Good Friday Agreement

Ceisteanna (177)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

177. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the concerns outlined recently in a report by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights and Equality Commission here in respect of human rights protections as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13236/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Joint Committee of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an important institution under the Good Friday Agreement with a mandate to consider human rights issues on the island of Ireland.

I met with the Joint Committee on 23 January last to discuss Human Rights under the Good Friday Agreement and Brexit. This was a very worthwhile exchange with members of the Joint Committee setting out a number of issues and concerns which are raised by the UK exit. I was pleased to discuss with the Joint Committee the Government’s views and responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, and our ongoing engagement through the Article 50 negotiations, to ensure the protection of the Agreement in all its parts.

The Joint Committee published its policy statement on the UK withdrawal from the European Union on 13 March, making a number of recommendations to ensure the ongoing protection of rights on the island of Ireland. The Joint Committee is uniquely placed as an institution of the Good Friday Agreement to address the issues that Brexit raises for human rights on this island. The Joint Committee’s policy statement and continuing engagement on these important issues is therefore very welcome, and indeed essential, as all those with responsibilities seek workable and agreed solutions through the Article 50 negotiations to ensure the protection of the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.

The Joint Committee has provided its policy statement to the Government and careful consideration is being given to the recommendations, taking account of the Joint Committee’s mandate and expertise, and the Government’s role and responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the provisions of that Agreement.

The Joint Committee’s recommendations refer to issues which also directly relate to responsibilities of the UK Government and to the role of the European Union. I understand that the Joint Committee has therefore also provided its policy statement to the UK Government, to the European Commission Article 50 Task force and to the European Parliament for consideration as appropriate.

In the context of the UK withdrawal from the EU, the Government is determined to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts is fully protected, including the provisions relating to rights. The human rights and equality provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are central to the Peace Process, supporting the confidence and willingness of all communities to participate in and operate the agreed political institutions and protect everyone equally.

The Government appreciates the solidarity and support which has been shown by all of our EU partners in respect of Ireland’s unique issues and concerns, including the protection of the Good Friday Agreement. These concerns are being progressed by the Union through the Article 50 negotiations with the UK.

On 8 December last, a Joint Report between the EU and UK negotiators was agreed, and this included important commitments in respect of protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. On 18 February, the European Commission published a draft Withdrawal Agreement including a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The Protocol translates into legally-binding terms the firm commitments made in December. Accordingly, the Protocol proposes that the UK ensures no diminution of rights, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement, including by respecting EU non-discrimination laws, and that these commitments are implemented through a dedicated mechanism. The Protocol also proposes that the UK facilitate the related work of the institutions and bodies of the Agreement, including the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Joint Committee of representatives of the Human Rights Commissions of Northern Ireland and Ireland. The Protocol also clearly acknowledges that the people of Northern Ireland who choose to identify as Irish, and therefore as citizens of the EU, will continue to enjoy the rights, opportunities and benefits that come with EU citizenship.

More work will be required between the UK and the EU in phase two on rights and equality issues, as is provided for in the Joint Report. The Government is continuing to engage intensively on these issues.

Financial Services Ombudsman Data

Ceisteanna (178)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

178. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the number of requests for additional funding, staff resources or expertise that have been made by the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman since January 2016; the purpose of the requested additional funding, staff resources or expertise; the response of his Department to each request in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13146/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman only came into existence on 1 January 2018. Prior to this, staffing in the Financial Services Ombudsman Bureau did not require the consent of the Minister for Finance so there were no such requests in 2016 or 2017.

Section 15 (4) of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 provides

“The Ombudsman, with the approval of the Minister and the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, shall determine—

(a) the terms and conditions of employment (including terms and conditions relating to remuneration and allowances) of staff appointed under this section, and

(b) the grades of the staff of his or her office and the numbers of staff at each grade.”

I can confirm that there have been no requests for my approval of additional staff since the start of the year.

Section 3(2) of the Act provides

"(2) The expenses incurred by the Ombudsman in the performance of his or her functions

under this Act—

(a) in so far as they relate to the investigation of complaints regarding financial service providers shall be paid out of moneys provided by the financial services industry levy, and

(b) in so far as they relate to the investigation of complaints regarding pension providers shall, to such extent as may be sanctioned by the Minister, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas."

