Wednesday, 7 March 2007
I wish to ask the Taoiseach the policy on remission of sentences. Concern is growing that in serious cases, remission is reduced by one quarter when prisoners arrive at the prison gates. Obviously, that serves to undermine confidence in the justice system and represents a disregard for victims. Can the Taoiseach confirm that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has the sole responsibility and power on behalf of the Government to set out the rules and regulations governing the remission of sentences?
The Taoiseach will be aware of the public outrage that followed the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Can he confirm that one of the people convicted of manslaughter in that case is being released from Castlerea Prison with full remission having served eight of the 11 years imposed on him?
Deputy Kenny is correct. For a number of years in this country, one quarter has been set down as the proportion of remission to be granted. As I understand the matter, it is not set out in legislation but has been the procedure. The equivalent period in Britain is one third, while it ranges between one quarter and one third in other countries.
This issue was raised by several organisations over the past two weeks in regard to a sexual abuse case. A certain individual had served a full and lengthy sentence but had received remission following the normal procedure.
In the case highlighted this week, Michael O'Neill, one of the four persons convicted of the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Detective Garda Ben O'Sullivan during an attempted robbery in Adare in June 1996, was committed to custody on 20 June 1996 and received an 11-year sentence for manslaughter on 5 February 1999, as well as two concurrent five-year terms for wounding and possession of firearms with intent. He was initially detained in Portlaoise Prison but was moved to Castlerea Prison in 1999, where he remains.
There is no question of this prisoner or any other person convicted in respect of the horrific events in Adare being released ahead of time. Prisoners in this jurisdiction have a statutory entitlement to remission of their sentences, provided they have demonstrated good behaviour. Each and every breach of these rules is punishable by loss of remission, up to a maximum of 14 days. This person was the subject of a single such report during his sentence and has lost a total of 12 days of remission. Therefore, he has not received full remission. In accordance with that, his release date has been set for 17 May 2007. As matters stand, the Prison Service would have no legal authority to detain him beyond that date.
I wish to correct my earlier statement as I am advised by a note that it is statutorily based. I have asked the relevant statute involved but have not got that information.
The question I wanted the Taoiseach to address was whether the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform sets the rules and regulations governing remission on behalf of the Government. The concern being expressed in public is that there is now an automatic remission of up to 25%.
In the case of Castlerea and the aforementioned prisoner, Mr. Justice Kinlen stated in his report that the IRA prisoner enclave within Castlerea was operating as a separate prison, whereas the prison's policy is to fully integrate prisoners within the complex. Would it not be in the interest of prisoners, in that they understand they have to earn remission, and victims, in that prisoners are seen to earn remission, to make the rules crystal clear? Given Mr. Justice Kinlen's report in respect of the prisoners in the Grove and his observation that the compound operates as a separate prison within a prison, can the Taoiseach clarify how the prisoner in question has earned his remission from 11 to eight years?
When the crime went to trial, the judge said he had never before seen such gross intimidation of witnesses in a case and, as it was not possible to try the accused on a capital murder charge, they had to be tried for manslaughter. Can the Taoiseach clarify how the prisoner has earned his remission in view of Mr. Justice Kinlen's report?
I do not want to make any comment about what happened in the trial. That was a matter of the evidence before and the judgment of the court. The individual concerned in the case received an 11-year sentence for manslaughter, as well as two concurrent five-year terms for wounding and possession of firearms. He has been under the control of the authorities in Portlaoise Prison and Castlerea Prison. I do not believe the prison authorities accept for one minute that there is an issue of a prison within a prison. The prisoners were held under the jurisdiction of the prison authorities and it is a matter for them to decide whether somebody has earned remission. It is only statutory if one has earned it and they arbitrate on it. In this case, their judgment is that each breach of prison rules is punishable by loss of remission up to a maximum of 14 days. The person concerned has been subject to a single such report and lost ten days remission. The same applies to all prisoners and this convention has been followed. It is statutory if one earns it and the prison authorities make that determination. They have made such a determination in this case and there are no plans to release anybody early. The prisoner concerned has earned remission to which the prison authorities would say he is entitled. In that case, there is no reason to detain him longer.
Did the Taoiseach watch the "Prime Time" programme last night which assessed the performance of Irish Ferries since it displaced its Irish workforce and took on cheaper labour? For example, it showed that the 48 Irish staff retained by agreement at the time had been driven out as a matter of policy by the company's management and only four workers were left. The programme detailed the tactics deployed by management to drive them out and also produced a number of e-mails. For example, in the recruitment of additional staff, managers were instructed not to employ Irish workers. A number of e-mails highlighted the concern among passengers because nobody could speak English on vessels and they were concerned about this from a safety point of view and so on. In addition, the Taoiseach gave the company €4.3 million in taxpayer's money to displace the Irish workers and recruit cheaper labour.
