Irish Aid

Ceisteanna (133)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

133. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of persons employed in the fraud unit in Irish Aid in each of the years 2012 to 2018 and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8215/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade operates in a complex and diverse environment, given both the range of its work and the variety of locations where it operates. The Department recognises that the risk of fraud is an ever-present threat to its assets, resources and reputation. The Department has a zero tolerance towards fraud, and managing risk, including the risk of potential fraud, is an integral part of how the Department works, including in the Irish Aid programme. Accordingly, all officers in the Department share the responsibility for risk management and prevention of fraud.

The Department has in place policies and procedures for the prevention, detection and dealing with instances of fraud or suspected fraud. These include the Financial Policy and Procedures, the Department’s Risk Management Policy, the Counter-Fraud Policy, and the Standard Approach to Grant Management, all of which are regularly reviewed and updated. All Department personnel are responsible for ensuring strong, robust and effective fraud prevention and control. In particular, senior managers in the Department are responsible for implementing Departmental policies and for the operation and maintenance of the Department’s internal control systems, which promote the prevention, detection and investigation of fraud, as well as management of the risk of fraud. This includes ensuring the rigorous implementation of the appraisal and approval procedures in place with regard to funding provided to organisations or programmes under the Irish Aid programme.

In line with the Department’s Counter Fraud Policy, all instances of suspected or alleged fraud in partner organisations, including those funded by Irish Aid, are required to be reported to the Department. Cases are examined by the Department’s Evaluation and Audit Unit and appropriate follow up actions are taken, in consultation with the relevant line Division, to ascertain the amount of any loss, identify perpetrators, and identify any control weaknesses which may need to be strengthened. It is the Department’s policy to actively seek recovery of any Irish public funds deemed to have been misappropriated.

Over the period from 2012 to date, the staff complement of the Evaluation and Audit Unit has been in range of 18 to 20 staff, including eight based in Embassies managing significant development programmes.

Irish Aid

Ceisteanna (134, 135, 136)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

134. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Irish Aid is suspended or restricted to certain countries in relation to concerns regarding the use of Irish Aid money; if so, the countries in question; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8216/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niall Collins

Ceist:

135. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the countries that have had Irish Aid suspended or restricted over concerns of its use of Irish Aid money in each of the years 2012 to 2018 and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8217/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niall Collins

Ceist:

136. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the safeguards that have been put in place to ensure Irish Aid money is spent correctly and in accordance with set procedures and standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8218/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 134 to 136, inclusive, together.

The Irish Aid programme, managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has a strong focus on value for money, transparency, accountability and sustainable results. A key function of Embassies in countries where Ireland has a development co-operation programme is to actively monitor risk and ensure that the evolution of a country programme responds dynamically to risk environments. Accountants, internal auditors and technical specialists at mission level work in policy teams, and frequently in coordination with partner donors and international financial institutions, to drive this dynamic risk management, underpinned by headquarters oversight including by the Department's independent Audit and Evaluation Unit.

As part of Irish Aid's risk management approach, Ireland's overseas development assistance is channelled through a variety of financing modalities and partners, including official, civil society and multilateral or UN partnerships. This ensures that if problems occur, a given funding modality may be suspended to allow actions to be taken to ensure that issues arising are fully and satisfactorily addressed. It is not the case that assistance to countries is suspended or restricted, rather the mix of modalities is adjusted in light of risk analysis in any given moment.

In a number of countries where Ireland works, support is also given to relevant government institutions, such as the auditor general’s offices, anti-corruption bureaux and civil society monitoring and advocacy groups, to help ensure that public monies, both Ireland's and partner governments’, are used to good effect and in accordance with both the spirit and letter of our partnership agreements.

Irish Aid

Ceisteanna (137)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

137. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures that have been put in place following the suspension of Irish aid to Uganda in 2012; if Uganda is still subject to restrictions with regard to Irish aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8219/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government is committed to ensuring that aid is spent efficiently and effectively to tackle global challenges. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a zero tolerance approach towards fraud, and has in place policies and procedures for the prevention, detection and dealing with instances of fraud, or suspected fraud. These policies and procedures are in place in all Embassies with respect to the disbursement and expenditure of Irish Aid funds.

