Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Ceisteanna (61)

James Browne

Ceist:

61. Deputy James Browne asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the position regarding the affiliation of a union (details supplied) to another union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49524/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body, without the consent of the Minister. Members of the Permanent Defence Force also cannot become members of a trade union.  

To compensate for these limitations there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members, including  redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces Ombudsman and a Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

In 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, upheld the prohibition of the right of military personnel to strike but did conclude that Ireland was in violation of Article 5 of the European Social Charter on the grounds of the prohibition against military representative associations from joining national employees organisations and in respect of Article 6.2 of the Charter regarding the right to bargain collectively. 

It should be noted that the basis for the complaint pre-dates a number of significant Government initiatives. In relation to collective bargaining, the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations were afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations which led to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020. 

 The findings of the European Committee of Social Rights were considered as part of an independent review of the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force. One of the recommendations from that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicalities of a PDF representative association forming association/affiliation with ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service.

Association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine this matter further and, in this regard, Defence management (civil and military) have engaged in discussions with ICTU. Defence management have met with the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to discuss this matter. I have also discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation/association with both RACO and PDFORRA.  

I am aware of PDFORRAs longstanding ambition to affiliate with ICTU. I am also aware that RACO, the representative body for Commissioned Officers, have a conflicting position on this matter.

The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered.

Departmental Expenditure

A deferred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Ceisteanna (62)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

62. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the amount spent by his Department and each agency under the aegis of his Department on the National Ploughing Championships in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019, by online advertising, offline advertising, promotional material, wages, photography, stand rental and other costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49537/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

It has not been possible in the time available to compile all the information requested by the Deputy. The information will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

A deferred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

Air Corps

Ceisteanna (63)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

63. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if the upgrade of accommodation facilities at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, is fully completed; if not, when the works will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49557/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The contract for the refurbishment of the Apprentice Hostel Accommodation Block at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel is well advanced. This will provide class rooms, auditorium, recreational and improved living in accommodation for 75 personnel. Works are progressing well and the project is due to be completed in early 2020 at a cost of €3.3m.

Defence Forces Representative Organisations

Ceisteanna (64)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

64. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if a reply will issue to correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49566/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Section 2(3) of the Defence (Amendment) Act 1990, prohibits the Defence Forces representative associations from being associated with or affiliated to any trade union or any other body, without the consent of the Minister. Members of the Permanent Defence Force also cannot become members of a trade union.

To compensate for these limitations there are a range of statutory redress mechanisms available to serving members, including  redress of wrongs, a Defence Forces Ombudsman and a Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force.

 In 2017, the European Committee of Social Rights, in a non-binding ruling, upheld the prohibition of the right of military personnel to strike but did conclude that Ireland was in violation of Article 5 of the European Social Charter on the grounds of the prohibition against military representative associations from joining national employees organisations and in respect of Article 6.2 of the Charter regarding the right to bargain collectively.  

It should be noted that the basis for the complaint pre-dates a number of significant Government initiatives. In relation to collective bargaining, the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations were afforded equal standing to other public sector trade unions and representative associations during the negotiations which led to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020. 

The findings of the European Committee of Social Rights were considered as part of an independent review of the Conciliation and Arbitration scheme for members of the Permanent Defence Force, which was completed last year.

One of the recommendations from that review was that the official side should, with the consent of the Minister, engage in discussions with ICTU to explore the practicalities of a PDF representative association forming association/affiliation with ICTU, while giving due consideration to any likely conflict that might arise between such an arrangement and the obligations of military service.

Association with ICTU poses complex questions for the Defence Forces from a legal, operational and management perspective. I asked my officials to examine this matter further and, in this regard, Defence management (civil and military) have engaged in discussions with ICTU. Defence management have met with the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations, RACO and PDFORRA, to discuss this matter. I have also discussed the matter of ICTU affiliation/association with both RACO and PDFORRA.

I am aware of PDFORRAs longstanding ambition to affiliate with ICTU. I am also aware that RACO, the representative body for Commissioned Officers, have a conflicting position on this matter. The implications of possible association or affiliation are being carefully considered.  

In 2016, the Government established the Public Service Pay Commission to provide objective advice to Government in relation to Public Service Pay Policy. Following the publication of the Public Service Pay Commission report in May 2017, the Government initiated negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, which culminated in the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020. This Agreement was accepted by the PDF representative associations, that is RACO and PDFORRA and their members are receiving the benefits.

