Thursday, 27 January 2011
Finance Bill 2011: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 9, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF TAX EXPENDITURES
1.—The Minister shall within one month from the passing of this Act prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on a cost-benefit analysis of tax expenditures provided for by this Act, setting out the costs of tax foregone, and the benefits in
terms of job creation or otherwise.".
To advise the House, what speaking times are available on Report Stage?
The Chief Whip has outlined the arrangements. On Report Stage all Members may speak twice on each amendment or group of amendments, with second contributions not exceeding two minutes. The Member who moves the amendment retains the right of reply; effectively, the mover of an amendment may speak three times - a contribution when moving the amendment, a second contribution of two minutes and a third contribution to conclude the debate.
I move this amendment on behalf of the Labour Party. It makes a provision that all tax expenditure and schemes would be subject to a full cost-benefit analysis to be published. If the Dáil and Fianna Fáil while in government had adopted this approach, particularly after 1997 and 1998, we probably would not have had the kind of economic crash which the country has since suffered. Last year in the debate on the Finance Bill the Minister brought forward new tax expenditure schemes relating to tax reliefs for certain kinds of actions. At the time, the Dáil accepted an amendment in the name of the Labour Party to provide that one month after the publication of the Finance Bill, a cost-benefit analysis on tax expenditures would be published. The report was published.
I cannot see why the Minister would not agree, in a spirit of bipartisanship, to committing to a cost-benefit analysis. We have a number of schemes in the Finance Bill today, particularly a series of schemes which change the rules in various ways with regard to companies spending money for business expansion. The old business expansion scheme is being transformed into a new scheme with higher investment capacity which is focused on employment and innovation. Where tax incentives are used, they should be for stimulating employment, growth and innovation with the goals of long-term employment and job creation. However, unless we have a detailed table showing the implications of each new scheme, it is impossible to determine what will be the relevant scheme's ultimate effects.
As the Minister will be aware, the amendment to the Bill regarding changes in the business expansion scheme runs to tens of pages. It is probable that only professional tax consultants and lawyers are able to fully understand it. This is the democratic gap that arises with such schemes. To be incorporated into law, they must be the subject of immensely detailed technical legislation, the detail of which most parliamentarians are not equipped to understand. For this reason, parliamentarians and members of the public require a summary explanation of the costs, benefits, employment creation and innovation support that changes in a scheme involve. Such information would enable us to make rational decisions on whether a scheme is worthwhile or targeted to benefit a select few.
The critical issue in the economic crisis into which this country has been brought is that we have hollowed out our tax system through the introduction of a range of tax breaks and expenditures. While tax breaks and expenditures have a role in stimulating employment, investment and growth, we are buying a pig in a poke when we allow the Dáil to pass into law tax breaks and expenditures which, as we know from recent history, end up being used and abused to feed a construction bubble. It was this approach, combined with the crazy behaviour of bankers and their associates, that brought the economy crashing down.
If we are to learn any lessons from what went wrong and try to avoid it being repeated in the future, we need a simple explanation of tax reliefs and schemes setting out their costs, benefits and duration and indicating who is likely to utilise them. We specifically want information indicating whether a scheme will enable someone with an income in excess of €1 million to avoid paying tax when ordinary taxpayers are contributing at such a heavy rate, as they will have discovered when they opened their wage packets this month. This is what the amendment boils down to.
We saw from annual Revenue reports published in recent years that many people on incomes of more than €2 million per annum ended up with a tax rate of less than 20% because they were able to use tax shelters to shield their income in a manner that is not available to other taxpayers. If we are to emerge from the current economic morass, we must have a tax system which taxes moderately and fairly and under which everyone makes a contribution. The problem with tax shelters is that they have been used and abused by the Fianna Fáil Party to provide tax reliefs to people close to the party who are involved in the construction, development and financial services industries. The beneficiaries may lobby for and laud such reliefs but they have hollowed out our tax system and, as a consequence, ordinary people must make a much heavier tax contribution.
The Minister agreed to this simple amendment last year. On the final day of the 30th Dáil and in a spirit of bipartisanship, besides apologising, I want the Fianna Fáil Party do the right thing for once in the interests of economic recovery and repairing a society that has been broken by its mismanagement of the economy over 13 long years. That is my net point.
I heard the new leader of the Fianna Fáil Party being contrite in a generalised way about the actions of the party that has ruined the country and economy. While this is helpful for moving on, contrition is also being offered by way of this simple amendment proposing the publication of cost-benefit analyses. If Fianna Fáil and its new leader are contrite, they have an opportunity to show contrition simply and at no cost by accepting the amendment. It involves nothing more than the publication of clear cost-benefit analyses of various schemes. The party's position will tell us if the words of Deputy Martin yesterday were just talk or whether there is, to use the old phrase, a firm purpose of amendment in the approach he outlined yesterday. I commend the amendment to the House.
I spoke in support of this amendment on Committee Stage. It is particularly welcome because it focuses on job creation, an area that is missing from the Bill. I tabled amendments on Committee Stage and have tabled further amendments on Report Stage. One of my Committee Stage amendments proposed a stimulus package for jobs. It would be illogical for the Government not to accept the simple amendment before us. As Deputy Burton indicated, it does not impose a charge on the Exchequer but requires only that a cost-benefit analysis be laid before the Houses.
We hear a great deal about political reform. I am one of the sceptics who believe the type of political reform many people seek will not materialise because of a lack of will. A real starting point would be for the Government to provide information to other political parties on analyses of the costs and benefits of tax reliefs provided for in the Finance Bill. To be the best legislators and make correct decisions in the interests of those whom we represent, we must have the full information at our disposal. The facts and figures on tax reliefs devised by the Department of Finance are only available to the Government party and possibly only the Minister for Finance. It is also possible that a trawl for this information has not been done, in which case one must ask what is the reason this information is not available.
If we are to get out of the mess in which we find ourselves, information should be shared and the impact of tax reliefs introduced in the Finance Bill examined to ascertain how they effect the Exchequer and citizens. Although we are consumed with our deficit, the need to balance the books and how we will deal with the banks and engage with the International Monetary Fund and European Union, Ireland is not a set of accounts but a nation of people. While it is necessary to balance the books and determine what are the effects of the measures introduced in the Finance Bill, we must also examine what effects they will have on real people in real communities. On that basis, the Government should agree to this sensible amendment requiring that analysis be done to determine how tax reliefs measure up against job creation.
I speak one day after the devastating and crippling news emerged that 124 jobs will be lost in Gallagher's Bakery in my constituency. The announcement did not receive anything like the attention it deserves. The loss of 124 jobs in the small community of Ardara in west Donegal is the equivalent of thousands of jobs being lost in Dublin city centre. The matter has not received the necessary focus or media and ministerial attention. The Ministers for Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Innovation should travel to Ardara to meet representatives of Gallagher's Bakery and discuss what they can do to retain 124 jobs.
It is a home-grown company that has provided so much to the area, as well as additional revenue in terms of spin-offs for other companies relying on that business. That has not happened, however, because in reality the Government has closed down.
We know that this is the last piece of legislation to come before the 30th Dáil, so it is about Government Deputies saving their own jobs rather than worrying about jobs that are being lost in the real economy. Even at this late stage, I am appealing for action to be taken. I understand the company is meeting with Údarás na Gaeltachta and Enterprise Ireland this morning, so I appeal for direct ministerial intervention to try to do the best that is possible.
I do not want to be misinterpreted. I am saying that tax reliefs are valuable in certain circumstances. They are valuable if, as a direct consequence, they provide employment. As we have seen, however, tax reliefs can be damaging if they are not for the benefit of the economy or the people, but only a select few. Unfortunately, this country has been consumed by tax reliefs that have benefitted builders but, as we know, that over-heated the property market and in turn crippled the country with debt. The Minister should agree to this amendment which does not cost the Exchequer anything. It is about providing the best information to all Deputies so that we can legislate to best effect.
Over the next four weeks we will be discussing many issues, one of which is political reform. In the spirit of those discussions and as a starting point before the election campaign kicks off in earnest, we could have a real change of direction by publishing information that should be made available in any case by the Department of Finance.
I support this amendment in general terms. It is a good idea and should be normal practice when a Minister proposes changes in the tax code and particularly ones that involve tax increases. This arises from our previous debate on tax breaks, specifically on section 23 and capital allowances. While some people are against these in principle, I am not. By and large, people respond to the profit motive and if such a tax break is introduced they will respond to it. If the way in which they behave gives an economic or social benefit to the wider community it is worth examining the proposed tax break. As I said on Committee Stage, we have seen examples of where such breaks were quite beneficial. For example, tax breaks have stimulated inner-city regeneration projects all over the world, starting in some American cities and then in Europe.
I recall that in the 1980s the late John Boland, as a Government Minister, was one of the great advocates of tax breaks. He applied a series of them to derelict inner-city areas, which were successful at a time when there was little such activity to provide jobs. More than anything else, they removed acres of dereliction from city centres. In my own city of Limerick, 39 acres of derelict sites were designated within half a mile of the city centre. They were all rebuilt and it was a good development project.
Other tax breaks were provided for social purposes. I remember when it was virtually impossible for families to get any relative into a nursing home because there were not enough homes and consequently insufficient beds. A tax break was provided by a former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevey, which provoked a rush to build and invest in nursing homes. That provision had beneficial social consequences.
The problem with tax breaks is when they become an industry driven by tax lawyers for the purposes of tax avoidance. One of the objectives of that industry is to enable people to turn income into wealth at the expense of the taxpayer. The crucial concept is that tax breaks designed to turn income into wealth are of no benefit to the wider community. It works very simply in that instead of paying the tax one should pay to the Revenue Commissioners, one gets a break. One then converts that tranche of income into a house, apartment, hotel or some other kind of fixed asset. Consequently, a small group of people is increasingly enriched. The common factor in all such tax breaks, however, is that if unpaid tax is used to convert income into a fixed asset, certain individuals are enriched. It is therefore a device for turning income into wealth, which is of no benefit to the wider community. It hurts the wider community because the income paid to the Revenue is used for social and economic purposes by the State, but if certain income is foregone then there is no such benefit. All budgetary measures should therefore be analysed carefully.
It is a flaw in our budgetary system that proposals from the Minister for Finance are, in the first instance, examined to see how much money they will yield. The test is tax yield or tax foregone. The second analysis is the political effect of the proposed measure and whether the party proposing it will lose or gain votes as a result. However, there is no real assessment of the social or economic effects of many such measures. There is a crossover between political fallout and social effects but when a tax break is being introduced there should be an analysis of its economic and social effects. The tax foregone should also be assessed, in addition to the potential yield of a tax increase. In view of the business we are in, there is an assessment of the political impact but not of the social or economic impacts. In general terms, therefore, I agree with the proposition in the amendment.
I broadly support this important amendment. We have had a valuable public debate on institutional reform during which I suggested that a working democracy requires moving from dealing just with political power and accountability to dealing with administrative power and accountability. On earlier stages, I cited examples in this regard. I suggested that people often try to achieve legislative change through advocacy. However, if they are excluded from the process of administering that legislative change it can often come to nothing. That is the view of those who have been analysing political systems in Europe, including a leading theorist whom I quoted in my speech on Second Stage.
I wish to make another point that, unfortunately, has not surfaced in the public debate so far. Important professions in this country have been degraded by the actions of some of their members. As a former Member of the Seanad, I recall that when the Finance Bill came to the Upper House - as it will later this week - the legislation was analysed in great detail by some Senators. I often wondered why they were dealing with the Bill in such detail. I knew the answer within a few months, however, when I read the publications from their legal or accountancy firms. The profession of accountancy, the legal profession and other related professions have served this country very poorly in terms of their scrutiny of some of their practitioners. Their investigations into certain practices tend to be rather cumbersome and often happen very late after the fact.
I would like to say something else that may be quite shocking. I am afraid it is slightly different from what Deputy Noonan has been saying. I believe in a republic. If one is to take that seriously, one has to commit oneself to transparency. We need a kind of professional practice that tries to illuminate the consequences of legislation, rather than one that seeks to hide facts from the public. It might sound like an arcane view on my part, but it happens to be my strong view that there is something lesser about a professional practice that seeks to remove benefit from the people in general through the taxation system. During one of the most colourful debates I can remember on a finance Bill, the late Oliver J. Flanagan added some particularly valuable theological colour to his lecture on the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion by comparing it to the difference between venial and mortal sin. We have moved on, but the standard in professional practice has not moved on. I wanted to take this opportunity to make that point because when I was a young student of commerce, I examined the obligations that flowed from signing off on one's balance sheet of assets. I am simply saying that what has happened in recent times in the professions has served us badly.
I will move on to discuss what this specific amendment has to say. Its contents would be of value to any future Minister for Finance of any party. Ministers are not required to affect the kind of omniscience that they find valuable, although some of them think it necessary to do so. They are required to make proposals that may or may not work. Some of their proposals are unsuccessful. If it is agreed that the best way of testing whether something is successful is by reference to its intent in terms of social benefit, as well as the economic benefit to those participating in it, why does the Minister not accept this amendment and get on with it? The great advantage of this proposal is that it would require the Minister of the day to say that when he introduced a measure, it was his hope that certain people would participate in it, that it would have certain consequences and that it would lead to the transfers about which Deputy Noonan spoke. What is wrong with stating that the investment in question should be judged on whether it facilitated job creation, assisted social inclusion and was to the spatial advantage of communities?