The Embassy in Kampala manages the Irish Aid programme through the 2016-2020 Uganda Country Strategy. Within this strategy Ireland is focused on social protection, HIV-AIDS, education and governance, and has programmes targeted at Uganda’s poorest region, Karamoja. In delivering this programme through local partners, risks are identified in a proposed partner organisation as part of an initial appraisal process. The nature of these risks is assessed and if mitigation is possible, the Embassy will agree to support the organisation. Currently, the Irish Aid programme in Uganda does not use Government financial systems, but rather partners with UN agencies and NGOs in delivery. Financial and management systems assessments are periodically conducted and funding is earmarked for identified activities that are pivotal to achieving results.

The programme in Uganda has been under close scrutiny by the Comptroller and Auditor General due to the 2012 fraud involving the Office of the Prime Minister. In February 2017, a delegation from the Comptroller and Auditor General's office visited Uganda, as a country level example of the Department’s control systems and improvements in procedures for bilateral assistance, following the major fraud case in 2012. The Department continuously reviews internal controls and risk management, and has revised and enhanced its grant management process for the Irish Aid programme, taking account of eeeee444444444444443the lessons learned from this fraud in 2012. The ongoing work of our internal auditors in key partner countries includes assessment of compliance with these and all the processes in place to manage grants.

I would point out the important role of the Uganda Auditor General, whose team had been strengthened by Irish Aid, in detecting and highlighting the fraud, as well as the fact that all Irish funds were returned to the Embassy in Uganda.

Passport Services

Ceisteanna (138)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

138. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the contract for the Passport Express service with An Post will be renewed when the current contract expires; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8257/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Passport Express service provides an option for citizens to submit their passport application through the network of more than one thousand post offices across the State. All types of Passport Application, both renewal and first time applications, can be made via the Passport Express Service.

The Passport Service is committed to continue to offer a range of application channels, including an offline service for citizens who are not eligible or do not wish to use the Online Passport service. In parallel to the expansion of the online service to all application types, the Passport Service expects to issue a tender during 2020 for a nation-wide network of agents to continue to provide such an offline service.

North South Inter-Parliamentary Association

Ceisteanna (139)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

139. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of times the North South Inter-Parliamentary Association has met since it was formed; when the last meeting of the association took place; the matters discussed and achieved by the association; and when the next meeting of the association will take place. [8277/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The operation of the North South Inter-Parliamentary Association is a matter, in this jurisdiction, for the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The establishment of a North South parliamentary forum was envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. Following an agreement by working groups of both the Oireachtas and the Northern Ireland Assembly on 4 July 2012, the inaugural plenary session of the North South Inter-Parliamentary Association was held in the Seanad Chamber on 12 October 2012. The most recent plenary session of the North South Inter-Parliamentary Association took place on 2 December 2016 in Belfast.

At present, the North South Inter-Parliamentary Association is unable to meet and this will unfortunately remain the case until the Northern Ireland Assembly is fully reconvened.

I am continuing to work with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the leaders of each of the political parties to get the necessary political process in place to secure an agreement for a functioning Executive and Assembly.

The Government will continue, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to do everything in our power to ensure that all of its institutions can operate fully and effectively.

Departmental Contracts Data

Ceisteanna (140)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

140. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to cost overruns on contracts within his Department with a value in excess of €10 million that came in more than 10% over budget in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; if so, the details of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8424/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a "Nil" response as it does not have any contracts with a value in excess of €10 million.

The total capital allocation for my Department across its two Votes – Vote 27: International Co-operation and Vote 28: Foreign Affairs and Trade - is relatively modest compared to most other Government Departments. In the years covered by the Deputy's Question, the Department's total capital allocations, for Votes 27 and 28, were:

2016 € 5.75 million

2017 €11.0 million

2018 €13.0 million

2019 €21.0 million

The main focus of capital investment in 2019 will be the cost of constructing and maintaining State properties overseas under the Global Ireland Initiative, the Passport Reform Programme and the continuing investment in ICT to support the Department’s global ICT network and Ireland’s participation at EXPO 2020.

