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Gnáthamharc

Tuesday, 1 Jun 2021

Written Answers Nos. 261-285

Question No. 261 answered with Question No. 259.

Insurance Levy

Ceisteanna (262)

Chris Andrews

Ceist:

262. Deputy Chris Andrews asked the Minister for Finance if he will reduce the levy on private health insurance given the already exorbitant cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29507/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Health Insurance Levy is a stamp duty paid by health insurance companies to support the Risk Equalisation Fund (REF).

It is charged as a fixed amount on each health insurance policy, with the amount paid dependent on the nature of the policy. The fixed amount can vary from year to year. The Levy operates in accordance with section 125A of the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999, and has been paid into the REF since 2013. The REF received €752 million from Revenue in respect of the duty in 2019 and €771million in 2020.

Ireland supports its community rated system by providing age related health credits to insurers in respect of older people and less healthy people, to help meet the expected higher cost of health insurance for this group. As a result, all people pay the same premiums net of these tax credits for their health insurance, so helping to prevent insurers cherry-picking younger customers who are less likely to get sick. These tax credits are funded by the health insurance levy which is collected by insurers as part of the annual premium of policy holders. They then pay it to Revenue, and it is then transferred to the REF.

Risk equalisation credits are paid out of the REF to the insurers by the Authority. Any surpluses or deficits in the REF are carried forward and allowed for in setting future levy amounts.

The annual Health Insurance (Amendment) Act sets out the risk equalisation credits and Stamp Duty levy applicable for the following 12 month (1 April to 31 March) period. The level of Stamp Duty to be applied to advanced and non-advanced products for adults and children is then calculated on that basis by the Health Insurance Authority (HIA), and is also provided for in that Act.

For example, in November 2020 the Minister for Health accepted the HIA's recommendation to leave the levy unchanged for the coming 12 month period, i.e. 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022). The rates currently in effect are shown in the table below.

HIA contracts effective 1 April 2021

From 1 April 2021

Non-advanced health insurance contracts

Advanced health insurance contracts

17 and under

€52

€150

18 and over

€157

€449

I therefore have no plans to revisit the charging of the levy, and as my reply notes, the rate at which it is charged is determined by the Minister for Health each year, on foot of advice from the HIA, and not by the Minister for Finance.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Ceisteanna (263)

Steven Matthews

Ceist:

263. Deputy Steven Matthews asked the Minister for Finance the details of the uptake of the stay and spend scheme to date; if he plans to reintroduce a similar scheme to incentivise domestic travel and spending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29531/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The purpose of the Stay and Spend Tax Credit scheme was to provide targeted support to businesses within the hospitality sector whose operations are likely to be most affected by continued restrictions on public health grounds. The scheme terminated on 30 April.

Since 1 October 2020, a total of 65,661 receipts have been uploaded to the Revenue Receipts Tracker, as at 26 May 2021. The related expenditure recorded on these receipts amounts to €10,762,518, and the potential tax cost is €2,152,504, assuming all such expenditure is claimed and qualifies in full for tax relief. Subsequent to claims being made in respect of this scheme and any other relief or deduction, verification of such reliefs and deductions forms part of Revenue’s comprehensive risk assessment programme.

The scheme was developed at a time last year when there appeared to be a steady downward trend in infection rates and there was an expectation that the re-opening of the economy could be sustained uninterrupted. Unfortunately, this has not been the case and, with the exception of some short periods, public health restrictions have had the effect of impeding the operation of the incentive as originally envisaged.

While I am very mindful of the significant difficulties that remain to be faced by the hospitality sector, I made the determination that the broad interests of taxpayers would not have been best served by extending the scheme over the summer months in circumstances where most will be staying at home and hopefully holidaying in Ireland. This is particularly the case when other very significant support measures will remain in place.

Currently, I do not have plans to re-introduce the Stay and Spend scheme. However, it may be useful to highlight and summarise the significant supports that remain available to support businesses in the hospitality sector:

- In recognition of the unprecedented challenges facing the Hospitality and Tourism sector, the VAT rate was reduced from 13.5% to 9% from 1 November 2020. This is a temporary but important measure to provide support to the sector, where many businesses remain closed for now and those that are open are operating at significantly reduced capacity. It will apply until 31 December 2021. It should be noted that this VAT rate reduction came after the introduction of the Stay and Spend Tax Credit and reflects the fact that the latter was not intended to be the sole sector-specific support for hospitality.

