Departmental Properties

Ceisteanna (38)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

38. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the land his Department or agencies under its remit own in County Meath; the location of same; the use to which the land is put; the location of the land that is vacant, not in use or being used for agricultural purposes; the land which has been made available to Meath County Council or other housing agencies for the purpose of house building; and the amount of this land that could be made available for housing. [38054/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The following properties in Co. Meath are under the ownership of my Department. Gormanston Camp is an operational military installation used for Defence Force training and other military activities. There are 11-month land lettings surrounding the Aerodrome field for the purpose of maintaining grass levels in these areas. There is also a property of approximately 0.2 hectares in Navan that is in use as a Reserve Defence Force training centre. There is no other land in Co. Meath owned by my Department that is not in use or being used for agricultural purposes.

The provision of lands for housing purposes is, in the first instance, is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the recently established Land Development Agency. I can advise the Deputy that my officials have proactively engaged with the LDA to identify suitable lands for their purposes. Consideration of the provision of suitable lands in Co. Meath has not arisen as part of these discussions.

Defence Forces Properties

Ceisteanna (39)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

39. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the Gormanston Army camp lands that are currently unused will be considered under the new Land Development Agency remit for purchase and development for housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38171/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The provision of lands for housing purposes is, in the first instance, is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the recently established Land Development Agency. I can advise the Deputy that my officials have proactively engaged with the LDA to identify suitable lands for their purposes. Consideration of the lands referred to by Deputy has not arisen as part of these discussions.

Departmental Properties

Ceisteanna (40)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

40. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the land his Department or agencies under its remit own in County Meath; the location of same; the use to which the land is put; the location of the land that is vacant, not in use or being used for agricultural purposes; the land which has been made available to Meath County Council or other housing agencies for the purpose of house building; and the amount of this land that could be made available for housing. [38058/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

My Department does not own or control any land in County Meath. Any properties or land occupied by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the State are rented and discharged by the Office of Public Works.

Human Rights Cases

Ceisteanna (41)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

41. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the health of many political prisoners in Bahrain is severely deteriorating and they are being denied access to sufficient healthcare; if his attention has been further drawn to the specific concern over the health of person (details supplied); and if he will raise this issue and the case of the person with his Bahraini counterpart. [38102/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am aware of the case referred to by Deputy Crowe, and of the reports that the individual in question, and other prisoners, have been denied adequate healthcare in prison. Ireland attaches great importance to safeguarding the human rights of all prisoners, with due regard for the international standards enshrined in the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

I remain very concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in Bahrain. Although Bahrain has repeatedly stated its commitment to improving its human rights record and safeguarding human rights as enshrined in the Bahraini Constitution, there are ongoing instances of violations of fundamental freedoms there, including violations of freedom of opinion and expression. A number of worrying developments suggest an increasingly restrictive approach, targeting those who express views which oppose or challenge the Government in any way. The shrinking of civil and political space is particularly concerning in light of parliamentary elections which are due to take place in November this year.

Ireland’s concerns about human rights issues in Bahrain are regularly conveyed to the Bahraini authorities, including through the Bahraini Embassy in London and through Ireland’s (non-resident) Ambassador to Bahrain. In February of this year, officials from my Department met with the Ambassador of Bahrain in Dublin, and raised Ireland’s concerns about the human rights situation in Bahrain, including the case referred to by the Deputy.

Ireland also regularly raises the case of human rights in Bahrain at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, in the form of national statements and its support to EU Statements. In Ireland’s most recent Item 4 Statement (human rights situations that require the Council’s attention) at the HRC session in September 2018, we expressed our concerns about “the ongoing restrictions on civil society space and the treatment of human rights defenders in Bahrain”. We also called on Bahrain “to respect freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to a fair trial.” At the previous HRC session in June 2018, Ireland also raised concerns under Item 4, and the EU Item 2 Statement (on the reports of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) also highlighted the deterioration of the human rights situation, with particular reference to the shrinking of political space in Bahrain.

My Department will continue to monitor the situation in Bahrain, and will continue to call on the Bahraini Government to make good on their stated commitment to make progress in the area of human rights.

Overseas Development Aid Oversight

Ceisteanna (42)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

42. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures his Department is taking to ensure that Irish contributions to EU aid programmes are in line with Ireland’s commitment to untied aid (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38103/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government is strongly committed to delivering Ireland’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme in the most effective way, providing humanitarian assistance and contributing to the fight against global poverty and hunger, including by working with multilateral partners and through the European Union.

