now believe there are no barriers remaining to the set-up of this fund. The responsibility and initiative now needs to come from elements in the credit union movement to see if they actually want to go ahead and do it, which I believe they do. For the Deputy's interest, on Tuesday afternoon I met all the credit unions in the Department of Finance and had what I think they felt to be a productive meeting on a lot of different matters. I meet them collectively in the Department on a relatively frequent basis and hope to meet them again in that format, where we had all unions and representative bodies together.

This is really important. Our credit unions have a track record up and down the country in respect of supporting communities. It is vital that we ensure that this process comes to a conclusion as quickly as possible. Would the Minster be able to indicate when we will be able to get this up and running so that credit unions can have the money made available to support housing?

To be clear, what I think the Minister is saying is that there is no ongoing work within his Department or the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government of which he is aware which forms part of this objective of developing an SPV. As far as the Minister is concerned, the framework is there for the credit union movement to go ahead and do this. That is what I am hearing. I would imagine this issue was discussed during the Minister's meeting on Tuesday. Could the Minister clarify whether the issue was discussed then? Perhaps he could ask his officials to look at what commitments the Minister of State, Deputy English, has given that would be completed in the first quarter of 2019 and revert to us on that.

In response to Deputy Eugene Murphy's question, I cannot ensure this will happen because if part of our economy, credit union or banking sector decides it wants to participate in this, we can only do so much. In response to Deputy Michael McGrath, from the point of view of the Department of Finance, we now believe that we have done all we can to facilitate the set-up of such an entity. It now rests with those who have been calling for this entity to see if they want to go ahead and do it. The matter was not raised with me at the meeting on Tuesday. It was not brought up. On the point about the Minister of State, Deputy English, maybe I can explain what that deadline was. My understanding is that the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has now provided funding to the Irish Council of Social Housing to help see if it can develop the framework to which the Deputy referred. The Irish Council of Social Housing is now aiming to complete that project by the first quarter. Maybe the Deputy is referring to the work the Irish Council of Social Housing is doing rather than the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government or my own Department. I reiterate to both Deputies that we now believe we have done all we can. The matter did not come up again on Tuesday. If there is an opportunity to be grasped - and there may well be - it now rests on those who have identified it to see if they can do it.

Tax Code

Robert Troy

Ceist:

8. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance if the report on the impact of the increase in betting tax to date will be accelerated in view of the reported impact this measure is having on the sector. [7339/19]

During the Finance Bill, the Minister gave a very clear commitment to the House that in the first quarter of this year he would undertake a review of the impact of the increase in betting tax on that industry. Where stands that review now?

The increase in the betting duty rate from 1% to 2%, and the betting intermediary duty rate from 15% to 25%, came into effect on 1 January. At this point in the year it is still too early to draw any conclusions on the impact of these increases. Receipts from betting duty represented less than 1% of all excise receipts in 2017 and this is likely to be the case in 2018. In addition, there is no VAT applied on betting transactions. During the debate, I outlined why I consider the betting sector needs to make a fair contribution to the Exchequer.

During the course of the Finance Bill process I agreed to review an alternative proposal put forward by the betting sector, and I acknowledge that small independent bookmakers may have difficulty competing with larger bookmakers. My officials are now considering this proposal. We are considering whether it is compatible with a core element of EU rules, and will set out our analysis of this and options in respect of it in papers of the tax strategy group, which should be published in July.

While I welcome the fact the Minister is undertaking the review, that he is waiting until July to publish it is simply not good enough. Ten shops have already closed since 1 January. That is 50 jobs lost since then. Nine of the ten shops are independent bookmakers, not multinationals but small, family-owned businesses. There are about 50 other small, independent bookmakers hanging on by their fingertips. They have been able to manage through their banks and financial backers to negotiate a package to keep them trading at a loss until the end of the first quarter because the Minister gave a clear commitment to the Dáil during the Finance Bill that this would be done in that period, not July. Given that his officials are re-examining the proposal, will the Minister accelerate the publication of that data with a view to considering the necessary amendments to protect small family businesses, as promised, by the end of the first quarter this year?

The specific commitment that I gave, as the Deputy will, I hope, remember, is that we would consider the issue quickly at the start of this year, which we are doing. As he will be aware, we are experiencing a trend at the moment where we are seeing change within independent bookmakers because of changes that have happened in consumer behaviour and because of the growth of larger companies here. I will check with the officials regarding where this work stands. As I have said to the Deputy, we are now assessing whether this alternative proposal could be compatible with EU rules and following up on what he said, I will get a further update on it.