- In addition, the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) continues to be a key component of the Government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to support viable firms and encourage employment in the hospitality and tourism sector and beyond. I have been clear that there will be no cliff-edge to the EWSS. Subject to the Government meeting today, there may be further announcements in this regard.

- The Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) is a targeted support for businesses significantly impacted by restrictions introduced by the Government under public health regulations to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The support is available to companies, self-employed individuals and partnerships who carry on a trade or trading activities, the profits from which are chargeable to tax under Case I of Schedule D, from a business premises located in a region subject to restrictions introduced in line with the Living with COVID-19 Plan.

- Finally, businesses may also be eligible under the Debt Warehousing Scheme to ‘park’ certain VAT and PAYE (Employer) liabilities, outstanding balances of self-assessed Income Tax for 2019 and Preliminary Tax for 2020 as well as other liabilities.

Tax Credits

Ceisteanna (264)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

264. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Finance if he plans to reinstate a system such as the one parent family tax credit to provide tax credits for parents who are co-parenting (details supplied); if consideration has been given to the many different approaches to sharing parenting responsibilities and the financial implications of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29539/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The 2009 Commission on Taxation reviewed the One-Parent Family Tax Credit and acknowledged that it played a role in supporting and incentivising the labour market participation of single and widowed parents. However, in its recommendations, the Commission concluded that the credit should be retained but that it should be allocated to the principal carer of the child only. It is essential to review all tax reliefs, credits and incentives in order to ensure that they are properly targeted and if necessary re-focused in order that they could achieve the socio-economic objectives that are set for them. A feature of the One-Parent Family Tax Credit was that it could be claimed by multiple individuals in respect of the same child, resulting in an unsustainable position.

The One-Parent Family Tax Credit was replaced with the Single Person Child Carer Tax Credit from 1 January 2014. The restructured credit is of the same value i.e. €1,650 per annum as the one-parent family tax credit and it also carries the same entitlement to the additional €4,000 extended standard rate band, which increases that band to €36,800 per annum, before liability to higher rate of income tax arises. However, the credit is more strategically targeted, in that it will in the first instance only be available to the principal carer of the child.

The Single Person Child Carer Credit is available to you if you are the ‘primary claimant’. To be a primary claimant your qualifying child must live with you for the whole, or greater part, of the year (a period greater than 6 months). Ultimately, of course, the allocation of childcare responsibilities is primarily for parents or guardians to agree and a principal carer will be able to relinquish the credit in order than a non-principal carer can claim it.

Issues concerning the Single Parent Child Carer Credit are outlined in a review conducted by my Department in 2015, which is contained in the Report on Tax Expenditures, available at the following link: http://budget.gov.ie/Budgets/2016/Documents/Tax_Expenditures_Report_pub.pdf.

I am satisfied that the Single Parent Child Carer Credit in its current form is targeting limited State resources to where they are most needed. As such, I have no plans to reinstate a system such as the One Parent Family Tax Credit. While it is the case that policy choices exist as to how best to deploy the available financial resources of the State, resources are being prioritised at this time on initiatives to support those who are no longer in employment or who will or have had reduced income arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as measures seeking to support employers in retaining staff on the payroll.

Tax Credits

Ceisteanna (265)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

265. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who received the one parent family tax credit in 2013; and the number who received the single person child carer credit from its introduction and in subsequent years until 2021, by year in tabular form. [29540/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the number of taxpayers who received the One Parent Family Tax Credit in 2013 and the Single Person Child Carer Credit for each of the years 2014 to 2018 (the latest available year) are set out in Revenue’s Cost of Tax Expenditures Publication, which are published on the Revenue website. (Search "Tax Expenditures" and select result "Costs of Tax expenditures (credits, allowances and reliefs)")

Tax returns for 2019 were due to be filed in late 2020 and the data from these are currently being analysed. Once this analysis is completed, the information will be updated at the above link. Information for 2020 and 2021 will not be available until tax returns for those years are filed and processed.