Following the first report of the Pay Commission and in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government tasked the Commission with prioritising a comprehensive examination of recruitment and retention difficulties in the Defence Forces.

The report of the independent Public Service Pay Commission was published and accepted by Government in July this year. The Report contains a broad range of recommendations aimed at improving recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force.  In accepting the report of the Public Service Pay Commission, the Government also approved a plan Strengthening Our Defence Forces – Phase 1 to implement the recommendations in the report. The plan provides for a number of specific projects which are being progressed by civil and military personnel.

The Defence Forces have received the benefits of collective agreements in the past and it is intended that future remuneration of Defence Forces personnel will continue to be dealt with within this process. There are currently no plans to establish a pay commission specific to Defence.

Defence Forces Reserve

Ceisteanna (65)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

65. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 60 of 20 November 2019, the number of the Reserve Defence Forces members who were discharged up to 31 October 2019 that are compulsory discharge numbers identified up to December 2019; the specific key performance indicators in place to monitor the processing of the 2,603 persons who applied to join; the specific appointment holder, civilian or military, in charge of the overall process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49568/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The information sought by the Deputy is in the process of being collated and verified by the military authorities. I will pass on the details to the Deputy when they become available.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Ceisteanna (66)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

66. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will reintroduce a Gleeson style commission on the Defence Forces to examine terms and conditions to include a comprehensive review of contracts, duty allowances and technical payments for the members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49594/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Overarching Public Sector Pay Policy is a matter for the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform.  

In 2016, the Government established the Public Service Pay Commission to provide objective advice to Government in relation to Public Service Pay Policy. Following the publication of the Public Service Pay Commission report in May 2017, the Government initiated negotiations on an extension to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, which culminated in the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020. 

 The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 was accepted by the representative associations, RACO and PDFORRA and their members are receiving the benefits.

 Following the first report of the Pay Commission and in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government tasked the Commission with prioritising a comprehensive examination of recruitment and retention difficulties in the Defence Forces.

The report of the independent Public Service Pay Commission was published and accepted by Government in July this year. The Report contains a broad range of recommendations aimed at improving recruitment and retention in the Permanent Defence Force.  In accepting the report of the Public Service Pay Commission, the Government also approved a plan Strengthening Our Defence Forces – Phase 1 to implement the recommendations in the report. The plan provides for a number of specific projects which are being progressed by civil and military personnel.

The Defence Forces have received the benefits of collective agreements in the past and it is intended that future remuneration of Defence Forces personnel will continue to be dealt with within this process. There are currently no plans to establish a pay commission, specific to Defence.

Trade Missions Participation

Ceisteanna (67)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

67. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Minister of State with responsibility for trade, employment, business, EU digital Single Market and data protection took part in a recent Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Bahrain; and if he or his officials briefed the Minister of State on the human rights abuses of the regime in Bahrain and encouraged him to raise such concerns about human rights in Bahrain during his meetings with government representatives there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49468/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen T.D., visited Bahrain on 21 November, leading a trade delegation. He was accompanied by an official from the Embassy of Ireland in Riyadh, which is accredited to Bahrain.  

The Embassy of Ireland in Riyadh and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade worked with Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation in relation to the Minister of State’s programme. The Bahraini authorties were contacted with a view to securing Ministerial meetings at which the Minister of State could discuss Ireland’s bilateral relationship with Bahrain, including our concerns about human rights. However, in the event, it was not possible on this occasion to secure such meetings as the relevant Ministers were out of the country.

While consideration was given to postponing the visit it was decided to go ahead with the trade mission, given that a substantive programme was in place. Bilateral trade with Bahrain is worth over €100 million annually. In addition, the Minister of State attended the Bahrain GAA games and met the Irish community in Bahrain, signalling the Government’s support for the Irish diaspora. 

 While it was not possible for the Minister of State to raise our concerns about the human rights situation directly with Bahraini Government representatives on this occasion, I can assure the Deputy that the Bahraini Government is aware of our concerns. I raised the human rights situation with the Bahraini Foreign Minister in New York in September 2019 and officials from my Department met earlier this month with a delegation from Bahrain on human rights. Topics covered at that meeting included prison conditions, freedom of expression and opinion, protection of Human Rights Defenders, and capital punishment.

My Department will continue to monitor developments in Bahrain, and to call on the Bahraini Government to deliver on its stated commitment to make progress in relation to human rights. We will continue to seek every opportunity to do so directly with Bahraini officials, as well as at EU and international level.