In the old days, chartered accountants used to sit down with their clients and occasionally pick up some original documents. There has been a big change in the modern crisis practices that I mentioned. A partner in the firm now has lunch with the client to secure his account, brings in a small army of lower paid people to do the drudge work and has lunch with the client again when the time comes to hand over the bill. All of these institutions have to change. If the Minister of the day finds that his proposal has not had the desired effect because after he made it, a small army in the predator section of one of these unreformed institutions - they have a long way to go - decided to go after it, he can change it. In such circumstances, the Minister would be entitled to the respect of the other side of the House. He or she would have my respect as well. This is a valuable amendment because it provides for administrative justice and democracy, offers transparency and represents a small gesture towards improving standards in professions that need to improve. I am sure the Minister for Finance, who has been one of the more thoughtful members of the Cabinet for a long time, will consider accepting the amendment.
This is the most important of all the amendments that will be discussed on Report Stage. It is seeking to provide a framework, a rationale and some underlying principles for any decision to forgo taxes. It aims to clarify the benefits of doing so. Why should the taxpayers of this nation forgo a range of taxes and tax reliefs in the absence of a costing of what the benefit to the country will be? That is the nub of the matter. This amendment proposes that the Department of Finance "shall within one month" have conducted "a cost-benefit analysis of" the range of tax reliefs included in this Bill. I expect the departmental officials will throw up their hands in absolute dismay at the thought of being required to take such action within such a space of time. I accept it would be difficult to do. It is obvious that the work in question should have been done before the budget was introduced and this Bill was presented. We need to put down a marker that no further tax reliefs will be introduced to benefit wealthy landlords, large pension funds and property developers - they have already been enriched and any such benefits would enrich them further - unless there is a return to taxpayers.
At this difficult time of recession, there should be a return in the specific areas of job retention and creation. Such a link should be made.
When I read the Minister's speech, I was disappointed by the section that indicated he intends to undertake research and preparation on property-related tax expenditure, and subsequently publish his findings, before he introduces cutbacks to existing tax reliefs. He said that although the property-related tax expenditure provisions which were announced in the budget are retained in sections 22 and 23 of the Bill, the Government has decided they will be subject to a commencement provision which may only take effect in the next tax year after the preparation and publication of an economic impact assessment on the proposed changes. Anybody in their right mind would expect that all of this would have taken place before these proposals were made on budget day or introduced in the Finance Bill. As it is, the proposals have been made but are on hold until some future stage. The Minister will not be in a position to ensure they are implemented in the future. A new Government will deal with the matter. The Government is reneging on a commitment that was made on budget day by not delivering it in the context of the Finance Bill. It should have known before it made its budget day commitment that the research had not been done. Why is it being done now, post factum? It is another way of removing the proposal, which is not a good enough way of conducting business.
If the amendment being proposed by Deputy Burton had been in place, all of the necessary homework would have been done. We would have seen a cost-benefit analysis of the continuation of any property-related or pension-related tax reliefs. That is how we should be moving forward. There is an example of a good provision in a later section of this Bill. The Minister has proposed to offer tax relief with regard to the energy efficiency of residential premises in the State. This welcome measure will create jobs and stimulate employment. Although we will forgo income tax in that respect, it is obvious that there will be a return to the State from it. It is an example of what this amendment proposes to achieve. Unfortunately, even on a desirable project such as that, there will be tax relief of only €30 million per annum.
We have seen obscene figures for the total value of tax reliefs to the people who benefit from it; some economists say it is in the region of €11 billion annually. I do not know what is the Department of Finance figure but economists said last year in Killarney at the annual IBEC get-together that the amount of tax foregone annually in tax reliefs for various sectors that have benefited outrageously from such policies is €11 billion. It has got totally out of hand.
We need to know the total quantity of tax foregone and we then need to establish a framework to ensure that we have a rationale and basic underlying principles for tax reliefs in the future. Most importantly, any reliefs must be of substantial benefit to the community. In this time of recession, they should be directed towards the area that would be most of benefit, which is job creation and retention.
Deputy Burton appealed for support for her amendment on the basis of bipartisanship and then introduced a rather partisan version of modern Irish economic history, which is understandable given the proximity of the poll. I was pleased to hear Deputy Micheál Martin make the point this morning, which was widely reported, that our expenditure base was too high and our revenue base was too low. I am sure Deputy Burton recalls I made that point the centrepiece of my Budget Statement in October 2008. We in Fianna Fáil have all been practising in sackcloth and ashes for some time.
Many worthy sentiments were expressed in the House this morning. Of course job creation is important. Deputy Pearse Doherty argued that the Bill lacked any employment incentives. The budget contained numerous job creation incentives. Quite apart from the need to ensure economic stability, the Bill provides for the employment and investment incentive scheme and reliefs for energy efficiency works, as well as an extension of the film relief, which has generated an amount of activity. There are a number of other matters which I hope we will have an opportunity to consider in what remains of this debate.
While I do not propose to accept the amendment, I must make the point that economic impact assessments of two measures in this year's Bill will be undertaken. The House will be aware that the issue of cost-benefit analysis of tax expenditures was examined by the Commission on Taxation, which was of the opinion that tax expenditures should be subject to ongoing evaluation and appropriate and timely cost-benefit analysis. Under the Finance Act 2010, there was a cost-benefit analysis of tax expenditures following the acceptance of an amendment from Deputy Burton, although her proposed period of one month for completing the report was extended to three months by a Government amendment. In order to undertake the report suggested by this amendment, my officials and those of the Revenue Commissioners would need appropriate data from tax returns. The commission acknowledged that such a requirement would add complexity and volume to standard tax return forms and increase compliance costs for taxpayers.
I agree it is desirable to provide for ongoing monitoring and evaluation to ensure that tax expenditures remain fit for the purposes for which they were designed and that they continue to be economically efficient. It could be argued it is reasonable and proportionate that where taxpayers are availing of tax expenditures they should supply such information to the Revenue Commissioners. However, I trust the House will understand that given the current economic position, I do not consider this an appropriate time to introduce additional complexity and cost for hard-pressed taxpayers.
I will make a few points on the amendment itself. One month is an insufficient time, as I pointed out. Second, as stated in last year's cost-benefit analysis report, there is an underlying principle of proportionality in cost-benefit analysis which states that the level of resources invested in carrying out the analysis should be commensurate with the scale of the expenditure involved. Third, this is not the time to conduct cost-benefit analyses of all tax expenditures in the Bill, which involve a total of 13 sections. Deputies will be aware that another finance Bill will need to be passed before 1 April to give effect to the Civil Partnership Act and possibly to other measures which have had to be postponed because of the truncated timescale for this Bill. Given the pressing issues facing the economy and the country, including the possible change of Government and of ministerial personnel, it would not be a good use of the Department's time to produce a cost-benefit analysis of measures in this Bill at the same time as it prepares for a new finance Bill and, very possibly although not necessarily, for a new political regime with different policy requirements from those of the current Government.
I agree with Deputy Burton that the completion of cost-benefit analysis is warranted in the majority of tax expenditures before they are introduced. As mentioned in the context of the current Bill, my officials have already prepared an economic impact assessment for the employment and investment incentive scheme. This assessment will be completed shortly and I intend it will be published. With regard to the new relief for energy-efficient measures, a similar advance assessment will be prepared before the section is commenced, and that measure is subject to a commencement order. A cost-benefit analysis of tax expenditures before their introduction is more appropriate than an analysis after the event. For that reason and for the others mentioned, I do not propose to accept the amendment.
Deputy Higgins made an eloquent case for the general principle of conducting cost-benefit analyses, and it has become an established administrative practice within my Department irrespective of legislative vesture. The crucial tax reliefs provided for in the Bill - the new employment and investment incentive and the energy efficiency works incentive - will be subject to cost-benefit analysis. As a matter of practice, this matter is already being attended to.
With regard to Deputy Higgins's theological reflections on the distinction between tax evasion and tax avoidance, I do not think his comparison to the contrast between mortal and venial sin is quite accurate. In terms of the theology of that era, I would prefer to say it is the distinction between the natural and the artificial method.
Yes. There was a famous professor from Cork in the Seanad when I started out, who argued that condoms could be as dangerous as liqueur chocolates were in their day, when he had originally spoken on the Intoxicating Liquor Act. History would want to be charitable to him.
I will be brief in replying to the Minister. What I have to say is important. When people speak about cost-benefit analysis, they are not talking only about monetary consequences but also about social consequences. The next Government, and those that follow it, must test everything they do for its job creation potential and economic activity, measured in social terms. Perhaps it is because I am leaving the Dáil, and I hope its officials will forgive me, but after my long analysis over the years of the officials in the Department of Finance, I feel they need to move on. They must accept the theoretical thinking that cost-benefit analysis must be considered in view of the social dimension rather than just the narrow economic one. I also think they must abandon the Sir Humphrey principle that if it is good we have considered it and if it is not good we did not bother with it. The fact of the matter is that they, too, occasionally make mistakes. It is important that the Department is entirely open to testing new measures. I say this with no enmity but solely with the intention of being practical.
More recent events are in my favour in this regard. For example, if we consider what Regling and Watson suggest were the consequences of measures whose implications were relatively unexamined, they allude, frankly, to matters that are social. I am not saying - because I would be quickly corrected - that the Department of Finance is unaware of social implications, but I can say without any contradiction that both the Department of Finance and economic and social-----
Yes. I am finishing with this sentence. What I have to say also applies to what was the Economic Research Institute but became the Economic and Social Research Institute. Frankly, it is past time that we had rigorous examinations of the social consequences. The issue should not be the yield in terms of tax foregone, but people should be invited to pay their tax in social solidarity to make a contribution to creating employment. That is the thinking we need. The notion that the world moves on the motivation of profit and the acquisition of wealth is as dead as the dodo, but unfortunately not before it has brought about horrific consequences.
Michael Finneran (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Local Services, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Roscommon-South Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context
It has always been the interpretation, wish and determination of Government and the Minister for Finance to the effect that there is a job creation aspect to measures that are being brought forward in this Bill and indeed in other finance Bills. To go back to a point made by Deputy Noonan and reflected upon by Deputy Higgins, the social dimension is very much apparent. We only have to look at the areas of regeneration right around the country, say, Ballymun, Fatima, the Dublin docks, Limerick etc. to find that the social dimension is plain to be seen. Deputy Noonan knows that from his own city and we have seen the fruits of this already.
While there might have been some bad press about the Dublin Docks Development Authority in recent times, anybody can see that at this stage there is a whole new community there in the docks area. People who never would have sought second-level education are now in secondary school, and there are even people going on to third level in this area, which was unheard of ten or 15 years ago. Therefore there is a social dimension and a job creation aspect to finance Bills, as indeed there is in this one.
I want to press the amendment, a Cheann Comhairle, because this goes to the heart of why the economy collapsed and why so many people are suffering unemployment and many of the young have very little immediate prospect of getting work. Basically, we hear tax breaks work because we have a hunch they will actually encourage this person or that to invest. Of course everybody wants to see derelict run-down areas in any town or city being redeveloped. My first involvement in politics was in relation to large parts of Dublin city centre falling down; people were being killed when houses collapsed on them.
However, it is not good enough to say one wants to redevelop if the system then turns that redevelopment process into a type of casino lottery win for super-wealthy people. The social dividend must go not just to the developers but to the ordinary taxpayers. In future, if we decide to exempt certain people or actions from tax, we must have evidence which says it is worthwhile not to charge this or that section the full range of taxes, because we will get jobs and development. What Fianna Fáil did became the trigger for a might episode of gambling and mad speculation on property. This morning, for instance, we see we are going to have fields all around every town in Ireland, where people speculated on buying four fields, say, for some enormous housing development that will never happen.
Fianna Fáil was in contrition mode yesterday. It used to be the case that there was confession, but we have never yet had a confession from Fianna Fáil for what it did. We had some contrition, yesterday, but there is the purpose of amendment-----
-----which says we will not do it in the future. My colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, says "a firm purpose of amendment". Fianna Fáil still wants to run away from saying we have to change how we do things if we are to repair and rebuild the economy and get people------
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 9, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
Publication of Certain Bonuses
1.—Each credit institution that is participating in the eligible liabilities guarantee scheme shall be required, within 30 days of the passing of this Act, to submit to
Dáil Éireann details of the names of all of its officers, employees or contractors to whom bonuses have been paid between 30 September 2008 and the date of passing of this Act, and the amount of the bonuses in each case.".
Amendment No. 2 seeks to require the Government to publish within a month of the Finance Bill being passed information about the bonuses earned by bankers. i do not know whether Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot have been used by the Department of Finance, but there has been the strange case of the missing information about the bonuses paid to bank staff since the bank guarantee. I and other Deputies have asked the Minister for Finance over the last year whether he would come clean and find out from the institutions bailed out by the taxpayer the level of bonuses they paid to staff in each year since the guarantee, that is, since September 2008.
Unfortunately, it has been extremely difficult to extract this information. Banks are very anxious to tell us about their wonderful contributions to this, that and the other but they are extremely diffident and shy. They are somewhat akin to the lesser spotted something or other. One would have to go deep into the undergrowth to figure out what bonuses, exactly, are paid by banks. What we know, after a good deal of parliamentary questioning, is that in the period since the guarantee, the banks, other than Bank of Ireland, have paid about €40 million in bonuses and next month I understand AIB has another €30 million to €40 million in bonuses to pay which it says it has committed to. We know that Anglo Irish Bank has paid €21 million in bonuses since the guarantee.