Tax Data

Ceisteanna (266)

Seán Sherlock

Ceist:

266. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Finance the amount of tax that has been waived, exempted and forgone by the Exchequer through residential property tax reliefs inclusive of construction, purchasing, leasing, renting and other related reliefs in each of the years 2018 to 2020 and to date in 2021. [29548/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the latest available information in respect of the cost of tax reliefs and exemptions is published on the Revenue website. (Search "Tax Expenditures" and select result "Costs of Tax expenditures (credits, allowances and reliefs)")

In this table, of particular relevance to the Deputy’s question may be the tax costs in respect of CGT Relief on Disposal of Certain Land or Buildings, the Home Renovation Incentive Scheme, the Help to Buy Scheme, Mortgage Interest Relief for Principal Private Residence, various rental tax credits and reliefs and the Residential Development Refund Scheme. Further, more detailed information in respect of some of these tax reliefs is also available on the Revenue website via the same Tax Expenditures section mentioned above.

In addition, I am further advised by Revenue in respect of legacy property based tax reliefs that are now closed to new entrants, there is information available on their website which may also be of interest to the Deputy. (Search "Certain property based tax reliefs" and select result "Certain property based tax reliefs").

Tax Rebates

Ceisteanna (267)

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

267. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider the introduction of a VAT rebate for static mobile home owners who have had to pay full fees for 2020 and 2021 despite not having access to their mobile homes for significant periods during that time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29580/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As the Deputy may be aware under Irish legislation, there is no entitlement to a refund of VAT for non-business activities. Therefore, in line with section 59 of the VAT Consolidation Act 2010 mobile home owners would not be entitled to such a refund.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (268)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

268. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Finance if it is possible to reclaim VAT on a garden sensory room under the Value Added Tax (Refund of Tax) (No 15) Order 1981; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29598/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the Value Added Tax (Refund of Tax) (No 15) Order 1981 provides for the refund of VAT incurred on qualifying goods for the use of persons with a disability. The Order specifies the degree of disability and defines the qualifying goods as goods which are aids or appliances, including parts and accessories, specially constructed or adapted for use by a person with a disability and includes goods which, although not so specially constructed or adapted, are of such a kind as might reasonably be treated as so constructed or adapted having regard to a particular disablement of that person.

While the provisions of the Order would not extend to the construction of a garden sensory room, they may be applicable to certain goods purchased in connection with the development or adaptation of the room where those goods would be necessary to meet the particular needs of the person with a disability.

Each claim received by Revenue in relation to this Refund Order is evaluated on its own merits, from the point of view of the extent of the applicant’s disability and the nature of the claim received. Further information including how to make a claim for a refund can be found on Revenue’s website.

Protected Disclosures

Ceisteanna (269)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

269. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Finance the number of protected disclosures made to his Department in each of the past five years and to date in 2021. [29634/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Deputy, I have been informed by my officials that the response set out below covers the numbers of protected disclosures as required under section 22 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014. As detailed in the response, it is not possible to release some of the information requested.

In broad terms, a ‘Protected Disclosure’ is a disclosure of information which the discloser believes may reveal wrongdoing and which came to the attention of the discloser through their employment. This is a very broad category of information. As such, it can be expected that in many cases disclosures falling into this category are received and dealt with in an appropriate proper manner without the person making the disclosure or those receiving it ever adverting to the fact that the information could be regarded as constituting a Protected Disclosure.

The legal obligations which arise in respect of Protected Disclosures consist principally of not penalising the discloser for making the disclosure and protecting the identity of the person making the disclosure in some circumstances. These obligations would be routinely met without the need for any legal obligation to compel this to occur, so that it is generally not relevant whether the information constitutes a Protected Disclosure within the meaning of the legislation or not. It is, therefore, not possible to be certain that no disclosures which fall within the definition of Protected Disclosure but which have not been formally identified as a Protected Disclosure per se have been received.

It is for these reasons that it is not possible to provide a comprehensive and exhaustive response to the Deputy's question. Having said that, it is important to state that the Department of Finance has put in place policy and procedures for the making of Protected Disclosures in the Department, which have been developed in line with the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 and agreed by the Department’s Executive Board. This sets out the process by which a ‘worker’ of the Department can make a Protected Disclosure, what will happen when a disclosure is made, and what the Department will do to protect the discloser.

The process supports the Department’s strong commitment to ensuring that the culture and working environment of the Department encourage, facilitate and support any member of staff of the Department in ‘speaking-up’ on any issue that may impact adversely on the Department’s ability to properly and fully carry out all its roles and responsibilities to the highest performance standard required. Two alternative confidential recipients have been nominated to receive Protected Disclosures from internal staff, in the event that a staff member does not wish to make the disclosure to their Line Manager or the normal Senior Management Team. These nominees are the Department’s Head of Legal and the Compliance Officer. To date, neither of these officers have received such an internal Protected Disclosure.