Funding for multilateral organisations is kept under regular review by my Department, to ensure that it is targeted and provided to partners which can contribute most effectively to delivering the priorities of our foreign policy and our international development policy, as set out in the Global Island and in One World, One Future. In this way, we are playing a strong role in supporting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2017, Ireland’s total contribution to EU-managed Official Development Assistance, mostly assessed, amounted to €192.51 million. This equates to almost 26% of Ireland’s ODA for the year. This was comprised of €143.22 million to the EU general budget, €35.66 million to the European Development Fund (EDF), €10.52 million to the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, €1.36 million to the European Investment Bank for its work in developing countries, and the balance of €1.75 million as a voluntary contribution to EU Trust Funds.

Throughout, the ability of these funding channels to reach the poorest and most fragile countries and regions in the world, and deliver real results on the ground, is at the forefront of Ireland’s engagement. Untying aid – removing the legal and regulatory barriers to open competition for aid-funded procurement – increases aid effectiveness by reducing transaction costs and improving the ability of partner countries to set their own course. Ireland is leading the way in this by making its bilateral Official Development Assistance 100% untied.

Ireland has also been to the forefront in encouraging the EU and its Member States to untie more of their aid. Progress is being made. The proportion of EU and Member State aid that is untied now stands at over 80%. The European Commission has increased its share of untied aid from 48% in 2010 to 72% in 2016. We will continue to encourage further progress in that regard.

Human Rights Cases

Ceisteanna (43)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

43. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that an Egyptian court recently sentenced 75 persons to death over a 2013 protest in Rabaa; if he will condemn these death sentences and call for them to be reversed; if he will condemn the other sentences which were handed out in this trial; and if he will raise his concerns with his Egyptian counterpart. [38104/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland appreciates the magnitude of the challenges facing Egypt and we are committed to supporting Egypt in dealing with these. However, I believe that a strong and stable democracy cannot flourish without full respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.

In this regard, Ireland is unequivocal in its stance on the death penalty. We oppose and condemn its use in all circumstances. We further believe that the use of the death penalty is not only morally reprehensible, but counter-productive, both as a crime deterrent and as a punishment. The abolition of the death penalty is one of Ireland’s international priorities, and my Department regularly conveys our stance on this issue to all countries where the death penalty is still in use.

We believe that the EU provides one of the most effective channels for raising concerns about human rights. In response to this particular case, the EU has publicly reiterated its call for the universal abolition of the death penalty. The EU has also issued a statement raising concerns about the conduct of the trial which “cast serious doubts on the respect of due process and in particular the defendants’ rights to a fair trial”.

The EU and Egypt adopted partnership priorities for 2017-2020 at the EU-Egypt Association Council, which took place in July 2017. The priorities make it clear that human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, as set out in international human rights law, the Treaty on European Union and the Egyptian Constitution – are a common value and constitute the cornerstone of a modern democratic state. These agreed priorities commit Egypt and the EU to promoting democracy, fundamental freedoms and human rights as constitutional rights of all citizens, in line with their international obligations.

Human Rights Cases

Ceisteanna (44)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

44. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the jailing of two journalists in Myanmar after they were found guilty of breaching the country's official secrets act while reporting on atrocities committed against the Rohingya by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state (details supplied); if he will raise this matter with his counterpart in Myanmar; and the steps Ireland is taking to stop this genocide and assist Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. [38105/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The recent sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists working in Myanmar, to seven years in prison under the Official Secrets Act, is a cause of significant concern. That they were arrested for covering allegations of grave human rights violations by the Myanmar Military against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State makes this case all the more worrying.

Media freedom and critical journalism are essential pillars of democracy. A free press has a key function in promoting transparency and holding democratic governments to account. I continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of the two journalists and call on the Myanmar authorities to ensure adequate conditions for journalists to carry out their work.

Ireland continues to actively engage with our international partners on these and other issues of grave concern through bilateral contacts in Myanmar and via participation in the EU and UN responses including at the ongoing 39th Session of the Human Rights Council and at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly to which I will shortly travel.

More broadly, Ireland and the international community have taken a number of steps to address the Rohingya crisis which have focused on responding to the humanitarian crisis, promoting a political solution and pressing for accountability for crimes and other violations of human rights abuses that have occurred.

Ireland has also supported the intensive political response by the international community which continues to be pursued.

In addition, Ireland has consistently called for an independent and impartial investigation into the serious and credible allegations of human rights violations by the Myanmar security forces. In that regard, we have strongly supported the work of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) and UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, and the recent publication of the Report of the IIFFM has made for harrowing reading. The report of the IIFFMM notes that the crimes in Myanmar “stem from deep fractures in society and structural problems that have been apparent and unaddressed for decades.”