Departmental Expenditure

Ceisteanna (68)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

68. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the amount spent by his Department and each agency under the aegis of his Department on the National Ploughing Championships in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019, by online advertising, offline advertising, promotional material, wages, photography, stand rental and other costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49541/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

My Department participated in the National Ploughing Championships in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 in order to increase public understanding of the public services provided by the Department and how the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ireland’s diplomatic missions abroad engage with Ireland’s international partners and wider audiences to advance the interests of Ireland and Irish citizens.

In the past four years, my Department’s presence at the National Ploughing Championships has highlighted policy areas, public services and supports offered by the Department including innovation in the delivery of Passport services; Consular Assistance and Consular Services; Ireland’s membership of the European Union and ongoing Brexit-preparedness work; Ireland’s development assistance programme, Irish Aid; support for the diaspora; a number of Ireland’s bilateral relationships; Ireland’s membership of the United Nations; implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals; and “Global Ireland – Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025”, the Government’s initiative to double the scope and impact of Ireland’s global footprint in the period to 2025.

Details of the expenditure of the Department’s presence at the National Ploughing Championships in each of the years 2016 to 2019 are outlined as follows.

My Department has not engaged in paid online advertising in relation to the National Ploughing Championships.

In 2016, 2017, and 2018 an advertisement was placed in National Ploughing Championships Official Catalogue. The cost of these advertisements were: €2,460 in 2016, €1,230 in 2017, and €1,476 in 2018. No advertisements were placed in 2019.

No additional wage costs were incurred due to my Department’s participation at the National Ploughing Championships.

Promotional materials were not purchased specifically for this event.

Photography costs were €738 in 2018 and the same in 2019. There were no photography costs in 2016 or 2017.  

The stand costs include plot and marquee rental, marquee construction, exterior and interior signage and audience activation design and provision, power supply, and health and safety facilities. The stand costs totalled to: €47,416.09 in 2019, €49,284.28 in 2018, €46,538.91 in 2017, and €35,555.91 in 2016.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (69, 72)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

69. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on reports that over 1 million persons are being detained in camps in Xinjiang province in China; his plans to raise the matter with Chinese officials here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49581/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

72. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on a recent report (details supplied) into appalling conditions in a huge network of concentration camps in which over 1 million Uighur people are imprisoned in Xingiang by the Chinese Government; the steps he will take including with his EU colleagues to sanction the leadership of China and demand the immediate closure of the camps and freedom for those imprisoned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49613/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 69 and 72 together.

The Government, as a matter of practice, does not comment on leaked documents.

However, we remain deeply concerned over the credible reports of the treatment of ethnic Uighurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region. We, along with our EU partners, take these reports very seriously and have raised our concerns at official and political level with our Chinese counterparts on a consistent basis. 

Most recently, Ireland was one of 23 States to sign up to a Joint Statement at the UN Third Committee on 29 October 2019. This statement called for the Chinese Government to urgently implement eight recommendations made by the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination related to Xinjiang, including by refraining from the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities.

Ireland was also one of 22 States to sign up to a Joint Letter at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in July this year. This letter expressed concerns about credible reports of arbitrary detention in large-scale places of detention, as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions, particularly targeting Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. It called on China to uphold its national laws and international obligations and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Xinjiang.

At EU level, this issue was raised at both the EU-China Summit and EU-China Human Rights Dialogue in April this year. During the dialogue the EU noted that while actions to counter terrorism are essential, these actions must respect the principle of proportionality, fundamental freedoms, and international laws. The EU has also raised this issue at multilateral level, calling on China to allow meaningful, unrestricted, and unsupervised access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Ireland, along with our EU partners, will continue to raise our concerns during contacts with Chinese authorities at both official and political level.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (70)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

70. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps that have been taken at EU level to prevent the persecution of Christians worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49582/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland strongly condemns all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who the victims are. We are committed to promoting freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities. This commitment to promoting freedom of religion or belief is reaffirmed in the Global Island: Ireland’s Foreign Policy for a Changing World.

Within the EU, Ireland works with partners to address the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. The EU's policy in this area is led by the Guidelines on Freedom of Religion or Belief, which were adopted during our Presidency in 2013. The EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019 also includes an express reference to the promotion of freedom of religion or belief, and we will continue to work to ensure that these issues are addressed within the framework of the EU’s external human rights policy.