Section 22 of the Protected Disclosures Act requires the publication of a report in respect of Protected Disclosures received in the preceding year setting out certain information in respect of any Protected Disclosures received. For the purposes of complying with section 22, the Department publishes information regarding Protected Disclosures formally identified as such, without identifying the person making the disclosure. Previous reports indicate that one Protected Disclosure was received in 2017 with a further one in 2018 and another one in 2019. No Protected Disclosure was received during 2020 and this fact will be reflected in the required report for 2020 that is due to be published by this coming June. To date, there has been no Protected Disclosure in 2021.

Tabular summary:

Year

No of Protected Disclosures

2016

Nil

2017

1

2018

1

2019

1

2020

nil

2021

nil to date

Financial Services

Ceisteanna (270)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

270. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the number of meetings he or the Minister for State with responsibility for financial services, credit unions and insurance have held with insurers and underwriters since 1 June 2020 regarding professional indemnity insurance for construction professions and construction-related professions with particular reference to fire safety concerns and the withdrawal of underwriters from the market. [29654/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

At the outset, I would like to note that the Government recognises the concerns felt by many groups, including in the construction and related professions, around the cost and availability of insurance cover. Addressing this issue is a priority for this Government, as is reflected in the prioritisation of insurance reform. The Government’s Action Plan for Insurance Reform sets out 66 actions which aim to improve both the cost and availability of insurance for consumers, business and other groups, including by increasing competition.

Minister of State Fleming and I have held several meetings with representatives of the insurance industry and have raised the issue of professional indemnity cover, including for construction-related sectors.

In his capacity as the Chair of the Office to Promote Competition in the Insurance Market, which was established within my Department as part of this comprehensive insurance reform agenda, Minister of State Fleming has also engaged with sectoral stakeholders to understand gaps in the insurance market with a view to expanding the risk appetite of existing insurers. The Office is also involved in exploring opportunities for new entrants in order to increase the availability of insurance, including specialised cover in areas such as Professional Indemnity insurance.

While the various structural factors that have contributed to the hardening of the Professional Indemnity insurance market are primarily international in origin, implementation of the Action Plan should nonetheless assist in attracting such insurers into the Irish insurance market when it begins to soften again, including in the construction sector. My officials will continue to monitor the situation.

Insurance Industry

Ceisteanna (271)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

271. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Finance if he will respond and advise on the serious concerns raised by a person (details supplied) in respect of their struggle to secure insurance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29722/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am very much aware of the issues of affordability and availability facing many sectors, such as the specific motor sport one highlighted by the Deputy, which provide such a valuable contribution to the well-being of our society and economy in general. However, it is important to note that neither the Government nor the Central Bank of Ireland have any influence over the pricing or provision of insurance products, nor can we compel any insurer operating in the Irish market to provide cover to any individual business or groups, as this is a commercial matter. This position is reinforced by the EU legislative framework for insurance (the Solvency II Directive).

Notwithstanding these constraints, insurance reform is a policy priority as illustrated by the Programme for Government. This contains commitments aimed at addressing consumer and business concerns around the cost and availability of insurance cover. The Action Plan for Insurance Reform contains a range of deliverable actions across a number of policy areas. Actions delivered in the first three months of the year include:

- The publication of new Personal Injuries Guidelines which will be formally adopted via legislation shortly;

- Establishment of a new Office to Promote Competition in the Insurance Market;

- The commencement of a public consultation on enhancing role of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB); and,

- Introduction of new regulations on solicitors advertising.

I would also like to add that we have iniated reform to PIAB, led by the Minister of State, Deputy Troy. We will make changes to duty of care legislation and we are also undertaking reforms to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to improve its powers in regard to competition.

With respect to my own Department, it is the lead for just over a third of the actions in the Action Plan on Insurance Reform. Work is progressing to implement these actions within the timeframe set out in the Plan.

In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to assure the Deputy that securing a more sustainable and competitive market through deepening and widening the supply of insurance in Ireland remains a key policy priority for this Government. In this regard, it is my intention to work with my Government colleagues to ensure that implementation of the Action Plan can have a positive impact on the affordability and availability of insurance for individuals, businesses, community and voluntary groups across Ireland.

