Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Public Accounts Committee

Business of Committee

9:00 am

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois, Fianna Fail)
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Yes, 2151. We will say that is moving. Many people are inquiring about that value for money report and it is useful to put out information when we have it.

The next recommendation was that the HSE take steps to develop a protocol to ensure that all residents of nursing homes can avail of medical services when residing in nursing homes. That recommendation is noted. This is about the issue of transport to appointments and the Department of Health states that there is no statutory requirement on the HSE to provide transport. It provides some ambulance services on a discretionary basis. It is not a core health service and is not covered by the basket of services in the medical card or the nursing home support scheme. The Department also goes on to state that the nursing home support scheme covers some living expenses. Residents can still incur some costs in a nursing home. In recognition of this, anybody in receipt of financial support can retain 20% of their income. The Department is actually saying that, if a patient needs transport to a medical appointment, he or she can use that 20%. That is dreadful but it is what the Department says.

The next recommendation was that the Government develops a clear, multi-annual plan to meet the commitment to contribute 0.7% of gross national income to overseas development assistance by 2030. This is accepted by the Government and there is a plan in place to do all that.

The next item relates to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is about passports and the difficulties the Department had last year. We asked the Department to publicise the fact that passport renewal application is the fastest way of doing it. The Department accepts this recommendation and, in line with our recommendation, it has been extremely active in publicising this. I think the Department appreciated the input from Members of the Oireachtas on the passport service when we had Department representatives before the committee early last summer. That is good.

There was a further recommendation that the Department hire more staff for this year. It accepts that recommendation and says additional full-time staff have already been recruited and the Department will continue to monitor operational requirements. We will see how this year goes. It has not reached the deluge yet.

The next item is the recommendation that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade values the rental and leasing of property abroad versus purchasing of same. It accepts the recommendation. It will continue to do that and will continue, with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, to examine the benefits of each in order to decide which is most suitable. That is fair enough.

The next item is the international election observation roster. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade accepts the recommendation to have the necessary procedures in place to establish a panel in adequate time. The Department will, in 2019, undertake a review of the operation including the optimal panel duration. The Department has said it is actually acting on that.

The next item brings us to the Department of Finance. We mentioned the Tax Appeals Commission earlier. This recommendation is that adequate, evidence-based planning takes place in advance of the establishment of any new public body. The point is, essentially, that the Tax Appeals Commission was set up without a proper plan and without knowing the extent of its workforce. The Department looked at the number of appeals that were there but, when a new office is set up, it attracts appeals. I do not think that was taken into account. The Department accepts the point and, in future, bodies will take it into account. The committee's point is well made.

The next one was the workload and operations review of the Tax Appeals Commission and that its recommendations are implemented on a timely basis. That recommendation is accepted and the Department and Tax Appeals Commission are in frequent contact, as mentioned earlier in correspondence.

The next item is the amount of tax under appeal at any time and that the committee recommends measurable targets be set for the Tax Appeals Commission. That is accepted by the Tax Appeals Commission and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and they are working on the procurement of a new IT system to help facilitate the management of cases.

The next item is about outstanding taxes and is a recommendation to the Minister for Finance. The committee recommends that Revenue reviews its approach to the collection of outstanding taxes with a view to identifying initiatives such as increasing the number of taxpayers in phased payment method arrangements in order to accelerate the receipt of collectable taxes. Revenue accepts this and says that it has updated statistics. It has improved and a new debt management service application was due to commence last month. I am hoping that will prove beneficial.

The next item is about cases of tax defaulters that are published. It became very clear to us, to remind people, that 289 tax settlements, totalling €53 million were published in 2017 and 91, which is 30%, had unpaid amounts of €25 million.

In other words, when they publish the tax defaulters showing the amount due, does it show whether it was ever collected or not? The committee recommends that in addition to publishing the tax settlement amounts, Revenue would consider publishing details of the amounts subsequently paid and outstanding balances and it does not accept this. This is an issue on which people may have a view. The Department accepts that Revenue is very strict but that legislation does not provide for this measure specifically and if it is to be done, it requires legislation. If legislation is to be changed then all aspects must be taken into account such as taxpayer confidentiality, the balance of the good versus the bad and the fairness of it. I believe that as we have already agreed in legislation to publish the person's name and the amount, it would not be a major step to publish the same person's name, the original amount and the amount ultimately collected. That could be an amendment to the Finance Bill if anybody wants one. It is a legislative matter.