Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Committee on Budgetary Oversight

Remit, Terms of Reference and Priorities: Commission on Taxation and Welfare

Professor Niamh Moloney:

I thank the Deputy and it is a great pleasure to meet him, even virtually. I appreciate his comments and questions. I thank the Deputy for acknowledging the scale of the task. We have big, demanding and challenging terms of reference. All of us on the commission have a sense of excitement and serious endeavour. Commissions do not come along too often; we are the fourth that has come about over a long period of time and so we feel a strong sense of moment. We have had an extraordinary year and a half by any measure in what the nation has been through and the different jobs the tax and welfare systems did in that time. It is a key moment to have this chance to stand back and take a strategic look at those systems.

We have clear terms of reference, which is always helpful. We have an overarching objective in what we are doing to ensure the tax and welfare systems effectively promote economic activity, support prosperity and employment and do so in a way that is resilient, stable and sustainable in supporting the public service. We have a clear framework for that and within that we have the different elements of the terms of reference. From the outset we have been conscious of this privilege, charge and responsibility. A lot of thought has gone into work planning and we are clear about what we need to do, by when we need to get there and we are fortunate to have an excellent secretariat that supports us in doing that. We are meeting every fortnight or so, which is keeping a good sense of momentum for our work going. I feel a strong sense of confidence that we will deliver and it is my expectation that we will do so. We want a credible, serious and practical report that we can deliver to the Minister by next July. It is great to have an opportunity like we have this evening to have a preliminary discussion with the committee about how the terms of reference work.

I thank the Deputy for his interest in our consultation. We are very excited about this and it is a key part of what we are doing. As chair of the commission, I feel that tax and welfare are the two critical points that we interact with all of the time as households and businesses and as a society. These are the two big vectors through which we interact with the State. It is fundamental that we carry out a serious consultation that reaches beyond the more usual engagements and gets out to speak to people. The 24 submissions we have received so far are from members of the general public, which is great. We will keep an eye on this and continue to watch the consultation submissions that come through.

We will do another round of reminding the public as it goes through. The consultation process is being promoted on bus shelters, social media and print media. We want to hear from everybody. Social welfare and taxation affects us all very heavily. Of course, there is a role for our major stakeholders, our major constituencies, and they will be feeding into our consultation. However, we view this consultation as fundamental. Hence, our online platform is organised to be accessible and easy to navigate for the wider world at large.

I thank the Deputy for his helpful observations on our wider framework and the areas we might be examining. We are looking at the tax and welfare systems as they support economic activity, public services and welfare in Ireland. Tax is an extremely complex matter. It involves all those international interactions and engagement. We have seen in recent months just how important that international interaction is. We are aware of tax as a very dynamic complex system that interacts in many different ways, internationally, domestically and with the EU, across different kinds of tax bases. That is the great value of a stand-back review. One can look at the system with all its different interactions internationally, domestically and so on.

One aspect that is perhaps different for our commission compared to others are issues related to different ways of working. As a consequence of the pandemic, people are working in all sorts of different ways. That is a wider frame, which is part of what a commission of our nature would find useful to examine.

In looking towards the future, it behoves a commission like ours to think around corners as it were, whatever those corners may be, internationally, domestically or regionally. I do not think any of us could have predicted 20 years ago the major disruption to the nature of work that has occurred. National tax might have evolved. We take very seriously an element of foresight to how we think. The commission at the start of its deliberations was very concerned to equip itself fully to think around corners. We are very anxious to think consistently and strategically about the future. For example, how do we think about the future, how do we recognise opportunities and how we recognise threats and challenges and so on? We are taking a very wide-angle lens when it comes to all the different variables that might shape our tax and welfare systems into the future. I very much appreciate the Deputy's interest and thank him for his comments, which are helpful to us in thinking about our work.