The bonus culture destroyed the banks. It turned bankers not into people who managed relationships for customers, particularly small to medium-sized businesses, but into bonus earners. If they sold products, regardless of how risky, they got very fine fat fees and many of them ended up earning incomes of several million because of the bonus culture. This undoubtedly made many of the people at the top in the banks reckless in the extreme. They gave crazy loans for projects that would never happen. They gave loans for developments of massive quantities of housing and industrial development in areas where, even in a century from now, there would not be a sufficiently high population numbers to support those levels of development. It is the considered view of the Labour Party, which I believe is shared by many of our social democratic colleagues in Europe and elsewhere, that bankers need to have some disciplinary framework imposed on them. We need to call a halt to the bonus culture and the reckless decision making that it gave rise to.
What we want to know, to start off with, is whatever happened to these Bank of Ireland bonuses. When I got the answer to my parliamentary questions there was a little asterisk and a blank line where the Bank of Ireland data should have been to say that the information was not available. I thought that they had reclassified bonuses, and perhaps that is what they sought to do. The institutions bailed out by the State have an obligation to put what they paid in bonuses into the public domain for the information of taxpayers. The point I made about Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot was that the Minister recently confessed to me that a high level, urgent investigation is taking place in the Department of Finance into the Bank of Ireland bonus figures. I am not sure who is Miss Marple and who is Hercule Poirot in the Department of Finance but this particular amendment, if passed, will require our sleuths in the Department of Finance, one month after the passing of the Finance Bill, to publish information about all bonuses paid since the guarantee by the banks and institutions the taxpayer bailed out. This is a reasonable requirement in a modern democracy where we are trying to come to terms with the economic disaster that has overtaken us because of mismanagement by Fianna Fáil. As Fianna Fáil leaves office and possibly goes out of government, it is incumbent on the party in the last days of that Administration to publish this information. It is very difficult for this country to move on from the banking disaster unless we have a full telling of who did what and, in respect of bonuses, who got what.
We are not talking about small bonuses for staff in call centres and banks. Such people may be on the minimum wage which is increased slightly by the payment of bonuses. This is not what we are talking about. I refer to the people at the top of the banks, who were making millions of euro per annum. At one stage, the former chief executive of Bank of Ireland told a shocked Irish public that his income had fallen to below €2 million a year because of the cuts he had taken. He clearly felt sorry for himself and that he had made a major national sacrifice. Publishing this information is part of giving a sense of control to our citizens so that there is some level of accountability required and demanded of the banking institutions that are costing us so much and will cost us so much to bail out. I commend the Labour Party amendment to the House.
I support the amendment tabled by Deputy Burton but I have no expectation the Government will accept it, irrespective of how good it is. There has been a crazy convention during my period in this House whereby the Government refuses to accept Opposition amendments. It will not accept this amendment or any other in this grouping because the Government has closed down and is operating in a perfunctory manner so that it can get through to Monday or Tuesday of next week when the Taoiseach will go to the park and finally dissolve this Dáil, allowing for an election to bring in a new Government. It is depressing to be standing here two and a half years after the major banking crisis and discussing a situation that should have been resolved long ago, where the banks appear to be a law unto themselves and accurate information is still not coming through to this House and the representatives of the people of this State. I see no prospect of that regime - the Government-banker relationship - altering in the next few days. It will be more of the same. The Government will allow the banks to paddle their own canoe while pouring billions of taxpayers money into the banks to try to keep them barely standing. It is beyond belief. I look forward to a new Government, of whatever hue, being more open on this point and being more forceful in dealing with this bonus crisis.
Hopefully it will also deal with the bondholders because we remain tied to the private debt of banks, where private international speculators sent money into private investment schemes here, called banks, which were not underwritten by the taxpayers or the Government. Nevertheless, the taxpayers are expected to pick up the tab for all of that. It beggars belief that it is happening. We can consider other examples, such as Iceland, which dealt with this in a more proactive way. Iceland is beginning to move forward at long last. We have been through this more than enough.
This problem is persisting and is not improving because of the way the Government has dealt with it. Had the Government taken a different course of action, we would not be in the mess we are in today. I hold no hope that this Government will do anything about it at this late stage. They will sleepwalk through until Tuesday. Let us get on with the job of bringing in a new Government of some kind. It would have to be better than the current Government.
Other speakers referred to the extent that the bonus system caused great difficulties in banking. Certain officers, particularly at senior level in banks, were incentivised to be reckless. That was the bottom line of the bonus culture. Bonuses related to activity or profit generated by senior bankers contained the seeds of the downfall of the banks. It is a culture that spread from the United States to London, other main financial centres and into Ireland. We have seen the consequences of it.
Regarding the amendment before us, I do not like the idea of publishing lists of names of people in any particular profession. Ireland is a small country and there is always the risk of scapegoating. It would be sufficient to meet the concerns in the House for a list of the number of people at different levels and the bonuses received was published. The Government could publish the range of bonuses and the fact that a certain number of bank managers received a bonus. Publishing the names and details of employees is something I do not like and there are other ways of achieving the same end.
The Minister needs to explain to us how Bank of Ireland gave bonuses and the Department of Finance did not know about it. There is a well-developed banking division in the Department of Finance and in a situation where Bank of Ireland is a covered institution and there is Government policy on bonuses, they should not have been paid without the Department of Finance being aware of it. We have had no explanation of what happened.
There is a case made that some divisions of banks are profitable and that the employees there deserve bonuses because they were not in loss-making divisions. Investment banking has been profitable in the past number of years. There should be a renegotiation of contracts in order to reward people in a different way. If this was a large garage that became insolvent and had to be bailed out, the salesman selling Land Rovers would not receive commission simply because he made a profit on the sale of Land Rovers when everyone else was losing their shirts and driving the garage into hock. To talk about the profitability of a particular division in an insolvent institution and argue that the taxpayer should subsidise bonuses given to people working in that division lacks logic and does not stand up to normal commercial scrutiny.
I agree with the spirit of the amendment but I would not find it acceptable to have lists of names of employees down to the most junior who receive bonuses. A line must be drawn somewhere. It might be possible that the names of people with the top ten most lucrative bonuses would be published but it is not appropriate that the names of every person who got a bonus down to the girl in the call centre who got a few euros at Christmas should be published, listed and held up to opprobrium and ridicule.
In a sense this has been an unreal debate because the Government has tabled an amendment to address the question of bankers' bonuses. I would have preferred to have had more time to formulate that amendment. However, the Finance Bill was formulated in circumstances of haste, published earlier than it would normally be and when the Government became a minority Government, there was an insistence that the Bill be processed with great haste, which is also being done. Fortunately, through the industry of my officials, we are in position to submit an amendment, which is part of the Report Stage consideration, which will deal with bankers' bonuses.
In a sense, I do not believe there is much point discussing the merits of this amendment but I assure Deputy Noonan the issue about which he raised concern in the proposed amendment before us, namely, striking the right balance between publication and the power of the Revenue to investigate matters with the necessary confidentiality, which it requires, and the protection of the privacy of individuals where it is appropriate, are struck in the Government amendment. They are not, as Deputy Noonan rightly said, struck in this amendment, but it has been superseded by the fact that the Government has tabled an amendment. I am content to leave it at that stage.
Naturally, the opportunity of this amendment was used by Deputies Morgan and Burton to give again a very inaccurate political history of the banking crisis in recent years. The first point that everyone must recognise and that, I note, does not feature in this public debate is the fact that the European Central Bank happily has supported the Irish banking system to the extent of more than €100 billion. It provided the Irish banking system with the necessary funding when a very substantial flight of money out of our banking system took place.
The bulk of that flight of money took place because of a loss of corporate deposits, not bond finance, which is term debt and which expires at certain dates. Corporate deposits were crucial to the funding and the excessive funding that took place in the banks during the period culminating in 2007. Those corporate deposits and that base was eroded out of the Irish banking system and happily the European Central Bank provided us with the necessary collateral to ensure that the banking system did not collapse.
The Government guarantee also assisted in ensuring that a collapse did not take place. It has been pointed out time and again that were a collapse permitted, we would have had mass unemployment. Despite all the old guff about jobs from Deputy Morgan and others, that is what would have happened. In fairness to the Deputy, he saw the merit of that argument when he voted for the guarantee. I will give him credit for that.
I am telling the Deputy from facts at my disposal and from facts at the disposal of my officials in the Central Bank what the facts are, and those are the facts.
The obsession of the Deputy's party, which I anticipate it will continue to air in the general election campaign, that Ireland should default is one that will do great damage to this country. I will try to spell out the position in plain language for the Deputy. If a house is not on fire and the Deputy says it should be torched and that house happens to be a bondholder and the next-door neighbour is a depositor, what does the Deputy expect the depositor to do, to stay in his or her house? The idea that the working of the credit system can be undermined in the way Sinn Féin advocates-----
We now operate in a system where we have a common currency and a common central bank. We have very high GDP still by international standards and the idea that Ireland can unilaterally default in that kind of framework is moonshine. The Deputy can peddle his moonshine for a few weeks; he may be able to do it safe in the-----
I can assure the Deputy that anyone who has to exercise responsibilities of office in this jurisdiction understands this. If we to talk about bailouts and the IMF, I notice the Deputy is very happy to participate in an Administration in Northern Ireland that has been the subject matter of the biggest world bailout since 1922.
The purpose of tabling this amendment was to make sure that situations such as that which occurred in the Bank of Ireland where wrong information was passed on to the Department will not happen again. On the basis of what the Minister has said about another Report Stage amendment, the Labour Party will not press this amendment at this stage.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 9, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
EXAMINATION OF TARGETED VAT REDUCTION FOR LABOUR INTENSIVE SERVICES
1.—The Minister for Finance shall, as soon as may be after the passing of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann a report on the potential economic stimulus impact, and cost benefit analysis, of a targeted VAT reduction for labour intensive services.".
Essentially, this amendment seeks the preparation of a report on the potential economic stimulus impact and cost-benefit analysis of a targeted VAT reduction for labour intensive services. Such a measure has been tried in other countries. In the context of employment creation in places of employment such as pubs, restaurants and hairdressing establishments, this amendment proposes that VAT would be reduced on the employment content of the costs of such businesses to enable them to be in a better position to recruit staff. In other words, it would cost them less to so do. We are not seeking that such a measure be introduced now. In view of the fact that other countries have tried such a measure, we believe it is worth exploring if it would lead to the creation of additional jobs in such businesses.
I support the spirit of this amendment. We did some work on this area in the Fine Gael Party prior to the budget. The House knows that one of the conditions negotiated by the Government with the IMF and the European institutions is that the higher rate of VAT at 21% will be increased to 23% in two moves of a 1% increase on each occasion. When we examined this in our party we decided that it would be worth forgoing some of the yield from this by reducing the lower rate of VAT from its current level of 13.5% to 12%, a reduction of 1.5%. We did this because when one examines the activities to which the different rates apply, the 21% rate applies to practically everything other than the exceptions at the lower end. Certainly, the 21% rate includes a range of imported goods. Less activity in the purchase of imported goods, while it would impact adversely on the retail sector, would not have an adverse impact on manufacturing industry in this jurisdiction. On the other hand, the activities to which the lower rate of VAT applies includes, for example, the building industry.
Regardless of what is said about developers, Ireland's modern economy needs a building and development industry. The problem with the industry was that it is was responsible for approximately 20% of GDP, although a sustainable rate is probably 6% or 7%. There is no activity in the industry at present, yet people need houses, offices, hotels and replacement and renewal activity. There needs to be a viable building and development industry in the country.
If we are to get people back to work and provide jobs for all those who are skilled in the building trades but now seeking to emigrate, we can start in a small way. If the VAT rate were 12% rather than 13.5%, it might trigger some activity in the form of building extensions and insulating homes under the Government's energy schemes.
Deputies Brian Hayes and O'Shea referred to the hospitality industry, restaurants, bars and hairdressers, all of which pay VAT at the lower rate. The newspaper industry, which is under severe pressure from the alternative media, pays VAT at the lower rate.
While I welcome the idea of having an indepth analysis of the effect on job creation of a lower rate of VAT, we have done some work on this already. It is worth doing. The Minister will ask where the additional money will come from if one forgoes the yield by reducing the lower rate of VAT. One could analyse the additional activity that would be generated by lowering the rate. The net loss of revenue might be quite small if additional activity were generated in a growing economy. There might be a net gain if the adjustment were made. Mr. Charlie McCreevy was a great advocate of this practice. When he reduced capital gains tax to 20%, more tax revenue was being generated within 12 months than when the rate had been higher and more penal.
It is worthwhile considering ideas such as this. For the foreseeable future, Ireland will have only limited scope to become involved in demand management through large stimulus packages according to a Keynesian model. It is possible, however, to generate growth and create jobs by examining the other side of the economic balance. Instead of concentrating on demand stimulus and demand-side initiatives, it is always worth considering whether low-cost steps can be taken on the supply side that would generate economic activity and create jobs. A rebalancing of VAT rates is one such step. The retail sector will not welcome an increase in VAT from 21% to 23% because much of the sector is on its knees at present and, owing to the adverse weather conditions, it had a very bad Christmas period.
There is negotiation on the proposal and it is in the memorandum of understanding. It is one of the conditions for drawing down the bailout funds. We should determine whether we can tweak the facility to our advantage by using some of the yield to reduce the lower rate of VAT considering its job-creation and economic-growth potential.
I wish the Acting Chairman, Deputy O'Connor, well.
Sinn Féin supports the intent of this amendment. I am addressing my comments to the Opposition parties because there is no point in addressing them to the Government at this stage. The Government's term of office is to end in a few hours and it would not act on the proposal in any event. I hope the new Government, irrespective of its composition, will introduce a stimulus package. The economy will not move unless that is done.
I commend the agrifood sector, which presents a great opportunity. We know the arguments in favour of it and the production capacity on this island. There are food riots and starvation in some parts of the world owing to a gross lack of food production. We have a great opportunity but it will require a stimulus package and a well thought-out programme with appropriate marketing and logistical measures. It must be rounded off, not just piecemeal. If this occurs, there will be great potential.
