Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 9 Nov 2021

Vol. 1013 No. 5

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Fuel Prices

Pearse Doherty


68. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider providing relief to low- and middle-income households struggling with the cost of energy through an exemption from VAT in respect of domestic energy supplies or a rebate of VAT on domestic energy supplies in the winter months; and if he has or will discuss these matters with the European Commission. [54656/21]

The winter months will pose significant financial challenges for many households, particularly those on low and middle incomes. We see rising prices and a spike in energy costs. More than 35 price increases have been announced by energy providers since the start of the year and annual bills now are rising by between €400 and €500. I ask that the Minister take further action in this regard. Will he reduce VAT on domestic energy bills for the winter months, either through a VAT rebate or through negotiations with the European Commission for a temporary removal of VAT?

My apologies to the House for keeping Members waiting. I am advised by Revenue that the VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law, with which Irish VAT law must comply. The VAT directive obliges each member state to have a standard rate of VAT and allows that a member state may choose to have no more than two reduced rates of VAT which may be applied to certain goods and services.  In addition, within this rates structure the directive allows for historic VAT treatment to be maintained under certain conditions on certain goods and services.  Under this framework, Ireland has a standard VAT rate of 23% and two reduced rates of 13.5% and 9%.  Ireland has also retained its historic application of one of the reduced rates of VAT, 13.5%, to a range of services, including the supply of fuel, gas, oil and electricity services, and, under the directive, the rate applicable to such services cannot be reduced below 12%. There is no provision in the directive that would allow a VAT exemption or a VAT rebate in respect of domestic energy supplies.

The Government recognises the impact the increase in energy costs is having on households. In budget 2022, a targeted package of social protection interventions was provided for through both the redistribution of carbon tax receipts and direct Exchequer funding.

In the 12 months to September, the price of electricity rose by 21%, gas by 14% and home heating oil by a staggering 46%. We need to stretch every sinew to protect households from energy poverty this winter. Budget 2022 clearly failed to do that. The Minister has read out a response that is outdated as regards the EU directive. He will be mindful of the toolbox the Commission agreed, which does allow for rebates, although he has just put on the record that rebates are not allowed. I am sure he is aware of what his colleague in the Czech Republic is doing, where legislation has been passed to zero-rate energy bills for the winter months. It appears the Commission is going to allow that to happen. We are asking the Minister to stand up and have the backs of the households in question. The two ways of doing that are to look at the toolbox in order to grant rebates over the winter months, or engage with the Commission, as the Czech Republic is doing, to try to take the pressure off those households.

I was responding to the question the Deputy provided to me in writing. He asked about a rebate or an exemption from VAT for domestic energy supplies. I answered the question that was put to me. He made reference to the Czech Republic but it is notable that out of all the members of the European Union, at the moment only two are engaged with the Commission and the Union regarding a change in the VAT regime for energy pricing and the cost of energy. The Deputy is asking me to stand up. I am already standing by those who are affected the most by the change in energy pricing. That is why the Government has made the changes it made in the qualified child payment scheme. It is why we have increased the living alone allowance and the fuel allowance and it is also why we have increased the income threshold for the working family payment scheme. We are absolutely aware of the added pressure many are facing at the moment and we have recognised that through decisions that have already been made in the budget.

Some of those decisions will increase energy prices further by hiking carbon tax later next year. As the Minister mentioned, a number of countries are engaging with the Commission on this issue, the Czech Republic being one. Spain has already slashed the cost of energy bills by 11%. The Spanish Government has done that up until the end of the year. The Labour Party across the water has been calling on the Tories to zero-rate energy bills during the winter period. Britain is, of course, outside the European Union. The European Union itself came forward with a communique on 13 October that allows member states to rebate the VAT collected on energy, as it is conscious that these energy price increases - a 46% increase over the year on home heating oil, 21% on electricity and 14% on gas - are having a real impact on families. The Union is therefore allowing finance ministers, of whom the Minister is one, to take action.

There are two things the Minister can do. He can join others and engage with the Commission to zero-rate these bills for the winter months or he can consider giving a rebate. The €785 million in VAT receipts above what was profiled would well cover the cost of this proposal for the three-month period to which I referred.