Section 43 (4) provides that that "The Council shall, with the consent of the Minister, prescribe by regulation the financial services industry levy to be paid having regard to the expenditure incurred or reasonably expected to be incurred by the Office in relation to complaints received by the Office in relation to financial service providers." The Council has not, as yet, sought my consent to regulations.

Section 16 (1) provides that

"The Ombudsman may, with the approval of the Minister and with the consent of the

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, from time to time engage such consultants or advisers as he or she considers necessary for the performance of his or her functions." I can confirm that there have been no requests for my consent under this section as yet.

VAT Rate Reductions

Ceisteanna (179)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

179. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Finance his views on a proposal by an organisation (details supplied) regarding the VAT threshold for publicans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13024/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

VAT is governed by the EU VAT Directive with which Irish VAT law must comply. In Ireland businesses are not obliged to register for VAT, and can consequently remain exempt from VAT, where their turnover in a 12 month period is less than €75,000 (in the case of businesses supplying goods) and €37,500 (in the case of businesses supplying services).

Ireland's VAT registration thresholds date from EU accession and the VAT Directive only provides for the raising of those thresholds by Member States to maintain their value in real terms. That is, they may only be increased in line with inflation. The Irish VAT thresholds were increased to their current values on 1 May 2008. As inflation levels currently remain lower than the rate applying in 2008, it is not possible to increase the VAT registration thresholds.

I would point out that Ireland’s VAT registration threshold for small enterprises supplying services is the ninth highest in the EU while the goods threshold is the third highest.

While the registration thresholds are designed to reduce the administrative burden on businesses and Revenue, registration thresholds are not intended as a means of keeping small businesses permanently outside the VAT system. Therefore in setting registration threshold levels, the objective is to strike an appropriate balance between the desirability of reducing the administrative burden on small businesses and the need to avoid undermining tax compliance or causing competitive distortions relative to registered firms.

Banking Operations

Ceisteanna (180)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

180. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a bank (details supplied) applies a 20% derating factor as part of its lending criteria to persons whose employment income is derived in Northern Ireland; his plans to address same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13080/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Having regard to the particular risks associated with foreign currency loans, the Mortgage Credit Directive, which is transposed into Irish law by the European Union (Consumer Mortgage Credit Agreements) Regulations 2016, provides for some particular consumer protection measures in respect of such lending.  (For the purpose of the Directive and transposing Regulations a foreign currency loan is a mortgage where the credit is denominated in a currency other than that in which the consumer receives the income or holds the asset from which the credit is to be repaid, or is in a currency other than that of the EEA Member State in which the consumer is resident).  The Regulations apply to any relevant credit agreement entered into from 21 March 2016 and, in respect of a foreign currency loans, it requires that mortgage lenders must at least ensure that they either (i) provide to the consumer borrower a right (if conditions specified by the creditor are met) to convert the loan into an alternative currency or (ii) there are other arrangements in place (such as risk warnings or limits on the amount the consumer has to pay under the agreement) to limit the exchange rate risk to which the consumer is exposed under the foreign currency credit agreement.

While the transposing Regulations provide a legal framework within which creditors must operate, including such matters related to exchange rate risk, the extension of credit in a foreign currency by creditors to consumer borrowers is not precluded by the Regulations and is a commercial decision of the individual lender (including also in relation to the particular commercial terms upon which the lender proposes to offer the foreign currency loan).  As Minister I would not have a role in such commercial decision making by individual lenders and neither do the Central Bank’s housing loan mortgage lending measures (as put in place for macro prudential financial stability purposes) or Consumer Protection Code specify any particular requirements in relation to foreign currency mortgages and/or foreign currency earnings. 

Help-To-Buy Scheme Assessment

Ceisteanna (181)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

181. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Finance the reason the value of a site is taken into account in the calculation of the loan-to-value ratio for the help-to-buy scheme in cases in which a family member has gifted a site for a single house to a family member with no need to borrow against the value of the site; his views on whether this will make the scheme inaccessible to many persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13121/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

S.477C of the Taxes Consolidation Act sets out the requirements of the Help to Buy incentive. It provides that a qualifying first time buyer must take out a loan in an amount equal to at least 70% of either the purchase price of the property in the case of a purchased house or the value of the property in the case of a self-build house. The valuation of a self-build is as approved by the lender as determined in accordance with the Central Bank’s macro prudential rules.  These rules stipulate the valuation as being the site cost plus the cost of construction.