Decisions on capital expenditure by the Department are consistent with value for money principles and where the investment will provide clear benefits for the State. In this regard, capital projects are closely monitored, at all stages of the contract, to seek to avoid any cost overruns.

Property Tax Review

Ceisteanna (141)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

141. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if the review of local property tax will include an assessment of the fairness of applying the full tax to residents in areas that have been paying the tax since its introduction but whose areas have not yet been taken in charge by the local council; and if not, the way in which he plans to deal with the anomaly. [8333/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The proceeds of the local property tax, LPT, are largely used in the general provision and maintenance of infrastructure, services and amenities in a local authority area. Accordingly, residential property owners in estates not yet taken in charge benefit from the expenditure of these proceeds in the same way as the owners of other residential properties in the general locality in terms of the provision of public roads, footpaths, lighting, open spaces, surface water drainage and other public amenities. LPT is accordingly payable, regardless of whether or not an estate has been taken in charge.

Planning and development matters fall under the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. However, I am informed by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government that under section 180 (1) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended), a planning authority is obliged to initiate taking in charge procedures where requested by either the developer or by the majority of owners of the dwellings. However, this is subject to the development being completed to the satisfaction of the authority and in accordance with the permission and any conditions.

Section 180 provides that in relation to estates which have not have been completed to the satisfaction of the planning authority and enforcement proceedings have not been commenced within the relevant period, the planning authority must, if requested to do so by the majority of the owners of the houses, initiate the procedures set out in section 11 of the Roads Act for the taking in charge of an estate.

I further understand that section 180 was amended in the Planning and Development Act (Amendment) 2010 to provide that a planning authority may take in charge an unfinished estate at any time after the expiration of the planning permission in situations where enforcement actions have failed or the planning authority has not taken enforcement action (for example, where it considered such action would be futile). Planning authorities are now specifically empowered to take in charge part of an estate, or some but not all of the facilities in an estate.

Under the amendments made to the 2000 Act by the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, from 22 October 2018, section 180 of the 2000 Act also applies to Strategic Housing Developments, specifically to the houses and associated infrastructure in such developments. Other amendments made under the 2018 Act include that where such development has not been completed to the satisfaction of the planning authority and enforcement proceedings have not been commenced by the planning authority within four years, beginning on the expiration of the appropriate period of the permission (or such period extended under section 42 of the 2000 Act, as amended), the authority shall, where requested by the majority of owners of the houses involved, comply with section 11 of the Roads Act, 1993, but the authority shall disregard the financial implications of doing so.

The authority may at its absolute discretion, at any time after the expiration as respects the permission authorising the development of the appropriate period, or if the authority considers that enforcement proceedings would be futile, where requested by a majority of the owners of the houses in question, initiate the procedures under section 11 of the Roads Act 1993.

Betting Licences Data

Ceisteanna (142)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

142. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Finance the number of licences for gaming machines issued by the Revenue Commissioners in 2016, 2017 and 2018; and the amount of fees collected from the issue of such licences in each year. [7657/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the following table sets out the number of Gaming Machine Licences issued and the fees collected for the years 2016 to 2018, inclusive.

-

2016

2017

2018

-

-

-

Licence Type

Number Issued

Total Duty € million

Number Issued

Total Duty € million

Number Issued

Total Duty € million

Gaming Machine(Annual Licence)

2,668

1,347,340

3,599

1,817,495

4,326

2,184,630

Gaming Machine (3-month Licence)

3,420

495,900

6,013

871,885

7,787

1,129,115

A gaming machine operator is also required to hold a Gaming Licence for each premise where gaming machines are available for play. The following table sets out the number of Gaming (Premises) Licences issued and fees collected during the same three-year period.

-

2016

2017

2018

-

-

-

Licence Type

Number Issued

Total Duty €

Number Issued

Total Duty €

Number Issued

Total Duty €

Gaming Premises(Annual Licence)

74

46,620

81

51,030

91

57,330

Gaming Premises(3-month Licence)

2

350

3

525

3

525

Debt Collectors Regulation

Ceisteanna (143)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

143. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the position on the licensing and regulation of debt collection agencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7666/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Debt collection agencies are not regulated entities and therefore are not subject to authorisation and supervision by the Central Bank of Ireland. However, financial service providers providing credit, which are regulated by the Central Bank, may appoint agents to conduct debt collection activities. In the case of credit provided by financial service providers regulated by the Central Bank who outsource an activity such as debt collection, the regulated financial service provider remains responsible for ensuring that the outsourced firm complies with the relevant provisions of Irish financial services legislation supervised by the Central Bank.

The Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012 (‘the Code’, available here: https://www.centralbank.ie/docs/default-source/Regulation/consumer-protection/other-codes-of-conduct/consumer-protection-code-2012.pdf) applies to regulated financial service providers providing regulated activities within the State. Provision 2.10 of the Code provides that a regulated entity must ensure that in all its dealings with customers and within the context of its authorisation, it ensures that any outsourced activity complies with the requirements of this Code.

There are also specific rules for debt collection in relation to agreements covered by the Consumer Credit Act 1995 and the European Communities (Consumer Credit Agreements) Regulations 2010.

VAT Rate Application

Ceisteanna (144)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

144. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 178 of 5 February 2019, if there is scope to reduce VAT on such non-alcoholic drinks in view of the fact that they are not beer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7678/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

In replying to the Deputy’s Question No 178 of 5 February 2019, I stated that “there is no means under EU VAT law to apply a lower VAT rate to the supply of non-alcoholic beer”. I regret to inform the Deputy that this is incorrect. The position is that it may be possible under Annex III of the VAT Directive for a reduced rate to be applied to non-alcoholic beverages.

I have no plans to reduce the VAT rate on non-alcoholic beverages. The majority of drinks, including soft drinks and bottled water, are charged to VAT at the 23% standard VAT rate in Ireland. Applying a reduced VAT rate to non-alcoholic beer and wine would necessarily involve the application of different VAT rates to supplies of non-alcoholic beverages. This would be difficult to administer and would be likely to provide considerable scope for manipulation of the VAT system and potential opportunities for tax avoidance.

Financial Services Regulation

Ceisteanna (145)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

145. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 75 of 4 October 2018, if there have been changes in the regulatory status of the company; if the Central Bank has responded to correspondence indicating that it will regulate this type of lending activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7736/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Following the Deputy's question of 4 October last, I wrote to the Central Bank on this matter. The Bank is conducting an examination into this issue from a regulatory and policy perspective but has indicated, based on the information available to date, that an entity operating in such a manner may not require a specific authorisation from the Central Bank.

The Bank is not in a position to comment on its engagement with specific entities. Nonetheless, the Bank acknowledges, regardless of whether or not the entity requires a specific Central Bank authorisation, that the Bank has an overall consumer protection role in relation to the provision of credit and similar type agreements to consumers. I understand that this matter, therefore, is being monitored and kept under review by the Central Bank.

Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Remit

Ceisteanna (146)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

146. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if local authorities are classified as financial service providers for the purposes of complaints to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman in view of their role in administering and providing mortgages through the Rebuilding Ireland mortgage scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7740/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

It is important to distinguish the Office of the Ombudsman from the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO).

The role of the Ombudsman is to examine complaints from people who feel that they have been unfairly treated by a public service provider within his remit, including local authorities.

Therefore, people would have a right of complaint to the Ombudsman on issues concerning how local authorities administer the Rebuilding Ireland Mortgage Scheme.

I understand that the FSPO does not consider that he has a role in investigating the actions of local authorities in relation to mortgages provided under Rebuilding Ireland.

Financial Services Sector

Ceisteanna (147)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

147. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if an investigation is taking place in respect of surcharge interest on arrears being wrongly charged in respect of mortgages that originated with a bank (details supplied); if the matter has been brought to the attention of the Central Bank by the owners of such loans; the number of persons affected by this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7752/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by the Central Bank that the issue as outlined by the Deputy has not been brought to the Bank's attention. However, if there is any relevant information that the Deputy wishes to bring to the direct attention of the Central Bank, the Bank has advised it will consider it in the context of its supervisory activity.