The Deputy must note the starting positions of those other countries. The starting position of Spain and the Czech Republic is a standard rate of 21%. We already apply a lower rate than 21%. Our starting position compared to that of those other countries is very different. The starting position of Spain is 21% while our starting position is 13.5%. That is the difference. They have an interest in seeking to make a change in their VAT payment because their VAT rate is so much higher than ours. Those are the figures. While the Deputy is drawing attention to two other countries, the majority of other countries are handling this very severe issue for many families in exactly the same way as we are by the changes being made in the social welfare payments, which were announced on budget day, and also by other changes we have made in taxation, which have also been implemented in the budget.

Tax Code

Richard Boyd Barrett


69. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider providing relief to low- and middle-income households struggling with the cost of energy through an exemption of VAT from domestic energy supplies or a rebate of VAT on domestic energy supplies in the winter months; and if he has discussed or will discuss these matters with the European Commission. [54745/21]

During the past decade, corporate profits here have gone through the roof. I estimate there has been an increase of approximately 127% in corporate profits. Last year, net household wealth increased by €89 billion to a record €883 billion and more than 50% of that is in the hands of the richest 10% of the population. In the interests of justice, fairness and equity and to provide funds for public services and infrastructure, is it not time to introduce wealth taxes?

I should remind the Deputy of the many different ways in which wealth is currently taxed, for example through capital gains tax, deposit interest retention tax, or DIRT, and the local property tax. Any revenue raised from a wealth tax may not therefore be additional to the existing forms of wealth taxation, as revenues from those taxes could be affected by the introduction of a wealth tax.

On the issue of household wealth, late last year the Central Bank published a report, Household Wealth: What is it, who has it, and why it matters. It presents the results from the household finance and consumption survey, which collects data on households’ financial positions. That survey was undertaken before the pandemic, but it provides a starting point against which to benchmark its impact on household finance positions and consumption patterns. I am informed that the report indicates household net wealth grew by more than €76,000 for the median household, or by 74%, to €179,200 from 2013 to 2018, driven primarily by house price growth and declining mortgage debt. The report also highlights a significant portion of wealth for most households is tied up in the family home.

While the net wealth of the top 20% of households increased by approximately 52% from €560,000 to €853,000, the relative share of net wealth held by the top 10% of households decreased by 2.6% from 2013, and is 1.3% below the equivalent figure for the eurozone as a whole.

As was confirmed in the recent budget 2022 policy changes, a range of metrics demonstrate that compared to other countries the Irish tax and welfare systems contribute substantially to the redistribution of income and a reduction in income inequality.

The Minister has just confirmed correctly, although he said it has reduced slightly, that the richest 10% of our population owns more than 50% of all the wealth in a study to which he referred. People need to understand how much that is. Net household wealth, according to the Central Bank report, is €883 billion. That means the richest 10% have €440 billion in personal wealth. The Minister said that is tied up in the family home. Our wealth tax proposal explicitly excludes the family home. There are 160,000 people in that top 10%. Let us allow them €1 million each to cover the family home and that is being very generous. That would be €160 billion of the €440 billion. Why not tax the rest even by 2% in order to redistribute some of the wealth to the bottom 50% who have less than 2% of the wealth?

I noted in my reply the array and level of taxes we have on capital. Our capital gains tax and capital acquisitions tax are very high in comparison to many other countries in the European Union and OECD countries. We already tax capital at a very high level. The Deputy was right in saying I acknowledged in my reply that a share of the wealth is wrapped up in property that is owned in terms of the family home and in property investments some people may make. The reason we have a local property tax is to tax that form of wealth, which is a tax the Deputy wants to abolish and get rid of. If he believes the way in which we should tax a very high level of wealth is by the way in which we tax capital, that is what we currently do. We have an array of capital taxes at high rates. It is one of the rationales for having a local property tax.

We are not in favour of taxing the family home in our wealth tax proposal. We are very explicit. We are in favour of taxing the wealth in excess of €1 million in the hands of a small group of people. I will put it another way to the Minister. We have approximately 2 million workers, and the Minister can confirm the numbers. Last year, between them they earned €130 billion but they paid €27 billion in tax. The corporations earned €203 billion in pre-tax profits and paid €11 billion in tax. In other words, the corporations made twice as much as 2 million workers in profit or income, whatever way the Minister would want to put it, but paid half as much tax. Where is the justice in that? The wealthiest group saw their wealth very significantly increase by approximately €50 billion last year. Should they not pay a bit more tax?