It is therefore imperative that Myanmar and the international community respond comprehensively to the findings of the report and its recommendations in a way that both addresses the long-standing root causes of this crisis and in a manner that ensures the perpetrators of the crimes described in the report are swiftly brought to justice.

I have taken note of the recommendations and Ireland is actively engaging with our international partners in responding to the report, including at the current session of the Human Rights Council where this report is being formally presented.

While efforts aimed at achieving accountability and a political solution to the crisis are vitally important, there is an immediate need for a life-saving humanitarian response to the extremely difficult conditions faced by the huge numbers of displaced members of the Rohingya community now mainly in Bangladesh. To this end, Ireland has actively supported the international humanitarian response to the refugee crisis and we provided direct funding of €1 million in 2017 with an additional €1.1 million allocated for 2018. Our support has focused on food, nutrition, shelter, water and sanitation.

My Department will continue to liaise closely with EU and other international partners to press for progress in resolving this crisis including through our Embassies in Thailand and in Vietnam who are closely monitoring the situation.

Election Monitoring Missions

Ceisteanna (45)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

45. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Question No. 149 of 10 July 2018, the number of applications received for the election monitoring panel competition which closed on 20 August 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38113/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I refer the Deputy to the response to a previous parliamentary question on this matter Question 69 of 7 September 2018.

International election monitoring missions play an important role in the promotion of democracy and human rights. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade maintains a roster of observers for election monitoring missions. We aim to ensure that, when requested, Ireland is represented at an appropriate level on international observation missions for elections and constitutional referendums. Irish observers participate primarily in missions organised by the European Union or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The call for applications to establish a new Election Observation roster was issued on 2 July last and the call was open until 20 August 2018. Late applications were not accepted. The call was published on two Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade websites: www.dfa.ie and www.irishaid.ie. It was also publicised on social media.

The closing date for the submission of applications has only recently passed and the applications are still being verified and screened. I can confirm that a total of 395 applications were received by the deadline on the 20 August 2018.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (46)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

46. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there will be no change or diminution to the backstop proposal as agreed in December 2017 in negotiations between Britain and the European Union on Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38193/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

From the outset of these negotiations, the Government has been clear and consistent in our position that a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland must be avoided under any circumstances. A legally operable ‘backstop’ which avoids a hard border and protects the integrity of the single market is essential for agreeing the Withdrawal Agreement, so as to provide the certainty that no matter what the outcome of the negotiations on the future relationship, there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

While our preference would be to see these issues resolved through the future relationship, this ‘backstop’ must be legally operable and, in the event that it is triggered, must be in place unless and until another solution is found. It cannot be temporary. This is what we agreed to, and what the UK committed to in December last year, and it is what the EU will hold them to.

On Tuesday I met with Michel Barnier and heard from him his assessment that it is time to ‘de-dramatise’ the Protocol and focus on agreeing the workable solutions that it offers at its core. Ireland fully supports this approach. Barnier confirmed once again his view that without a backstop there can be no Withdrawal Agreement.

This support was echoed by our partner EU27 Member States at the GAC Article 50 the same day, and I remain grateful to them for the unity displayed in recognition of this as an essential element of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Both sets of negotiators have committed to bringing new energy to the talks, including on the Irish specific issues, and I welcome this. We remain confident that a deal can be reached, and refuse to be distracted by speculation or mischaracterisation of what the backstop is.

We cannot allow uncertainty about the border. It is not an academic issue, but one that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people every day, and has an impact on the peace process as well. A backstop that does not guarantee to remove this uncertainty is not acceptable to us, to the Task Force, or to the EU27. This shared position has, and will, remain constant.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (47)

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

47. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Karen Bradley, recently. [37665/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am in ongoing engagement with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, as both Governments continue to work together as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, to address the ongoing absence of the power-sharing Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland, as well as the North-South Ministerial Council.

I met with Secretary of State Bradley most recently on 24 August and on 17 September in Dublin and remain in regular contact by phone.

I have conveyed to Secretary of State Bradley the Government’s deep concern at the continuing impasse with the devolved institutions, which she shares.

Both Governments are determined to get the devolved institutions up and running again and I am actively engaging with Secretary of State Bradley on how that can now be most effectively advanced.

I am hopeful that in the period ahead it will be possible to commence a political process to get beyond the current impasse and seek an agreement between the parties on operating the devolved institutions again, consistent with the full and effective implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent Agreements.

I do not underestimate the way to go in achieving that, but I firmly believe that a resolution is possible and that the calls from across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland for the devolved institutions to operate will be heeded.

I will continue to engage intensively, working with Secretary of State Bradley and the leaders of all of the political parties, to seek a way forward that will give the best prospects for getting the devolved institutions operating again as soon as possible.