I referred on a number of occasions to the tourism industry, to which Deputy Noonan referred. There is potential to introduce a stimulus package for this industry but, again, it requires proper marketing. The logistics must be correct, not only in terms of where and how we market but also in terms of tourism-related connectivity throughout this island, especially the north west and western seaboard. There are great opportunities. I address my comments to all the Opposition parties in the hope that they will be supported in the 31st Dáil. I have no doubt my colleague Deputy Doherty will be doing so.
Deputy Noonan supports this amendment, which was proposed by the Labour Party. I do not propose to accept it as it is one I have examined as Minister for Finance. Deputy Morgan, whom I wish well in his retirement and who sparred very well with me in recent years, will know this issue has arisen before. I have considered it several times in the Department. The position on it is informative and will assist Deputies in formulating policies in this area. As Deputies are aware, labour-intensive services in Ireland are, in general, subject of the reduced VAT rate of 13.5%. The purpose of having a rate lower than 21% is precisely to stimulate activity in labour-intensive industries and stimulate job creation and retail demand.
The rate of 13.5% applies to hairdressing, small repair services, window cleaning, the repair and renovation of private dwellings and restaurant services, for example. The reduced VAT rate for labour-intensive services is available on the basis that Ireland applied a reduced rate to those services on 1 January 1991. One of the difficulties is that one cannot extend the list; one is confined to the existing services.
Prior to the recent adoption by the Council of Ministers of a proposal in May 2009 on labour-intensive services, the majority of other member states were dependent on an experimental scheme for reduced rates for labour-intensive services that was introduced under an EU VAT directive of 1999. In that regard, ECOFIN agreed that reduced rates for certain labour-intensive services, including restaurant services, should be a permanent option for member states under the VAT directive.
With regard to the proposal, it would be possible to further reduce the VAT rate applicable to labour-intensive services. I have examined this as Minister for Finance several times but noted it would result in a significant cost to the Exchequer. A 1% reduction in the reduced VAT rate – from 13.5% to 12.5%, for example - would cost €260 million in a full year. Given the current Exchequer deficit, reducing VAT rates would not help support the public finances.
The Fine Gael proposal on this subject at the time of the budget was that we should reduce the 13.5% rate but increase the 21% rate to compensate therefor. That would have a very detrimental effect on cross-Border trade, and that is why I resisted it.
An issue that arose in the negotiations surrounding the IMF-EU agreement concerned the question of VAT rates. There is no doubt that the European Union regards the VAT income or tax base as a crucial part of a prospective remedy for the Union. It is anxious, therefore, to increase the take from VAT in all the member states. One can see this in the Commission's analysis of the various member states' approaches. Our approach was taken in the discussions on the EU-IMF agreement. I took the view that, while we had to leave open the possibility of VAT increases in future years under the plan, it would be wise to defer it for the time being. For this reason, the VAT increases will occur in the later period of the plan. In this way, there will at least be some opportunity to harmonise the VAT arrangements in the Republic with those in Northern Ireland so that we do not create a disparity between the two jurisdictions leading to an unnatural loss of trade and custom.
I have never been against shopping in Northern Ireland. Rather, I have been against what I call predatory shopping where an advantage is given to one jurisdiction over the other because of tax arrangements. The plan gives us the flexibility to manage this process in our own way in the years ahead.
Reverting to the amendment, seeking an examination of a targeted reduction in VAT for labour intensive services imposes a further administrative burden on business and would add to pressure to extend such favourable treatment to all goods and services. The amendment advocates a cost benefit analysis, but any Minister for Finance can have such an analysis done within the Department. While I appreciate the spirit in which amendments to have cost benefit analyses done as a matter of statute law are tabled and I welcome that they have been tabled to have these subjects discussed, a Minister for Finance can ask his or her officials for their assessment of something. He or she could also ask the Revenue Commissioners for their assessment of how a measure would work in practice. Plenty of information is available and the Deputies should put it into the public domain if that is what they want.
The amendment is an interesting one and puts the focus on one of the crucial issues surrounding consumption taxes which I have pointed out for the past two years and which is not recognised sufficiently. The improved transportation arrangements between Northern Ireland and the State mean that access to the North is not just a matter for residents in Border counties. The largest conurbation in the country is now within 50 minutes of Border shopping. Any Minister for Finance must examine the risks of predatory loss of revenue through disparate tax rates with Northern Ireland. It is not just an issue for Donegal, Cavan or Louth as it was during previous decades of the State's existence. Rather, it is an issue for the bulk of the State, given our transportation arrangements and the further transportation arrangements, fully protected in the plan, that envisage the completion of works between Monaghan and Donegal to improve the north-west corridor. It is important that this issue be understood as a matter of public policy. This fundamental issue has crept up on us.
I am sure Deputy Morgan will recall our 2008 and early 2009 debates on what was then a significant loss of trade to Northern Ireland. Deputy Burton or Fine Gael suggested that a study be done. When that study was done, it was interesting to see that cheaper alcohol prices along with low predatory pricing on certain baby products and so on were the greatest inducements. We have undoubtedly tackled this issue and stabilised trade to some extent. There are wider issues of competitiveness, but we will not get into them this morning.
Although I do not have a strong objection to the Department conducting an analysis, it should not be required as a matter of statute, given the pressing range of duties the Department will need to perform in the next few months.
The amendment was tabled because if there was an advantage to the Exchequer, primarily in terms of job creation, this type of measure would be merited. From the Minister's comments, I understand the Department keeps this matter under regular review and it has the capacity to carry out the type of analysis we are discussing. The analysis would continue irrespective of who was Minister. The amendment was not tabled to seek to tie the Department to an expensive cost benefit analysis or impact assessment. Given that other European countries have adopted this measure, it could be useful for Ireland. Against this background, it is not my intention to pursue the amendment.
This will probably be my last day in the Dáil. With the Acting Chairman's indulgence, might I make a short personal statement?
I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence. I have been a Member for 21 years, having been elected to the Dáil five times. Few of us have the great honour and privilege of attending the Chamber and I thank the people of County Waterford for bestowing that honour upon me.
There have been outstanding Deputies during my time in the Dáil. The majority of Members are motivated by patriotism. Good, decent people, they are motivated by and pursue the public service ethos. However, I leave the House with some concern regarding the standing of politicians and the noble profession of politics in the public eye. For the incoming Dáil, my party has developed proposals on a major reform of governance, the way in which Oireachtas affairs are conducted and the manner in which the Civil Service does its business.
I have the utmost respect for all of the House staff I have encountered. In particular, I remember their kindness during the 18 months or so I was on crutches. People could not do enough to help. The professionalism, dedication and hard work of staff in the Dáil and the two Departments where I was Minister of State, those being, the Departments of Health and Agriculture, should be mentioned by Deputies.
While the public and civil services get a lot of undeserved criticism in the media, there are major issues with the country's governance, how Members do their business and how the Civil Service works. The next Dáil must be a Dáil of renewal. In my time in the House, people on all sides have desired reform. They realise that what we do is not fit for purpose, our methods are antiquated and so on. The moment in which these matters can be addressed should be grabbed now if the Dáil is to provide taxpayers and citizens with a better service.
I leave the House with great hope and look forward to seeing matters progress in a way that restores the country to a position of prosperity, job creation and all that goes with them.
I thank the Deputy for withdrawing the amendment. I also wish him well in his retirement. Deputy O'Shea is one of the fair-minded Deputies whose opinions are always listened to with great care, given that they are considered opinions expressed on the record of the House about the welfare of the country and how we can progress policy in different areas. He has never been a Deputy who has sought the limelight through unthinking utterance. He has always made a significant contribution to the proceedings of the House. By saying that he has never sought the limelight through outrageous comment, I am not to be taken as saying that he has not been a consistent and dedicated parliamentary performer. He has contributed greatly to the proceedings of this House.
I as aware of the very great respect in which Deputy O'Shea has always been held by his constituents in Waterford. He was a Minister of State for a period when I came into the House and he discharged his duties in an exemplary way. I am sure he will miss the House, to some extent, but we all admired how he bore up so well in his parliamentary duties, despite a considerable illness. We all want to wish him well in his retirement.
The Deputy raised a very important point about political reform. I too have given this a lot of thought in recent times and I have had an opportunity in the context of the recent leadership contest in Fianna Fáil to express a view about it. This is a matter about which I would not have been free to express a view as Minister for Finance. I acknowledge the importance of reforming the Houses of the Oireachtas but we should be careful that reform is not simply confused with a pandering to a populist wish to abolish, to reduce, to eliminate. Much of the public discussion in recent years has suggested we need a smaller Dáil, that we do not need a Seanad and that we need fewer Ministers. It may well be the case that we need a smaller Dáil or a smaller Seanad or fewer Ministers but the case should be made on rational grounds and not on the basis that we simply believe that it will please the public.
It is a fact in the consideration of this Finance Bill that the position of the Seanad has become of value because my officials are reflecting on the Bill as it goes through and their only opportunity to advise me of the need for further amendment arises from the somewhat limited power of the Seanad to make recommendations on the Bill next Saturday which permits a final tidying up of the legislation. This is a small example, but it is an example which has arisen in the context of a severe political and economic crisis, of how the Seanad can be of value in bringing matters to a conclusion.
I believe everyone will accept that the current arrangements regarding the composition of the Seanad are unsatisfactory. I put forward the idea that it should be elected by means of a list system on the same day as the Dáil election, with higher technical qualifications in order to bring in a new stream of people into Parliament and Government. This is not to take away from the fundamental primacy and the work and the mandate of this House but the people want to see a different type of politics and they want to see a politics that is focused on the common good. One of the difficulties with the electoral system in the Dáil to which, I believe, the Irish people are unalterably attached, is that it puts a large focus on the local and the parochial at the expense of the national. We need some way of balancing this in our representative institutions.
I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence as I have wandered far away from the subject of the Finance Bill. I wish Deputy O'Shea well in his retirement.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 9, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
PROPOSAL TO OFFSET TAX LOSSES FROM RESEACH AND DEVELOPMENT AGAINST PRSI
1.—The Minister shall within one month of the commencement of this Act, prepare and lay before Dáil Éireann, a report on proposals to reduce the effective tax rate that is applied to intellectual trading losses that are incurred by companies and if he will further report on a possible option of offsetting such losses against employers PRSI.".
Before I deal with the amendment I wish to add my brief comment on the occasion of Deputy O'Shea's retirement and to wish him luck in his retirement. I worked with Deputy O'Shea when I was deputy spokesperson on communications and on the drugs problem. I enjoyed listening to his debating and to his ideas as he had a great understanding of what was needed. Progress is slow in that area but he was very conscious of what had to be done. I watched in great admiration how he dealt with his own suffering because he must on occasions have been in great pain and he still did his job. I am glad to see he has recovered quite well. It is nice to see someone still doing their job even when it is very difficult to do so. I wish him well in his retirement and I am sure my other colleagues would say the same if they were here in the Chamber. On behalf of Fine Gael I extend to him all the best and we hope to see him around Leinster House.
I also wish to make a point in response to the Minister's reference to reform of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The problem was best summarised when he said that as Minister for Finance he was not in a position to discuss political reform. That is what is wrong with the place, in my view.
I agree and it is also the case that party politics would have prevented him. This is not a criticism of the Minister but rather it is what all of us have to overcome because this place has to be reformed in order to become a modern Parliament which reflects modern views and which can move at a greater speed when dealing with day-to-day issues. This is what people want to see happening; they want the Houses to be more effective and streamlined.
To return to the discussion of the amendment, Fine Gael is of the view that employment could be encouraged if losses could be offset against employer's PRSI. The intellectual trading market is large and active and the aim is to enlarge this market if possible. I await the Minister's views on this amendment. This is a practical measure which would encourage job creation. Fine Gael is unhappy with the budget and the provisions of the Finance Bill as they do not do enough for job creation but this amendment could help make a difference.
Allied to this amendment is the matter of patent royalties. Fine Gael accepts that the reliefs were too generous in that area but we do not agree they should be ended as this would be a step too far. I suggest they could be retained at 50% because expenditure in this area must be encouraged at a time when innovative new ideas will help towards job creation. We will do all we can to encourage job creation. The areas of patent royalties and intellectual trading lead into the necessity for a venture capital market and venture capital funds. These are not matters to be dealt with in this Bill but there is not enough happening in those areas and there needs to be more co-ordination and direction from Government to try to attract more investment. This amendment will be pressed as it is about job creation.
I see nothing wrong with this amendment but I would need to study the proposal in more detail if the amendment was accepted and if the effective tax rate were to be reduced for intellectual trading losses, and how this would affect job creation as mentioned by Deputy English.
We discussed earlier a report on how tax reliefs might impact upon job creation. I take the Minister's valid point that the Minister and the Department of Finance have much to deal with and issues have to be prioritised ahead of reports being commissioned on these matters. The Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners expressed viewpoints with regard to VAT and the Minister agreed to provide these. Can such information be provided to this side of the House as well as to the Minister? Since I became party spokesperson on finance my office has been in regular contact with the Department. However, even though the officials have been more than helpful, we cannot telephone a Department of Finance official and ask for a briefing paper on a proposal. Replies to parliamentary questions are not as extensive and will only provide a summary of any examination conducted by the Department. This is allied to the issue of political reform.