How many of the workers the Deputy referred to are employed by the corporations to which he also referred? Many of those corporations are very large employers employing a large share of the workers he correctly identified. We receive income tax on the salaries those corporations pay those workers. We receive tax from the investments those corporations make here. It comes back to the challenge we face in that many other countries are competing for the level of foreign direct investment we have here. The benchmark for what the corporate tax rate should be, which as the Deputy is aware we are planning to increase for the largest companies, is not just how much revenue can be accrued through changes in rates, but also the need for that rate to be competitive with that of other countries. I acknowledge we have a low rate of corporate tax of 12.5%, albeit it will increase. The reason for that, in turn, is to create a country in which we have more people at work than otherwise we would have.

Insurance Industry

Pearse Doherty


70. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the action he will take to ensure that all claim cost reductions derived from the new personal injuries guidelines are passed on to consumers in the form of reduced insurance premiums; and when legislative action will be taken to reform the duty of care. [54657/21]

On 6 March, the personal injury guidelines were adopted by the Judicial Council. They came into force on 24 April, which was more than six months ago. I raised this issue with the Minister on 31 March and I am doing so again because it is important for motorists, businesses and our community sector. The reductions in rewards under those guidelines are not being passed on to consumers in full. There is enough evidence to prove that. Some of them are being pocketed by the industry. Will the Minister end the delay and support my Bill, the Judicial Council (Amendment) Bill, which would hold this industry to account?

The adoption of the new personal injury guidelines by the Judicial Council and their subsequent commencement in April this year is a significant achievement. It was achieved eight months ahead of the schedule as originally intended.

The new guidelines should provide much greater transparency around award levels, in addition to reducing payouts for many common injuries and leading to lower legal fees by encouraging greater use of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, to settle claims.  Accordingly, this should lead to a reduction in claims costs for insurers, shorter settlement times for claimants and, importantly, help to attract new entrants into the Irish market and encourage providers that previously exited the market to return.  Work being undertaken by my Department's office to promote competition in the insurance market, in conjunction with IDA Ireland, will seek to leverage support in this area.

As the Deputy knows, consistent implementation of the guidelines by insurers, PIAB and the Judiciary will be vital in achieving an improved claims environment.  These are early days in terms of assessing the impact of the guidelines. As the insurance reform agenda progresses, we will continue to seek that the industry meet its commitment to reflect savings from the guidelines and other elements of the ambitious reform agenda in the prices offered to customers.  In my ongoing engagement with the sector, I have emphasised the need for insurance providers to reduce premiums and increase their risk appetite to provide cover in new areas.  I am engaging with the main insurers again this month, with meetings commencing next Monday on a one-by-one basis, to assess their response to the guidelines. They have had sufficient time now to come up with a concrete response and I will be emphasising the importance, when settling claims, of their not undermining the guidelines by settling for amounts that are inconsistent with them.

Another valuable tool the Government has in holding insurers accountable to their commitments is the national claims information database, NCID, which allows us to monitor both claims costs and pricing trends.  To date, the database has published two comprehensive reports on the private motor insurance sector and one on employer and public liability insurance.  The reports include data on legal costs, settlement channels and all the other elements that impact on the overall cost of insurance premiums.

The Minister of State said it is early days in this process. In fact, it is more than six months since the guidelines were enforced. As we see from the information provided by PIAB, it has reduced average awards by 40%, thereby reducing the cost of claims for the insurance industry. The relevant legislation was not passed by all the parties in this House to boost the profit of insurance companies, but that is exactly what is happening. The legislation was passed to reduce insurance premiums and costs for consumers but the savings are not being passed on in full.

There has been ample time to see what is happening. We have had a study by the Alliance for Insurance Reform, which looked at hundreds of different cases and found that both businesses and community groups had seen an increase of 15% in insurance costs, on average, since the guidelines came into effect. Similarly, we are not seeing the type of reduction that should be happening in the car insurance sector. We need to call a spade a spade. Insurance companies are pocketing some of the reductions in costs that are arising as a result of the guidelines. The Minister of State can meet with their representatives over and over again and have tea and coffee with them. That is fine, but he will never know what they should be charging unless he implements the legislation I have brought forward. I ask him, hand on heart, why in God's name he is stalling that legislation. Surely we all want to do the right thing. Is it just because my name is on the Bill? Progressing it is the right thing to do for consumers and businesses.