Mortgage Data

Ceisteanna (148)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

148. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) is reporting the full mortgage loan balance as arrears following the serving of a demand letter on the mortgage holder; the action being taken on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7753/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Assuming the Deputy is referring to statistical data reporting by firms on Mortgage Arrears and Repossessions Statistics, I am advised by the Central Bank that a statistical data reporting issue was addressed by a revision to the Mortgage Arrears and Repossession Statistics published in December 2018. This was done to ensure harmonised reporting across all reporting agents. In previous submissions to the Central Bank, one portfolio was reported as fully in arrears where a formal demand for repayment had been made, as opposed to the outstanding arrears figure only. The Deputy should be aware that the Central Bank cannot comment on individual firms.

Mortgage Arrears Rate

Ceisteanna (149)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

149. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if the reports that a company (details supplied) has reverted incorrect methodology for calculating mortgage arrears balances will be investigated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7754/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the engagement by firms, including the one he mentioned in the details supplied, with customers in relation to ceasing the practice of Automatic Arrears Capitalisation. Automatic Arrears Capitalisation refers to a methodology used by some lenders to recalculate borrowers' contracted monthly instalment (“CMI”) on their mortgage, following a trigger event (such as an interest rate change). The Central Bank is of the view that the practice of Automatic Arrears Capitalisation is not in the best interest of consumers and where the practice was identified, it intervened to ensure the practice ceased.

The Central Bank has also advised me that a briefing note on the same topic was requested by Deputy John McGuinness on 18 May and a response issued by the Central Bank on 22 June. A copy of the response can be found at: https://www.centralbank.ie/docs/default-source/publications/correspondence/oireachtas-correspondence/20180622-response-to-finance-committee-re-calculation-of-mortgage-arrears.pdf?sfvrsn=4

However, if the Deputy is referring to a different issue, I am advised by the Central Bank that it cannot comment on its supervisory activity relating to individual regulated firms due to confidentiality requirements. However, if there is specific information that the Deputy wishes to bring to the direct attention of the Central Bank, the Bank has advised that it will consider it in the context of its supervisory activity.

Flood Risk Insurance Cover Provision

Ceisteanna (150)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

150. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the progress made on ensuring that flood insurance is available at a reasonable price to householders; the flood protection plans in place to ensure a location (details supplied) will be revived from the areas of high risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7803/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am conscious of the difficulties that the absence or withdrawal of flood insurance cover can cause to homeowners and businesses, and that is one of the reasons the Government has been prioritising investment in flood defences over the last number of years.

However, the Deputy should be aware that the provision of insurance is a commercial matter for insurance companies, which has to be based on a proper assessment of the risks they are willing to accept. This assessment will in many cases include insurers' own presumptions based on their private modelling and research. Consequently, neither the Government nor the Central Bank can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products or has the power to direct insurance companies to provide flood cover to specific individuals or businesses. This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance which expressly prohibits Member States from doing so.

Government policy in relation to flooding is focused on the development of a sustainable, planned and risk-based approach to dealing with flooding problems. This in turn should lead to the increased availability of flood insurance. To achieve this aim, there is a focus on:

- prioritising spending on flood relief measures by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and relevant local authorities;

- development and implementation of plans by the OPW to implement flood relief schemes; and

- ongoing communication between the OPW and the insurance industry, in order to reach a better understanding about the provision of flood cover in marginal areas.

The above approach is complemented by a Memorandum of Understanding between the OPW and Insurance Ireland, which provides for the exchange of data in relation to completed flood defence schemes which should provide a basis for the increased provision of flood insurance in areas where works have been completed. In this regard, the Insurance Ireland/OPW working group, which the Department of Finance attends, now meets on a quarterly basis to support the information flow and improve the understanding of issues between both parties.

The core strategy for addressing areas at potentially significant risk from flooding is the OPW Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme. The CFRAM Programme focussed on 300 Areas for Further Assessment (AFAs) including 90 coastal areas, mainly in urban locations nationwide, identified as being at potentially significant risk of flooding. The proposed feasible measures, both structural and non-structural, identified for AFAs are outlined in Flood Risk Management Plans, published in May 2018.