The devolved, power-sharing institutions are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and are the best means for achieving accountable, representative decision-making for all the people of Northern Ireland.

The Good Friday Agreement is the indispensable framework for providing stable, inclusive, power-sharing government for all the people of Northern Ireland and for sustaining our interlocking relationships – within Northern Ireland, on the island of Ireland and between the UK and Ireland.

The Government will continue to everything in its power, consistent with its responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to secure the effective operations of all of the institutions of the Agreement.

Living City Initiative

Ceisteanna (48)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

48. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Finance if the LCI tax incentive scheme will be extended to other counties (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38047/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Living City Initiative was enacted in the Finance Act 2013 and commenced on 5th May 2015. The Initiative was extended beyond the original planned pilot cities of Limerick and Waterford, to include the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kilkenny. In line with my Department's commitment to evidence based policy-making, the inclusion of these additional four cities followed the completion of a comprehensive, independent ex-ante cost benefit analysis.

To date, take-up of the scheme has been lower than anticipated. A review was undertaken by my officials and this was published in the Report on Tax Expenditures (October 2016).

In light of the findings in the report, and in consultation with the relevant Councils and the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, I announced a number of changes to the scheme in Budget 2017 to make the scheme more attractive and effective. The aim is to get the design of the initiative right and working in an effective manner. It is important that the underpinning scheme is made more effective, as until that has been achieved, extension of eligibility for it to other towns or cities may not be productive. Accordingly, I do not currently propose to extend the scheme beyond the present locations.

The Deputy may wish to note that "Realising our Rural Potential: Action Plan for Rural Development" contains a detailed list of actions and priorities with a view to revitalising rural Ireland generally. This effort is being led by the Minister for Rural and Community Development in conjunction with Ministers and officials from other Departments, as well as the Local Authorities and a range of other stakeholders.

A variety of actions included in this plan aim to assist in improving rural towns and making rural Ireland a better place to live. These include the Town and Village Renewal Scheme, under which funding of up to €12 million per annum is available to revitalise rural towns and villages, while there is also a commitment to develop and pilot an initiative to encourage increased residential occupancy in town and village centres.

Departmental Properties

Ceisteanna (49)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

49. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Finance the land his Department or agencies under its remit own in County Meath; the location of same; the use to which the land is put; the location of the land that is vacant, not in use or being used for agricultural purposes; the land which has been made available to Meath County Council or other housing agencies for the purpose of house building; and the amount of this land that could be made available for housing. [38057/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The properties occupied by my Department are provided and managed by the Office of Public Works and no land is owned by my Department.

I am informed that none of the bodies under the aegis of my Department owns land in County Meath. These bodies are:

Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General

Central Bank

Credit Review Office

Credit Union Advisory Committee

Credit Union Restructuring Board

Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal

Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman

Investor Compensation Company DAC

Irish Bank Resolution Corporation

Irish Financial Services Appeals Tribunal

Irish Fiscal Advisory Council

National Asset Management Agency

National Treasury Management Agency

Office of the Revenue Commissioners

Social Finance Foundation

Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland

Tax Appeals Commission

While NAMA does not own land in County Meath, a subsidiary, the National Asset Residential Property Services DAC, owns twenty-nine housing units in Bettystown in County Meath which have been leased to an approved housing body for social housing.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (50)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

50. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Finance his plans to address the revenue discrepancies between couples who are married and couples who cohabit but remain unmarried (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38077/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The basis for the current tax treatment of married couples derives from the Supreme Court decision in Murphy vs. Attorney General (1980). This decision was based on Article 41.3.1 of the Constitution where the State pledges to protect the institution of marriage. The decision held that it was contrary to the Constitution for a married couple, both of whom are working, to pay more tax than two single people living together and having the same income.

Where a couple is cohabiting, rather than married or in a civil partnership, each partner is treated for the purposes of tax as a separate and unconnected individual. Because they are treated separately for tax purposes, tax credits, tax bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other. Cohabitants do not have the same legal rights and obligations as a married couple or couple in a civil partnership which is why they are not accorded similar treatment to couples who have a civil status that is recognised in law.

From a practical perspective, it would be very difficult to administer a regime for cohabitants which would be the same as that for married couples or civil partners. Married couples and civil partners have a verifiable official confirmation of their status. It would be difficult, intrusive and time-consuming to confirm declarations by individuals that they were actually cohabiting and it would be difficult to establish when cohabitation started or ceased. Furthermore, while there may be an advantage in tax legislation for a married couple or civil partners as regards the partial transferability of the standard rate band and tax credits, their legal status as spouses/civil partners has wider consequences from a tax perspective both for themselves and persons connected with them. To counter tax avoidance, numerous restrictive provisions regarding transactions between "connected persons" are contained in the various Tax Acts and the definition of "connected persons" extends to relatives and children of spouses and civil partners. Such provisions could be very difficult to prove and enforce in respect of persons connected with a cohabiting couple where the couple has no legal recognition.