I welcome that because I am not being alarmist. Ten shops have closed because of this measure that the Government introduced, three in my own constituency Edgeworthstown, Athlone and Rochfortbridge. They were all small family businesses which had no option but to close their doors. The Minister is now saying that he will look into this, on foot of what I have asked him to do, to accelerate the publication, and hopefully, take on board what the industry is saying, because in fairness it has offered an alternative. It is not looking to have this reversed with no alternative in place. It has proposed an alternative that will give the Minister more than what he hoped his measure would introduce.

We did try to find alternative ways of doing this last year. We engaged with the sector and we worked in last year's tax strategy group process but I recall the debate we had in the House about this on the Finance Bill and I said that we would look to see if an alternative and credible way was to be found of doing this. As the Deputy might appreciate, I am surrounded by sectors who are always claiming that they have different ways of raising even larger amounts than any change that we make in any budget or Finance Bill. They will always make the case that there is a better way of raising more money that is less harmful to them. I said in the debate on the Finance Bill that we would consider another proposal. I have acknowledged the work under way on this but I will see where that stands and get an update on it from the Department.

Crime Prevention

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance the additional measures he plans to implement to counteract cross-Border smuggling and illicit trade in fuel, tobacco and drink products; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7242/19]

I have been constantly tabling parliamentary questions to the Minister and his colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, about the need to deal with the criminals involved in illicit cross-Border trade and smuggling. The issue goes back over many decades. In one reply, the Minister referred to the resourcefulness of those involved in those forms of criminal activity. It is an area that the Revenue Commissioners and all organs and agencies of the State, along with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, need to be constantly diligent about and to constantly review the measures in place to deal with such criminality. It is having a significant impact on legitimate businesses and the State is losing large-scale revenue annually due to this illegal trade.

I acknowledge the fact that the Deputy has raised this issue with me in many different debates. The threat that fuel fraud and the illicit alcohol and tobacco trades pose to legitimate business, consumers and the Exchequer is clear and I am assured by the Revenue Commissioners that combatting such criminality continues to be a priority for them. Steps taken by Revenue to combat the illegal fuel trade include the introduction of stringent new supply chain controls and reporting requirements and a rigorous programme of enforcement action. In addition, Revenue and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs undertook a joint initiative to introduce a new marker for use in marked fuels, which came into operation from April 2015. Revenue has also conducted random national sampling programmes in the years 2016 to 2019 to assess the extent of fuel laundering. The industry view is that the actions taken have been successful in curtailing fuel fraud.

Illicit trade in alcohol can occur through the diversion of untaxed alcohol onto the market, through the production of counterfeit alcohol and through smuggling from countries with lower taxes. Revenue takes appropriate action where illicit activity is detected, and this action is informed by intelligence on criminal activity and risk-based examination of commercial traffic and stock in retail premises.

Revenue and An Garda Síochána work closely together in acting against fuel, alcohol and tobacco crime, and co-operate closely with their counterparts in Northern Ireland. I am satisfied that their work has achieved a great deal. I will consider any additional proposals for legislative change to be brought forward by Revenue to enhance its capacity in the future.

It is important that Revenue and the Minister's Department constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the different measures in place because those criminals, including paramilitary gangs in some instances, have significant resources and the State can never underestimate the resourcefulness of those people involved in criminal activity. I fully appreciate that the new marker system has had some success but I am told locally in the Border region that fuel fraud has started to increase again. I would like the Minister to ask the Department officials to check that with the Revenue Commissioners to ensure that the marker system is as effective in 2019 as it was in the latter part of 2017 and 2018.

We do not want sludge dumped in our fields, streams and rivers. That threatens the provenance of our primary agricultural production systems. It is important that our environment and landscape is not subjected to this sludge being dumped at will by those criminals.

I agree entirely with the Deputy. The view the Revenue Commissioners have given me, which may interest him, is that the problem of fuel fraud has been massively reduced. Revenue's current assessment is that it has made a lot of progress to almost eradicate the issue. The Deputy may well have a different view and may be aware of more recent developments in this. I will pass those concerns to the Revenue Commissioners, which are very active in the area.