The programme went on to detail the various practices being followed and the exploitation taking place in other sectors and how workers who had come to Ireland, especially from third countries, were left high and dry because of the influx of workers from EU member states and the failure to renew their work permits. It is 15 months since I raised these issues and the Labour Party published a document entitled, A Fairer Place to Work and Live. Many of its recommendations were imported into the new national agreement, Towards 2016, last summer. However, the problem is one can go through the commitments made and tick them off but none is being implemented. For example, Jack O'Connor this week said:
The Government has made virtually no progress in implementing the labour protection measures in Towards 2016. There is no evidence of Revenue activity to stop bogus self-employment, no evidence of any commitment to effectively regulate employment agencies and no evidence of using public procurement of goods and services to uphold employment standards.
There are still only 31 labour inspectors to cover a workforce of 2 million. All the commitments regarding the new enforcement agency which was to be established to ensure work standards were being complied with have not been implemented. On the bottom rung of the ladder workers are being displaced blatantly and for no other reason than some employers find it possible to exploit non-national workers who are afraid to join trade unions or put their heads up and are willing to work additional hours and for the national minimum wage or less than it. The commitments entered into in Towards 2016 have not been implemented.
The Towards 2016 programme was only launched formally a few weeks ago but the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and his Department had set up a separate unit to engage with the social partners and move on legislation to address issues in a number of areas. The collective redundancy Bill will deal with the issue relating to Irish Ferries.
The Employment Permits Act which we passed last year and the arrangements announced by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on 24 January include a number of important protections for employees. An application for an employment permit may be made by either the employer or the employee but, in all cases, the green card or work permit will be granted and issued to the employee. Until the enactment of the legislation, the work permit had been granted to the employer. This provision will strengthen the position of the employee in the employer-employee partnership. The permit will contain a statement of the entitlements of migrant workers, a significant issue in recent years, including their remuneration, entitlement to the national minimum wage, right to change employer, accommodation allowances and deductions for board, an issue which arose during the Irish Ferries dispute. The permit or green card will be accompanied by a summary of their principal employment rights. The new Act expressly prohibits employers from deducting recruitment expenses from the remuneration of employees, as well as prohibiting them from retaining personal documents of the employee, including passport, driving licence and identity card. In addition, an employer who contravenes the provisions of the Act is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of between €5,000 and €50,000 or imprisonment for 12 months. These are all new powers.
According to Revenue and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, self-employment in the construction industry has reduced significantly. I have had this confirmed in the past week. The position of Romanian and Bulgarian workers is a separate issue, as they cannot enter the country to become self-employed.
Powers are in place to deal with illegal immigration and illegal work practices. The number of labour inspectors will increase to 90. Trade unions have been involved in consultation in this regard. On breaches of the Employment Permits Act, the Garda carries out inspections and takes prosecutions relating to employment permit and immigration offences generally. These inspections and prosecutions are prompted by the work permits section in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Whenever the section sees something dubious, it puts the Garda on to the company.
We must still bring forward legislation to deal with a number of areas covered by Towards 2016 but I do not know the dates for those Bills. An entire section is working solely on bringing them forward and it would be unfair to criticise the Department in this regard. Three Bills are required. The trade unions would state the collective redundancy Bill is the most important. It will be published and introduced in the House shortly.
There will clearly be no legislation in the lifetime of this Dáil. Furthermore, the Government does not need legislation to honour the commitment entered into on labour inspectors. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, in reply to a parliamentary question tabled by my colleague, Deputy Lynch, on 31 January, stated the number of inspectors at the present time was 31. In reply to another question from Deputy Kehoe, he stated the number of labour inspectors "will be progressively increased from 31 at present to 90". That is interesting because last week the Taoiseach stated in respect of the request by the Director of Corporate Enforcement for additional staff that, "The reason he is not getting them is that we made a priority in that Department to put the staff into new inspection sectors dealing with compliance by workers. The number of inspectors has risen from 30 to 90. It rose to 60 last year and 90 this year." The Minister told Deputies Kehoe and Lynch the number was 31. Therefore, the reason Mr. Paul Appleby is not getting his staff is that the Taoiseach has created 90 inspector posts, although the Minister said the number is 31.