To the extent that there are differences in the tax treatment of the different categories of couples, such differences arise from the objective of dealing with different types of circumstances while at the same time respecting the constitutional requirements to protect the institution of marriage. Any change to the tax treatment of cohabiting couples can only be addressed in the broader context of future social and legal policy development in relation to such couples.

Revenue Commissioners Enforcement Activity

Ceisteanna (51)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

51. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount paid to Revenue Commissioners sheriffs in poundage fees payments for each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38107/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the execution of Revenue warrants by Sheriffs in respect of tax debts is specifically provided for in Section 960 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, as amended.

Sheriffs are entitled to fees and expenses in relation to collection of tax debts and/or seizure of goods. Fees are not paid where the tax and/or interest is not paid. Once a certificate relating to unpaid debt has been issued to a Sheriff, the taxpayer becomes liable for payment of the associated Sheriff’s fees and expenses. The current fees and expenses payable to Sheriffs are set out in a Statutory Instrument, the Sheriff’s Fees and Expenses Order S.I. 644 of 2005. Sheriffs are entitled to a lodgement fee, currently €19, for each Revenue warrant sent to them. They are entitled to “poundage” (similar to commission) where collection is successful and this is calculated at the rate of 5% on the first €5,500 and 2.5% on any additional balance for the same warrant. They are also entitled to travelling expenses and any necessary expenses incurred in relation to seizure, storage and sale of goods or in executing orders by bailiffs.

Statistics on the amount of poundage fees paid to Sheriffs in respect of tax debts due to Revenue is not reported to nor collated by Revenue, however audit verification is routinely carried out to ensure the levying of poundage fees is in accordance with the Statutory Instrument.

Summer Economic Statement

Ceisteanna (52)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

52. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if the cost of the indexation of income tax bands and income tax rates has been factored into the discretionary measures amount of €0.8 billion as set out in the summer economic statement; and if the cost of so indexing would form part of the €0.8 billion figure. [38114/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, the Programme for Partnership Government 2016, indicates that the income tax system will not be indexed.

The estimated Exchequer yield from non-indexation of the income tax system would be in the region of €0.6 billion on a full year basis. As this is a revenue generating measure (discretionary revenue measure) it increases the amount by which government expenditure can increase under the expenditure benchmark rule.

This is shown in table 3 of the Summer Economic Statement 2018 (h. discretionary revenue raising measures).

Stamp Duty

Ceisteanna (53)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

53. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the number of leases in 2017 on which stamp duty on residential leases has been paid at the 1% rate; the yield in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38131/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that Stamp Duty information in respect of residential property leases is stored on a grouped basis across certain specific categories.

The individual categories are:

- leases not exceeding 35 years or leases for any indefinite term, which are liable to a rate of 1% on average annual rent in addition to 1% on first €1 million of premium consideration and 2% on premium consideration in excess of €1 million, (only applies where the annual rent is greater than €40,000 (€30,000 if the lease was executed before 25 December 2017).

- leases for a term exceeding 35 years but not exceeding 100 years, which are liable to a rate of 6% on average annual rent in addition to 1% on first €1 million of premium consideration and 2% on premium consideration in excess of €1 million.

No Stamp Duty applies where the period of the lease does not exceed 35 years, or is for an indefinite period, and where the annual rent does not exceed €40,000 (€30,000 if the lease was executed before 25 December 2017).

Revenue has confirmed that while it is not possible to provide a breakdown between the different categories of residential property leases at the 1%, 2% and 6% rates, the total number in 2017 was 331 with Stamp Duty of €0.2 million paid.

Living City Initiative

Ceisteanna (54)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

54. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Finance his plans to implement the living city initiative in Drogheda to help drive residential numbers up and vacant properties down in view of the growing population of Drogheda and the possibility it will become a city in the very near future based on CSO projections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38179/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Living City Initiative was enacted in the Finance Act 2013 and commenced on 5th May 2015. The Initiative was extended beyond the original planned pilot cities of Limerick and Waterford, to include the cities of Dublin, Cork, Galway and Kilkenny. In line with my Department's commitment to evidence based policy-making, the inclusion of these additional four cities followed the completion of a comprehensive, independent ex-ante cost benefit analysis.