The general election campaign will be an ideological debate and I am very satisfied that my party will offer a very clear alternative to what is being proposed by other parties. Others will say that such and such information is incorrect and that we have plucked figures out of the sky. However, my point is that if my figures are being challenged then it is a challenge to the figures provided by the Minister for Finance because the Minister, through the Department of Finance, has provided me and my party with the figures we are using to show how we would run the Exchequer this year without the IMF-EU bailout. One has to submit many parliamentary questions to get that information and also to study all the answers to arrive at that point. If we are not afraid to allow others to express views that can stack up and are accurate, then we should have no fear about providing all relevant information. As I stated in my opening comments, I understand there are pressures on the Department of Finance. It is not reasonable to ask the Department of Finance to commission hundreds of new reports on the effect of every measure. However, my party's central point of view is that we will get out of the mess through creating jobs. It will not be done through reducing expenditure so it is on par with tax intake, it will be done through growing the economy to reach the level of expenditure. At the same time, savings can be made on the expenditure side. Job creation will be essential this year.
If an issue has been examined - I am not sure but I presume these issues have been examined in the context of this and previous Finance Bills - then let us publish any information we have on the matter to the benefit of the Opposition, namely, the Labour Party, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the Independents, and those outside who do not have the privilege of serving in these Houses. This would mean those commenting on where we are and on the solutions to getting us out of the mess can make their comments with the best information available. We may not necessarily agree with the information provided by the Department of Finance but at least the information should be there.
As I mentioned, approximately 34 colleagues will leave the Dáil and this is either the second last or last day on which we will meet, depending on whether we meet on Saturday evening. I want to wish them well, in particular Deputy O'Shea who made his parting speech. I have been in the Dáil for only five weeks so I have not had the experience of sharing the Chamber with him for long but we have served together on committees and I wish him and all the retiring Members well.
As Deputy Doherty knows, a service is available in the Department and I am not aware of a request made for the service. My information is that 40% of the requests for the use of this service on costings has come from Deputy Doherty's party and these requests have been facilitated through the Department. There is no difficulty with the Department providing costings and this is important. It should be also put on the record of the House - not specifically with regard to Deputy Doherty but with regard to the House generally - that the Oireachtas is funded from the central fund and has substantial access to moneys to conduct research on various topics. I accept that as with all economic research, the research done by the Department is most interesting to Deputies because it is the research which informs Government thinking and therefore gives a greater prospect of evaluation.
The precise proposal before us from Deputy Noonan is that we shall within one month of the commencement of the Act prepare and lay before the Dáil a report on reducing the effective tax rate applied to intellectual trading losses incurred by companies and examine the option of offsetting such losses against employers' PRSI. In dealing with the earlier Labour Party amendments, I made the point that I do not believe this is an appropriate time to put statutory obligations on the Department to engage in research on a wide range of subjects. The Department has had much work to do in the past two and half years and will have much work to do in the next nine months. I do not want to rehearse these arguments again. I put them on the record of the House this morning.
My one note of caution to Fine Gael about this amendment is that the precise subject it wants us to examine is the possible option of offsetting losses against employers' PRSI. Employers' PRSI is a very important revenue base for the State in making a contribution to the social insurance fund. I have been a very strong defender of our 12.5% corporation tax rate. It is a key feature of our general strategy to attract inward investment to Ireland in manufacturing and services. I and the Government sustained considerable criticism over our conduct in the EU IMF negotiations because we decided to hold out on this issue and not simply automatically enter negotiations. We ensured that we received satisfactory political assurances on the subject before we even embarked on a process of strict negotiation. This was a considerable diplomatic success at the time.
Our strategy is to have a 12.5% corporation tax rate. The suggestion that whatever funds can be received out of this 12.5% rate can be then further offset by an obligation not to pay employers' PRSI is very far reaching . We have introduced intellectual property reliefs which in effect reduce the residual corporation tax liability in the case of research and development enterprises. As Minister for Finance I introduced many of these incentives in successive Finance Bills. They fit in with the general strategy that not alone do we want to attract inward investment in trade, services and manufacturing but we also want it to have a high research and development content so that employment in these enterprises will go up the value chain. There is consistency in the tax reliefs we offer multinational companies establishing here. The basic 12.5% rate is at the heart of the attraction strategy and this is complemented by further inducements with regard to research and development to fit in with the character of what we want to attract.
When we state we will allow employers' PRSI to be offset against tax liability in effect we are stating the enterprises involved should not pay PRSI. This is what would be legislated for in practice. I do not believe we should legislate for this and I must state this. I believe these companies have to meet the minimum social requirement of contributing for social purposes to the funds which ensure the various contingent risks, whether during life or on retirement, are met by a reasonable payment from the State. If the demand is that these companies should be dispensed from these obligations, one is establishing a differentiation between these enterprises and domestic enterprises, smaller businesses and firms and occasional employers who will remain, and rightly so, under an obligation to pay PRSI. A contrast would be established between these smaller struggling businesses and larger multinational enterprises attracted here which would be dispensed with an obligation.
In fairness to fine Gael, I know it states this is only an option we should examine and I am not making a direct political criticism. However, I have heard the case reflected in the amendment made by some tax planners who speak on behalf of the international enterprises and I must state I have viewed the case with a degree of scepticism. There must be recognition that these companies have basic social obligations. If those social obligations do not exist in other jurisdictions and exist here then the issue is why they do not exist in other jurisdictions.
I do not want to go back to speaking about banking as we had our discussion earlier, but one of the key issues we will have to examine at European level is how various states can co-operate to ensure minimal standards are maintained, whether with regard to labour conditions and practices, tax practices or practices with regard to social insurance. The idea that multinationals can forum shop whereby certain countries acknowledge no social obligations and therefore one is put under pressure to dispense with one's own is not, in my view, acceptable. In general terms, I do not propose to accept the amendment because of the burden it would put on the Department.
I understand from where the Minister is coming on this, but we hold the view that while PRSI is important, in some cases it acts as a deterrent to employment because it can represent a high cost for employers. In our two most recent alternative budgets we suggested that the Minister should consider reducing employers' PRSI because in some cases it is a deterrent to jobs. The Minister spoke about a social contribution from companies but the social contribution of many foreign direct investment companies is to give our people jobs. One can look at this both ways.
Like the Minister, we have received advice and evidence to suggest that perhaps a reduction or offset of PRSI might stimulate job creation. We are not stating we are convinced of this, but we think there may be an argument to be made. This is why the amendment suggests that the Department conducts a study and makes a decision. We want to check out what we have been told. There is always an agenda behind information that comes forward and the best way to find out about the information is to investigate it. This is why we tabled the amendment. I hold the view that if PRSI must be offset to create jobs, it would be worthwhile to do so. At the end of the day if there are no jobs there will be no PRSI in the first place coming from that "tax unit" - a term the Minister used yesterday which I do not like and which the Minister probably does not like himself. As it was proposed with good intentions and for good reasons, we should check it out. I accept officials at the Department of Finance are extremely busy. Even if the Minister does not accept it today, we will need to consider it because we need to investigate all these areas with a potential for job creation. Some businesses are sensitive to certain taxes and we are led to believe this could make a difference. We will pursue it when, hopefully, we are on the Government side of the House.
It would be good to have all these ideas subjected to a cost-benefit analysis and from that point of view I welcome the proposal. However, I would be wary of the development of terms such as "intellectual trading losses" which is quite broad. I would be somewhat concerned that people with imagination who design tax schemes might be excessively imaginative. We need to be cautious and restrained when we extend definitions in taxation law because of the law of unintended consequences. There appears to be all-party agreement across the floor of the House that as far as possible we should in future have a baseline system of analysing, evaluating, costing and time-basing particular proposals. If we could achieve that it would mean considerable change in the structure of how entities such as the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners approach the collection of information, and the analysis and presentation of data.
The Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service has had the opportunity to meet Commissioner Rehn, Mr. Watson and Mr. Regling, who are all firmly wedded to the notion of the European semester. As I understand it, a basic proposition of that is that in the near future Ireland will be required to do what is done in many other parliaments, which is essentially to prepare, publish and have debated in April of each year outline budget and capital spending proposals, including taxation proposals. Inevitably that will mean, particularly for the public service, a very big shift in the demands that are made. Regarding renegotiating the interest rates on the loans, in Europe there is broadly a conception that Ireland got a poor deal from the IMF-EU deal. We are being charged 3 percentage penalty points on the interest particularly on the euro and ECB parts of the loan. If the country is to be able to meet the burden it is essential that they are renegotiated, reopened and reconsidered, which will require considerable diplomatic finesse and effort. The quid pro quo will be that this semesterisation and bringing forward of economic information will come much earlier than we have been used to in the Irish system.
Every party represented here this morning is indicating a different approach because we will need to be very tough with Europe in saying that Irish people cannot take the burden. Equally from what I have heard of the debate today, there is initial broad agreement among all the parties that we will prepare much more detailed information with more cost-benefit analysis. That is a really important reform and the EU and IMF should be aware that there is a strong appetite for reform here, which is essential if we are to get people back to work and turn around the economy.
Of course that appetite for reform is displayed in the four year plan and in fairness all the parties contributed to the chapter dealing with fiscal reform. So there is all-party agreement on that important issue. However, the word "renegotiation" is being used all the time and it may become a semantic issue in the general election campaign. Of course the reality is that the rates applied by the IMF and by the European mechanism, and the rate supplied in the European facility were all fixed by relevant prior instrument and were not the subject of negotiation. While people may shake their heads all they like, that is the reality the Government had to face. Any commentator who knows anything about the IMF will explain that its lending rates are fixed by its own internal regulations and procedures. There is not a special rate negotiated for Ireland any more than there was a special rate negotiated, for example, for the United Kingdom when it got an IMF loan in the 1970s. The existing regulations are applied. The same arrangement exists for the European facilities and mechanisms.
Deputy Burton is correct about a debate under way in Europe about the extent to which this is imposing an excessive burden on the sustainability of the finances of member states that participate in the facilities and mechanisms. I have been fully participating in this debate at the January euro group meeting and the debate will continue at the February meeting, which clearly will take place during the general election campaign and which I will need to attend because of the vital national interest involved.
The case needs to be made and it will require considerable diplomatic activity because it will require the agreement of the other member states. That is the second issue of fundamental importance; this cannot be negotiated on the basis that Ireland is looking for this uniquely. It can be negotiated on the basis that the other member states agree that the current arrangements impose an excessive penalty on member states. On that basis, negotiations can proceed which will require the construction of diplomatic alliances and building up good will. In the context of building up that good will we must acknowledge that our banking system has more than €100 billion on loan to it at a very low interest rate - slightly above 1% - from the European Central Bank. That is another reality that does not seem to cloud this debate very much domestically but of course is of great interest to European analysts who look at the position in Ireland.
There is a third factor influencing this debate. I am optimistic that real progress can be made in the months ahead regarding the interest rates that are applied. We can have an international agreement on that issue. The idea that the European Central Bank and the European authorities would encourage default on senior debt obligations in Ireland has become a particular obsession in our domestic debate. That would be a very difficult idea to develop at European level. As all Deputies know, it is not possible to proceed along those lines without the backing of a central bank and the European Central Bank has set its face against this. I raised the issue in the last negotiations and it refused. My intelligence at this stage is that there is considerable resistance to this in Europe because of Ireland's very high GDP. Ireland is not seen as being the same as Greece; it is seen as a comparatively wealthy country that should not be allowed to default on its obligations. I am only reporting to the House what I hear in these circles. However, there is scope for progress on the rate of interest.
The European Central Bank embarked on a particular course on the euro. The euro has been of great value to Ireland and I do not believe Ireland should leave the euro even though others in this House have a different view. It should be noted that if Ireland left the euro all the mortgages would be restated in a new Irish currency and would therefore be heavily increased in cost almost immediately, which would be a nightmare for the people who have difficulties with their mortgages here. The ECB made a strategic decision, according to the Minister, that banks could get their funding at 1%, which is a very attractive rate. However, they were not doing that simply for Ireland but to ensure that the German, French, United Kingdom and other banks, which had lent recklessly and foolishly to reckless crazy banks in Ireland, eventually had to recognise the moral hazard principle applies to the European banks. This applied particularly to the Germans and the French who appear to have loaned without making any kind of check. We do not know the full story yet but they were pumping in money. People in Ireland will remember it was a British-based bank, Bank of Scotland Ireland, now gone, which set up business in this country with a new competitive regime of 100% mortgages, trackers and much discounted interest rates in order to gain market share.
In these negotiations we need to be tough. We have an enormous responsibility in regard to the faults of which this country is guilty, namely, the irresponsibility of our banks and the lack of supervision. However, the European banks and the ECB have some counterparty responsibilities for their system which was meant to regulate and curb wild behaviour by banks. The Minister should remember the 1% is, in effect, to facilitate the repayment, and thereby, the security of the European banks which lent recklessly and crazily to our crazy Irish banks.
I will return to the amendment but it was interesting to listen to what the Minister had to say on the 3% penalty we are paying as part of the bailout money. He said, rightly, the rates are fixed - he was one of the finance Ministers who fixed the rates at the ECOFIN meeting. However, the Minister told the House he did not even ask for a reduction in those rates. He was correct to say there was no negotiation - the rate was fixed. However, he merely accepted that, which is absolutely unbelievable. This was the first time any country had availed of this fund and the first time it was tested. It is hard to think we would not have said, "hang on, we know we agreed in part to this rate but things have changed, Ireland is in deep trouble and we cannot afford these rates". It seems there were no negotiations whatsoever, only a complete acceptance of the rate.
I agree with the previous speaker in-----
The Minister and his party have ample experience of negotiation, as does our party. One makes the demand, one listens to the response and continues to press for the demand and then after discussions or negotiations, one aims to meet somewhere in the middle. That is the art of negotiation. There cannot be negotiation if one does not make the demand. In this instance the demand was not made by the State for a reduced rate.