To give a sense of the kind of enforcement activities the Revenue Commissioners are now involved in, on 29 January last, officers at Dublin Port seized more than 11,000 litres of alcohol with a retail value of €500,000. This included more than 10,000 litres of whiskey and 800 litres of alcopops. I accept that my examples do not relate to the Border, which is the subject of the Deputy's question, but they show the sophistication of what is now under way and the success of the Revenue Commissioners. He may be aware that last November Revenue officers seized 8 million cigarettes that had arrived in Dublin Port.

I thank the Minister for his response and I do not doubt the good work of the Revenue Commissioners in any way. I take this opportunity to compliment many revenue officers who dealt with very hostile situations in the past. People stood up to those criminals and thugs. We also want to protect legitimate business.

I compliment the Retailers Against Smuggling group, which continues to try to create public awareness of the damage caused by everyone who knowingly buys those illicit products. I commend their work on that. I speak to SMEs and they tell me of the difficulty they have competing with product coming illegally. In many instance, people pricing for jobs, tendering, etc., are undermined by product being brought in illegally. We have to be constantly vigilant in this area and diligent in ensuring that the message continues to go out that this will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

I compliment the offices and agencies north and south of the Border that have had to deal with criminals on back roads or in remote farmyards. It is never the easiest task. Their work must be supported to the maximum level possible for the good of society and our State. Of course, people unknowingly buy inferior products at times.

I thank the Deputy. It is great to hear about the initiative to which he referred. As he stated, there must be somebody who is willing to buy the products. In some instances, consumers may well be buying products without being aware of their origin. In others, this is not the case. I am interested in finding out a little bit more about the work to which the Deputy referred, if he has any information he can share with me about the retail group and the work it does. It sounds like a valuable initiative.

The Deputy acknowledged - and I want to do so again - the work that has happened on both sides of the Border. The work done by Revenue here and HM Revenue and Customs in Northern Ireland and the UK is an invaluable example of the co-operation that takes place between both jurisdictions. It is really important to me and to the chairman of the Revenue Commissioners and his team that we sustain this co-operation, particularly as we move into a post-Brexit environment. Co-operation between our legal and enforcement agencies is to the immense mutual benefit of all of us and we have to find ways in which it can be maintained.

Film Industry Tax Reliefs

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance if a progress report will be provided on his plans to ensure the requirement to provide quality employment and training as a condition for receiving section 481 tax relief will be met by the film producers receiving the relief and, in particular, his acknowledgement that compliance with this condition should require, as a minimum, compliance with the legal protections for workers; the sanctions or penalties which will be imposed on recipients of or applicants for the tax credits that breach the rights of workers or that fail to provide the required quality employment or training; if the penalties will include immediate disqualification from entitlement to the section 481 relief; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7278/19]

As the Minister knows, I have raised the issue of the connection between section 481 tax relief and rights for workers and trainees, and the condition attached to this relief to the effect that the film production companies to which it is given should provide quality employment and training. The Minister has stated, rightly in my opinion, in reply to previous questions that it should be defined, as a minimum, as compliance with the law on workers' rights and employment legislation. Will the Minister give us an update on how we will ensure this is happening and ensure compliance with the rights of employees is actually being applied the film industry?

Revenue is bringing forward the regulations necessary to support the amendments to which the Deputy refers. The Deputy met officials to discuss these matters and I can confirm that relevant Labour Court interventions raised have been considered as part of these preparations. Officials from Revenue have also been working with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the employment obligations of the producer company and qualifying company for section 481 claims. The regulations must be made with my consent and that of my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Officials from both Departments are reviewing the drafts of these regulations.

I genuinely welcome the progress and the engagement but I am keen that we make this watertight. One question I want to ask is whether sanctions will be applied. I have the details of one of the cases to which the Minister's attention has been drawn. It involves a ruling on four or five items of legislation. A complaint was made by a trainee assistant film director to the Workplace Relations Commission against Christchurch Productions. In all cases, the production company was found to be in breach and a fine was imposed. I have been informed that fine has never been paid. As I understand, the producer behind the company is still getting section 481 tax relief. If this is the case, what is the point of having these rules and regulations? What is the point of having conditions attached to film relief if we continue to give it out? I know the Minister is examining this but we need to move to a situation where it is made absolutely clear to these producers that they will not get a cent more of public money unless they comply with the law. There should be a serious question over whether they get any money if they have been shown to be in breach. I do not understand why this would not happen.

Something that needs to be clarified is the relationship between the producer company that gets the money and the special purpose vehicle, SPV, because often the producers will state the SPVs have nothing to do with them and they are not the employer and have no obligations. When they try this line of argument, the Minister needs to state that if they are in receipt of money from the Government, they are responsible for the employees.