As I have advised the Deputy, to date the take-up of the scheme has been lower than anticipated. A review was undertaken in 2016 by my officials and this was published in the Report on Tax Expenditures (October 2016) that was released on Budget Day 2016.

In light of the findings in the report, and in consultation with the (now) Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, my predecessor announced a number of changes to the scheme in Budget 2017 to make the scheme more attractive and effective. The aim is to get the design of the initiative right and working in an effective manner. It is important that the underpinning scheme is made more effective, as until that has been achieved, extension of eligibility for it to other towns or cities would be largely meaningless. Accordingly, I do not currently propose to extend the scheme beyond the present locations.

Fuel Rebate Scheme

Ceisteanna (55, 56)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

55. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost of reducing the floor applied to the fuel rebate scheme to €0.85 per litre based on current prices and forecasts made by his Department regarding the price of petrol and diesel. [38190/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

56. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost of changes to the fuel rebate scheme in order that the maximum rebate available under the scheme is increased from 7.5 cent to 15 cent per litre and payable once the price reaches €1 excluding VAT and that the rebate would continue to be payable on a sliding scale but commencing when the diesel price is at €0.85 excluding VAT and reaching the maximum rebate of 15 cents once the price reaches €1 excluding VAT. [38191/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 56 together.

A relief on Mineral Oil Tax (MOT) paid on auto-diesel purchased within the State by qualifying operators, on or after 1 July 2013, is provided for by Section 99A of the Finance Act 1999 (as inserted by Section 51 of the Finance Act 2013).

The repayment amount is calculated by reference to a sliding scale based on the average price at which auto-diesel is available for purchase during a repayment period. The maximum relief is 7.5 cents per litre for fuel purchased at €1.54 or over and no relief applies where the purchase price is €1.23 or less. Full details on the requirements for qualifying operators in relation to repayments under the scheme are available on Revenue’s website at www.revenue.ie/en/tax/excise/diesel-rebate-scheme.

I am advised by Revenue that the total volume of diesel submitted for relief on MOT from the period 2014 to 2017 ranged from a high of 416m litres in 2014 to a low of 55m litres in 2016. In the absence of data on potential future uptake, the costings provided below are based on the average volume of qualifying diesel consumption for the years 2014/2015 (approximately 326m litres) and the current national average purchase price per litre in July 2018 of €1.364 (€1.109 VAT exclusive).

The cost of reducing the ‘floor price’ from €1.00 per litre (excluding VAT) to €0.85 per litre, assuming the maximum repayment value of 7.5c per litre would remain unchanged, is estimated by Revenue to be in the region of €5.2 million.

In relation to Question 38191/18, at the current national average purchase price for diesel of €1.364 per litre (July 2018), all qualifying consumption would be eligible under the proposal for the full relief of 15c per litre. Revenue has advised me that the estimated cost of the proposal would be approximately €51m per year.

Insurance Fraud

Ceisteanna (57)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

57. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance if consideration will be given to the concerns outlined by an association (details supplied) relating to fraudulent claims and increasing insurance costs; his plans to implement measures to deal with these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38195/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I welcome the proactive role that the Alliance for Insurance Reform is taking in regard to the issue of the cost of insurance, particularly for businesses and voluntary organisations. Both the Minister of State for Financial Services and Insurance, Mr. Michael D’Arcy TD, and I are very conscious of the problems arising from false or exaggerated personal injury claims and the impact that the volatility in insurance prices generally in the last few years has had on Alliance members, as well as other businesses and organisations.

Minister D’Arcy has formally met with the Alliance on a number of occasions, mostly recently on Tuesday last (September 18), and issues related to the Alliance’s “10 asks” were discussed to some level of detail, including the four specifically related to the issue of insurance fraud highlighted in the Alliance’s press release last week.

All four relevant issues were comprehensively examined and considered by the Cost of Insurance Working Group in the course of producing its two reports, namely the Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance and the Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance. Indeed, at least two of the four measures proposed by the Alliance are in the process of being implemented.

The Department of Justice and Equality has prepared Draft Heads in relation to amending section 8 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 to ensure defendants are notified within one month of a claim having been lodged against their policy and it is expected that the amendments will be progressed by the end of the year.

Pursuant to Recommendation 13 from the Liability Insurance Report, a procedure to ensure exaggerated and misleading claims are referred to the Gardaí for investigation and prosecution, if appropriate, has been established. In particular, a new set of guidelines in respect of the reporting of suspected fraudulent insurance claims has been agreed between An Garda Síochána and insurance entities. These guidelines are due to become operational shortly. A separate stream of work relates to an examination of the court process in circumstances where the court believes there to be an element of fraud or exaggeration in the claim which should be investigated by the Gardaí. Measures which could be taken to ensure that the appropriate action is taken in such circumstances are being examined.