Workplace Relations Commission

Ceisteanna (272)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

272. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 2 of 25 May 2021, his views on whether the WRC's code of practice in the understanding of quality employment, for example, the code of practice on the right to disconnect, should be included as a condition of availing of the tax credit; and his further views on whether the payment of the living wage should be a condition for availing of the tax credit. [29763/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As stated in PQ 28102, officials in my Department have commenced work on the development of a tax credit for the digital gaming sector. The intention is to publish legislation to introduce this new credit as part of the 2021 Finance Bill process. It is important to note however, that European Commission State aid approval will be required prior to the introduction of the tax credit. Therefore it is expected that the Finance Bill 2021 legislation will be introduced subject to a commencement order, pending completion of the State aid approval process.

As the tax credit is currently still in development I am not in a position to confirm the exact conditions which will need to be met in order to avail of the credit.

As advised in PQ 28102/21, I can state it is crucial that employee rights are upheld in all industries and my officials are cognisant of this fact throughout the development process. I can also state that my officials will also have regard to relevant transferrable elements of the s.481 film credit requirements in setting the criteria for the relief.

With this being said, it is also important to note that the monitoring of compliance with employment rights legislation is primarily a matter for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, through the Workplace Relations Commission. While the importance of employment rights will be reflected in the tax credit for the digital game sector, the WRC remains the appropriate avenue to address non-compliance with employment rights legislation.

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (273)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

273. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform when a retirement pension and gratuity will be paid to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29283/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The administration of pensions for retired civil servants is the responsibility of the Payroll Shared Service Centre (PSSC) of the National Share Services Office (NSSO).

Following further consultation between officials from my Department and the NSSO on the matters raised by the Deputy , I can confirm that all outstanding issues pertaining to this case have now been resolved and that the individual concerned will be contacted very shortly by the NSSO in order to confirm payment details for this case.

Flexible Work Practices

Ceisteanna (274)

Mairéad Farrell

Ceist:

274. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his plans for more flexible conditions and working from home arrangements in the public service following the mass roll-out of the vaccine. [29299/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The Government, has committed, in the Programme for Government, to mandating public sector employers to move to 20% home and remote working in 2021. In this context, My Department is, as a matter of priority, working with employers across the civil service to develop the longer term approach to remote working in the sector. My Department is also working closely with the wider public sector to ensure a consistency of approach.

Data Protection

Ceisteanna (275)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

275. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the nature of the data breaches experienced by his Department since 2018. [29313/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

My Department has a data breach management policy in place to ensure that any data breaches are dealt with as required under Articles 33-34 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In line with this policy, the Department has identified and recorded twenty eight data breaches since 2018. Of the breaches identified in the Department since 2018, only a small proportion warranted formal notification to the Data Protection Commissioner under the GDPR. The majority of the breaches identified were determined to be minor in nature. These were handled in accordance with the Department's data breach management policy.

Heritage Sites

Ceisteanna (276)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

276. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if consultation was undertaken with private car park operators at national monuments to provide free parking in concert with free access to OPW heritage sites. [29336/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

Parking provided by the OPW at National Monument sites is free of charge in general with the exception of Glendalough where parking charges are essential to assist with traffic management at this extremely busy site. At National Monument sites where there are restricted or limited parking options, visitors usually avail of nearby municipal (or, in some rare instances, private) car parks which, by and large, also service other users. It would not be feasible to request the operators of such car parks to waive parking charges for OPW visitors.

Office of Public Works

Ceisteanna (277)

Matt Shanahan

Ceist:

277. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the expenditure and personnel headcount of the Office of Public Works by county and NUTS3 region in each of the past five years in tabular form; his views on whether there is a balanced spread across regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29497/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The OPW is collating the information sought and will forward it to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

Office of Public Works

Ceisteanna (278)

Matt Shanahan

Ceist:

278. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the specific location, purpose, county, NUTS3 region and cost of completed land acquisitions undertaken or supported by the Office of Public Works by county and NUTS3 region in each of the past five years. [29498/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The OPW is collating the information sought and will forward it to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

Project Ireland 2040

Ceisteanna (279)

Matt Shanahan

Ceist:

279. Deputy Matt Shanahan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the schedule of each project, the description and funding that has been implemented under final review or completed in the south-east NUTS3 region under the Ireland 2040 campaign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29499/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