I have already acknowledged to the Deputy, when debating the Finance Bill, my belief that there should be a link between the State making resources available to a particular company through tax expenditure for the provision of employment and being confident that such employment is provided and that there are no repeated issues regarding the nature of the employment and its compatibility with our laws. Where I differ with the Deputy - and he and I have debated this previously - is that I believe the sector, by its very nature, has different employment practices. My sense is we should have different expectations regarding what people's careers can look like and the nature of the employment because, by its definition, it is project to project. Broadly speaking, I want to ensure section 481 is in operation and that I can be confident it is not being used in such a way that is incompatible with the laws of our country. This is why I have taken an interest in this, which the Deputy has acknowledged. I have touched on the work under way by officials in the Department of Finance and Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to see whether we can find a way of getting a balance on these issues. I hope we can make progress on it.

Construction is project to project but the law applies. The legislation relating to fixed-term work applies. Developers cannot dodge their obligations to employees on the basis that it is project to project. Animation is project to project but there is some security in it. It is also an audiovisual industry and companies are in receipt of section 481 but these problems do not arise. In the context of live action film, a plea is being made by the recipients of large amounts of public money that the industry is exceptional and that these laws cannot apply to them. They need to be told that they do apply, that the law is the law and that there is no derogation. Perhaps the Minister will confirm there is no derogation for film, as I understand it, regarding the fixed-term work legislation. It needs to be made absolutely clear to the people who receive public money this is the case, that other employment legislation applies and that the definitions of who is an employee and employer must apply to them also. They cannot state the law does not apply to them.

The issue of how employment law is applied in various sectors is, as the Deputy might appreciate, a matter for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and, therefore, I am not in position to answer the Deputy's question. As already stated, where we differ is that I do not believe the availability of tax relief for projects is likely to address all of the issues he has raised. It appears that there are issues regarding the nature of the industry and the application of employment law that need to be dealt with elsewhere. What I am trying to do is ensure the availability of this relief is tied to ensuring that it achieves the objectives it is designed to achieve. The officials have not yet come back to me with the draft regulations but they will do so soon. I hope to be in a position then to sign the regulations into law and see how they are implemented.

Insurance Costs

Jonathan O'Brien

Ceist:

11. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Finance when the working group on the cost of insurance will complete its work. [7353/19]

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

12. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance when he plans to implement additional recommendations of the insurance working group; if his attention has been drawn to the concerns in many sectors about increased insurance costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7243/19]

As the Minister is well aware, the cost of insurance is a huge burden on customers, be they businesses, charities or sports clubs. People continue to face insurance premiums far in excess of what is justified or fair. According to the most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, that I have seen, while premiums decreased in 2017, they have increased considerably, by more than 30%, since 2012. It is very important that the recommendations of the independent working group are implemented as soon as possible. Some have been acted upon but many of the key recommendations have not been legislated for or the relevant regulation provided for.

I hope the Minister will be able to indicate to us that additional measures will be implemented as soon as possible.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 12 together.

I was listening to what the Deputy said. I will give him a brief answer. Of course I am aware of the strain to which the Deputy is referring. The problem of rising premia in respect of motor insurance in particular was the main impetus for the establishment of the cost of insurance working group, chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy. The working group is continuing to implement the recommendations of the 2017 report on the cost of motor insurance and those of the 2018 report on the cost of employer and public liability insurance. Both of these reports contain action plans.

The seventh update was published last November. It shows that 63 of the 78 different deadlines relate to actions which have now been completed. It is envisaged that the next quarterly progress update will be completed by the end of this month. It will concentrate on outlining the definitive position in respect of all the recommendations of the motor insurance report as the last of the deadlines within its action plan passed at the end of 2018.

With regard to the other report, the vast majority of the total of 26 actions which were due for completion have now been accomplished. I remain confident that any outstanding action points will be completed within the coming months, along with the three remaining action points whose deadlines are set for various quarters of 2019.

I thank the Minister for his reply. My understanding is that one of the key recommendations of the report was the establishment of a national claims database. Legislation to establish that database was to be enacted more than 12 months ago. What is the up-to-date position in respect of that recommendation? One other recommendation that has been brought to all of our attention, particularly by those advocacy and representative organisations concerned about the cost of insurance for motorists, businesses, householders, sporting clubs, voluntary organisations and so on, is the establishment of a Garda insurance fraud unit. Many people have made well-based proposals and arguments that give the very strong message that this would be the single most effective deterrent to fraudulent claims. There is no sign of that single Garda unit being established more than two years after the discussion on its possible effectiveness began.