Of course, the ECB does not want us to default on senior bondholders. That is completely understandable.
It is. I am not convinced the Minister made the demand in the first instance because he has contradicted himself a number of times in the past couple of minutes.
I reiterate the ECB does not want us to default on senior bondholders as many of the major banks in Europe would be liable for those bonds because of their reckless lending to the Irish banks. It is important that information is accurate. I cannot be sure as I have not been in the House for long but I have not heard any Deputy argue we should pull out of the euro. That would be a very damaging position for this country to take. The idea of reconstructing a new currency and trying to sell it, with the probability of defaulting straightaway, would be impossible. I do not know who is making such charges in the Houses. It is an important that we do not send out a signal that such positions are dominant in this House. In all the debates I have never heard those points being made.
I return to the point and will conclude in brief. As Deputy Burton made very clear in her opening remarks, a new model is needed. None of us is infallible on these issues. Nobody claims to know the perfect ways to get out of these problems or to have the perfect solutions for dealing with them. We come from a point of honesty and from our own political and ideological perspectives and we do what we believe is best. To assist us in that process we need as much information as possible. Take the Finance Bill, for example. This Bill is very difficult to deal with, particularly when one does not have the experience or expertise or perhaps academic qualifications. However, there is information.
In the development of the Finance Bill and the budget in December 2007, it is obvious that each of these measures was looked at by the Department of Finance. Not only did it present the positive aspects of all these measures, as the Minister rightly argues in this Chamber, but I presume it also looked at the possible negative aspects of some of them. In such a case a political judgment must then be made by the Minister for Finance, as he is entitled to so do. In all circumstances we have to make political judgments because there is no single solution or answer for any of these questions.
However, this point is important if we are to have as accurate a political debate as possible. I recall the Minister's remarks to Deputy O'Shea about having measured comment on such issues. If we had that type of information or the analysis which is available to the Minister, we could dispute it if we wish but it would allow for a more rounded, civilised and accurate debate. If we had had such an analysis a number of years ago we would not be in our current position because we would have had a more in-depth and genuine debate on these matters.
I hope with the next Finance Bill we will see that type of focus and presentation being put forward.
In regard to amendment No. 6, recommittal is necessary in respect of this group of amendments as amendment No. 17 involves a charge on the people. I am obliged to ask the Minister to move for recommittal, to which I seek agreement.
That Dáil Éireann, pursuant to Standing Order 128(1) of the Standing Orders Relative to Public Business, directs that the Finance Bill 2011 be recommitted, in respect of amendments Nos. 6 to 17, inclusive, to a Committee of the whole House.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 9, between lines 26 and 27, to insert the following:
3.—Section 3 shall not come into operation save by order of the Minister which may only be made after the Minister has carried out an economic and social impact assessment of the introduction of the universal social charge, particularly in respect of those on medical cards or over the age of 70 who were previously exempted from the health and income levies, and has laid the assessment before Dáil Éireann.".
All these amendments concern the universal social charge. Amendment No. 6 in the name of the Labour Party provides for an assessment of the impact of the universal social charge
There would be an economic and social impact assessment of the introduction of the universal social charge, particularly in respect of people with medical cards or those over 70 who were previously exempt from the health and income levies. The assessment would be laid before Dáil Éireann.
The universal social charge was announced by the Minister on budget night and referred to by the Minister in his speech in December 2009 dealing with the 2010 budget. It is fair to say that for most people, the announcement of this new tax - despite being made in December 2009 - passed them by. The Minister announced significant changes in December's budget. Previously we had the health levy and the emergency tax levies on income which were introduced when the banks collapsed and had to be bailed out. It is still not fully understood by people that the previous health levy and the emergency income levies have been transformed and transferred to this new universal social charge.
A difficulty arises because with the health levy, people were exempted if income was less than €26,000, they were over 70, they were widows or widowers or if they held a medical card. This has an impact on somebody on an income of €15,000, for example, from a private or public service pension or who also has a medical card. The Minister knows from the data he gave me in recent weeks and subsequent discussions that many pensioners from public employment are on low pensions, with the bulk of public service pensions below €25,000. If such a person also had a medical card, the change would mean the universal social charge would be applied.
Yesterday's amendment, on foot of the deal done with the Independents, reduced that levy by approximately two percentage points, or by between 30% and 40%.
We will tell Deputies Lowry and Healy-Rae they had absolutely nothing to do with that Committee Stage amendment that we heard about yesterday. It must be news to them because they were up and down the plinth and on every radio station, particularly in their home counties, claiming a fair degree of credit, if not the total credit, for the amendment. That is in the newspapers.
It is a very odd Government to have had this very relieving and helpful news for people with medical cards but which forgot to relay that news. That means the Government must be close to breaking up. I always thought Fianna Fáil worked on the Margaret Thatcher principle of telling them you will tell them, telling them and then telling them you told them. Fianna Fáil is in a fair old "state of chassis" if what the Minister outlined - that the party decided this on Tuesday but it slipped members' minds to tell very scared people with medical cards that there would be some reduction in the burden - actually occurred.
To cut to the chase, for people on middle and higher incomes, the universal social charge means that the health and income levies previously paid will be combined in the charge. For many people there is not much difference and as we know, for self-employed people there is a significant potential gain. The cumulative levy they would pay is below what would be paid with health and income levies.
We want a detailed impact assessment of the social and economic impact on the categories of people I have outlined who are badly affected. These are the widows, people on medical cards and those who earn less than €26,000 per annum. We want a fair and balanced system. Yesterday the Minister transferred some of the burden to people who are self-employed and earning over €100,000, which is a way to rebalance the issue. It takes in people with a very high level of income.
That is very similar to the Labour Party proposal that people on very high incomes - individuals on over €100,000 per year and a couple on over €200,000 per year - would contribute proportionately more. That differed from the approach of other parties. Fine Gael suggested the hit should be balanced through social welfare cuts, at a rate of €6 per week for three years, whereas Fianna Fáil condemned the Labour Party for suggesting the approach but did not say how it would act. The Minister's actions yesterday strike a balance so that less of a burden falls on people with low incomes, with more of a burden falling on those who earn above €100,000 per year. The Minister did not mention it would affect couples who earn over €200,000, which is the Labour Party position. The Minister's amendment relates to an individual tax unit, which includes a couple, unless I am mistaken in what was put down yesterday.
The Minister has much more to do in order to help relieve the burden on people who find themselves landed with this very unexpectedly and without warning. It is taking a very large chunk out of wage packets and the proposal of the Labour Party is to relieve it.
As we are debating a number of amendments, amendment No. 17 deals with bank bonuses. I welcome the amendment and I am very relieved that although we had much political discussion - with proposals from the Labour Party and others - on taxing bank bonuses, we were brushed off repeatedly and told it was not possible. It seems that the way the new universal social charge is structured, it is much easier to achieve a result through this mechanism. The Labour Party will support this proposal.
In the case of bank bonuses over €20,000, a universal social charge of 45% will be applied. Taking the basic rate of income tax at 41%, with PRSI at 4%, an additional 45% universal social charge will bring the total deduction to the 90% mark. That is how I understand it and the Minister might indicate if this is correct. I welcome the measure because the bonus culture is part of what destroyed our banks.
Like tax breaks, the bonus culture gave rise to a climate of irrational greed in the country, where structures like banks - some of them a hundred years old - were turned around by their own actions and risk-taking because senior executives could make millions in annual pay through bonuses by selling products and ignoring risk. Years ago when people were selling in ordinary commercial companies, it was always part of general controls for salesman bonuses to be clawed back if sales were inflated by selling to risky or bankrupt customers. In that case, the bonuses were not paid out. This is a standard feature of the operation of many private firms.
While I am pleased that this amendment has been introduced, I would still like to know if any Hercules Poirot or Ms Marple in the Department has found out what really happened to the Bank of Ireland bonuses. These have become one of the final mysteries of the 30th Dáil given that this is probably the last full working day in respect of legislation.
I understand the measures will not apply to bonuses below €20,000. This is a welcome decision as many bank employees work in call centres and receive a low basic salary. As with salespeople, their basic pay can be as low as €10,000 or €15,000, with a bonus paid at the end of the year to bring their final salary up to the average industrial wage. I am pleased the Minister has given specific consideration to the position of low level bank employees who work for modest basic salaries, including those employed on a shift basis in call centres handling queries. A number of companies, including some of the banks, operate the European and US system of paying ordinary staff a bonus equivalent to an extra month's pay. This is sometimes referred to as the 13th month and the payment is generally modest for low and moderately paid staff.
While there is nothing wrong with operating a bonus system as an incentive to work harder, the extreme bonuses offered by banks to senior executives formed part of the risk culture that drove the banks and our economy into the ditch. Unfortunately, the Fianna Fáil Party, during its 13 year reign in government, was blind to this, although its early coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats, positively encouraged this type of greed. One of the party's political mantras was that greed was good, as Gordon Gekko used to say in the film "Wall Street".
The Labour Party supports amendment No. 17. Does the Minister agree that a review is needed of the economic and social impact of the introduction of the universal social charge on people on incomes below €26,000, including widows, widowers and medical card holders? It is essential that consideration be given to the severe difficulty such persons will face. Under the legislation, someone on a social welfare contributory pension will not be affected by the charge, whereas a person on a small State or private pension who does not qualify for a contributory or non-contributory old age pension will be subject to its full rigours. For this reason alone, it is necessary to carry out a careful examination of the impact of the universal social charge on vulnerable older people on low incomes before the charge proceeds.
I will be brief as I am aware of the time constraints and wish to ensure the spokesperson from the Fine Gael Party and the Minister are able to contribute before the division. Deputy Burton spoke about all the relevant issues. I differ with her only on bankers' bonuses, an issue I will address presently.
My amendment No. 9 proposes that the universal social charge does not take effect until at least 60 days after the publication of an impact assessment of the charge. This issue has been debated on Committee Stage and raised outside the Chamber, notably by those involved in the retail sector. People were taken by surprise by the full impact of the universal social charge when they opened their pay cheques at the start of the year. They cannot get over what has happened to them, especially given that many of those who are already on the bread line have had their pay walloped again by the charge.
Much of our discussion of the Bill has focused on jobs and how to stimulate the economy. Taxation measures serve the dual purpose of stimulating the economy and ensuring that the State has adequate revenue. The universal social charge will damage the potential for growth and result in job losses, especially in sectors that are dependent on expenditure from disposable income. The imposition of the charge on all income for those earning more than €4,004, as opposed to all income above a certain threshold - perhaps €10,000 - is a crude measure which is having a major impact on individuals and the business community. It will result in job losses.
I was fair to the Minister earlier when I spoke about the additional workload for the Department of Finance created by our demands to have reports laid before the House. While I appreciate the Department is under severe pressure given the turbulent times, it is vital to carve out sufficient time to carry out an economic impact assessment of the universal social charge. This is the most important aspect of the Finance Bill on which such an assessment is needed. The consensus on this side of the House is that the charge has the potential to seriously disrupt the domestic economy, not to speak of its impact on individuals.
I welcome amendment No. 17 on bankers' bonuses, having been critical of the Minister and his officials on Committee Stage for not having an amendment prepared. I note it is two pages in length. This provision should have been introduced a long time ago. The only point on which I differ with Deputy Burton in respect of the amendments before us is the threshold of €20,000 provided for in amendment No. 17. It is wrong to allow top bankers to receive bonuses of €20,000. This Bill will enable Anglo Irish Bank to pay out bonuses of €19,999 to all its officials tomorrow morning.
While I appreciate Deputy Burton's point that much of the income of people working in call centres is dependent on bonuses, this matter could be adequately addressed by inserting a new line in the part of the amendment that refers to exemptions for bonuses under €20,000. We could, for example, link the exemption to income and provide that it only apply to those who have a salary of less than twice the national average wage. I have suggested a fairly arbitrary figure because the amendment was only circulated a couple of hours ago. The insertion of such a condition would protect those on low basic salaries whose income primarily consists of bonuses. It would also ensure the top officials in the banks, many of whom were in place before the guarantee and who got us into this mess, will not be paid bonuses. Imagine the furore if The Star, The Irish Times or the Irish Independent contained stories tomorrow morning that every top official in all of the guaranteed institutions are paid bonuses of €19,999. That is twice as much as the 440,000 people in receipt of social welfare receive in a year. I accept the amendment because it at least stops these bankers being paid in excess of €20,000 but to allow them to be paid up to that amount is wrong. If this cannot be done now, it should be dealt with in the Seanad. An income link should be introduced, where the exemption of €20,000 would only be applied to the relevant figure. We are all coming at this from the same side and I believe the Minister's intention is good - we want to stop the bonuses being paid. An income link can be inserted into the legislation to achieve this.
The Minister threatened to withhold recapitalisation funds from the bank if bonuses were paid and those bonuses have not been paid as a result, although legal cases are pending. As a result of the amendment, where bonuses in excess of €20,000 will be captured in the tax net at a rate of up to 90% through the universal social charge and taxation measures, that threat will no longer be valid. The bonuses could now be paid up to €20,000.
I ask the Minister to look at this again. The clock is ticking towards the dissolution of the Dáil but the Bill is fundamentally flawed in this aspect. I genuinely believe the vast majority of the public would not tolerate a situation where hundreds of bonuses would be paid out to officials of guaranteed banks when we are bailing them out. We are taking money from those who earn €80 per week under the universal social charge and under the same legislation we will allow well paid bankers to get bonuses of up to €20,000 without it coming under the universal social charge or being taxed. That is not acceptable and we must look at it again.