Thank you, Deputy. The Minister of State to respond.

There is a company in Dundalk about to go bust because it cannot get insurance-----

-----and there are many others like it.

It has been a number of months since the guidelines were introduced. I want to put it on the public record that there has been a decline in the cost of motor insurance premiums, as per the figures produced on an ongoing basis by the Central Statistics Office, CSO. The cost of insurance has reduced by at least 20% in recent years and that has continued right up to the present quarter. The early indications from PIAB show reductions of up to 40%, which will see a proportionate reduction in the overall costs making up premiums and a consequent reduction in their cost to consumers.

The other point I want to mention is there have been some increases in business and other types of insurance. In a number of particular sectors, there are local problems. This could be to do with high-risk factors or a lack of competition due to Brexit. It is only happening in a certain number of sectors. I am meeting with Insurance Ireland and the Alliance for Insurance Reform in the coming days to discuss the particular sections of industry that are experiencing this problem, which is generally not affecting the vast majority of businesses.

This is what I cannot understand. The Minister of State says he is going to take action against the industry. The Tánaiste talked about it more than a year and a half ago, before the election, saying he was giving the insurance industry six months and that was it, after which the stick would come out. We in this House did our job. Representatives of the insurance industry came before the Oireachtas committee and said they would reduce premiums across the board by 15% to 20% and, if not, they would need to be asked tough questions. We did our job and the judicial council did its job. We all accept that awards have gone down, but premiums have not. Now is the time to bring out the big stick.

There is legislation before this House that has passed Second Stage and the Minister of State is stalling it. It is ridiculous. Similar legislation is in force in Britain and my Bill is about holding the exact same companies to account. There is no way that I, the Minister of State or anybody in this House will ever know what premiums should cost unless we collect the type of information provided for in that legislation. I ask him to stop stalling the Bill. It should be before the House next week.

I also want to ask the Minister of State what he is doing on the duty of care aspect. I mentioned a company in Dundalk that is going bust. Awards are coming down but we need to deal with the duty of care. There have been promises after promises in that regard. When will we see the legislation?

I want to take this opportunity to inform the Deputy that the Department of Finance sought agreement last week from the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach that it engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the insurance (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2021. Tomorrow, I will ask the committee, of which the Deputy is a member, to set an early timescale for that. We want it to be done before Christmas because it will eliminate issues like the loyalty penalty for home insurers and motor insurers.

You are misleading the Dáil. That legislation does nothing of the sort. It asks the Central Bank for a report on what it is doing.

Through the Chair, I have not misled the Dáil.

The Minister of State is completing and utterly misleading the Dáil.

I have not misled the Dáil.

Deputy Doherty, please.

Your legislation does nothing.

There is a request to the committee for pre-legislative scrutiny, to which it has agreed. I am asking the Deputy and his colleagues on the committee to give the matter their urgent attention in order that we can deal with it promptly. The duty of care legislation will be going through the justice committee, not the finance committee. The particular legislation to which I referred is being dealt with by the latter. I welcome the opportunity to be in the committee with the Deputy doing that pre-legislative scrutiny in the immediate days or weeks ahead.

The legislation does nothing. The only power it gives you is to ask for a report from the Central Bank. You could telephone the Governor and ask for the same thing.

We are moving on. I call Deputy Naughten.

It is an embarrassment.

National Treasury Management Agency

Denis Naughten


71. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the steps taken to date to divest from fossil fuel investments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54601/21]

I worked with the Minister to enact the Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018. We now need to go much further and ensure the whole financial system divests from fossil fuels. A carbon tax is being charged on our citizens who, in the vast majority of instances, cannot avoid paying it. Yet we are not taxing investments in fossil fuel industries, which make it much harder for people to switch to clean solutions.

Ireland was one of the first countries to divest public money from fossil fuel investments. The Fossil Fuel Divestment Act 2018 was signed into law by the President of Ireland in December of that year.  The Act imposes certain prohibitions and restrictions with respect to the investment by the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, of assets of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, in certain fossil fuel undertakings. It prohibits ISIF from directly investing in any undertaking that generates 20% or more of its turnover from the exploration for, or extraction or refinement of, a fossil fuel such as oil, natural gas, peat, coal or any derivative thereof intended for use in the production of energy by combustion.