The EU consistently raises concerns about violations of freedom of religion or belief in the course of political dialogues with partner countries, including human rights dialogues and consultations. The EU continues to be a strong advocate for Freedom of Religion or Belief in UN Multilateral fora, including at the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly as well as in other international organisations including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. Most recently, the EU successfully tabled resolutions on freedom of religion or belief at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2019 and the 74th session of the UN General Assembly Third Committee in November 2019. Ireland co-sponsored both initiatives.

 In May 2016, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker created the function of the Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU, and appointed Ján Figel to the role. The Special Envoy has completed 16 official country visits since October 2016, during which he has met with government officials, civil society and human rights defenders.

 Finally the EU is providing financial support of over €5m in the period 2018-2022 to three interfaith projects in the Middle East and Africa which aim to enhance cultural pluralism and intercultural understanding related to religion or belief. It has also increased its support to civil society projects on freedom of religion or belief under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights up to €5.18m.

International Agreements

Question No. 72 answered with Question No. 69.

Ceisteanna (71)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

71. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans for Ireland to sign the Antarctic Treaty System; his further plans on becoming a signatory; and the timeline for such a process. [49592/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The question of Ireland’s ratification of the Antarctic Treaty and related agreements comprising the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) has been examined in some detail by the Government and Offices concerned.

Accession by Ireland to the ATS would require enactment of complex legislation and impose a substantial administrative burden on the Government Departments concerned for relatively minor benefits. The subsequent servicing of meetings and obligations under the ATS by this Department would unfortunately divert resources from areas of priority national interest.

There are therefore no plans, at this time, for Ireland to accede to the Antarctic Treaty.

Question No. 72 answered with Question No. 69.

Data Protection

Ceisteanna (73)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

73. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Question No. 54 of 21 November 2019, the reason each public authority listed accessed the passport office data sets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49630/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

It is not possible to provide the precise reason for these requests. This is due to the requirement that suitable and specific measures are taken to safeguard the fundamental rights and freedoms of data subjects, my Department is not privy as to why the information is being sought by the public authority. These requests are normally made under Section 41 (b) Data Protection Act 2018.

An Garda Síochána, Interpol and Europol request information in accordance with section 41(b) of the Data Protection Act 2018 whereby the data requested is for the purpose of preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting criminal offences.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection requests information in accordance with 41 (b) of the Data Protection Act 2018 and the provisions of Section 261 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act, 2005 to assist in the prevention of, or the detection of fraud.

Revenue makes requests in accordance with 41 (b) of the Data Protection Act 2018 whereby the data requested is for the purpose of preventing, detecting, investigating or prosecuting criminal offences under the Finance Act 2001 or the Customs Act 2015.

The Department of Justice and Equality requests information in accordance with section 41(b) of the Data Protection Act 2018 for the prevention, detection and investigation of offences under the Immigration Acts 1999/2004 or prosecuting criminal offences.

The Road Safety Authority very occasionally requests information in accordance with 41 (b) of the Data Protection Act 2018 to be used for the purpose of the detection, prevention and investigation of an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1961 (as amended).

In addition, the Health Service Executive requests addresses, contact numbers and e-mail addresses to assist in the tracing of holders of Irish passports who were on flights where a person with an infectious disease was known to be on board.  The information is provided under section 6 (1) (d) of the General Data Protection Regulation.

Data Protection

Ceisteanna (74)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

74. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the procedures and-or protocols that were in place prior to the enactment of GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 for public authorities and An Garda Síochána to gain access to the information in the Passport Office data sets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49653/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Prior to the introduction of the Data Protection Act 2018, the Passport Service complied with the Data Protection Acts 1988 to 2018.

Under the Data Protection Acts 1988 to 2018, the Passport Service shared data as requested by An Garda Síochána and other authorities under Section 8 of the Data Protection Act 1988 as amended by the Data Protection Act 2003.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (75)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

75. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Finance the action he is taking to ensure the proposal to cease the flat rate expenses scheme for workers does not proceed as planned; if he has requested the Revenue Commissioners to defer its decision on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49505/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Over the past 18 months, Revenue has been conducting a comprehensive review of the administratively based Flat Rate Expenses (FRE) regime.  Revenue has advised me that the purpose of the FRE review, which involved engagement with relevant representative bodies, is to ensure that the expenses granted to each employment category remain justified and appropriate to modern day employments and work practices.  Each category of FRE allowance is being examined separately in the light of the legislative requirements of section 114 TCA 1997, which provides expenses are tax deductible only if they are wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred by the employee in the performance of the duties of his or her employment and are not reimbursed by the employer.

Revenue has also advised me that its FRE review is ongoing but is now nearing conclusion, with an expected completion date by end year.