Ballybofey-Stranorlar was included as an AFA with the development of a Flood Relief Scheme proposed for the area. I understand that the proposed Scheme for Ballybofey-Stranorlar is not part of the first phase of projects to be advanced from the nationwide Flood Risk Management Plans, but that the OPW and Donegal County Council will work closely to ensure that it will be commenced in the coming years and within the 10-year timeframe for the programme of investment. Until this time, funding of €157,500 was approved under the OPW's 2018 Minor Works Scheme for the removal of vegetation and trees on embankments and also for the construction of sumps/pumping areas.

Finally, the Deputy should be aware that a consumer can make a complaint to the Financial Services Ombudsman in relation to any dealings with a Financial Services or Insurance provider during which they feel they have been unfairly treated. In addition, individuals who are experiencing difficulty in obtaining flood insurance or believe that they are being treated unfairly may contact Insurance Ireland, which operates a free Insurance Information Service for those who have queries, complaints or difficulties in relation to insurance.

Film Industry Tax Reliefs

Ceisteanna (151)

Kate O'Connell

Ceist:

151. Deputy Kate O'Connell asked the Minister for Finance his plans for the regional film development uplift corporation tax credit introduced in the Finance Act 2018; his further plans to extend the area-specific annexe to the European Commission decision C(2014) 3153; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7829/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Section 481 TCA 1997 provides a 32% payable credit for eligible expenditure on film production in Ireland. It is available to Irish and international film production companies that are resident in the State or in an EEA State and carry on business in the State through a branch or subsidiary.

In addition to extending the credit's end date from 2020 to 2024, Finance Bill 2018 provided for a short-term, tapered regional uplift, commencing at 5%, for productions being made in areas designated under the State aid regional guidelines. The regional uplift will be introduced subject to State aid approval.

The regional uplift will be phased out on a tiered basis with 5% available in years 1 and 2, 3% in year 3, 2% in year 4, and reducing to 0% from year 5 on. The purpose of the regional uplift is to support the development of new, local pools of talent in areas outside the current main production hubs and to support the geographic spread of the audio-visual sector.

In considering whether the regional film development uplift applies, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht shall have regard to the following factors -

i. whether the production of the film is substantially undertaken in an assisted region;

ii. whether there is limited availability of individuals with suitable experience or training who habitually reside within a 45 kilometre radius of the place of production to provide services, and

iii. in respect of the areas of expertise where there is limited availability, the company provides training for individuals that habitually reside within that 45 kilometre radius.

The regions availing of the uplift will currently be limited to areas in Ireland sanctioned to receive regional aid under the EU regional aid guidelines.

The EU Regional Aid Guidelines (RAGS) allow each Member State to provide enhanced rates of State aid in the least economically developed areas of each country. This enables the State’s enterprise development agencies to grant State aid, at enhanced rates, to businesses in order to support new investment and new employment in productive projects in Ireland's most disadvantaged regions.

As I advised during Report stage of the Finance Bill process, should it transpire through conversations with the Commission that the geographic regions able to avail of the uplift can be amended, the extension of the uplift to include other regions may be something we can consider.

Additionally, I would like to advise the Deputy that the notification process has begun but it is currently not possible to give a definitive timeline as to when this process will be completed.

Tracker Mortgage Examination

Ceisteanna (152)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

152. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the status of the tracker mortgage examination by the Central Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7865/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Central Bank of Ireland published its latest update on the Tracker Mortgage Examination on 4 February. The update indicated that:

- The number of affected customers stood at 39,800 at end-December 2018 (including 7,100 impacted tracker accounts which were identified and resolved prior to the commencement of the industry wide examination), an increase of 1,400 since end-August 2018.

- 97 per cent of verified affected customers have received their redress and compensation at end December 2018.

- Redress and compensation payments are now largely complete with €647 million paid out by lenders at end-December.

The Central Bank has advised that its priority at all times throughout the Examination has been to make sure that all affected groups of customers have been identified and remediated. This work has now been completed at the majority of lenders.

The Central Bank has also advised that in the case of the remaining lenders, supervision work continues, as the Central Bank must ensure that the work carried out by lenders is sufficiently rigorous and thorough, to have addressed satisfactorily any remaining issues affecting groups of customers and to ensure that all eligible groups of customers are included for redress and compensation. This may result in the identification of some additional affected customers before the Examination is concluded. This work is expected to be complete in the remaining lenders in Q1 2019, with the final report expected to be published in the coming months.