I do not know what the Taoiseach is talking about in regard to legislation because if one looks at the disconnect between personal public service, PPS, numbers and work permits, it is plain that the bogus self-employment phenomenon is rampant.
I repeat that for the first time in the history of this State, the Taoiseach allowed a company, with which he has close connections through his office, politically and so on, to engineer its business in such a way that it let go its Irish workforce and, as a result, was able to access the redundancy fund to the extent of €4.3 million — €4.3 million of our money to let the workforce go. The 48 workers who were kept on, by agreement, have now been driven out so only four Irish workers remain. That is the state of play.
The Taoiseach spoke about promised legislation and said it would be brought forward. It will not be brought forward in the lifetime of this Dáil. Nothing is being done about it and this phenomenon continues.
Deputy Rabbitte is wrong as usual. The legislation has already been passed by Government, will be published shortly and will deal with these issues. The Minister has just told me Jack O'Connor, who briefed Deputy Rabbitte on these issues, is in direct consultation with him. Mr. O'Connor sought that consultation before we published the Bill.
When he telephoned Deputy Rabbitte he forgot to say he sought consultation and that is the reason the Bill has not been published. I am sure he will say that to the Deputy in the next telephone call. What I said last week is the case. We are employing 90 inspectors.
I did not interrupt the Deputy.
This year the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has given priority to putting all its additional staff into the inspectorate. As I understand, the only reason there is a delay——
I ask Deputy Rabbitte to allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption. Seven minutes have been allotted for this question. The Deputy took seven minutes to ask his question and I ask him to allow the Taoiseach to answer it.
If Deputy Rabbitte really wants to be helpful, he could put a word in with a few of his party members who are actively involved in the public service unions and who could help us to deal with some of the difficulties in the filling of the 90 posts because there are some restrictions. We will have 90 inspectors, as promised in Towards 2016.
The labour inspectorate is doing a very good job and is involving the Garda. Last year the labour inspectorate identified more than 2,250 breaches. The primary objectives of labour inspectors in the case of breaches is to seek compliance and rectification of breaches identified, including redress for the individuals concerned. Last year the inspectorate recovered arrears for employees from approximately 350 employers. It is not true that the system is not working and that what was promised in Towards 2016 is not actively being pursued under the legislation. More inspections will be carried out when we have 90 inspectors.
If the public service unions removed some of the unnecessary obstacles, the Minister would be able to employ the 90 inspectors straightaway. I might as well say it straight.
I welcome the support of the leader of the Labour Party in trying to force decisions on this from the public service unions. We are prepared to do so in negotiations. The money is there to enable us to do this. If we can remove some of the issues in regard to recruitment, we will able to move very quickly.
RTE's "This Week" programme recently highlighted a scandalous aspect of corporation tax policy in this State. The Government enables transnational corporations to use this country as a blatant Cayman Islands-like tax scam essentially to take billions of euro in profits made in many countries around the world, launder them through the Irish Republic to avail of one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the world and avoid paying hundreds of millions, or probably billions, in tax in countries where the money was actually earned, including in the Middle East and Africa. In 2005, one company, SanDisk, notified €106 million profit in this State with eight employees.
When the Ansbacher gang was channelling its money offshore, there was loud condemnation here, and rightly so, over its tax evasion and avoidance while care for the old, sick and handicapped was crucified for lack of resources. The Taoiseach's corporation tax policy is depriving hundreds of millions of people, including people in very poor countries, of substantial tax revenues which their health and education services desperately need. He is also facilitating massive tax avoidance by Irish multimillionaire tax exiles, although these patriots make the sacrifice of abandoning their far flung luxury mansions to tug the Taoiseach's sleeve every summer in Galway — no doubt to ensure he will continue to allow them to skim on taxes.
This morning Allied Irish Banks and Cement Roadstone Holdings announced that they raked in €3.78 billion in profits last year paying a relative pittance in tax in this State. Incredibly, we hear Irish semi-State companies are using ghost companies in Amsterdam to avoid paying taxes.
The Taoiseach has created a tax paradise for big business and the super rich but he will not pay the nurses their due. We have the second highest pupil-teacher ratio in primary schools in the European Union. We have desperate parents who cannot access services for children with special needs allegedly for lack of resources.
From his answers to the previous two questions, I note the Taoiseach is in script mode big time. I ask him to leave aside the script and say if there is any other way to describe the corporation tax policy of his Government except to say that it is utterly immoral.