As I informed the House during the Report Stage debate on the Finance Bill last week, while I am aware of the effect this will have on those who are impacted by the change, I also need to respect the independence of the Revenue Commissioners. They are, though, keenly aware of the issues and concerns of those that may be affected by the outcome of the review.

Having regard to the fact that we are coming closer to the date on which any changes on foot of the review are due to be implemented, I have, as I committed previously to do, written to Revenue seeking a factual update on the review. Once this process of engagement with Revenue has been completed, I will be in a position to comment further on the matter, and conscious of the timeline involved, I anticipate that I will be able to do so very shortly.

Fiscal Data

Ceisteanna (76)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

76. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance the gross fixed capital formation in percentage terms in each of the years 2008, 2017 and 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49509/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

In July 2019, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published the National Income and Expenditure (NIE) results for 2018. The NIE includes the most recent updated series for gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) in Ireland. The year-on-year percentage growth rates for GFCF in constant (i.e. inflation adjusted) and current prices from the NIE for the years in question are presented in the table.

 -

2008

2017

2018

GFCF (constant prices)

-11.6

-6.8

-21.1

GFCF (current prices)

-17.8

-3.7

-18.6

The negative growth rate of GFCF in 2008 is primarily explained by the fall in construction investment related to the downturn in that sector at that time.

In recent years, GFCF has become distorted by the globalised investment activities of a small number of large multinational firms, and as a result has been very volatile on an annual basis. These distortions, which have very little impact on the underlying domestic economy, include the following:

- Investment in aircraft by the aircraft leasing sector for international leasing activities.

- The relocation of intellectual property-related assets or patents to Ireland.

The year-on-year declines in 2017 and 2018 are mainly a result of annual declines in the on-shoring in intellectual property assets by the multinational sector in those years, with investment by the aircraft leasing sector also a factor in 2017. However, when we look beyond these distortions it is clear that the underlying investment patterns in the economy in those years were positive.

Indeed, it should be noted that an alternative investment series - 'modified investment' - which is also published by the CSO and which removes the aircraft leasing and intellectual property related distortions from the GFCF figures, recorded positive growth rates in both 2017 and 2018.

Economic Data

Ceisteanna (77, 78)

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

77. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance the gross domestic product in percentage terms in each of the years 2008, 2017 and 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49510/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

78. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Finance the rate of growth in percentage terms in each of the years 2008, 2017 and 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49511/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 78 together.

In July 2019, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published the national income and expenditure (NIE) results for 2018. The NIE contains the most recent series for gross domestic product (GDP) and related economic statistics for Ireland. The year-on-year percentage growth rates for GDP in constant (i.e. inflation adjusted) and current prices are presented in the table.

 

2008

2017

2018

GDP (constant prices)

-4.5

8.1

8.2

GDP (current prices)

-4.8

9.4

9.1

The contraction in GDP in 2008 represents the onset of both the domestic and global recession. In particular, the negative growth in GDP is attributed to the negative growth in gross fixed capital formation (i.e. investment) and exports along with moderating private consumer spending in 2008 relative to 2007.

More recently, GDP has become increasingly distorted by the globalised activities of a small number of large multinational firms which have limited impact on actual activity in the Irish economy.

The GDP numbers in 2017 and 2018 are affected by these activities which include:

- Activity in the aircraft leasing sector which involves substantial investment in portfolios of aircraft for international leasing and which generate substantial fee income (i.e. services exports) without significant employment effects.

- The relocation of intellectual property (IP) related assets or patents to Ireland.

- The effect of 'contract manufacturing' whereby multinationals located in Ireland contract a party located abroad to produce and supply goods on their behalf to another party. Throughout this process the Irish firm retains economic ownership of the goods, such that sales of these products are recorded as exports in Ireland's national accounts.

While the high GDP growth rates recorded in 2017 and 2018 are impacted by a relatively small number of very large multinational firms who engage in these activities, the GDP figures are compiled in accordance with best international practice and statistical standards.  However, as Ireland is a small, open and highly globalised economy, the relevance of GDP as a metric by which underlying economic trends and changes in living standards can be assessed is considerably less than elsewhere.

To address this, the CSO publishes additional series, including modified gross national income (GNI*) and modified domestic demand, which are more closely related to the domestic economy. In particular, modified domestic demand - that is domestic demand excluding investment in foreign owned IP and leased aircraft - increased by 2.8 and 4.8 per cent in 2017 and 2018 respectively, pointing to robust growth in the domestic economy.