In addition, another “spin-off” occurrence from the implementation of this recommendation has been a commitment for the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and Insurance Ireland’s Anti-Fraud Forum to meet on a regular basis in order to discuss and act upon current and ongoing general issues which arise in the area of insurance fraud. This positive development is an opportunity for greater communication and improved processes and it is hoped that it will lead to a better understanding on both sides of the issues arising in the investigation and reporting of fraud.

In relation to the establishment of a dedicated Garda insurance fraud unit, Insurance Ireland communicated the outcome of its cost/benefit analysis at the start of July 2018, recommending industry funding of such a unit. I understand that the new Garda Commissioner has yet to form a view on the proposal, and there are a number of serious issues which will require further consideration before any decision whether or not to proceed in this manner is taken. It is important to note that while the idea of a dedicated Garda Fraud Unit has been the focus of a lot of attention, it was in fact one proposal within the overarching Recommendation 26 in the Motor Report which called for “further cooperation between the insurance sector and An Garda Síochána in relation to insurance fraud investigation", and, as outlined above, significant progress has been achieved in this regard.

Finally, in relation to the proposal to regulate claims management companies, my officials have been looking at this issue to understand the precise scale and nature of the perceived problem. Engagement has taken place with the relevant regulatory authority in the UK, as well as relevant parties here, including the Law Society of Ireland and the insurance industry. It should be noted that the Law Society has taken a very proactive role against “claims harvesting” websites operating in Ireland, and its investigations have led to a number of websites having been taken down over the past couple of years. I understand that the number of such websites operating in Ireland has decreased significantly over the past couple of years overall, but my officials will continue to examine this issue and take appropriate action accordingly.

Departmental Reports

Ceisteanna (58)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

58. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Finance the progress to date in implementing the report of the cost of insurance working group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38196/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As the Deputy is aware, the Cost of Insurance Working Group undertook an examination of the factors contributing to the cost of insurance in order to identify what short, medium and long-term measures could be introduced to help reduce the cost of insurance for consumers and businesses.

The initial focus of the Working Group was the issue of rising motor insurance premiums and the Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance was published in January 2017, containing 33 recommendations with 71 associated actions.

In its second phase, the Working Group examined the cost of business insurance, in particular employer liability insurance and public liability insurance. This work culminated in the publication in January 2018 of the Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance, with 15 recommendations and 29 associated actions to be carried out.

Both of the primary Reports contain an Action Plan, setting out the agreed timelines for implementation, and also a commitment that the Working Group will prepare quarterly updates on its progress. The Working Group has published six such updates, most recently in August.

The Sixth Quarterly Update shows that 58 of the 71 deadlines placed on actions across the two reports to date have been completed. One of the actions achieved during this time was the delivery of the final report of the Personal Injuries Commission, which merges the content of what had been intended to be two reports. This report was published on Tuesday this week and the implementation of its key recommendations should have an impact upon the awarding of personal injury damages in the future.

As well as the actions which have been finalised, it is important also to consider the continued progress being made on some of the large scale actions. One area of significant progress has been the markedly enhanced levels of engagement and cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry since the creation of the Fraud Roundtable. This has led not only to the agreement of a protocol between An Garda Síochána and insurers in relation to the reporting of suspected fraudulent personal injury claims but also a commitment for the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and Insurance Ireland’s Anti-Fraud Forum to meet on a regular basis in order to discuss and act upon current and ongoing relevant issues in this area.

Much progress has also been made on putting in place a National Claims Information Database with the recently published Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Bill 2018. The second stage debate on that legislation is scheduled to take place in the Dáil today. The enactment of this Bill will provide us with much greater insight into, in particular, the identification of settlement channel information which should lead to a greater consistency in award levels and a greater use of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. This would result in a more stable claims environment, in turn positively influencing the price of insurance paid by consumers.

I believe that the reforms which we have been implementing since January 2017 are already showing positive results. The cost of private motor insurance as measured by the Central Statistics Office on a monthly basis has fallen by over 20% since the high premiums seen in July 2016. I appreciate that these figures represent a broad average however we have to recognise that these are the same figures that showed the large increase that many commentators regularly reference. Therefore, I think it has to be recognised that the overall trend currently is downward, which is welcome.

Tax Yield

Ceisteanna (59)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

59. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the revenue received from the vehicle registration tax in the past five years and to date for 2018 by CO2 bands in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38199/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am informed by Revenue that the receipts received from the Vehicle Registration Tax in the past five years and to July 2018 by CO2 bands is as set out in the following table.