Whatever about me being in script mode, that is the classic script of those in Europe who criticise the Irish tax system and want to harmonise European taxes. That is the classic script of an attack on our system. The same countries are envious of our ability to run a good economy and to generate 800,000 jobs. I am sad to see the Deputy, who normally fights the cause of working class people to have work, would adopt the right-wing view of some French and German people.
As for any breaches, our revenue laws are as tough as anywhere in the organised world. Every country has its own tax laws and the Revenue Commissioners have all of the powers granted by this House and many issues over the years have strengthened that position.
I have no involvement in, nor can I comment on, the tax affairs of either individual companies or State bodies in respect of their dealings with the Revenue Commissioners. Revenue does not comment either. However, all companies, including commercial semi-State companies, are entitled to organise their tax affairs in an efficient and legal manner to minimise the amount of tax payable. This is the manner in which commercial companies operate throughout the world. Our taxes are no longer the lowest in respect of corporation tax as some European Union member states have zero taxes. Elsewhere, countries, such as Singapore that has a zero rate, are probably receiving most of the foreign direct investment nowadays. Other countries have tax efficient mechanisms whereby they have higher headline tax rates but then do deals with major companies and multinationals. This is the order of the day.
The position of the Department of Finance is set out in the code of practice in respect of the governance of State companies. State companies are obliged to follow that code and it is a matter for the authorities to pursue any that do not so do. I am aware the Deputy has taken his information from the Irish Mail on Sunday, which published an article stating that three State companies, namely, ESB, An Post and Aer Rianta, have avoided corporation tax by moving more than €90 million through the accounts of the Dutch holding companies. This is a matter for the relevant Departments and boards to investigate. I do not have details in this regard.
However, our corporation tax regime is a far more transparent system and method of dealing with tax than is the case in most European countries. An ongoing campaign has run for 20 years about some of our operations. Our financial services regulators and companies are continually watching for anyone who abuses the system. However, Ireland is not alone in using tax efficient ways of doing things. There are tight laws and regulations and, in the case of any breaches, the Central Bank, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, the Revenue Commissioners and other agencies are designed to try to control them. However, Deputy Higgins should not fall into the trap that is again being revived by those who want to see a harmonised tax system.
They permanently pick on Ireland, in the main because they do not want to make reference to some other countries to which they are more closely allied. There are plenty of them and I note that in the French election we have again been taken out and used to be kicked around by those who should know better.
Of course people in the European Union criticise the Taoiseach's corporation tax policy. Why would they not? The Taoiseach has been instrumental in causing a race to the bottom in corporation rates within the European Union and in a wider sense. For example, the Taoiseach has cosseted, in the same manner as everyone else, Proctor and Gamble, which is a fabulously profitable corporation. However, its workers are being put through the wringer today because much wants more. Apparently, although Members have not heard the latest, it wants to abandon Ireland for other pastures, where a corporation tax rate of zero applies — the direction in which the Taoiseach's policy is going. There will be a bitter fruit to be reaped from the Taoiseach's corporation tax policy. One sees the spectacle of the likes of Mr. Gates of Microsoft, who struts the world stage as a magnificent philanthropist. However, he avails of Ireland's tax law for blatant tax avoidance——
——assisted by the Government. This mirrors the Irish tax exiles, who are the Taoiseach's friends and who also strut around Ireland raising funds for worthy causes. However, were they to pay their due taxation, such causes would be funded ten times over without being obliged to go to them with a begging bowl.
It appears as though everyone in Ireland is my friend this morning. If Deputy Higgins is advocating that State agencies which employ thousands of people, such as An Post and the ESB, should put themselves at a disadvantage by not availing of legitimate tax schemes to minimise their tax liabilities——
There are bodies to investigate tax scams. If the Deputy asserts that the law as it stands is wrong, it is obvious that he disagrees with it. I remind Deputy Higgins, who obviously has forgotten what he said on two occasions, of the following. Ireland has lower taxes — although they are no longer the lowest because countries such as Estonia and other new member states have extremely low corporation taxes — which are very straight line and we do not make deals with companies as do other countries. We are taking in hundreds of millions more and the very projects advocated by the Deputy are funded in this manner.
As we receive hundreds of millions more in tax revenue than was the case previously, we are able to put far more money into employing nurses, doctors and other paramedical staff, as well as thousands of teachers. I know this is not consistent with the Deputy's policy either. The Deputy would like to have exorbitantly high taxes, high unemployment and huge poverty——
This is what the Deputy believes in. In fairness, the Deputy is consistent. If the sun shines, he wants to see rain. He has always been like that. I understand that and fair play to him. He has been consistent for 30 years.