Departmental Expenditure

Ceisteanna (79)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

79. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Finance the amount spent by his Department and each agency under the aegis of his Department on the National Ploughing Championships in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019, by online advertising, offline advertising, promotional material, wages, photography, stand rental and other costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49540/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

With respect to the 2019, we estimate my Department incurred costs of €71.70 related to the printing of materials on behalf of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which were to be distributed at the National Ploughing Championships.  No costs were incurred in the years 2016 to 2018.

There are 17 bodies under the aegis of my Department, 12 of which have not incurred any costs at National Ploughing Championships in the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019. These are the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Credit Union Advisory Committee, the Credit Union Restructuring Board, the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, Home Building Finance Ireland, the Investor Compensation Company DAC, the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, the Irish Financial Services Appeals Tribunal, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, the National Asset Management Agency and the Tax Appeals Commission.

The remaining 5 bodies have provided the following details:

Body

Details of the amount spent by agencies under the aegis of the Department of Finance on the National Ploughing Championships in each of the years in the 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019

Central Bank

2016

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising – Nil

Promotional material - €5,004.40

Wages - €14,457.60

Photography - €776.13

Plot rental - €2,298

Marquee rental - €13,620

Exhibition creation/refresh - €24,593.85

Other costs - €2,276.10

Total: €63,016.08

 

2017

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising - Nil

Promotional material - €369

Wages - €15,662.40

Photography - €1,137.75

Plot rental - €2,983.98

Marquee rental - €8,118

Exhibition creation/refresh - €28,607.34

Other costs - €6,772.50

Total: €63,650.97

 

2018

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising - Nil

Promotional material - €4,501.20

Wages - €22,489.60

Photography - €2,725.40

Plot rental - €3,492.00

Marquee rental €7,441.50

Exhibition creation/refresh €29,919.45

Other costs €2,550.00

Total: €73,119.15

 

2019

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising - Nil

Promotional material - €5,940.50

Wages - €16,867.20

Photography - €934.80

Plot rental - €3,673.97

Marquee rental - €8,508.30

Exhibition creation/refresh - €20,472.75

Other costs - €2,444.99

Total: €58,842.51

Credit Review  Office (CRO)

2016

Online Advertising/Promotional Material/Photography – Nil

Offline Advertising €219.92

Staff Costs/Reviewer Costs €945.00

Stand/Exhibition Costs €1,363.74

Courier €72.90

Total €2,601.56 (ex VAT) 

 

The CRO did not incur any other costs as they did not attend the National Ploughing Championships in 2017, 2018 or 2019.

National Treasury Management   Agency (NTMA)

2017

Other costs - €101.23

Total €101.23 (incl. VAT)

 

The NTMA did not incur any other costs as they did not attend the National Ploughing Championships in 2016, 2018 or 2019.

Office of the Revenue   Commissioners

2016

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising/Wages/Photography – Nil

Promotional material - €200

Stand rental - €4,116

Large Format Printing (Backdrops/Pull Up) costs - €428

Total: €4,744

 

2017

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising/Wages/Photography – Nil

Promotional material - €200

Stand rental - €3,480

Large Format Printing (Backdrops/Pull Up) costs - €428

Total: €4,108

 

2018

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising/Wages/Photography – Nil

Promotional material - €200

Stand rental - €5,500

Large Format Printing (Backdrops/Pull Up) costs - €528

Total: €6,228

 

2019

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising/Wages/Photography – Nil

Promotional material - €1,145

Stand rental - €25,278

Large Format Printing (Backdrops/Pull Up) costs - €857

Total: €27,280

Strategic Banking Corporation   Ireland (SBCI)

2016

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising/Promotional Material/Photography – Nil

Staff costs - €363.92

Stand costs - €2,445.37

Total: €2,809.29

 

2017

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising/Promotional Material/Photography/Stand   costs - Nil

Staff costs - €30.36

Total: €30.36

 

2018

Online Advertising/Offline Advertising/Promotional Material/Photography/ Stand   costs - Nil

Staff costs - €227.40

Total: €227.40

 

The SBCI did not incur any other costs as they did not attend the National Ploughing Championships in 2019

Banking Operations

Ceisteanna (80)

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

80. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a bank (details supplied) has recently sold an €850 million non-performing loan portfolio for the discounted price of €700 million to a company; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the company is attempting to eliminate future retirement benefits for supermarket workers in the United States of America; his views on whether the State should use its influence in majority State-owned banks to ensure that investment firms that seek to do business with them are accountable for their treatment of workers in other jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49586/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As Deputy is aware I have no role in the commercial activities of any bank operating in the Irish market.