Bands

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018*

gCO2/km

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

A1 (0 - 80)

0.08

0.39

1.60

4.45

6.39

8.90

A2 (81-100)

26.94

59.93

85.01

109.76

102.66

70.82

A3 (101-110)

36.18

72.04

136.89

178.51

183.14

146.49

A4 (111-120)

116.70

124.44

125.95

189.80

198.97

176.00

A5 (121-130)

65.64

74.53

84.89

106.83

113.42

105.22

A6 (131-140)

89.31

93.67

87.08

77.10

85.35

68.72

A7 (141-155)

46.31

46.35

44.86

53.79

53.70

51.50

A8 (156-170)

16.31

19.86

21.80

18.59

24.49

21.54

A9 (171-190)

11.77

9.07

15.07

15.23

18.73

18.18

A10 (191-225)

9.57

12.96

6.54

6.16

6.76

5.37

A11 (226 & over)

2.95

3.92

4.35

4.97

4.90

4.17

Total Cars

421.77

517.17

614.03

765.17

798.53

676.92

Total Other Vehicles

15.54

24.93

35.56

49.04

42.07

42.62

Total Net Receipts

437.31

542.10

649.59

814.21

840.60

719.54

*provisional data as at end July 2018

Vehicle Registration

Ceisteanna (60)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

60. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the impact of the new worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure on the vehicle registration tax; if VRT is likely to increase due to the new test; the amount by which it is expected to increase; when the WLTP will be in use for VRT purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38200/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Ireland’s Vehicle Registration Tax regime is based on CO2 emissions in order to encourage the purchase of vehicles with lower CO2 emissions. This is in line with broader climate change policy as well as EU Regulations which set ever lower binding emissions targets on the automotive industry in relation to new car and van fleets. I understand that the introduction of the WLTP will more accurately reflect the CO2 emissions produced by motor vehicles and officials from my Department are currently examining options around the potential impact of the introduction of the WLTP on motorists, the motor industry, and the Exchequer.

More information about the options under consideration can be found in the Department’s Energy and Environmental Taxes TSG paper, published last month: https://www.finance.gov.ie/what-we-do/tax/the-tax-strategy-group/

NAMA Property Sales

Ceisteanna (61)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

61. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his views on the sale by NAMA of a site (details supplied) in Dublin 8 in view of the establishment of the national Land Development Agency; his further views on whether this land could have been used under the LDA for social and affordable housing; if he was consulted regarding the sale; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38201/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I wish to advise the Deputy that as Minister, I have no role to play in NAMA’s operations or in its commercial decisions. NAMA is prohibited, under Section 99 and Section 202 of the NAMA Act 2009, from disclosing confidential information relating to its debtors and for that reason, I do not propose to make any comment in relation to the particular issue raised by the Deputy.

In relation to the Land Development Agency, this is a new agency to ensure the optimal usage of State land and will have an immediate focus on managing the State’s own lands to develop new homes, and regenerate under-utilised sites. It is important to recognise that NAMA does not own property, rather, NAMA owns loans secured by property which is owned by its debtors and therefore such sites are not included within the immediate focus of the Land Development Agency.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (62)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

62. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Finance if a farmer incurs losses in excess of three years, the way in which such losses are treated in the income tax code in respect of section 662 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, as amended, in which relief in respect of losses in farming or market gardening are restricted for a three year period in the context of circumstances in which there would be a sustained period of losses in excess of that which is permitted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38215/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that there are specific provisions relating to losses from a farming or a market gardening trade set out in section 662 TCA 1997.

In general, a trading loss incurred in farming or market gardening may not be set off against other profits unless the claimant can show that the farming or market gardening trade was operated on a commercial basis and with a view to profit. In addition to, and independently of, this test, loss relief is not available for set off in a fourth year if losses have been incurred in each of the three preceding years. Any loss arising in the fourth year may be carried forward for offset against future profits of the same farming trade but is not available for offset against other income under section 381 TCA 1997.

There are a number of exceptions to the above general rules, whereby the restrictions on loss relief will not apply in the following circumstances:

- where the farming or market gardening trade forms part of, and is ancillary to, a larger trading undertaking (Section 662 (2)(e));

- where the farming or market gardening trade was set up and commenced within the prior three tax years (Section 662 (5)); or

- where the person claiming the relief can show in the fourth year that the farming or market gardening activities are of such a nature, and carried on in such a way, that if undertaken competently, they would give rise to a reasonable expectation of future profits and that the business could not reasonably have been expected to become profitable until after the fourth year (Section 662 (2)(d)).