Dáil debates

Tuesday, 1 February 2005

Other Questions.

Proposed Legislation.

2:30 pm

Photo of Kathleen LynchKathleen Lynch (Cork North Central, Labour)
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Question 8: To ask the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to comments made by a person (details supplied) in which it was suggested that the law should be changed to make it an offence for anyone to take steps to facilitate the fraudulent evasion of tax; if he intends to act on this suggestion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2474/05]

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I am aware of the difficulties the Revenue Commissioners experience when attempting to prosecute persons who collude in or facilitate tax evasion. This has been raised at the Committee of Public Accounts and in the media. I have considered this matter in the context of the Finance Bill, which will be published later this week. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further in advance of the publication of the Bill.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Does the Minister agree that tax evasion is a crime? It can be a significant one against society when money that would otherwise be available for important areas such as health and education does not become available. Is the Minister bearing in mind the Revenue Commissioners' finding that legislation on tax evasion makes any prosecutions in the area difficult? Is the Minister aware that bank officials or senior management who organised, perpetrated and facilitated multi-billion euro of offshore tax evasion have not been prosecuted? Compare this with people on social welfare who are frequently, and correctly prosecuted for defrauding the social welfare system.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The question of revenue law assisting the Revenue Commissioners is under consideration in my Department on foot of representations by the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners. I have sought the advice of the Attorney General's office and I will make an announcement on this matter when the Finance Bill is published on Thursday.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Is the question of evidence the real problem? In the NIB case, substantial tax evasion schemes were identified. While the taxpayers paid, the bank suffered no financial penalty for the tax evaded. Is there a problem with evidence requirements or penalties? Will the Minister inform us where the problem lies with this issue? People feel this is a serious source of scandal.

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The current legislative provision covers the offence of assisting someone in making an incorrect return. This narrowly defined offence is specific. To address this difficulty a new offence of facilitating tax evasion, along similar lines to the recently enacted criminal justice legislation and the UK model would have to be considered. These are matters on which I have taken advice and I will comment on them when I publish the Finance Bill on Thursday.

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)
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Will a distinction be made in the legislation between the people who deal face to face with bank officials who may have given direct advice and senior management in financial institutions who would have been responsible for what was often an unspoken policy that would have encouraged tax evasion? Is the Minister aware of that distinction and will he make provision for it?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The legislative base is rather narrow and restrictive. The creation of an offence regarding aiding and abetting of tax evasion is a matter on which I have taken advice. I cannot comment further on the matter until Thursday.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Will the legislation include an offence of aiding and abetting putting money offshore for the purposes of tax evasion? I understand that is the difficult point. Did the Minister receive representations from commercial or banking interests or the tax advisory industry regarding this matter?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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The Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners made representations.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Did he receive any from banking or other commercial interests?

Photo of Brian CowenBrian Cowen (Minister, Department of Finance; Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I have not seen any.