My Department has published Project Ireland 2040 Annual Reports for 2018 and 2019, along with nine Regional Reports for each of those years. The reports highlight Project Ireland 2040 achievements during 2018 and 2019 and give a detailed overview of the public investments which have been made throughout the country including in the following regional areas: the North-East, North-West, West, Mid-West, South-East, South-West, Dublin, Mid-East and Midlands. These nine Regional Reports, including that for the South-East, set out the projects and programmes which are being planned and delivered in each region as part of the public investment detailed in Project Ireland 2040. While the Regional Reports for the South-East do not provide an exhaustive list of all public capital expenditure in the region, they serve to highlight the diverse range of investments being made by the State under Project Ireland 2040 in the counties of Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford.

More granular information on individual projects and programmes can be found on the capital investment tracker published by my Department and mostly recently updated in December 2020. This update provides a composite update on the progress of all major investments that make up Project Ireland 2040. It focuses on projects with estimated costs greater than €20 million. The update increased the coverage of projects and improved the functionality, including the ability to search the tracker by county, user-friendly dashboards and other information to aid interpretation of the data. The myProjectIreland interactive map was also updated in December 2020 and was extended to include almost 800 projects across the country. By clicking on the map on gov.ie/2040, citizens will find updated information on what has been achieved and what is planned for their own local area. This version features a dashboard with charts, allowing citizens to see the progress being made on projects at a glance. New search facilities also allow citizens to view projects in their regional area, by city, by county or by eircode. The Project Ireland 2040 Annual Reports, Regional Reports, capital investment tracker and myProjectIreland interactive map are all available on gov.ie/2040. Further updates to these publications are planned for later this year.

Public Sector Pay

Ceisteanna (280)

Pa Daly

Ceist:

280. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on a matter (details supplied); and his plans with an organisation regarding same. [29529/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I wish to advise the Deputy that officials in my Department have been actively engaging with relevant stakeholders in relation to the request from The Bar of Ireland for restoration of fees to criminal defence barristers. There has been ongoing correspondence and engagement in respect of this request.

The matter is under consideration and will be examined further in the context of wider public pay policy and expenditure implications.

Protected Disclosures

Ceisteanna (281)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

281. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of protected disclosures made to his Department in each of the past five years and to date in 2021. [29639/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

I wish to advise the Deputy that no correspondence was received from 2014 to date that required to be progressed within my Department under the provisions of the Protected Disclosures legislation. The Protected Disclosures Act 2014 provides under section 8(2) that a disclosure may be made to “a Minister of the Government on whom any function relating to the public body is conferred or imposed by or under any enactment”. The Department received 14 such disclosures from 2014 to date and protected the identity of the correspondents in line with the requirements of the Act. As none of these were appropriate to be dealt with by the Department, the correspondents were advised accordingly and the correspondence was forwarded to the relevant bodies for attention as appropriate. In addition, the Department received correspondence from a further 4 individuals which, on examination, were not protected disclosures under the terms of the Protected Disclosures legislation.

The Deputy may wish to note that, in line with Section 22 of the Act, annual reports in relation to disclosures received by the Department are published on the Government website, at this link: www.gov.ie/en/organisation-information/80a7fc-protected-disclosures/.

Defence Forces

Ceisteanna (282)

Duncan Smith

Ceist:

282. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will update the 1979 public sector circular governing the Reserve Defence Forces to allow leave in instances such as aid to civil power; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29678/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

Circular 51/1979 - 'Leave for attendance at training with the Reserve Defence Force' currently provides for up to 10 days of Special Leave with pay, depending on the duration of the training period, to attend annual or basic training with the Reserve Defence Force. Additionally, special leave with pay may also be granted in respect of any necessary time spent in travelling to and from the training. Civil Servants who wish to attend training courses with the Reserve Defence Force should be facilitated as far as possible consistent with the business needs of organisations.

circulars.gov.ie/pdf/circular/finance/1979/51.pdf

There are currently no plans to update the circular referred to the by the Deputy. Any revisions to the circular would require consultation with both Civil Service employers and trade unions.

Coastal Erosion

Ceisteanna (283)

Paul McAuliffe

Ceist:

283. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if the OPW will provide funding to assist with the prevention of coastal erosion at a location (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29723/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

It is a matter for Local Authorities in the first instance to assess and address problems of coastal erosion in their areas. The OPW operates the Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme, under which applications for 90% funding to local authorities for small localised cost beneficial works are considered for measures costing up to €750,000 in each instance. Funding for coastal risk management studies may also be applied for under this scheme.