The full Examination Update is available at the following link: https://www.centralbank.ie/docs/default-source/consumer-hub-library/tracker-issues/update-on-tracker-mortgage-examination---february-2019.pdf?sfvrsn=4.

Tracker Mortgage Examination Expenditure

Ceisteanna (153)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

153. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the resources being deployed by the Central Bank in the ongoing enforcement investigations associated with the tracker mortgage examination; the number of staff involved; if outside expertise is being used; the number of site visits held; the number of documents inspected; the number of meetings held; the maximum financial and other penalties that can be imposed on the institutions concerned and on persons found to be responsible within those institutions; when he expects the enforcement investigations to be concluded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7866/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Central Bank has previously confirmed in a series of public updates and during appearances before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach that it is actively investigating, in an enforcement context, matters relating to the issues identified at certain lenders in respect of failures relating to tracker mortgages.

In this context, the Bank is considering all possible angles, including potential individual culpability, and is thoroughly investigating and analysing these matters in the context of its legal framework. These enforcement investigations are detailed and forensic in nature, and are seeking to establish the exact circumstances of how and why people lost, or were denied, their entitlement to a tracker mortgage or were placed on the incorrect interest rate. The enforcement investigations are also examining whether the documentation, which customers received from lenders, was clear and what key decisions were taken by lenders, or not taken, which resulted in customers losing their tracker rate or right to a tracker rate. In addition, the Central Bank is examining instances where lenders may have failed to have the requisite safeguards in place to ensure that they implemented the “Stop the Harm” principles set out within the Central Bank’s Framework for conducting the Tracker Mortgage Examination. These principles were developed to prevent further detriment to customers from occurring after the Examination commenced.

Given the live and on-going nature of these investigations, the Central Bank has indicated that it cannot comment on the specifics of these investigations. The Central Bank’s investigations are at different stages thus it is not possible to be definitive as to when they will all conclude. However, the Bank currently anticipates that at least one of these investigations will conclude in 2019.

The Central Bank's sanctioning powers are set out within Part IIIC of the Central Bank Act 1942, as amended by the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act, 2013. Under the "old" sanctioning regime the Central Bank may impose a monetary penalty on firms not exceeding €5,000,000 - €500,000 in respect of individuals - in respect of prescribed contraventions. Where the sanctions regime post-August 2013 applies, the Central Bank may impose a monetary penalty not exceeding the greater of €10,000,000 or 10% of turnover on firms - €1,000,000 in the case of an individual - in respect of prescribed contraventions.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (154)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

154. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Finance the estimated effect of the UK leaving from the EU will have on the net Irish annual contribution to the EU budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7930/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Given that the UK represents one of the largest net contributors to the EU budget, Brexit is likely to make a significant impact on Member States contributions, including Ireland’s. The exact impact will dependent on the nature of the final agreement between the EU and the UK regarding its involvement with the EU budget post-Brexit.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and UK, the UK had agreed to continue to pay into the EU budget for the remaining years of the current MFF, as if it was still a member. This would have resulted in no additional impact on Ireland’s contributions or receipts up to the end of the current MFF in 2020.

However, if that Withdrawal Agreement, WA, is not concluded and there is a no-deal Brexit, the impacts on the EU budget will need to be clarified. Under this scenario the UK would need to clarity its intentions regarding whether it still intended to continue making payments towards the current MFF. The Commission’s recently published “Contingency Framework” assumes a no-deal outcome, but establishes a legal basis for the UK to continue to both make payments into the EU budget and to access receipts from it for the year 2019. This framework seeks to minimise any unnecessary disruption for beneficiaries of EU spending programmes at the time of withdrawal.

If the UK decided to not continue with these payments, then both the Commission and Member States would need to consider the most appropriate way forward. However, the gap would need to be mitigated by either increased contributions from other Member States, reductions in EU funding programmes, or a combination of both.

Any forecasted impact on Ireland will depend on a number of variables which will dependent on that outcome such as adjustments to expenditure, increases in contributions, or a combination of both.