I am glad the Minister has found a mechanism in amendment No. 17 to achieve this; it was essential to send a message out about bank bonuses. I am sorry there had to be so much confusion about it, with the impression that the Minister was not going to do anything. Deputy Mattie McGrath might try to claim credit but the Minister was no doubt trying to do it. I hope so because I am sick listening to someone like Deputy McGrath claiming responsibility. It appears, however, that Fianna Fáil is facilitating him because it keeps giving him speaking time. It looks to me like a cosy arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Deputy McGrath. He gets speaking time and then waits until the very last minute to vote to ensure everything is safe. It is a bit too obvious and I am surprised journalists are falling for it. Perhaps Fianna Fáil will change its way of going about things.
This had to be done, and we raised the issue with the Minister before Christmas. This was done in other countries and it makes sense. I am glad the Minister has done it and I fully support the measure.
Whoever becomes Minister for Finance in the next couple of months must give proper consideration to the Central Bank report on the payment structures of banks. The Governor is still concerned that there is a possibility of a repeat performance in some of our banks. The system and culture have not changed not just regarding bonuses, but payment structures as well. I am concerned about the contents of that report and that things have not changed. I appreciate the Minister was trying to get things in order in his Department but this key area should have been examined. The amendment tackles the past bonuses but in the years ahead we must look at payment structures in banks.
The universal social charge is wrong; it penalises those on very low incomes. I accept there have been some movement but it does not go far enough. It was talked about in the last budget that taxes would be put together but that there would not be any increased payment but this will result in most people paying more. That is not what was planned and there is also confusion about it. People were told income levies were a short-term measure but that has changed. They are now long-term measures. People were misinformed. The Minister was guilty of that in the past and I wish it had not happened again. Even at this stage he should consider a reduction in the rates of the universal social charge. It affects those on low incomes too much.
I am thankful for the general welcome for the provision on bankers' bonuses. The Government also looked closely at the social charge. Deputies will appreciate that with the pressure of negotiations, arrangements were arrived at and when we evaluated those arrangements, it was clear there was an unintended benefit to the self-employed in the budgetary arrangements and there was a particular hardship for medical card holders. Having said that, the effect of the social charge provisions was to put them in the same position as another person on the same income despite the possession of a medical card. That said, the effect of the budgetary measures, and the impact on that category was such that it was an immediate and substantial impact and it required to be lessened. That is why the Government introduced these changes, not, as Deputy English correctly said, at the request of particular independent Deputies. There was considerable discussion of this within the Government and within Fianna Fáil about this issue. The Government finalised its arrangements on this, and advertised them, in advance of the decision.
There will be representations for further changes in the social charge, as there are proposed amendments for further changes here. They must be costed and it must be shown where the alternative source of revenue might be. No such information is before the House this morning in any of these proposals.
I thank all parties for their general welcome of the measures on bankers' bonuses. There is, however, a fundamental flaw in Deputy Doherty's argument and I am alarmed that it will get him another misleading propaganda piece for the Sinn Féin propaganda machine in this election. Let us be clear - there are no bonuses payable in the future in any of the guaranteed banks. It was suggested this afternoon by Deputy Doherty that senior executives could get a bonus of €20,000 out of this but that is not true because those bonuses are not permitted under arrangements I have already put in place. The arguments about Bank of Ireland and AIB related to retrospective issues in the past. In the future, however, no bonuses are payable and this tax is the same. It simply copper-fastens it. Sinn Féin is advocating that lowly paid workers in call centres should pay 90% on their marginal income.
Let people understand that the party that says it defends the poorest in this society, for its own guff machine to work properly, insists on advocating this sort of solution to this complex problem.
He should go away and study the matter. He should get his research department to work on it again. His party should drop that one for the election because it is plain wrong. That is my advice. He should invent something else to tell the people, rather than addressing the economic realities we face in this country. I welcome the general welcome that has been extended to our proposal on bonuses by Deputies Doherty, Burton and English. It was difficult to draft it, but it has been drafted and tabled on Report Stage.
We welcome the proposed restriction on the payment of exorbitant bonuses to higher executive officials in the banking industry. Most people in society cannot comprehend why one would get a bonus after virtually destroying the country and the bank for which one works. We all know people - most of them are women - who receive an appallingly low income for working in call centres and shop floors. Their only additional source of income is the bonus they receive at the end of the year. It is very seldom €20,000, to be honest. It is usually between €2,000 and €5,000. It is always based on aspects of employee performance, such as the amount of business he or she has brought in. It is a welcome source for income for such people in the run-up to Christmas and in early January. It would be deeply and grossly unfair if the bonuses given to workers on low incomes were taxed at 90% as a result of our efforts to ensure certain people do not get massive bonuses. Indeed, those who brought down the country and wrecked the banking system should not get any bonus at all. We have to be conscious of the possibility that such people will discover additional loopholes at some stage in the future. We have to ensure that does not happen. That is why we have to be on our guard at all times. We need to avail of all ways and means of protecting the public purse. I do not think anyone would suggest we should claw back 90% of the bonuses paid to people on low incomes. The gross incomes of many of these people, who work in new industries with which we are just starting to come to terms, increase when they receive bonuses related to their performance over the year as a whole. It would be unreasonable to tax such bonuses at a high rate. The average person is not worried about such bonuses. He or she is conscious of the difference between a low-paid worker who is doing a strenuous job and the type of bank official who swans around enjoying a lifestyle that does not seem to have been affected by the national downturn and the collapse of the banking industry. People are looking for fairness in the treatment of people in both categories.
I agree with Deputy Lynch. In light of the type of discussion we have had today, I was astonished to hear the outburst of the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan. He made a cheap effort to score points in the Chamber through the complete and utter misrepresentation of what I said. He needs to clean out his ears, listen to what I have to say and represent it properly. I did not say people on low incomes should not get bonuses. I did not say they should not be exempt from the imposition of the universal social charge on their bonuses. That is not what I said. I said clearly that it should be income-linked. I suggested that the cut-off point should be twice the average national wage. Perhaps the Minister thinks low-income women working in call centres earn in excess of €67,000. In my book, that is not what low-income workers are paid. I said specifically that this provision should be "income-linked". I genuinely believe everyone in this House is trying to achieve the same position. I was not trying to score a political point or get a media headline. I acknowledge that there is some kind of cap on bonuses at this time. The Minister accepted in his contribution that bonuses will continue to be paid. Is he telling me that those working in the call centres of the guaranteed banks will not get their bonuses? Of course they will get their bonuses. Payments in addition to salaries will continue to be made to certain people who work in the guaranteed banks. That is a fact.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch made a valid point when she said certain people will try to drive a horse and carriage through this measure. Under this measure, if the bonuses that have been on the table since 2008 are paid at a level of €19,999, they will not be subject to the universal social charge or the 90% tax rate. If I am wrong, the Minister should say so. I said earlier that none of us is infallible. This amendment was thrown to us a couple of hours ago. We have not had enough time to scrutinise it properly. Am I wrong when I suggest that the universal social charge will not apply to the bonuses which are due to be paid to senior officials in the banks if they are reduced to a level of €19,999? The Minister should place a correction on the record of the House and apologise to me. I said they should be "income-linked". The suggestion that I want to take away the bonuses of low-income workers is an appalling attack, a misrepresentation and a mistruth on the part of the Minister for Finance.
Clarification is not a crime. It is welcome. I am sure a finance (No. 2) Bill will be introduced at the next meeting of this Assembly. I do not doubt that the officials and the Minister will be well able to close off any potential loopholes that have been identified.
I could be completely and utterly wrong, as I said. I am approaching this from a genuine position. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Pat Carey, can tell me whether, after this Bill has been passed by the Oireachtas and signed into law by the President, the bonuses that were due to be paid to bankers but are on hold because of the threat of recapitalisation can be reduced to a level of €19,999 in order to ensure the universal social charge does not apply to them. I am talking about reductions in bonuses that were accrued in 2008. I do not know what the individual value to each person is. Would the universal social charge apply if a personal agreement was reached between the bank and an individual to the effect that €19,999, rather than €40,000 or €50,000, would be paid?
I understand that under the capitalisation agreement, no bonuses for senior officials can be paid. Officials at lower salary levels will pay 50% tax. I cannot say I fully understand the ramifications of this. I think adequate safeguards are in place to prevent any abuse of the kind suggested by Deputy Doherty.
Perhaps the officials in the Department of Finance, particularly those dealing with banking, might prepare a note later in the day for the benefit of Deputies. The Minister advised us during a debate on another Bill and in different arrangements that he had given himself enormous powers under the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Bill 2010. He verbally assured the House that senior executives would not receive bonuses and that the bonus culture was at an end. That was my understanding when I spoke. I am concerned about those who work in bank call centres, many of whom are women, as Deputy Kathleen Lynch said. There have been bank call centres at various times in the Minister's own constituency, as he probably knows, as well as other parts of the country. Those people are paid a relatively low or sometimes very low basic wage - €10,000 to €15,000 - and make up the rest of their pay through bonuses. Calls are overseen by a supervisor whose job is to make sure they do not go on too long. The Minister knows himself that if one telephones the bank, one is given only a few moments to answer. That is the bonus structure.
We in the Labour Party are anxious to ensure that such low-paid employees - who are mostly women - are not penalised inadvertently by this measure, which we strongly support and which the Government is at last introducing. Perhaps later the officials will be able to provide clarification for us in a note, but that is our legal understanding.
The information requested by Deputy Burton and, I presume, by others will be made available as quickly as it can be prepared - that is, this afternoon.
I appreciate that. We are on the same page as the Labour Party in this matter. We agree there should be an exemption for the circumstances mentioned by the Labour Party Members, but the measure should be income-linked so that it does not catch the rest. I advise the officials, through the Minister, that the note needs to deal with the question of recapitalisation. I made this point to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Lenihan, but he decided not to answer it and instead made a political charge at me. Will that recapitalisation measure now be defunct as a result of this change?
The Minister should also remember - the note needs to deal with this issue - that there are a number of cases before the courts to do with these bonuses. I understand that one has already been adjudicated on and the bonus will be paid. I am not sure whether it has been paid already, but if it is to be paid, the recapitalisation threat does not exist - it will be paid. If the others are successful, they will also be paid, regardless of the recapitalisation threat.
We understand the nature of the Constitution and the role of the courts in these matters. Regardless of what the courts say, if every single one of those bankers went to court to get his or her bonus, and agreed with the bank that the bonus would be paid at only €19,999, there is nothing we can do in terms of threats about recapitalisation; we would have to pay them. Thus, the 90% tax is where we catch them. The point that needs to be clarified is as follows: if a banker goes to court to get his or her bonus, which will be paid at €19,999 under an agreement with the bank, will he or she be subject to a combined tax of 90%, which I believe is the intention of the Government?
This is rushed legislation and it is important that we try to address flaws, loopholes and things that might not have been envisaged beforehand. I will repeat my question, to be clear: in the case of a banker who goes to court to get a bonus which, it is agreed, will be paid at €19,999, will the universal social charge kick in?
I will attempt to have a clarification prepared for the information of the House. However, I am informed that linking the composition of the bonus to income would give rise to unfair impacts. For example, if the income limit was €50,000, anyone with an income of €49,000 and a bonus of €15,000 would not pay the charge, but a person with a salary of €51,000 and a bonus of €15,000 would pay.
On the issue of past bonuses-----I am sorry; there is no point in reading out a garbled note into the record.
That is fine, and I appreciate the efforts taken by the officials to give us the information. However, I am concerned that there may still be a weakness in this amendment, which may result in a need for further amendment. If this proves to be the case when the officials look more closely at the Bill, can we deal with it this afternoon?
We will then move on to the next Stage, once Report Stage is completed, and that will conclude the Bill as far as this House is concerned. It is a matter for the other House to make recommendations, and if it does so the Bill will come back to this House. By way of procedure, however, once an amendment is dealt with on Report Stage, it is dealt with.
I do not know that anything I could say would clarify things further. I will ask the officials to incorporate the information that has been given to me into a note that will be circulated later.
Yes; I want the Minister to reply. We have to vote on this amendment now, and that is what is important. I have laid before the House a specific question which can be answered simply by a "Yes" or a "No". I think I know the answer - in fact, we all do - and the answer is yes, the bankers would get their bonuses without the universal social charge. That is the honest answer. If that is the case, it should be said here on the floor of the House.
Very good. As the time permitted for debate on the amendments offered to Part 1 of the Bill has expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of this day: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Finance and not disposed of, including those in respect of which recommital would in the normal course be required, are hereby made to Part 1 of the Bill."
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 82 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Micheál Martin, Tom McEllistrim, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 73 (Bernard Allen, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Pearse Doherty, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Noel Grealish, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe.
Question declared carried.
I move amendment No. 35:
In page 192, line 19, to delete "€3" and substitute "€2".
Fine Gael has been campaigning for some years to abolish the travel tax. The tourism industry is one of the sectors of the economy with great job creation potential and it should be stimulated. Most industries need massive investment before one makes a material change. In the tourism industry, we have five star hotels all over the country, many of which are half empty; we have a surplus of self-catering accommodation, much of which is not rented; our golf courses are the finest in Europe and the United States, many of which are underused; we have a fine airport terminal in Dublin Airport at half capacity; Shannon and Cork Airports are at one quarter capacity; and the motorway network links the main cities, yet there is little traffic on them. We have all the services for a much bigger tourism industry and the only thing we lack is tourists. The number of tourists declined last year by over 1.5 million. We do not need to invest in the infrastructure but we need to attract people to the country. That involves marketing and reducing the imposition on tourists flying into Ireland.