The local authority completes and submits the funding application for a project under the scheme and, in doing so, must have carried out the necessary preparatory work and preliminary investigations, costings and economic assessments. It is a matter for each local authority to ensure that all the necessary environmental, statutory and regulatory approvals are in place prior to any works being undertaken. I understand this location is at or near designated environmentally sensitive areas.

While Kerry County Council has made no application to the OPW for these works, I understand it is aware of the issue and considers they would not meet the scheme’s criteria. The Council may carry out coastal protection works using their own resources.

Flood Risk Management

Ceisteanna (284)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

284. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide details of the recent works to reduce the risk of flooding carried out on the banks of the River Maine at a location (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29762/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Public)

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is responsible for the maintenance of Arterial Drainage Schemes completed under the Arterial Drainage Act of 1945.

There is an extensive network of embankments under the auspices of the OPW at Castlemaine, Co. Kerry. These embankments are maintained on a regular basis and such maintenance works include vegetation management as well as structural repairs to any existing structures such as sluices and bridges forming part of the scheme.

In relation to flood insurance, the Department of Finance has overall responsibility for policy matters in relation to insurance. The OPW has a role to assist insurance companies to take into account the protection provided by completed OPW flood defence schemes. In this regard, the OPW has a Memorandum of Understanding with Insurance Ireland, the representative body of the Insurance industry. This Memorandum of Understanding sets out principles of how the two organisations work together to ensure that appropriate and relevant information on these completed schemes is provided to insurers to facilitate, to the greatest extent possible, the availability to the public of insurance against the risk of flooding.

The insurance industry has its own flood modelling tools for assessing the level of risk that it is willing to underwrite in relation to individual properties. The decision on whether to offer insurance, the level of premiums charged and the policy terms applied are matters for individual insurers. Insurance companies make commercial decisions on the provision of insurance cover based on their assessment of the risks they would be accepting on a case-by-case basis.

Insurance related complaints or queries may be directed to Insurance Ireland's Insurance Information Service (01 676 1914 or feedback@insuranceireland.eu). In addition, the Financial Services Ombudsman (1890 88 20 90) deals independently with unresolved complaints from consumers about their individual dealings with all financial service providers.

Legislative Measures

Ceisteanna (285)

Alan Dillon

Ceist:

285. Deputy Alan Dillon asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media if she will give consideration to addressing the malicious dissemination of flashing images as part of the online safety and media regulation Bill; if her attention has been drawn to the campaign by a company (details supplied) to have this provision included; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29874/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Tourism)

The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will, among other things, establish a regulatory framework for online safety to be overseen by an Online Safety Commissioner as part of a wider Media Commission. The goal of this regulatory framework will be to tackle the availability of defined categories of harmful online content through systemic oversight over how certain online services deliver and moderate the user-generated content on their platforms.

These defined categories of harmful online content include content by which a person commits a criminal offences and a number of categories of potentially harmful content, these being:

- Content by which a person engages in serious cyberbullying;

- Content by which a person promotes suicide or self-harm, and,

- Content by which a person promotes behaviour associated with eating disorders.

These categories concerning potentially harmful content are carefully defined in the General Scheme to ensure that they deal with the most egregious content and respect other fundamental rights such as freedom of expression. These definitions are being refined during detailed legal drafting of the Bill by the Office of the Attorney General.

While my Department has not been contacted in respect of the specific issue raised by the Deputy, provision is also made in the Bill for the addition of further categories of harmful online content in the future. This process will involve a proposal by the Media Commission, informed by stakeholder consultation, and both Government and Oireachtas approval. The Media Commission will be tasked with keeping a close eye on emerging online harms which may be suitable to be dealt with under the regulatory framework for online safety.

The purpose of this provision is to future-proof the legislation to create a statutory process by which emerging online harms such as the issue raised by the Deputy may be examined for potential inclusion as a further category of harmful online content. This will help to avoid the need for ad-hoc primary legislation to deal with emerging harms in the future.

It's intended that the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill will be enacted this year. The Bill is on the Government priority list for publication during the current legislative session, which ends in July 2021.

At the same time, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht is conducting pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the Bill. The timeline for this is a matter for the Committee.

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