The Deputy will be further aware, as Minister for Finance, I cannot stop or reverse loan sales even by the banks in which the State has a shareholding. Decisions in this regard, as well as the criteria used to decide the make-up of loans to be included and the selection process applied to bidders, are the sole responsibility of the board and management of the banks which must be run on an independent and commercial basis. The banks’ independence is protected by Relationship Frameworks which are legally binding documents that I cannot change unilaterally. These frameworks, which are publicly available, were insisted upon by the European Commission to protect competition in the Irish market.

Tax Data

Ceisteanna (81)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

81. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the projected size of tax expenditures at the end of 2020; if his Department is researching or considering further new tax expenditures in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49619/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Tax expenditures may take a number of forms such as exemptions, allowances, credits, preferential rates, deferral rules etc. They are general government policy instruments used to promote specific social or economic policies and are closely related to direct spending programmes.

The Department’s Report on Tax Expenditures for 2019, published with the Budget 2020 documentation on 8 October, identifies a complete list of all tax expenditures measures in the Irish tax system. In total 176  tax expenditure measures are identified, in respect of which the total revenue forgone is estimated to be €5.3 billion, are classified under the following nine broad headings Capital taxes (CAT/CGT); Pensions; Stamp Duty/DIRT; Local Property Tax ; Benefits-in-Kind; Corporation Tax; Excise Duty; VAT and Personal Tax Credits. It should however be noted that data for over 40% of the tax expenditures listed is not available, so the total revenue foregone of €5.3 billion listed in the Report does not reflect the full amount of such expenditure.

The absence of revenue foregone data on a given tax expenditure can be due to any one or more of a number of reasons, including:

- It not being collected (normally where such collection/costing is not required in law);

- Revenue, due to taxpayer confidentiality considerations, being unable to provide the data  necessary to cost a particular tax expenditure as doing so might allow the use of the expenditure concerned to be linked to a particular taxpayer or small number of taxpayers; or

- the revenue foregone figure is below €50,000.

As the report is prepared on the basis of the latest available date on revenue forgone in respect of each measure, it is not possible to accurately forecast the projected size of tax expenditures at the end of 2020. 

It should be noted that Revenue provides an extensive suite of costings across nearly all tax heads, most of which are published in their Ready Reckoner: https://www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/information-about-revenue/statistics/ready-reckoner/index.aspx. In recent years, Revenue have greatly expanded both the range of the costings and statistics published, as well as making this information available in more open and accessible formats as part of commitment to support the Government’s Open Data initiative.

Furthermore, my Department periodically reviews its approach to tax forecasting. The last such report was published in 2008. At present, the Department is currently assessing its tax forecasting methodology with various institutions (domestic and international) represented. The analysis will focus on the composition of the Irish tax take and the accuracy of the Department’s tax forecasts, with a plan to report before end-2019.

There is continued monitoring of tax expenditures by my Department. Over the course of each year, a number of reviews of tax expenditures and other tax related matters are carried out by, or on behalf of, the Department of Finance. These are intended to ensure that the tax expenditures and taxes they relate to remain fit-for-purpose, to ascertain whether existing tax expenditures and taxes should be amended, continued, extended or ended, or to otherwise review certain taxes (existing and proposed) or groups of taxes.  These reviews are normally published on the Department’s website.  

In relation to further new tax expenditures in 2020, a range of options for possible new tax measures are examined as part of the Tax Strategy Group process each year. In addition to consideration of measures under individual tax heads, broader papers on the area of Tax Expenditures were prepared for the TSG in July this year, and previously in 2017.  These papers are published, and are available on the Department’s website.

Insurance Industry

Ceisteanna (82)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

82. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the role his Department has in the proposed new limits to insurance pay out claims and revisions to the book of quantum from early 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49620/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

At the outset, it is important to note that as Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation and my Department has no role in the area of award levels or changes to the Book of Quantum. 