The majority of tourists, particularly short-term visitors to the country, arrive on Aer Lingus or Ryanair flights. We all use the facility of booking on the Internet. People, especially young people, search for bargains. One can book flights for 1 cent and €5. When all the adding up is done, several flights are available from €25-€40. People may say the imposition of a travel tax of €10 is a nugatory amount but when one looks at the pricing of flights it is a serious imposition. It might influence the decision of whether a young German couple fly to Dublin or Prague. From the point of view of the airline, there is the opportunity to adjust fares upwards when the travel tax is abolished. One may say that another €2 on tickets will not make a difference. If the travel tax was abolished completely and the airline companies raised average fares by €2, the €2 is not a turnover issue; it runs straight to the bottom line. The flights are profitable anyway so the extra €2 runs straight to the bottom line. Ryanair carried 27 million passengers last year and if it had received €2 per passenger, we are talking serious money. There is a major incentive for flights to be repackaged to attract people.
The Minister has moved a long way to meeting the arguments made by Fine Gael but a problem exists in respect of domestic flights. A lower levy applied to people flying to airports in the UK from Irish locations. The effect of the Minister's changes is to increase the charge between Ireland and the UK by 50% rather than reducing it. He is applying the same level to everything. I ask him to examine the travel tax in respect of the concessionary level between Ireland and the UK. It should be revisited. I table this as a debating amendment rather than in the expectation that the Minister will accept this on Report Stage late in the afternoon when debate has been truncated.
Our view is that the travel tax should be abolished completely for all categories of flights. This should only be done if there is a quid pro quo offered by Ryanair, Aer Lingus and other carriers. The quid pro quo is to give them what they are looking for if they commit, over a period of time, to bring a certain number of passengers into the country. If they do not achieve the target, we can put the travel tax back on in two years' time. Business is business and the way to structure it is to give the airlines an incentive to bring in more people while having the stick of restoring it in the other hand if they do not bring in extra passengers. An opportunity was missed by not having that level of negotiation with the carriers. There is still a margin for some renegotiation.
I am in favour of amendment No. 36, tabled by Deputy Pearse Doherty. He suggests a reduction to 1 cent. This is a technical matter because he would have been ruled out of order if he reduced it to zero as that causes a charge on the Exchequer.
The sentiment underpinning the Fine Gael amendment and our amendment is similar. We need to staff up and introduce traction into the tourism sector. This sector has been badly hurt in recent years and that is likely to continue for some time yet. The proposed substantial reduction or virtual abolition of the travel tax, as put forward in Deputy Doherty's amendment, is an important move to assist the sector. I accept such move would not by any means solve the problem facing the tourism sector but it would provide substantial assistance.
It is important that the incoming Government would examine the tourism sector as it offers serious prospects for development and it could provide a stimulus to enhance economic growth. I hope that whatever Government is in place after the election will recognise the need to give a boost to our tourism sector. Tourism is almost a natural resource at one level in terms of the physical infrastructure and scenery on this island. We have a great deal of built infrastructure in place and there is massive untapped capacity in the sector in terms of its further development. There needs to be a new Government-led approach to this sector. Some hotel chains market themselves on their own or partially on their own steam and Fáilte Ireland does its job. Such marketing has been significantly joined up in recent years but it has not been joined up sufficiently to capture the full value of the market spend. It is important that such marketing of the sector is rolled out, first, on an island basis and, second, on a region by region basis. There is a huge opportunity to develop the sector and I hope it will be taken.
If the Minister were to indicate he would accept amendment No. 36, at least it would go some way towards throwing the ball in the right direction.
I thank Members who have contributed to this debate. Section 49 confirms the budget day change to the rates of air travel tax. A single rate of €3 per departing passenger will come into operation on 1 March, replacing the existing distance-related rates of €2 and €10. Deputy Noonan's amendment proposes that the new lower rate should be €2 rather than €3 and Deputy Doherty's amendment proposes that the new lower rate of €3 should instead be 1 cent.
The measure I provided for in the Finance Bill, namely, the reduction from €10 to €3 will cost the Exchequer about €56 million in tax this year. In a full year the cost will be close to €70 million. Deputy Noonan's amendment would raise the cost by about €10 million to €12 million. Deputy Doherty's amendment would cost in the region of an additional €35 million in a full year, in effect, abolishing the tax.
I agree with Deputy Noonan that the whole basis of such a change must be whether delivery takes place from the carriers and in my budget speech I made that very clear. I hope the incoming Government will review the air travel tax in the light of its experience with the carriers. The announcement in the budget was not restricted to the air travel tax but also allowed free landing rights at Dublin Airport Authority airports beyond certain levels of passengers.
Ireland is not unique in applying a tax on air travel. A number of countries within the EU apply similar taxes, including the United Kingdom and France. Both Australia and New Zealand apply similar taxes. The United States has introduced a tourist tax for tourists travelling to the United States by air. Germany and Austria have just introduced an air travel tax to apply from January 2011. The rates of tax applied by many of those countries are higher than the Irish rates, substantially so in some cases, and the trend in Europe is towards applying a tax on air travel.
There have been calls to abolish the tax on the basis that it adversely affects the number of people travelling to Ireland. I have some difficulty accepting that proposition and I consider that the impact of the air travel tax is being over-stated. I take Deputy Noonan's point about the effect of this on the balance sheet.
The numbers travelling appear to be more closely related to other factors, including the level of economic activity. Notwithstanding reservations, I decided that a single revised rate of air travel tax at €3 would come into effect on 1 March 2011. I stated in the budget that this reduction should apply only on a temporary basis with the rate being increased unless there is clear and decisive evidence of an appropriate response from the airlines through increasing capacity and the numbers travelling to Ireland by air. I am glad that the budget announcement is being supplemented by the incentive scheme introduced by Dublin Airport Authority for a full rebate of airport charges for additional traffic delivered above a certain threshold based on 2010 passenger levels.
A modest air tax of €3 will yield close to €35 million in a full year. The case for reducing that tax rate any further does not stand up, especially when we are under ongoing fiscal pressures where, understandably, there is a requirement that the tax system be as fair as possible. In addition, I would point out that the reduction in the air travel tax was a significant concession and it would be right to see if passenger numbers rise on foot of the change in the Finance Bill.
It is important as a matter of general policy, and apart from the particular details of this matter, that we protect the Revenue base of the State. It would have been possible, for example, at the time of the original abolition to maintain air travel tax at a certain low level. In general, I believe that is a better way to proceed than to proceed to complete abolition of the tax. History shows that when one gives a total exemption from any particular head of taxation, one generates a climate in which it becomes impossible to reintroduce it. I took a similar view in regard to stamp duties in the budget.
I understand the Ceann Comhairle's office has ruled out of order the amendments I submitted, amendments Nos. 37 to 42, inclusive, on the basis that they would pose a charge on the people. What I am trying to do here is to raise more revenue for the Minister and the State. It is a strange definition of the people in terms of posing a charge on them that levying an additional tax on an international Internet operator in Gambia or in Gibraltar would be regarded as a charge on the people.
I wonder, Sir, if I could address one or two of the issues involved for which, I suspect, there would be a fair hearing on the other side of the House? This involves the betting tax.
I am trying to raise revenue for the Minister in a difficult situation. In the Finance Bill the Minister proposed a 1% turnover tax and there is fair support for that as a fair compromise in terms of the measure that has been proposed. The problem is that seven of the ten providers have their servers outside this State; they are offshore companies. What the Minister proposes to do in trying to determine the 1% turnover tax will be a difficult task because these companies are based outside this jurisdiction. What I have suggested in these amendments is that the annual licence fee to have such a facility, or the new charge, would be a minimum of €50,000. As the Bill stands, it is €5,000. Increasing it to €50,000 would have a number of advantages. It would raise revenue. For some fly by night operators in existence outside this State who offer services to citizens of this State, it would set an important financial threshold that they would have to obtain were they to get a licence to operate in this country, and that would be significant. If they did not have the €50,000 upfront, they should not be registered or have a licence here. Many of these operators, be they in Gibraltar, Gambia or wherever-----
I will conclude on this point. These operators will simply put on their websites that they have been fully recognised by the Irish State as an operator in this country for a licence fee of €5,000. We are underselling ourselves. An amendment I proposed, which astonishingly is regarded as a charge on our poor people, given the fact that it is a charge on companies outside this jurisdiction, would simply create a fair licence fee for these operators to operate in this country. I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on this. This could be a provision for inclusion in a new finance Bill. It seems strange that, for €5,000, we will be allowing these companies to publish on their websites that they have been recognised by the Irish State as operators here. We are underselling ourselves. The charge should be €50,000 or €100,000 at a minimum; that would be fair. I am interested in hearing the Minister's views.
I will address the merits of the argument. One difficulty with not having had the legislation to revise the bookmakers legislation before the House is that we will not have had a proper discussion on it before the dissolution of the Dáil. The incoming Government will have to introduce the bookmakers legislation to complete the legislative picture.
I believed Deputy Hayes would raise the issue as to whether the duty should be 1% or 2%. There is a Fine Gael amendment tabled that seeks to give the Minister power to increase the betting duty from 1% to 2%.
It is wisely not doing so because it would lead to a lot of unemployment, both among bookmakers and employees in online businesses that have located in Ireland. Fine Gael is prudently withdrawing from that proposal.
The difficulty with the amendment to which Deputy Hayes spoke is that I am advised there are difficulties associated with putting in place a very high license fee. The Deputy referred to Gambia and other exotic locations. Some of the locations are within the European Union. In drawing up legislation in this area, we must be conscious of the various freedoms that apply within the Union. If one introduced a very high licence fee, it could be deemed restrictive on trade grounds in the context of a Single Market. For example, a licence fee of €5,000 for a company that may take only a handful of small bets from Ireland could be deemed onerous. The Commission is always mindful that member states cannot put in place provisions that could be regarded as disproportionate.
This area could be re-examined in the context of the betting legislation. The essential legal technique being used in this case is to provide that an Internet betting facility provider must register as a bookkeeper here. Thus, the traditional bookmakers legislation, which applied to the mainstream bookmaker, is extended to the Internet scene. The devising of legal formulae to provide for this is quite difficult. We must be very careful about how we do so. It is a matter to which the House can return in the context of the bookmakers legislation, which will be essential before the 1% charge comes into force.
I thank the Minister for his very helpful comments. He is absolutely correct. Ireland has many people employed in this area and it has done well at devising Internet gambling websites and ensuring the relevant technologies are in and place. We have a very proud new industry that has done very well. The only dilemma involves determining the 1% turnover to a company that, while registered here-----
I ask the Ceann Comhairle to hear me out on this point. Unless we have an army of people in the Revenue Commissioners who are prepared to go to Gibraltar and the Isle of Man constantly to check the books of the operators in question, we will face a dilemma. We must consider the issue of fairness. We must ensure that the industry that has been established here has a level playing pitch for everyone. I welcome the Minister's comment that the House will have to return to this matter when a new Dáil is assembled in order to ensure the loopholes are addressed.
Yes. Section 50 provides for the taxation of bets that remote bookmakers enter into with persons in this State. This means, for example, that a business that engages in online bookmaking and which accepts bets from individuals in this country will be liable for a betting duty on those bets, irrespective of where that business is based. The existing betting duty of 1% is being applied to such bets.
The section also provides for the taxation of remote betting intermediaries. These operations, which are generally known as betting exchanges, facilitate clients in entering into bets with one another and charge for this service. A new duty, which will be called betting intermediary duty, will be charged on commission earned from persons in this country at a rate of 15%. Excise duties are also being applied to the granting and renewal of remote bookmakers' and remote betting intermediaries' licenses. The betting (amendment) Bill being drafted will establish the statutory framework for these licences.
Many Deputies in this House used the opportunity afforded by Committee Stage to welcome these provisions, and I am glad we appear to have cross-party support in an area that has thrown up many logistical challenges for my advisors and the Attorney General.
Section 50 provides for the repeal of the provision in the Finance Act 2009 that allowed for an increase to 2% in the rate of betting duty subject to ministerial commencement order. The Deputies amendment is seeking to remove this element of section 50 and effectively keep in place the possibility of the Minister raising the betting duty to 2%. My decision to repeal that provision is simply based on the practicality of the position we are in. I do not envisage a scenario in which the 1% rate could be raised to 2% given the obvious pressures on betting shops across the country. We have seen significant job losses from shop closures, and one way of ensuring further job losses would be to move to a rate of 2%. Further shop closures have been flagged for later this year, even without the rate increase.
The prospect of a rise to 2% prompted significant levels of correspondence from staff working in betting shops across the country who would be worried about their jobs if the increase were to occur. Most of the letters were forwarded to me by Deputies of all parties and virtually all constituencies. That significant job losses have occurred, even without a move to 2%, should inform Deputy Barrett of what is appropriate in this instance.
Jobs in the betting sector are as important as jobs in the horse-racing sector. My approach has been to move towards a level playing field in a way that widens the tax base but protects employment across the betting and horse-racing sectors. This is a balanced approach that should be welcomed by the House. If a future Government decides the betting duty should be increased, it can introduce a legislative change to that effect in the finance Bill.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 81 (Bertie Ahern, Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Dara Calleary, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, John Curran, Noel Dempsey, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Frank Fahey, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Mary Hanafin, Mary Harney, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Tom McEllistrim, Michael McGrath, John McGuinness, Micheál Martin, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, John O'Donoghue, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Ned O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Peter Power, Seán Power, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 76 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Pat Breen, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Pearse Doherty, Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Eamon Gilmore, Noel Grealish, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Enda Kenny, Ciarán Lynch, Kathleen Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Michael Noonan, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Maureen O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Ruairi Quinn, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Joanna Tuffy, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe..
Question declared carried.