Where the agency becomes aware that an undertaking in which such assets have been so invested by it is, or has become, a fossil fuel undertaking, the Act requires the agency to divest the assets of ISIF from such investment. The legislation also provides for a restriction on such investment when the investment is of an indirect nature, that is, investment of the assets of the fund in an investment product or in a collective investment undertaking. ISIF has developed a list of 246 fossil fuel companies in which it will not invest, as determined by criteria within the Act.  The list is updated on a semi-annual basis in line with methodology that is aligned to the legislation, as set out on ISIF's website.

That is a very welcome and positive initiative. However, there is little point in the public making monumental efforts to meet the targets set out in the climate action plan if its investments and deposits are being used to fund further oil exploration or increased use of fossil fuels. This year, investors in coal production will have a bumper return and profits. We need to see full transparency from our banks and financial institutions in this regard and we must raise awareness among the public. Fossil fuel investment must be treated just like tobacco investment.

However, this has to be done at EU level and not just domestically. The Minister is president of the Eurogroup. He sits on the Economic and Financial Affairs Council. We need to see measures taken at EU level to force banks, asset managers and listed companies to publish transition plans on how they will divest from fossil fuels and decarbonise.

ISIF is already doing this on a national level. It has published a list of the nearly 250 fossil fuel companies it does not invest in, much of it for the reason the Deputy has just outlined in that we believe, as a country, it is appropriate we not invest in fuels and technology that can do more harm to the future of our world and national environment. It was one of the first agencies of its kind to make a move of this nature. The Commission has brought forward what it refers to as taxonomy proposals, brought forward by Commissioner McGuinness. It is looking to break down and segment different kinds of investments based on the impact they can have on our environment and, in turn, use this as a way of influencing and guiding the investment decisions made by financial markets. That work is under way and Commissioner McGuinness published proposals on that a few weeks ago.

Part of the problem is no one knows what green finance means. If Ireland, as a key financial centre, and the Central Bank leads by example and for this to happen throughout the EU, we could provide clarity on what sustainable investment is and the powers to hold financiers to account. We could help to revolutionise this sector and lead to an exponential drive to net-zero emissions. The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation has announced it will develop a single set of standards on sustainability disclosure requirements. The adoption of this by the International Organization of Securities Commissions would transform the global financial markets. This needs to be spearheaded at EU level by the Eurogroup and EU finance ministers.

The Deputy's point about the need to tell people what we are doing is relevant to this debate. Much of what he is calling on me and the European Union to do is happening. I have just mentioned what ISIF has done. Only a few weeks ago, the Governor of the Central Bank wrote to all of the CEOs involved in the insurance sector about investment decisions they make, reminding them of the need to be aware of their commitments under Environmental, Social and Governance, ESG, under more sustainable investment decisions. It may not be a clear name for what it is doing, but through its taxonomy proposals, the Commission is looking to have a common way of understanding the impact of investment decisions on the future of our environment and use that to influence and guide more sustainable investment decisions by investment companies. That work is happening. The point I should consider, off the back of Deputy Naughten's question, is to find ways in which we can better communicate this to a country that wants to see this work done.

Forestry Sector

Richard O'Donoghue


72. Deputy Richard O'Donoghue asked the Minister for Finance if landowners with trees that need immediate solutions will be entitled to tax deductions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54776/21]

I ask the Minister to note that forestry is the easiest solution to sequester carbon. What financial solution will be offered to foresters who are affected by ash dieback? Landowners were advised by Teagasc to leave conventional farming and to use an ideal solution for farming in ash, oak and elder. These were the hardwoods recommended by Teagasc.

I know the Deputy's question relates to farmers or foresters who sell their trees for profit and whose trees have become damaged or diseased. As he said, there is a particular issue with ash dieback disease, sometimes referred to as chalara, which is of particular relevance to his question. Profits or gains from the occupation of woodland in the State, which is managed on a commercial basis and with a view to realising a profit, are exempt from income tax and corporation tax under section 232 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.  It follows that the issue of a tax deduction is not relevant in such circumstances because the income is already exempt from income and corporation tax. With regard to section 232, forestry plays a key role as a carbon sink, helping to mitigate the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from other sectors of the economy. It is capital-intensive investment with costs front loaded. Compared with other industrial sectors, it has a relatively long period before returns are realised.