The Cost of Insurance Working Group which was established by my predecessor as Minister for Finance, and which is currently chaired by Minister of State Michael D’Arcy TD has always recognised that the single most essential challenge, which must be addressed if we are to overcome the current insurance cost and availability problems, is to bring the levels of personal injury damages awarded in this country more in line with those awarded in other jurisdictions. A key recommendation arising from the CIWG’s reports was the establishment of the Personal Injuries Commission (PIC) and the publication of its two reports.  The PIC conducted a benchmarking of award levels exercise between Ireland and other jurisdictions for the first time and this has been very helpful in identifying the scale of the problem that is faced. This research showed that award levels for soft tissue injuries in Ireland are 4.4 times higher than in England and Wales. The PIC recommended that a Judicial Council be established and that it should compile guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury.  In carrying out this exercise, the PIC believes that the Judiciary will take account of the jurisprudence of the Court of Appeal, the results of its benchmarking exercise, etc. 

The relevant legislation to establish the Judicial Council was a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality, and as the Deputy will be aware, the Government with the support of all parties in the Oireachtas prioritised the passing of the Judicial Council Act 2019.  This Act provides for the establishment of a Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee upon the formal establishment of the Judicial Council.  This Committee is tasked with introducing new guidelines to replace the Book of Quantum. It is important to note that the Government cannot interfere in their deliberations.

A key step to moving this matter forward is for the Chief Justice to make the necessary appointments to the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee.  I therefore welcome the recent announcement by Chief Justice Clarke that he has designated the seven judges that will sit on the Committee. I understand that the designate committee will commence its activities on an informal basis shortly.  This is an important development as it demonstrates that the Judiciary are giving this matter the priority I believe it deserves.  While I appreciate that the development of a new set of personal injury award guidelines is the prerogative of the Judiciary, I believe that much work has already been done, in particular the PIC benchmarking exercise, which should assist the Judiciary in completing this work as soon as possible.  The Government is willing to provide the Judiciary with any background assistance, such as input from the Cost of Insurance Working Group, should they think that necessary.  In that context, I am happy for my Department to play its role.  I also understand that PIAB has written to the Judiciary to offer its expertise and assistance for the purpose of this recalibration exercise.

I might also add that in addition to the work of the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee, the Law Reform Commission (LRC) is carrying out a detailed analysis of the possibility of developing constitutionally sound legislation to delimit or cap the amounts of damages which a court may award in respect of some or all categories of personal injuries.  This is another important recommendation of the CIWG, which I believe should not be overlooked.  I believe that if there was a significant move in this area, it could also have an impact on insurance pricing and could also help attract new entrants into the insurance market.

Finally, as I have stated before, I believe that if the issue of the level of awards in this country is addressed, that the problems facing particular businesses and community groups as a result of particular insurers either withdrawing from the market or increasing the price of insurance should recede.

Tax Credits

Ceisteanna (83)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

83. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the tax free allowance in the case of a person (details supplied). [49665/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Every person resident in Ireland is entitled to a personal tax credit. The amount of that credit depends on the person’s circumstances, for example whether s/he is single, married or in a civil partnership, widowed or a surviving civil partner. Persons in employment are also entitled to receive the additional Employee Tax Credit.

Revenue has advised me that it has examined the tax record of the person in question but cannot confirm their correct entitlements from the information available. Revenue has written to the person setting out the necessary additional information that is required to determine their correct entitlements. Revenue has also provided a contact name and telephone number in case the person requires any further clarification regarding the details required.

Central Bank of Ireland Investigations

Ceisteanna (84, 85)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

84. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if the Central Bank has undertaken an industry wide review or investigation of potential overcharging on mortgage accounts with related insurance policies; if lenders have informed the Central Bank of cases of overcharging similar to that found in a bank (details supplied); the number of impacted customers in the bank and other lenders that have been reported to the Central Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49671/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

85. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if the attention of the Central Bank has been drawn to the number of customers of a bank (details supplied) who have been overcharged in mortgage accounts with related insurance policies; if the attention of the Central Bank has been further drawn to the amount by which the customers were overcharged; if the figures will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49672/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 84 and 85 together.

As the Deputy is aware I have no role in the commercial activities in any bank operating in the Irish market. Officials from my department contacted the Central Bank of Ireland with your queries and received the following response:

"The Central Bank of Ireland does not comment on individual firms regulated by the Central Bank. However, the Central Bank is examining the practice and is engaging with industry on this matter.

"Where errors are identified, under the Consumer Protection Code, 2012 (the Code) firms must address and rectify issues which affect customers, with the over-arching objective of protecting consumers’ interests, including ensuring that they are not left out of pocket.  The Code requires that errors are resolved and customers notified and refunded promptly, systems failures are corrected and controls implemented to prevent a recurrence of the error.  If customers have any queries about their mortgage or related insurance, they should contact their lender directly."