Is the Minister aware of the extreme distress and financial uncertainty being caused to a wide variety of businesses and ventures, particularly those involving adults or children engaging any kind of physical activity, to the point where such businesses and ventures are being destroyed? I am inundated with messages from people saying that this coming year may potentially be their last year in business. It seems this is being managed with the same degree of competence as the children's hospital. There is now a further level of uncertainty arising from Brexit. It is widely expected that additional charges will be put on the policies of people who are moving between an EU jurisdiction and a jurisdiction with whatever status Northern Ireland will have after Brexit. The working group is working away but it is not addressing an issue that will close down significant numbers of businesses, particularly in rural locations.

I will respond to the three questions that have been put to me. Deputy Brendan Smith asked where we stand on the national claims information database. The legislation for this database as enacted in December. Work is now under way to get it up and running. The legal and legislative work in this regard has now been completed. The Deputy's second question was on the dedicated Garda fraud unit. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, met the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, at the end of last year. The Commissioner is now considering how An Garda Síochána will respond to the report and to its recommendation that An Garda develop a specific investigative capacity in this area.

On Deputy Burton's question about our competence in this area, I am aware of the issue that this poses for smaller businesses and consumers. Earlier on I outlined that we have honoured the majority of action steps to which we have committed. More than 71 recommended actions have now been taken. While I am not in a position to give the Deputy information about the insurance policies of small and medium-sized companies, motor insurance premiums have reduced by 22.1% since their peak in July 2016. That is not information which I am supplying, but information which the CSO released last December.

Fiscal Policy

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

13. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Finance if a move away from unanimity on tax matters at EU level will be opposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7310/19]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

28. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance his views on the call by the EU Commission for the Government's views on the streamlining of EU decision-making by removing national vetoes in some areas of taxation policy and ending unanimity on taxes. [7155/19]

As the Minister will probably know, the EU Commission is not shy about letting us know that it sees Brexit as an opportunity to ramp up its agenda of federalisation, particularly in respect of tax issues. Will the Minister reassure us that he rejects the latest Commission attempt to remove the veto of this country, and of every other country, over tax matters?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 28.

I dealt with this matter earlier on but I will reaffirm that I will not be changing my position or that of the Government in respect of taxation policy within the European Commission and European Union. I am at a loss to understand Sinn Féin's view of the European Union. On the one hand it acknowledges and lauds the support it offers in respect of the great challenge we face in ensuring that there is no return to a hard border on our island while on the other hand I consistently hear a continued approach of attacking the European Union and seeing anything it does in a very hostile light. I heard this approach from Deputy Pearse Doherty only a few moments ago. To answer the Deputy's question again, I will not be changing the view of the Government with regard to how we handle decision-making on tax matters. Many other countries within the European Union feel the same way on the matter.

Politically, the Minister may or may not agree that the EU without Britain will be seen as an EU in which weight has shifted towards the federalist agenda. The Minister needs a strategy to ensure national sovereignty is respected. The Government's position, which is to let the OECD deal with the matter, is considered by many to be a tactical consideration based on the presumption that the OECD will never do anything, or at least nothing significant, to enact change anytime soon. The Commission's target is the infamous passerelle clause which, as the Minister knows, was introduced by the Lisbon treaty. This is a means of removing the veto. As the Minister will be well aware, once the veto is gone it is gone for good. From a sovereignty point of view there can be no question of facilitating any removal of our veto through the passerelle clause. Does the Minister expect any formal proposal to use this clause in the coming period? Will he be definitive here and now that Ireland's answer will be "No"?

I agree with the Deputy that the equilibrium within the European Union will change as the United Kingdom departs. The Government has acknowledged this on a number of occasions. What used to be out largest and most significant ally on a number of policy matters will no longer be around the table. The Deputy is correct in that regard. We have now redoubled our efforts to secure a group of countries with which to work on areas that matter to us. I have been at the heart of this within the finance Minister community. I have been working hard with my Dutch, Nordic, and Baltic colleagues with regard to areas of common concern. We are now seeing more countries come forward and explain why they, for different reasons, do not support a change in the decision-making process on tax policy. Those countries have reaffirmed their views as recently as this week.

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.