My Department's tax expenditure guidelines require that tax incentives must seek to avoid deadweight. It is my view that extending the incentive to those first-time buyers whose loan to value is below 70% would not be consistent with that requirement.

Ministerial Staff Data

Ceisteanna (182)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

182. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the details of each non-Civil Service appointment he has made to a role in his Department; the persons appointed; the role, qualifications and salary of each; and the guidelines that apply in respect of party political fundraising. [13159/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I wish to inform the Deputy that the details of each non-civil service appointment I have made to a role in the Department of Finance; the persons appointed; the role and salary of each are shown below. 

None of these appointments are involved in party political fundraising.

 Name

 Role

 Salary

 Ms Deborah Sweeney

 Special Adviser

 4th point Principal Officer (Standard) PPC scale

 Mr Stephen Lynam *

 Special Adviser

 3rd point Principal Officer (Standard) PPC scale

 Mr Ed Brophy

 Special Adviser

 5th point Principal Officer (Standard) PPC scale

 Mr Paul Boyle

 Civilian Driver to Min. D'Arcy

 €691.00 per week

 Mr Matty Ford

 Civilian Driver to Min. D'Arcy

 €691.00 per week

*Mr Stephen Lynam resigned on 16 March, 2018.

Betting Legislation

Ceisteanna (183, 184, 185, 186)

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

183. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the threat posed to the good cause fund generated by the national lottery in accordance with the National Lottery Act 2013 by unregulated offshore bet-on-lottery operators; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13176/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

184. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance his plans to tackle the growing threat posed to the good cause fund by offshore bet-on-lottery operators; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13177/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

185. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that unregulated offshore bet-on-lottery operators are using a legislative loophole through a remote bookmaker licence issued by the Irish National Excise Licence Office to offer bets on the National Lottery and EuroMillions consequently posing a threat to the good cause fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13178/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Anne Rabbitte

Ceist:

186. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that through a remote bookmaker’s licence issued by the Irish National Excise Licence Office offshore bet-on-lottery companies are operating here under no regulatory authority or regime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13179/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 to 186, inclusive, together.

I have been advised that the regulation of gambling is provided for under the Betting Act, 1931 and the Gaming and Lotteries Acts 1956, and is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice and Equality. Where there is legislative provision for the licensing of operators, the Revenue Commissioners issue licences in accordance with those provisions.

The Betting Act 1931, as amended, provides the legislative basis for licensing and control of Bookmakers, and in order to carry on the business of Bookmaking, an operator must hold a licence. Legislation providing for the licensing of remote bookmakers was provided for in the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 and this requirement became effective from 1 August 2015 as provided by the Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 (Commencement) Order 2015. Under this legislation it is prohibited to offer remote betting services to customers in Ireland without a licence, regardless of where the operator is located.  Revenue is responsible for taking action against unlicensed remote operators offering betting services illegally to customers in Ireland.

I have been advised that in accordance with the Betting Act 1931, Revenue maintains a regularly updated register of operators to whom Remote Bookmaker’s Licences are granted. There are currently 56 Remote Bookmarker’s Licences approved and 43 are held by non-resident operators.

An operator applying for a Remote Bookmarker’s Licence for the first time, or renewing such a licence, is required to apply for a Certificate of Personal Fitness (CPF). In accordance with the Betting Act 1931, the Minister for Justice and Equality is responsible for issuing CPFs to officers representing remote operators.  A CPF confirms that an individual, or the relevant officer of a Partnership or Body Corporate, is a fit and proper person to hold a Remote Bookmaker’s Licence. Revenue may only issue a Remote Bookmaker’s Licence where the applicant holds a CPF.

As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I am aware of this issue regarding off-shore bet-on-lottery operators and my officials have met with both the Office of the Regulator of the National Lottery (ORNL) and with the National Lottery licence holder, Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI) in regard to this matter. My officials continue to engage with ORNL and PLI in respect of reviewing the impacts of these on-line lottery betting websites on the Irish National Lottery and in examining any potential actions that could be considered to address this issue.

The Minister for State at the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform with special responsibility for Public Procurement, Open Government and e-Government, Mr. Patrick Donovan, T.D. is also due to meet PLI in the coming weeks in relation to this and other matters.