The Department of Finance reviewed all of these schemes in 2006 and these issues were again looked at in 2014. An exemption from capital gains tax, under section 564 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, is also available to an individual in respect of gains realised on the disposal of woodlands, to the extent those gains relate to standing timber.  Any gain attributable to the underlying land is subject to capital gains tax. In certain cases of tree farming, which do not amount to occupation of woodlands, the exemption in section 232 does not apply. In these cases, a tax deduction may apply where immediate solution costs are incurred wholly and exclusively in respect of the trade.

Non-tax measures on forestry generally and ash dieback disease are, of course, matters for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and I understand he has put in place a support scheme for plantations affected by ash dieback, known as the reconstitution and underplanting scheme, to assist farmers and foresters with site clearance and replacement of affected crops.

Ash dieback is a disease that affects ash trees. Ash plants imported into Ireland from Holland were diseased. This ash dieback has destroyed the ash plantations in Ireland. Initially, an income was guaranteed for 20 to 25 years. At ten years, the trees sequester carbon. Ten trees equals 1 cu. m, which would be a yield of €60 per cubic metre. Ash butt is used for making hurleys and is worth €450 per cubic metre. This equates to a loss of €6,000 per cubic metre. In 2009, concerns were raised that ash dieback was imported into Ireland and highlighted to the then Minister, but it took two years for Teagasc to confirm ash dieback. It was brought to the attention of the Department of Agriculture in 2011 which said it could not do anything, as it was unable to stop the plants coming in from Holland, it being an EU member. This was brought to the Department in 2011. The Government held its hand up, under a Fine Gael-led Minister, and said it could do nothing.

However, we have acted. Ash dieback was not a regulated disease in the European Union when it was detected here and as I understand, it is still not a regulated disease in the EU. Ireland and the United Kingdom were the first countries to introduce emergency national legislation to restrict the impact and import of ash plants from other member states. The then Government acted to restrict the arrival of these trees into our country and prevent the kind of harm to which the Deputy is referring. A scheme is in place to assist foresters who are coping with the cost of this. The scheme depends on how much land somebody has and the degree to which he or she is affected by this matter. However, it is there and I understand approximately €2 million to €3 million was set aside per year to deal with the costs to which the Deputy is referring.

In 2011, the then Minister for Agriculture said he could not stop the import of plants from Holland as it was a member of the EU. However, it was stopped in 2012 by a statutory instrument in the Oireachtas, but it was too late.

The disease was already here. The Forestry Act says that the Minister has a duty of care to protect from diseases and pests from abroad. The people of Ireland were let down by the Government. Land needs to get back into production. The scheme to which the Minister refers provides €1,000 per acre. Yet, it costs them between €3,000 and €12,000, depending on the plantation.

Currently, it is costing the taxpayer millions of euro to try to eradicate Chinese knotweed. We are now importing peat from anywhere and everywhere. Bark beetle in pine trees is rampant in Scotland. This was under the Minister’s watch. The then Government was told in 2009. In 2011, it decided to act. In 2012, Oireachtas introduced an instrument. The then Government decided that under an instrument it was going to stop. The Government has let the foresters down. Has the Government told Europe that we do not have the forestry that they are talking about?

Everything from the Deputy is always about blame. It is always about blaming somebody.

Man up and take the blame.

It is always about blame. It is the same old song from the Deputy, regardless of the topic. What I am doing is pointing to the action that we have taken. I am pointing to the legislation that was brought in by the then Government. It was one of the first Governments to bring in legislation to restrict the import of these trees into Ireland.

Three years later.

I am pointing to the cost in relation to this. I am informing the Deputy for the third time of the scheme that is in place there to help those whose trees and forests have been afflicted by this disease. Of course, it is also the case, and he may or may not be aware of this, a planting grant is available, which can cover up to 60% of the afforestation grant to help foresters with the cost that is involved in reseeding and replanting-----

They get no income for 20 years. This scheme will not pay them for another 20 years.

The Minister is to be allowed to speak.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, that is the proper record of what we have done. The then Government recognised this as an issue. As I have outlined, though the Deputy has little interest in hearing it, the supports and schemes that are available to help foresters deal with this issue.

Question No. 73 replied to with Written Answers.